Holy Cross Day ⎯ September 14

One of the earliest annual celebrations of the Church, Holy Cross Day traditionally commemorated the discovery of the original cross of Jesus on September 14, 320, in Jerusalem. The cross was found by Helena, mother of Roman Emperor Constantine the Great. In conjunction with the dedication of a basilica at the site of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection, the festival day was made official by order of Constantine in AD 355. A devout Christian, Helena helped locate and authenticate many sites related to the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus throughout biblical lands. Holy Cross Day has remained popular in both Eastern and Western Christianity. Many Lutheran parishes have chosen to use “Holy Cross” as the name of their congregation.

Treasury of Daily Prayer
September 14–Holy Cross Day

The cross is the sign of God’s goodness and favor toward you. It is the symbol of salvation worked out for you. It is the symbol of your freedom from all sin, hell, death, and every evil. It was to the cross that the Lamb of God was led without complaint and where He was slaughtered.

When Christians make the sign of the holy cross, it is in remembrance of its wonderful purpose and do not think of its shame. When a Christian makes the sign of the cross, he lets the waters of his Baptism quench all the anger, the bitterness, and all the other passions which plague the sinful flesh.

Donatello crucifix

Donatello crucifix

The sign of the cross belongs to the Christian, it is a gift given to each of us by Jesus at our Baptism. “Receive the sign of the cross to mark you as one redeemed by Christ the crucified.” The sign of the cross marks you as one who has been bought with a price. The sign of the cross marks you as one truly free from the devil. The sign of the cross reminds you of the price paid to redeem you, the very life of the true Son of God.

My dear friends in Christ, please do not hear me making a new demand that you *must* make the sign of the cross in your devotions and worship. While we certainly have the freedom of Christians to do so, it is the heart marked by the sign of Jesus cross which is more important than anything you do with your fingers. In your heart, with much faith, recall the sacrifice of Christ and cling to Him. Engrave His cross upon your mind and embrace the salvation of your soul. For the cross held up the Christ for the salvation of the world. Behold your Lord ˜ the one who drives away all error and unveils the Truth, He who has brought Heaven to earth, He who has made dead sinners into lively children. Because of Christ, the demons are no longer terrifying or frightful; rather they are objects of contempt. Death now holds no fear, it is merely a sleep. All that wars against us has been cast to the ground and trod upon.

Let us with a clear voice shout aloud to the world that the cross is our glory. It is the sum and symbol of all our blessings, our confidence, and our crown.

You are part of the body of Christ by virtue of your washing. So you must shoulder your cross. Now your cross is not the cross of Christ. Only He could bear your sins and the sins of all people. Your cross is different; it is as individual as you are. Not only do we bear the sign of the cross to mark us as one redeemed by Christ the crucified, we also are called to be cross-bearers. Luther said, “You must be willing to lose your life for Christ; not just to die but be willing to bear every evil, trouble, danger, and temptation where your peace and life will be disturbed.”

Remember as you bear your cross, that in Christ it is a joyful thing. He has redeemed you and calls you His own. Just as it is a privilege, may be difficult, to be called Christian. You do not choose your cross. Your Lord will give it to you. Know that as you bear your cross, that it will at times seem very heavy.

It will be tempting to look at how other people fare and to murmur about how light and easy their cross seems to be. It is hard enough to bear one’s own burden without wondering why the other guy bears something different and seems to have it easier. No, do not fix your eyes on what others have or don’t have. Rather, fix your eyes on Jesus. He is your strength and your tower.

As you bear your cross as one of Christ’s Christians, know that He stands in our midst with His gifts of refreshment and solace. Do your sins dirty you and cause you to feel filthy? Remember the holy waters of Baptism in which you were washed clean of all filth and evil. Come and confess and receive the words that Christ has given His Church to speak. Are you weak? Does your strength fail? Christ places food into your hand and mouth. He strengthens you with heavenly Bread and drink. He gives His true body and blood in this bread and wine to strengthen you in body and soul. In all your trials, He stands beside you with His Word ˜ that life-giving, refreshing, water of Life to comfort you, aid you, and fill you with hope for this life and the life to come.

From a sermon
15th Sunday after Pentecost/A
Matthew 16:21-26

Other resources for Holy Cross:

Sermon on John 12:20-33

How Lutherans Worship – 2: Excursus: Making the Sign of the Cross

What are Ember Days?

What are Ember Days?

The publication of Treasury of Daily Prayer included an essay on the Ember Days, and this has lead to some questions, both to me as the author of the essay and the general editor of the book, and on various e-mail lists. This is a legitimate question, especially in the Lutheran community that, by and large, has probably not heard of them or think of them as something only quirky liturgical extremists do. So maybe we should extend the question to: what are Ember Days, and why would a Lutheran care?

