The Spiritual Harvest of the Church
The Station for the Saturday in Ember Week is always in the great basilica erected by Constantine in the 4th-century on the site of the martyrdom and tomb of the Prince of the Apostles, on the Vatican Hill. That ancient basilica has since been rebuilt in the 16th and 17th centuries in the form that is so well-loved and famous. It was in St Peter's basilica that ordinations took place on Ember Saturday, preceded during the night by a vigil with twelve lessons. Today's First Reading is a relic of that vigil.
As we have come to the culmination of the traditional Ember days in Lent, we can look once more to the then-Cardinal Ratzinger for his insightful explanation of the significance of these days and his reflections on their enduring significance for us today:
"According to the tradition of the Church the first week of Lent is the week of spring Ember Days. Ember Days are specifically a tradition of the Church in Rome, its roots partly to be found in the Old Testament where, for example, the prophet Zechariah attests four seasons of fasting in the year - and partly in the tradition of pagan Rome, with its festivals of seedtime and harvest still recalled in our own days. So we have this fine combination of creation and biblical history, a combination which is a sign of true catholicity. In the celebrations of these days we receive the year from the hand of God, receive our time from the Creator and Redeemer, and confide sowing and harvesting to his goodness, thanking him for the fruit of the earth and our work. The celebration of the Ember Days corresponds to the fact that "the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God" (Rom 8:19). Through our prayer, creation enters into the Eucharist, has part in the praise of God.
In the fifth century, however, the Ember Days took on another dimension, becoming feasts of the spiritual harvest of the Church, feasts of Holy Orders. The arrangement of stational churches for these three days is very significant: Wednesday, St Mary Major; Friday, the Church of the Twelve Apostles; Saturday, St Peter's. On the first day the Church presented the ordinands to Our Lady, to the Church in person. 'Sub tuum praesidium confugimus' ('We fly to your protection'), a Marian prayer of the third century comes to mind here when we meditate on this action. The Church confides her ministers to the Mother. 'Behold your mother.' This word from the Cross encourages us to seek refuge close to our Mother. Under our Lady's mantle we are safe. In all our difficulties we can turn with immense faith to our Mother...
The Friday was the day of the Church of the Twelve Apostles. As 'fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God' we 'are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets' (Eph 2:19-20). Only in the context of the apostolic succession, of the faith of the Apostles and the apostolic structure of the Church, with a true priestly system, that is, can we construct the living temple of God. The ordinations themselves took place during the night of Saturday with a view to Sunday morning in St Peter's. Thus the Church expressed the unity of the priestly system in union with Peter, as Jesus at the beginning of his public life had called Peter and his 'partners' (Luke 5:10), after he had been teaching from Simon's boat.
The first week of Lent is a week of seedtime. Let us entrust to God's goodness the fruits of the earth and the work of human hands, so that all may receive daily bread, so that hunger may be taken from the earth. Let us entrust to God's goodness also the seed of the word... Let us thank the Lord who has protected us in all temptations and difficulties, and pray, in the words of the prayer after Communion, that God will extend to us his favour, that is, his eternal love, himself, the gift of the Holy Spirit, and that he will grant us also the temporal consolations that we need in our weakness...
Let us make our prayer 'through Christ our Lord'. Let us pray as under a Mother's mantle. Let us pray as trustful children. The word of the Redeemer stands firm. 'Be of good cheer, I have overcome the world' (John 16:33)."