Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Further notes on the Ambrosian rite

[This piece has been updated by Nicola De Grandi, who Gregory DiPippo speaks of with the highest regard as regards the Ambrosian rite. Some of this piece you've read before, but Mr. DeGrandi has added to the piece. It makes for interesting reading and deserves being re-posted here. I have tried to bold the parts added by Mr. DeGrandi.]

by Gregory DiPippo and Nicola De Grandi

I have always been struck by the similarity of Ambrosian music, which sounds almost nothing like Gregorian chant, to the music of the Greeks; it is "in a different modality altogether", as the master of an Ambrosian choir once said to me. And yet, it is also full of the lengthy melismas that were characteristic of the ancient Gallican liturgy, and the language of the rite is, of course, Latin. These aspects, combined with fact that externals such as vestments and church architecture almost identical to those of the historical Roman Rite, create the impression of a liturgy from an age when the traditions of the various churches of Christendom had not yet separated from each other. Indeed, there are scholars who believe that in some respects, the Ambrosian Rite is simply a very archaic form of the rite once used in Rome itself.

On the other hand, one can also consider that the Ambrosian Rite is a living example of an expression of the faith of a local Church with proper and legitimate traditions and ecclesiology, which was almost completely forgotten after Trent. Gregory is right to quote the hypothesis that the Ambrosian Rite is "more Roman than the Roman Rite itself", as Bl. Card. Schuster liked to say; however, scholars tend nowadays to consider that it is not very likely for the Roman Rite to be actually a more evolved form of the Ambrosian Rite. A number of supposed "archaisms" of the Ambrosian tradition, such as the three readings, the Oratio super Sindonem after the Gospel, the Oratio super Oblata sung aloud, archaisms which were used as excuses to change the historical form of the Roman Rite in the liturgical reform, are now
generally considered to be proper features of the Ambrosian Rite, deriving directly from the Gallican tradition.

The Ambrosian rite Mass began with a procession, accompanied by special antiphons repeated from the Office; the custom is to stop in the middle of the nave for the singing of twelve "Kyrie eleison", then move into the sanctuary.

"The twelve Kyrie" sung "in gremio ecclesiae" (literally "in the bosom of the church"), as the old rubrics say, have a perfect parallel to the close of Ambrosian Lauds, and are said in close connection with a Psallenda (a processional antiphon) also taken from Ambrosian Lauds -"psallenda(m) secunda(m) quae est in matutinis", according to the XII cent. Ordo of Beroldus - and come at the end of a procession through the church led by a stational cross. Thus, those Kyrie's represent clearly the close of the stational part before the Mass itself, which is also in parallel with the one at the end of Lauds. This should also be considered as an example of the strict connection of Mass and Divine Office in the Ambrosian liturgical tradition (see also Mass "inter Vesperas").

In the Ambrosian Rite, the acolytes stand in front of the altar for most of the Mass, and the Deacon and Subdeacon in Solemn Mass have their default position, so to speak, facing each other over the Mensa.

In case of a Pontifical High Mass, the ministers stand all around the altar.

This position is customary since the time of St. Ambrose, who writes in De officiis ministrorum I,50,251: “Not everyone sees the altar of the mysteries, because they are hidden by the Levites, so that those who ought not to see them may not see”. This also is, by the way, a precious testimony to the "ad orientem" position of the celebrant, also observed in the Ambrosian Rite in the IV century.

As a prominent Ambrosian Rite scholar writes: "If we carefully observe the position which the body of the Church assumes at that point, we find therein … the image of the ancient people of the Convenant, pilgrims in the presence of God, with the Levites 'around the Dwelling place of the testimony' and the Israelites "each one near his insignia/flag."

After the prayers at the foot of the Altar, which are similar to those of the Dominican Rite, the priest incenses it in the bizarre (to Roman eyes) Ambrosian manner; the thurible has no cover, and is swung in a complicated pattern of circles.

The uncovered thurible (as we can see in mosaics of St. Vitale in Ravenna) is, like the monstrance in a temple-like form, and the use of apparelled albs, a medieval feature kept by Ambrosians, and later considered as "typically Ambrosian."

The first Sunday of Lent is called "The Beginning of the Fast", but the rest are named for their Gospel, "the Sunday of the Samaritan Woman," "of Abraham", "of the Blind Man", "of Lazarus", and Palm Sunday, (also called Olive Sunday in the Ambrosian Breviary, since in Italy, olive branches are easier to get and more commonly used than palms.) As in the Eastern Rites, the Lenten Sundays are treated more or less like feasts, so our Mass on March 11th was very much the “feast” of Christ’s discourse in John 8, 31-59; "Abraham your father exulted that he might see My day: he saw, and he rejoiced."

