Friday, November 15, 2019

The Ambrosian Office of the Dead

Since I recently described the Ambrosian Rite’s Requiem Mass and Absolution at the catafalque, in this final post of the series, I will describe its Office of the Dead. Since it is very similar to the Roman version, from which it was mostly copied, it will be sufficient to describe it in broad terms, with particular attention to the notable variants. The Roman Office of the Dead can be consulted in any version of the traditional breviary, and is also available on the Divinum Officium website. Various editions of the Ambrosian Breviary are available on Google Books.

Our longtime Ambrosian writer Nicola de’ Grandi intones an antiphon at Matins of the Dead, sung before a Requiem Mass for Mons. Angelo Amodeo in November of 2012, a couple of months after his death, with the Schola Sainte-Cécile
First, some general principles. The Ambrosian Office uses an Old Latin text of the psalms and canticles, different from that of the Roman Breviary known as the Gallican Psalter. The Office of the Dead is even more stripped down [1] than the Roman one. Where I write that a text is the same as in the Roman Rite, it should always be understood that the music for it is different. There are no introductory formulae at all, not even the silent Pater, Ave and Credo; the hours simply begin with the first antiphon, and all antiphons are semidoubled. The versicles, which are not a feature of the Ambrosian Office, are also everywhere omitted. The most notable difference from the Roman Office is that the words “Requiem aeternam…luceat eis” are not said at the end of the psalms in place of the doxology, which is simply omitted everywhere.

At Vespers, the same five psalms are said as in the Roman Rite (114, 119, 120, 129 and 137 by the traditional numeration). Their antiphons are almost the same, with a few minor variants in wording (e.g. “complacebo” instead of “placebo” for the first one.) The antiphon of 119 is slightly longer: “Alas for me, that my sojourning is prolonged, to dwell with them that dwell in Cedar.” The antiphon of the Magnificat consists of the same words which are used as the versicle in the Roman Rite: “I heard a voice from heaven, saying, ‘Blessed are the dead, who die in the Lord.’ ”


As in the Roman Rite, the Lord’s Prayer is said in silence as all kneel. The preces which follow it are longer than the Roman ones.
V. Requiem aeternam. R. Et lux.
V. Non intres in judicium. R. Cum servis tuis, Domine. (Enter not into judgment with Thy servants, o Lord.)
V. Ne tradas bestiis animas confitentium tibi. R. Animas pauperum tuorum ne obliviscaris in finem. (Deliver not up to beasts the souls of them that confess to Thee: forget not to the end the souls of Thy poor.)
V. Domine, exaudi orationem nostram. R. Et clamor noster ad te perveniat. (Hear, O Lord, our prayer: and let our cry come to Thee.)
V. Exsurge, Christe, adjuva nos. R. Et libera nos propter nomen tuum. (Arise, o Christ, help us, and deliver us for Thy name’s sake.)

Psalm 50 is then said, followed by another verse of the preces: V. Averte faciem tuam a peccatis nostris. R. Et omnes iniquitates nostras dele. (“Turn away Thy face from our sins, and blot out all our iniquities.”, the 11th verse of the preceding psalm, converted to the plural.) The celebrant then says “Dominus vobiscum” and the prayer or prayers relevant to the occasion. The hour concludes with V. Requiem aeternam and V. Animae istorum et omnium fidelium defunctorum per Dei misericordiam requiéscant in pace. R. Amen. (May the souls of these, (i.e., of those for whom the Office is specificially said) and of all the faithful departed through the mercy of God rest in peace. R. Amen.)

At Matins, there is no invitatory. (The regular Ambrosian Office does have an introductory section analogous to the Roman invitatory, but Psalm 94 is not a part of it.) The psalms, antiphons and readings of the first nocturn are the same as in the Roman Office. Following the normal pattern of Ambrosian Matins, there is a responsory after the first two readings, but not the third. The corpus of responsories is different from the Roman one, and will be explained in greater detail below.

In the second nocturn, the first two psalms (22 and 24) and their antiphons are the same as in the Roman Rite, as are the three readings; the third antiphon, however, is Psalm 30 (where the Roman has 26), with the antiphon “Thou hast redeemed me, O Lord, the God of truth; into thy hands I commend my spirit.” This was certainly chosen because the Lord Himself spoke these same words on the Cross.

In the third nocturn, the psalms are 34, 39 and 41, where the Roman Rite has 39, 40 and 41. The antiphon of Psalm 34 is “But my soul shall rejoice in the Lord; and shall be delighted for his salvation.” Those of the other two psalms are the same as in the Roman Rite. The first two readings are also the same; the third, however, is 2 Maccabees 12, 43-46, the Roman Epistle for an anniversary Requiem Mass, and a foundational text for the theology of prayer for the dead.

