Friday, January 01, 2010

Ambrosian Rite Vespers, Part II: the Psalmody

The learned post by our Gregory Di Pippo about the Stations of Christmas Season, where he mentions the custom retained in the Ambrosian Rite of the prayers against idols on the first day of the Civil Year, gives an occasion to continue our overview of Ambrosian Rite Vespers.

We ended the description of the first part at the Hymn, and we said that, after the first verse of the Hymn of the day, the Celebrant and the Major Ministers go to the sedilia, while two minor ministers take the candelsticks away from the altar and carry them back to the sacristy.

The Hymn works as a kind of trait-d'union between the Rites of the Light -which we can consider for sure the oldest part of the whole Ambrosian Vesper- and the Psalmody, and, not surprisingly, earns thus a place of great significance at the centre of the Vesperal Office properly said (i.e. excluding the Stational part).

I say not surprisingly, because St.Ambrose is unanimously considered the true founder if not inventor of Western Christian Hymnody, whose relevance in Christian liturgy and sacred music is very well-known.

St.Ambrose was himself apparenly very well aware of the incredible success of his invention among the Christian people, if he, in his famous "Sermon against Auxentius on the giving up of the Basilicas", wrote:

They declare also that the people have been led astray by the strains of my hymns. I certainly do not deny it. That is a lofty strain, and there is nothing more powerful than it. For what has more power than the confession of the Trinity which is daily celebrated by the mouth of the whole people? All eagerly vie one with the other in confessing the faith, and know how to praise in verse the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. So they all have become teachers, who scarcely could be disciples.

(Letters, XXI, 34)

And St. Augustine thus commented:
Then was it first instituted that after the manner of the Eastern Churches,hymns and psalms should be sung, lest the people should wax faint through the
tediousness of sorrow.


The Ambrosian Sacred Office retains thirteen liturgical Hymns composed by the Blessed Patron.

Four are used for daily hours: Aeterne Rerum Conditor (used for Matins); Splendor paternae gloriae (for Lauds); Iam surgit hora tertia (for Terce on solemn Saint's days or Sundays); and Deus Creator omnium (for Sunday Vespers)

Three are used for the three greatest Feasts of the Calendar: Intende qui regis Israel (Christmas); Illuminans, Altissime (Epiphany); Hic est dies verus Dei (Easter).

Two are used for Apostles: Apostolorum Passio (Sts. Peter and Paul); Amore Christi nobilis (St. John Ev.).

Two for Milanese Martyrs: Grates Tibi, Jesu, novas (Sts. Protasius and Gervasius); Victor, Nabor, Felix pii (Sts. Victor, Nabor and Felix).

Two for Roman Martyrs: Agnes Beatae Virginis (St. Agnes); Apostolorum Supparem (St. Lawrence)

According to Msgr. E.T. Moneta Caglio's studies, considering also later compositions, out of seventy-eight Hymns used in the traditional Ambrosian Breviary, "the more original and traditional core of Ambrosian Rite Hymnody" consists in around forty Hymns.

After the Hymn has ended, the Celebrant and Major and Minor Ministers sit, while the choir sings the Responsorium in choro, which, on Second Vespers of solemn Saint's Feasts and Soleminities is called Responsorium cum infantibus because was sung by the pueri cantores.

Then, all stand up, and the Celebrant with Ministers goes to the middle of the sanctuary, where all genuflect or bow.
There, the Celebrant sings a "Dominus vobiscum", all genuflect or bow and go back to the sedilia.

At this point, the Psalmody properly said begins.

Here two preliminary remarks are in order:

1) Most scholars, among them Magistretti, Borella and Cattaneo, think that the Psalmody must be a later addition to the original and oldest rite of the Vespers, which originally consisted only in the Lucernarium. They notice, as an evidence thereof, that, in the most ancient Ambrosian rite of the "Missa inter Vesperas" (see a following post), albeit only at Pentecost, psalms are missing. Furthermore, they notice that, on the Second Vespers of Christmas, only the first part of the Vespers exists, because there immediately follow the Vespers of St. Stephen. However, they also notice that the oldest psalter schema used for greater feasts of the Calendar (see below) can be borrowed from the synagogal liturgy, and must be very old, which sounds quite inconsistent with the previous remarks.

2) The Psalter used in the Ambrosian Breviary is somewhat different from the "Gallican" used in the Roman Breviary and the "Roman" used until the Liturgical Reform by Canons of St. Peter's Basilica in Rome. It is known as "Ambrosian Psalter".

Considering now the distribution of psalms into the Vesperal Office, the Ambrosian Breviary uses three different Psalter Schemas for different ranks of Vespers.