The whole period of Lenten in the Ambrosian Rite has a strong catechetical character, in preparation for Baptism solemnly given by the Archbishop during the Easter Vigil, and is focused on both Sunday and Satuday. On Sundays, while the First Readings are all taken from Exodus, as a symbol of the liberation of the People of God from the slavery of Evil, the Gospels prepare the catechumens for the gifts of Baptism: "Sunday of the Samaritan woman": the living water ; "Sunday of Abraham": the adoption into the divine childhood not by blood, but by Baptism; "Sunday of the Blind Man": the true light; "Sunday of Lazarus": eternal life. The Masses of Palm Sunday, "Dominica in ramis olivarum", were part of a more complex ritual at the beginning of the Holy Week, and completely different from the Roman tradition. Two Masses were celebrated: the one – only by the Archbishop – in commemoration of our Lord’s entrance into the Holy City of Jerusalem, with a solemn procession through the city, ending in the Winter Cathedral; the other, celebrated by rest of the priests, with the reading of John 11,55; 12 1-11: "Jesus ergo ante sex dies Paschae venit Bethaniam". On Saturdays, almost all Gospels have a close connection to the "scrutinii" before the Baptism: II Saturday: the imposition of the hands "And He could not do any miracles there, except that He cured a few that were sick, laying his hands upon them" (Mark 6, 1-5); III Saturday: the anointing with oil "And they cast out many devils, and anointed with oil many that were sick, and healed them" (Mark 6, 7-13); IV Saturday, the signing with the Sign of the Cross, and the baptism of the infants "Then were little children presented to him, that He might impose hands upon them and pray" (Matth. 19, 13-15); V Saturday, also called "Sabbatum in Traditione Symboli," when the Archbishop taught the Creed to the catechumens "At that time Jesus answered and said: I confess to thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them to the little ones" (Matth. 11, 25-30). The 1st Saturday has an apology for the lack of fast on Lenten Saturdays according to the Ambrosian tradition: "At that time Jesus went through the corn on the Sabbath: and his disciples being hungry, began to pluck the ears, and to eat…For the Son of man is Lord even of the Sabbath."

During Lent, in place of the Gloria there is a litany, which is very similar to the litanies sung at the beginning of every Eastern liturgy. The Litany of the 1st, 3rd and 5th Sundays, "Divinae Pacis", (included in new edition of Cantus Selecti) contains an invocation to pray for those who are "in metallis", in the mines, to which Christians were sometimes condemned in age of the persecutions. This penalty was abolished in the West in 220 A.D.; it possible, therefore, that "Divinae Pacis"” is one of the very few surviving pieces of pre-Constantinian liturgical text (along with the Gloria and the Phos hilaron of Greek Vespers). It is an amazing thing to hear this most ancient of prayers in the true liturgical context for which it was

The "Divinae Pacis" Litany is, by the way, very similar to the ektenes litany of the Byzantine Liturgy, while the "Dicamus omnes" is shorter and close to the litany of dismissal of the catechumens in the same Byzantine tradition.

Another interesting point of similarity to the Greeks is that the tones for the Scriptural readings are quite generally similar to each other, the Gospel sounding much like the Prophecy and Epistle. On this occasion, the celebrant, Msgr . Angelo Amodeo, sang the first reading in a special tone, used only in Lent, and only in the Cathedral. Terrible to realize that with the passing of his generation, so many of these musical treasures may be lost forever!

After the Homily, the Priest lays out the corporal, while the choir sings an antiphon called "post Evangelium"; he then salutes the people with the words "Pacem habete" to which answer is made "Ad te, Domine", also very much as in the Eastern Rites. There follows a prayer which is termed "Super sindonem - Over the shroud," since the whiteness of the corporal recalls the burial shroud of Our Lord; this custom reminds one of another Eastern tradition, that of having an image of Our Lord’s burial on the corporal.

The three Kyrie after the Gospel are a sign that the first part of the Mass has come to an end. The Antiphona post Evangelium is, as a parallel to the "Ingressa" sung during the first incensation of the Altar, a solemn salutation to the Altar, while the shroud is unfolded upon it to be prepared for the come of the Holy of Holies.

