Sunday, February 10, 2008

Ambrosian Lent II: Forty days?

I thought that, on the very day of the beginning of the Ambrosian Lent, an answer was in order for the kind reader who asked how it is possible to have a Lent -Quadragesima in Latin, from quadragesima (pars) = fortieth (part)- apparently shorter than forty days in the Ambrosian Rite.

It is well known that, until the IV century, it wasn't clear how long the time of penance before Easter should last. St. John Chrysostom writes that faithful from Antiochia had the custom to ask one the other how many weeks of Lent they fasted. Answers -St. John writes -may vary from two to three, to every week.

When (between 354 and 384 according to Msgr. Moneta Caglio) Lent was first officially established in Rome, it begun most certainly with the Dominica in Capite Quadragesimae or in Capite Ieiunii.

We have a clear evidence thereof from a prayer of the Sacramentarium Reginense (formerly known as Gelasianum), then passed to the Gregorian Sacramentary and to the 1962 Roman Missal: "Sacrificium quadragesimalis initii solemniter immolamus te, Domine, deprecantes: etc." "O Lord, we solemnly raise up the Sacrifice of the beginning of Lent, and we beseech Thee...", which is really quite eloquent.

The same can be said for another prayer -for Ash Wednesday this time- passed on from the Reginense, to the Gregorianum, then to the Roman Missal, but with a significant correction. The original version was:"Fac nos quaesumus, Domine, his muneribus offerendis convenienter aptari: quibus ipsius venerabilis sacramenti venturum celebramus exordium" "O Lord, make us able to offer up conveniently these gifts, by which we celebrate the beginning of the venerable season of mystery to come".

It is evident that, this time, "venturum" = "to come" was deleted when the beginning of Lent was moved to Ash Wednesday.

It is thus clear that the Ambrosian Rite preserved, as often happens, a status more ancient, that the Roman Rite has later changed.

But so, why the original, more ancient Lent seems shorter than forty days?

Moneta Caglio and Borella suggest that, from the Dominica in Capite Quadragesimae to Maundy Thursday (in the first centuries the whole Sacred Triduum was meant as Pascha), there are exactly forty days of penance. Penance, according to the oldest custom doesn't necessarily coincide with fast: in Rome also lenten Sundays, and in Milan Lenten Saturdays and Sundays, when fast was forbidden, were considered a part of Lent!

Later, when also the Sacred Triduum started to be considered a part of Lent, St. Cassianus noticed that the thirty-six days of fast from the Dominica in Capite Quadragesimae onto Holy Saturday were the tithe (tenth part) of the year.

When the computation of fast days became stricter, it was felt as necessary to anticipate the beginning of Lent by four days, because in Rome fast was forbidden only on Sundays.

As a consequence, Ash Wednesday was established for the Roman Church, and then for the whole Western Church.

Only the Ambrosian Church preserved the oldest discipline, and kept the custom to begin Lent on the Dominica in Capite Quadragesimae, or better, the day after, as I wrote in a previous post.

It was only several centuries later that the Milanese folk invented the legend that, one year, St. Ambrose, being abroad at the beginning of the (Roman) Lent, which then was as long as the Ambrosian Lent, but being fond to celebrate the Carnevale with his beloved flock, decided to make the Ambrosian Carnevale longer, in order to have time to come back to Milan in time.

And thus, the Milanese people told, we had a Carnevale longer than in every other spot of the world!

In the picture I posted, you can see Dionigi Card. Tettamanzi during the ceremony of the imposition of the Ashes, which, in the post-conciliar Ambrosian Rite, takes place in the Dominica in Capite Quadragesimae.
You'll notice that the Archbishop is wearing traditional Ambrosian "morello" vestments, while the Deacon is wearing a Roman violet dalmatic.

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