“In those days: the most valiant Judas, have made a collection, sent twelve thousand drachms of silver to Jerusalem for sacrifice to be offered for the sins of the dead, thinking well and religiously concerning the resurrection. For if he had not hoped that they that were slain should rise again, it would have seemed superfluous and vain to pray for the dead; and because he considered that they who had fallen asleep with godliness, had great grace laid up for them. It is therefore a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead, that they may be loosed from sins.”

Judah Maccabbee Redeeming the Sins of the Dead. From the Hours of Anne de Montmorency, 1550 (Public domain image from Wikimedia Commons.)
Lauds begins with its first antiphon as soon as the last reading is done. The psalmody is the same as in the traditional Roman Rite: 50, 64, 62 and 66, said as a single psalm, an Old Testament canticle, and 148-149-150, said as a single psalm. (Psalms 66, 149 and 150 were not removed after St Pius X’s reform of the Psalter, which was not applied to the Ambrosian Rite in any way.) The antiphon of Psalm 50 is different, however: “In iniquitatibus conceptus sum: peccavi coram te, Domine: miserere mei.” (In iniquities was I conceived; I have sinned before Thee, o Lord; have mercy on me.”) The word “peccavi” instead of “malum feci” is chosen in reference to what King David says when confronted by the prophet Nathan about his affair with Bathsheba and murder of her husband, since it was on this occasion that he composed this Psalm, as is stated in its title.

The Ambrosian repertoire of Old Testament canticles does not include the canticle of Hezekiah (Isaiah 38, 10-20) which is said in the Roman Office of the Dead, and at the ferial office of Tuesday. The Ambrosian Office of the Dead therefore replaces it with Jonah 2, 3-10, which is also sung at Sunday Matins in summertime, and is one of the odes of Byzantine Orthros. However, the antiphon with which it is said is a slightly different version of the Roman antiphon from the canticle of Hezekiah: “A porta inferi erue, Domine, animas eorum.” (“From the gates of hell deliver their souls, o Lord.” The Roman version reads “deliver my soul.”)

The Benedictus follows immediately after the psalmody, with the same antiphon. The rest of Lauds is the same as the end of Vespers (from the Lord’s Prayer forward), except that Psalm 142 is said in place of Psalm 50.

The most significant divergence from the Roman Office for the Dead lies in the corpus of Matins responsories. Those of the first two nocturns correspond to some of the Roman responsories which accompany the readings from the book of Job at the beginning of September, rather than those of the Roman Office of the Dead. The third nocturne includes the Ambrosian version of the Libera me, which is much shorter than its Roman counterpart, and also serves as the Offertory chant of the daily and anniversary Requiem Mass. The final responsory is uniquely Ambrosian.

R. Non timebis, anima, quia Christus passus est, * per cujus passionem nos redempti sumus. V. Dominus custodiat te ab omni malo; custodiat animam tuam Dominus. Per cujus… (Thou shalt not fear, o soul, because Christ hath suffer, and by His passion we are redeemed. May the Lord keep thee from all evil: may the Lord keep thy soul. And by…)
Crucifix by Filippo Brunelleschi, ca. 1415, from the Chapel of the Cross in the Dominican church of Santa Maria Novella in Florence. Back when it was common to have a Requiem Mass daily in cathedrals and large religious houses, the chapel for them was usually dedicated to the Cross.
The second volume of the Breviary also contains a special repertoire of fourteen responsories to be said in Lent, when the Office of the Dead was said on every ferial day. (This obligation was still kept until 1914, and amounted to daily recitation, since the only two feasts which are celebrated in Lent are those of St Joseph and the Annunciation.) Here is one particularly nice example.

R. Scio, Domine, quia morti me traditurus es, ubi constituta est domus omnis viventis. Credo in te, Domine, quia non ad consumptionem meam emittis manum tuam: * Si in profundo inferni demersus fuero, inde me liberabis. V. Memento, Domine, quia manus tuae fecerunt me, pelle et carne me induisti, vitam et misericoridam dedisti mihi. Si in profundo … (I know, o Lord, that Thou shalt hand me over to death, where the house of every man that liveth is established. I believe in Thee, o Lord, that Thou puttest forth Thy hand not to my destruction. If I shall be sunk down in the depth of hell, thence shalt Thou deliver me. Remember, o Lord, that Thy hands did make me, Thou didst clothe me with skin and flesh, and give me life and mercy. If I shall be...)

[1] For descriptive purposes, it is easier to say that the Office of the Dead is “stripped down” compared to the regular Office. It would of course be more accurate to describe it as “not built up”, since the absence of hymns, chapters, the introductory formulae etc. represents an archaic state of the Office before these elements were introduced.

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