The deacon’s admonition "Pacem Habete" is sung in memory of Our Lord’s command "If therefore thou offer thy gift at the altar, and there thou remember that thy brother hath any thing against thee; Leave there thy offering before the altar, and go first to be reconciled to thy brother: and then coming thou shalt offer thy gift" (Matth. 5, 23-24), and in preparation to the procession with the gifts, which was always traditionally kept in the Cathedral, and recommended by St. Charles in the IV Provincial Council of Milan.

The "Ad te, Domine" (formerly preceded by another deaconal admonition "Corrigite vos ad orationem!") sung by the choir is a further sign that also the faithful are preparing themselves for the Coming of the Holy One, by turning to East.

The Ambrosian offertory is similar to the Roman, but much longer, and the Offertory Antiphons are correspondingly also much longer. The Priest incenses the Altar, and is himself incensed, then he returns to the middle of the altar and intones the Creed.

In the Ambrosian rite, the Creed has a mystagogical function, immediately before the beginning of the Canon, to clearly state that the confession of the True Faith is the indispensible premise to a valid Eucharistical Sacrifice. It is thus not by chance that the people, the mystical body of Christ, are incensed while they (the choir) are singing the Symbolum.

On this particular occasion, the choir of San Simeon sang a very nice polyphonic creed by Antonio Lotti. (Special kudos to Massimo Bisson, head of the choir!) The incensation does not resume until the Priest has finished reading the Creed silently and gone to sit. When it resumes, it is done by the M.C., who is preceded by two of the six acolytes; to each person he says "Behold the odor of the saints of God, as the odor of a full field that God has blessed", and each responds "Deo gratias".

This custom to incense the people while uttering these words can be explained only in connection with Exodus 30, 35-38: "And thou shalt make incense compounded by the work of the perfumer, well tempered together, and pure, and most worthy of sanctification. And when thou hast beaten all into very small powder, thou shalt set of it before the tabernacle of the testimony, in the place where I will appear to thee. Most holy shall this incense be to you. You shall not make such a composition for your own uses, because it is holy to the Lord. What man soever shall make the like, to enjoy the smell thereof, he shall perish out of his people." The old temple is now destroyed, and the faithful are the true temple of God.

I am told that in the old days, the incensation at High Mass in the Duomo went on right through the Creed, Sanctus, Preface and well into the Canon.

After the Creed, the Priest returns to the altar, and sings the prayer "Super oblata" (Secret) out loud; the Ambrosian Rite was the source for the change introduced at this point into the Roman Rite. There follow the "Sursum Corda" dialogue and Preface, textually the same, but again with different, very beautiful melody. The Ambrosian Rite has preserved the ancient custom, also once part of the Roman Rite, of having a different Preface for virtually every Mass; some Masses have prefaces that take up a full column in the Missal!

The Canon is mostly the same as the Roman, but with a few very interesting differences.

Several more Saints are added to the Communicantes and Nobis quoque, and the names are printed in two parallel columns, as they were originally written in ancient times on the two panels of a diptych. The washing of the hands is done immediately before the Consecration, not at the Offertory. In place of "Haec quotiescumque", the Ambrosian Rite reads ‘Commanding them also and saying to them, "So often as ye shall do these things, you shall do them unto My memory, ye shall preach My death, ye shall announce My resurrection, ye shall hope for My coming, until again from Heaven I shall come to you." ’ The Priest then stretches out his hands in the shape of the Cross until the Suscipe, a beautiful medieval custom that was also part of the Dominican and Carmelite rites, among others.

The Fraction is done immediately after the Canon, accompanied by an antiphon called the Confractorium, after which comes the Pater noster ; this was also the order in the Roman Rite until the time of St. Gregory the Great. Since the Fraction has already been done, the Embolism is sung out loud, mention being made of St. Ambrose after St. Andrew. An invitation to exchange the Peace is made, and the Priest says his prayers before communion silently; the AR does not have the Agnus Dei.

From this point forward, the Ambrosian Rite is very similar to the Roman. The Communion antiphon is called the Transitorium; it should be noted that many of the longer ones are arranged in a tripartite structure similar to that of the Agnus Dei, the first part being sung by the men’s choir, the second by the boys’, and the third by both together. Also noteworthy is the absence of "Ite, Missa est"; the Mass always ends with "Benedicamus Domino – Deo gratias", as was also formerly the practice of the Roman Rite on penitential days. "Ite" is almost certainly a later development: another example of the reformers abolishing a more ancient practice in the name of "restoring" the custom of antiquity.

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