"He who is accustomed to renounce lawful gratifications easily abstains from forbidden pleasures." - St. Gregory
Catholic Life - Imprimatur 1908 Ember days, or Quarter Tense, are three fast days - Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday - in each of the four seasons. In winter they occur in the third week of Advent; in spring, in the first week of Lent; in summer, during Whit week ; and in autumn, the Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday after the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross (September 14).
These fasts were instituted to sanctify each season of the year, and thus obtain the favours of God, especially His mercy. They were also established to obtain the blessing of the Almighty on the fruits of the land. In spring we pray for fertility; in summer, for preservation of the crops; in autumn, for a good harvest; and in winter we offer up our grateful thanksgiving for the blessings received.
The Church, too, wishes us to pray for those who are to be ordained priests on these days, that they may obtain the graces necessary to fulfill all their obligations, and the virtues that adorn their sacred calling. "And when they had ordained for them priests in every church, and had prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord, in Whom they believed" (Acts xiv. 22).
As alms generally accompany fasting and prayer, a donation towards the education of priests for the foreign mission would be keeping with the spirit of the Church on these occasions. We ought also to pray for vocations, especially for the foreign missions. "The harvest is great, but the labourers few. Pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that He send labourers into the vineyard" (Matt. ix. 37, 38).
These days should also remind us of asking ourselves how we stand with regard to God. If there be anything troubling our conscience, we ought to set it right, and then make good resolutions for the coming quarter. Thus, keeping ourselves always ready for the final summons, death will be disarmed of its terrors, and the close of life will be marked with a beautiful serenity.
"And grant us, while by fasts we strive, This mortal body to control, To fast from all the food of sin, And so to purify the soul.'
Example - The Machabees
Seven brothers, commonly known as the Machabees, were apprehended and ordered to eat swine's flesh, which was forbidden by the law of Moses. On refusing they were ordered to be tortured. Antiochus himself presided at the martyrdom, and being enraged to see such constancy in age so tender, he tried every means to terrify and torture them into a compliance with his impious demands. He condemned them to undergo the same torments one after another, that the sufferings of the foregoing might intimidate the next, The eldest was first called out, in the presence of his mother and brothers. He declared that he was ready to die rather than to transgress the laws of God, received from his forefathers. The executioners cut out his tongue, chopped off the extremities of his hands and feet, drew the skin from off his head, and then cast the body into a cauldron, where the remains of agonizing life were consumed by slow fire.
The first being thus barbarously slain, the rest were successively tormented and slain in the same manner. Each advanced in his turn, each with the same manly fortitude bore the tyrant's tortures, and each with the same steady perseverance triumphed over his savage inhumanity. They adored the decrees of God, Who was pleased to make this trial of their faith. They readily submitted to the torments in punishment for their sins.
They cheerfully resigned a life which they hoped to receive again by a glorious resurrection. And as if the sight of sufferings had inspired them with fresh courage, they told the tyrant that he was not to fancy them abandoned by their God; that it was impious folly in him thus to fight against the Almighty; that he was but a passing scourge in the Almighty's hand, and would himself soon feel the vengeance prepared for his chastisement. Antiochus would willingly have pardoned their reproaches if he could have got the better of their fortitude. Six of the brothers had gloriously conquered by their death; the seventh only remained, the youngest of them all, and him the tyrant hoped to gain by caresses and fair promises. He promised him his friendship, wealth, and happiness, if he would only abjure the laws of his forefathers. When he perceived that his words made no impression, he called upon the mother, and desired her, if she had any fondness left for an only surviving son, to disabuse him of his error, and by her advice to preserve his life. The incomparable woman, who to a mother's tenderness joined a manly fortitude of mind, despised the tyrant's solicitations, and in derision promised that she would advise her son, since he desired it.
Wherefore, bending towards the young man, she exhorted him in her native tongue that he would have pity on her who had borne him in her womb and reared him; that he would not fear the tormentor, but look up to God, the Creator of all things; and that he would courageously follow the glorious example of his brothers, that so, by the Divine mercy, she might be worthy to receive them all again in life eternal. Animated with fresh resolution, the young man said to the executioners: "Behold me fixed in the resolution of obeying the law; nor will I disobey God to obey the King." The tyrant foamed with rage to see himself thus defeated. With fiercer barbarity than he had shown against the other six brothers, he discharged his fury upon the seventh, and tortured him to death. The illustrious mother, having nothing more to fear for her sons, followed them with redoubled vigour in their victorious career, and with them laid down her own life, on the same day in the same glorious cause. Antiochus shortly afterwards ended a miserable life by a most miserable death.