14 At that time John’s disciples came and asked Jesus, “Why do we and the Pharisees frequently fast, but your disciples never fast?” 15 Jesus responded, “The wedding guests can’t mourn while the groom is still with them, can they? But the days will come when the groom will be taken away from them, and then they’ll fast. 16 “No one sews a piece of new, unshrunk cloth on old clothes because the patch tears away the cloth and makes a worse tear. 17 No one pours new wine into old wineskins. If they did, the wineskins would burst, the wine would spill, and the wineskins would be ruined. Instead, people pour new wine into new wineskins so that both are kept safe.”
The Wednesday, Friday and Saturday that follow St. Lucia’s feast have traditionally been set aside for days of fasting. These days belong to a group of four sets known as “ember days” the others follow Ash Wednesday, Pentecost, and September 14 (feast of the Holy Cross). Beyond the fast these days are meant to remind us to show generosity to the poor and to teach people to live a life of moderation and respect to creation. The reason for these particular foci is that the celebration of ember days coincides with the Roman agricultural cycle of planting and harvesting. At these times, the Church would call a fast while the culture around it would celebrate a feast. As the Church grew larger geographically, these days were institutionalized so the whole community could celebrate together, rather than each region celebrating during its particular cycle of planting and harvest. The four periods became known as Quatuor Tempora (four seasons), which was corrupted to ember in English.
The agricultural backdrop for these days is largely a thing of the past; but the meaning they hold fits perfectly into the nature of Advent. Jesus equates fasting with the time when he is not here and the anticipation of his coming, which is the celebration of Advent. It seems only proper that we at this time remember that the groom is not with us in a time of fasting and prayer. The message of moderation that is represented in these days is also a poignant message at a time when many are concerned with buying as much as they can in an attempt to make people happy. We must endeavor to live lives of moderation and to show others that same path. Over the next few days may we be reminded that we have a responsibility to this world; and that part of it is to restrict our consumption of the material.
O Source of Life, grant that I may remember to live a life of moderation, relying on you to sustain me and not this world; so that when the Groom returns I will be ready to end my fasting, in the name of the Groom. Amen.