First Schema: Used for the most ancient and important Feast of the Calendar, consists in one proper psalm + psalm 133 + psalm 116 + a prayer.

Second Schema: Used for all Saint's Feasts and also some Feasts of later introduction, consists in one proper psalm + psalm 133 + psalm 116 + one prayer + a second proper psalm + another prayer.

Third Schema: Used for feriae and ordinary Sunday Verpers, has five psalms + a prayer.

According to the unanimous scholarship, the first schema is the most ancient, and probably the original one for the Ambrosian tradition.

In fact, each of the most important Feasts of Our Lord -with the notable exception of Christmas- has a psalm whose text prefigures the Mystery of the day:

VI Sunday of Advent and Feast of the Incarnation of Our Lord: Psalm 114
Epiphany: Psalm 84
Palm Sunday: Psalm 58
Maundy Thursday: Psalm 69
Good Friday: Psalm 21
Easter: Psalm 113

Later also:

Dedication of the Major Church (3rd Sunday of October) Psalm 85
Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary: Psalm 114
Annunciation: Psalm 114
Octave of Epiphany: Psalm 84
Octave of Pentecost: Psalm 32

As I mentioned before, scholars notice that Psalm 133 is typical of the evening service in the Jewish rites, and Psalm 116 is the so-called Jewish Doxology.

The second schema is probably a shorter form of the the oldest Vigiliary Vespers for the Saints or Vesperae cum Vigiliis we will consider in a following post.
It was borrowed also for some other less important Fests, or for Feast of later institution like Ascension, Sacred Heart, Corpus Christi etc.

In this case, the Celebrant stands up and goes to the middle of the sanctuary where he genuflects or bows and sings the first prayer, then he returns to the sedilia for the second proper psalm.

The third schema is clearly borrowed from the Roman Rite and was accepted only during recent centuries.

We have an evidence thereof from the fact that, in the Ambrosian Psalter for Vespers -which is weekly, unlike the one for Matins which is bi-weekly- those psalms are omitted that would have been recited during the week... in the Roman Rite! (see a useful schema here)
Several scholars think that it may be inferred from some notes on the earliest printed breviaries that, originally, the Psalm proper to Sundays was Psalm 113, the same as Easter, because Sunday is the weekly Easter.

Finally, it should be pointed out that Psalms in the Ambrosian Rite Vespers -unlike daily minor hours- do have Antiphons, which are always semi-doubled, apart from some very rare cases.

After the last Antiphon, three Kyrie eleison are sung, while the Celebrant and Ministers stand up and go to the middle of the sanctuary where they genuflect or bow.

There the first (or second, depending on the schema) prayer is sung.

At this point, minor ministers with candelsticks and incense are ready for the rites surrounding the singing of the Magnificat.

The two candelsticks are put on the altar, like at the beginning of the ceremony, and the Magnificat Antiphon is sung, whose text according to the Ambrosian tradition has some differences from the Roman, which can give our readership a clue about the differences between Ambrosian and Roman texts for Vespers:

anima mea Dominum:
Et exsultavit spiritus meus
in Deo salutari meo:
Quia respexit humilitatem ancillae suae;
ecce enim ex hoc beatam me dicent
omnes generationes:
Quia fecit mihi magna qui potens est,
et sanctum nomen ejus:
Et misericordia ejus a saeculo et in saeculum
super timentes eum.

Fecit potentiam in brachio suo;
dissipavit superbos mente cordis eorum.
Deposuit potentes de sede,
et exaltavit humiles.
Esurientes satiavit bonis,
et divites dimisit inanes.
Suscepit Israel puerum suum,
memor misericordiae suae;
Sicut locutus est ad patres nostros,
Abraham et semini ejus usque in aeternum.
Gloria patri. Sicut erat.

According to the oldest usage, the incensation took place before the Magnificat, but was later moved during the chant of the Marian Canticle. The altar is incensed in the usual Ambrosian way, with large swings drawing small crosses on the object which is being incensed.

Then, the Celebrant goes back to the sedilia where he is incensed.

At the end of the Magnificat, the Gloria Patri is sung, and then again the first versicle of the Marian Canticle, while all bow profoundly.

Then, the choir sings again the Antiphona ad Magnificat, and again three Kyrie eleison.

Finally, the Celebrant and the Major Ministers go to the middle of the sanctuary, where they stand until the end of the Vespers, and genuflect, or bow.
At this point, the celebrant, after another Dominus vobiscum, sings the second (or the third, see above) prayer.

Here the Psalmody has come to an end, and begins the third and last part: the Stational part.

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