The Catholic Encyclopedia has a entry for Ember Days, but it leaves much unanswered. Actually, the conservative Catholic site, Fisheaters, has a very fine article on the origin and development of Ember Days in the Roman Church. Pulling liberally from the article on Fisheaters as well as from my essay in Treasury of Daily Prayer, we can understand Ember Days as the time set aside four times a year to focus on God through His marvelous creation: seeking God’s blessings upon the fruits of the earth and acknowledging that all food comes from Him. The three days of each Embertide were marked by fasting, prayer, and almsgiving as prescribed by the church. These quarterly periods take place around the beginnings of the four natural seasons:

Winter — Advent Embertide

Spring — Lenten Embertide

Summer — Whit Embertide

Autumn — Michaelmas Embertide.

These four times are each kept on a successive Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday and are known as “Ember Days” (supposedly a corruption from Latin, quatuor tempora = four times, corrupted to quatember, then to ember). The first of these four times comes in Winter, after the the Feast of St. Lucy; the second comes in Spring, the week after Ash Wednesday; the third comes in Summer, after Pentecost Sunday; and the last comes in Autumn, after Holy Cross Day. Their dates can be remembered by this old mnemonic:

Sant Crux, Lucia, Cineres, Charismata Dia
Ut sit in angaria quarta sequens feria.

Which for those of us who don’t think in Latin:

Holy Cross, Lucy, Ash Wednesday, Pentecost,
are when the quarter holidays follow.

The handy shortcut for remembering the holidays that herald the Ember Days is “Lucy, Ashes, Dove, and Cross.”

Well, as I said, good information at Fisheaters about the origin and development of the Ember Days in the Roman Catholic tradition.

The Ember Days comprise the Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday:

following the Commemoration of St. Lucia (December 13).

of the week following the first Sunday in Lent;

of the week between Pentecost and Trinity Sunday;

following the Feast of the Holy Cross (September 14);

Then came the Reformation.

In the Church of the Reformation, the Ember days marked a season of piety especially devoted to preaching on the Catechism.

Martin Brecht writes: “In Wittenberg it appears that Pastor Bugenhagen treated the catechism four times a year. When he was in Brunswick in 1528, Luther substituted for him at the task” Martin Luther, Martin Brecht (Minneapolis:Fortress Press, 1994) II:274.

In the editor’s preface to the last of Luther’s 1528 series of sermons on the Catechism we hear Luther: “It has hitherto been our custom to teach the elements and fundamentals of Christian knowledge and life four times each year.” Luther’s Works – American Edition

The Ember Days were originally days of prayer, repentance, and fasting. After the Reformation, the Ember Days themselves became for Lutherans one of the roots of the evangelical “days of repentance” Paul Graff.

Pastor Benjamin Mayes, a colleague of mine, did a little bit of work in the German sources. Some of this was for his presentation of the Ember Days’ propers for the Brotherhood Prayer Book, some specifically to help me in the Treasury’s presentation. Pastor Mayes:

In Braunschweig 1657/1709, the Ember Days had the order of service for a day of repentance as their liturgy (I:221). Here, all four [sets of] Ember Days were expressly retained (I:228). Some areas put their days of repentance on other days, not necessarily on the Ember Days.

“The ‘repentance services’ are either simple prayer hours held on certain days of the week, or services similar to the chief service on certain high ‘days of repentance, prayer, and fasting.’ These prayer hours cannot, as already mentioned, be confused with the prayer hours already described–occurring one or several times weekly, i.e. morning and evening devotions –although they are very similar in their structure. The prayer hours in question here are in the whole more or less similar to a public festival of repentance. Hymns of repentance are often prescribed. In the prayers, one asks to be forgiven of guilt (Litany) and spared from punishment (war and other distresses, collect for peace and ‘Grant peace, we pray, in mercy, Lord’). In short: these prayer hours –whether daily, whether once or more weekly, whether monthly, such as depending on the change of the moon, whether quarterly, such as depending on the Ember Days, (also perhaps with the command to fast,) or otherwise regularly repeating–give these days a character completely their own, so that such a day becomes itself a day or prayer (day of repentance).” (I:221)

Even in the 16th cent., the Lutherans in north Germany regularly observed the Ember Days as Days of Repentance. (I:225).

