(The following is excerpted from Dom Prosper Guéranger's entry in The Liturgical Year for the Ember Days of September, in Volume XI of the 1983 Marian House edition of the English translation by the Benedictines of Stanbrook.)
"For the fourth time in her year, holy Church comes claiming from her children the tribute of penance, which, from the earliest ages of Christianity, was looked upon as a solemn consecration of the seasons...."
"The beginnings of the winter, spring, and summer quarters were sanctified by abstinence and fasting, and each of them, in turn, has received heaven's blessing; and now autumn is harvesting the fruits which divine mercy, appeased by the satisfactions made by sinful man, has vouchsafed to bring forth from the bosom of the earth, notwithstanding the curse that still hangs over her (Genesis 3: 17). The precious seed of wheat, on which man's life mainly depends, was confided to the soil in the season of the early frosts, and, with the first fine days, peeped above the ground; at the approach of glorious Easter, it carpeted our fields with its velvet of green, making them ready to share in the universal joy of Jesus' resurrection; then, turning into a lovely image of what our souls ought to be in the season of Pentecost, its stem grew up under the action of the hot sun; the golden ear promised a hundred-fold to its master; the harvest made the reapers glad; and, now that September has come, it calls on man to fix his heart on that good God, who gave him all this store. Let him not think of saying, as that rich man of the Gospel did, after a plentiful harvest of fruits: 'My soul! thou hast much goods laid up for many years! Take thy rest, eat, drink, and made good cheer!' And God said to that man: 'Thou fool! this night do they require thy soul of thee; and whose shall those things be which thou hast provided?' (Luke 12: 16-21)."
"If we would be truly rich before God, if we would draw down His blessing on the preservation, as well as on the production, of the fruits of the earth, let us, at the beginning of this last quarter of the year, have recourse to those penitential exercises whose beneficial effects we have always experienced in the past. The Church gives us the commandment to do so, by obliging us, under penalty of grievous sin, to abstain and fast on these three days [Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday], unless we be lawfully dispensed."
"We have already spoken of the necessity of private penance for the Christian who is at all desirous to make progress in the path of salvation. But in this, as in all spiritual exercises, a private work of devotion has neither the merit nor the efficacy of one that is done in company with the Church, and in communion with her public act; for the Church, as bride of Christ, communicates an exceptional worth and power to works of penance done, in her name, in the unity of the social body."
"St. Leo the Great is very strong on this fundamental principle of Christian virtue. We find him insisting on it in the sermons he preached to the faithful of Rome, on occasion of this fast, which then called the fast of the seventh month. 'Although,' he says, 'it be lawful for each one of us to chastise his body by self-imposed punishments, and restrain, with more or less severity, the concupiscences of the flesh which war against the spirit, yet need is that, on certain days, a general fast be celebrated by all. Devotion is all the more efficacious and holy, when the whole Church is engaged in work of piety, with one spirit and one soul. Everything, in fact, that is of a public character is to be preferred to what is private; and it is plain, that so much the greater is the interest at stake, when the earnestness of all is engaged upon it. As for individual efforts, let each one keep up his fervour in them; let each one, imploring the aid of divine protection, take to himself the heavenly armour, wherewith to resist the snares laid by the spirits of wickedness; but the soldier of the Church (ecclesiasticus miles
), though he may act bravely in his own private combats (specialibus praeliis
), yet will he fight more safely and more successfully, when he shall confront the enemy in a public engagement; for in that public engagement, he has not only his own valour to which to trust, but he is under the leadership of a King who can never be conquered, and engaged in a battle fought by all his fellow-soldiers; so that, being in their company and ranks, he has the fellowship of mutual aid.'"