[In preparing the] Brotherhood Prayer Book, I researched Roman, Anglican, and German Lutheran books. Often I didn’t find much in the way of special propers or rubrics for the Ember Days. Some of them have their own readings and collects which have the theme of the season they’re in. This is especially the case for the Lent Ember Days (after Invocavit) and the Pentecost Ember Days (during the octave of Pentecost), because those days have proper readings anyway. (Here by proper readings, I mean a distinct set of propers for office and mass.)

Here’s what the 1613 Magdeburg Cathedral Service Book has for propers on the Ember Days.

Wednesday after Advent 3: Invitatory and antiphons and responsory with an Advent theme or from the ordinary. Collect as in the Brotherhood Prayer Book. It is not marked as being an Ember Day. The readings appear to be a lectio continua. Antiphon for Magnificat: O Antiphon.
Friday after Advent 3: Same as above, except: Antiphon for Benedictus, same as Brotherhood Prayer Book text edition, p. 235. Different collect.
Saturday after Advent 3: Same as Wednesday, except: Antiphon for Benedictus: “Behold how glorious is he who goes forth to save the peoples.” Different collect.

Wednesday after Lent 1 (Invocavit) is listed as an Ember Day. Matins: Reading as in BPB, p. 255. Antiphon for Benedictus as in BPB (ant. for Magn.). Collect from Quinquagesima (which is very similar to the collect in BPB, p. 255). Vespers: Lectio continua from Gen. 44. Ant. for Magn.: “If anyone does the will of My Father, he is my brother, sister, and mother.” Collect from Sunday.
Friday after Lent 1. Not listed as Ember Day. Ant. for Ben. “Lord, I do not have a man, that when the water is moved, he may cast me into the pool.” Lectio continua. Vespers: Ant. for Magn., same as BPB, p. 255. Lectio continua. Collect from Sunday.
Saturday after Lent 1. Not listed as Ember Day. Lauds: Ant. for Ben., same as BPB (ant. for Magn.). Lectio Continua. Collect for Peace (same as in TLH Vespers). Vespers: Lectio continua. Ant. for Magn., same as at Matins.

Wednesday in the Octave of Pentecost. Not listed as Ember Day. Matins: Reading same as BPB, p. 279. Lauds: Ant. for Ben. “When the dies of Pentecost were completed, alleluia, praise came to Jerusalem, alleluia, to Zion.” Collect from Sunday. Vespers: Lectio continua. Ant. for Magn. “On the last day of the feast, Jesus said, Whoever believes in me, rivers of living water will flow from his belly, and He said this concerning the Spirit, whom there were to receive, who believe in Him, alleluia.” Different collect.

Well, that gives you a taste of what’s going on in the Magdeburg Cathedral.

Martin Chemnitz, in the Braunschweig-Wölfenbüttel KO, which is referenced above, writes:

Also, since up to the present the quatember [fasts] have been conducted in papal fashion, henceforth all pastors and preachers in the cities shall at every quatember, instead of the regular preaching, for fourteen consecutive days, take up the catechism and divide it up, that all of it may be set before the people and usefully explained throughout. And they shall also earnestly admonish the people that they, together with their children and domestic servants, be diligent in attending such useful and very necessary teaching and not be absent.

And also during the quatember mentioned the pastors [pfarner] in the villages shall be diligent, so much as the time and place permit, to very carefully explain and inform the people regarding the catechism, which is a measure of all preaching.

Taken together, this is the basis for the suggestion to treat the Ember Days as “A Day of Humiliation and Prayer” and for promoting the Ember Days as a time to give special attention to the elements and fundamentals of Christian knowledge and life found in the Catechisms. Review and meditation on the Chief Parts of Luther’s Small Catechism could be added to one’s daily devotion: Wednesday: Ten Commandments and Creed, Friday: Lord’s Prayer and Holy Baptism, Saturday: Confession and Sacrament of the Altar

confessionThe traditional themes of repentance can be used in one’s personal daily prayer in a way that is already familiar, as a Day of Supplication and Prayer. (Propers appointed for a Day of Supplication and Prayer can be found in the LSB: Altar Book, page 992.) Hymns of confession and absolution would be suitable. The appointed lectio continua readings of daily prayer is retained. In prayers, it would be fitting of the days to ask to be forgiven of guilt (cf. the Litany), to be spared from punishment (war and other distresses), and to pray the collect for peace (Vespers, LSB, 233).

In the Lutheran congregation Individual Confession and Absolution could be offered quarterly on the Saturdays of the Embertides. More challenging, but no doubt it would garner great rewards in faith and understanding, would be to reestablish the practice of Luther, Bugenhagen and others “to teach the elements and fundamentals of Christian knowledge and life four times each year.