Saturday, March 27, 2010

The "Sabbatum in Traditione Symboli" in the Ambrosian tradition

According to the Ambrosian liturgical tradition, the Saturday after the 5th Sunday in Lent is known as Sabbatum in traditione Symboli or Saturday of the handing over of the Symbolum, where "Symbolum", again in the Ambrosian liturgical tradition, is the common name for the Creed.

This day, as we shall see in the following parts of this article, is liturgically very similar to a normal Lenten Saturday, but, as I mentioned in a previous post, the liturgical colour shifts this day from black/morello to red, giving a visual sign of the beginning of the time immediately before the Passion and Death of Our Lord, called "Hebdomada Authentica" -- which should be translated as "Eminent Week", in the same sense used by Eastern Rites, that call it "Great Week" (cfr. Msgr. M.Navoni, La Settimana Santa Ambrosiana).

As a matter of fact, this Saturday, in the complex pattern of Ambrosian Lent, is both the end of the long catechetical preparation of the catechumens for the Mysteries of the Christian Faith, and the beginning of the solemn commemoration of the last days of Our Lord on the earth before His salvific Death on the Cross.

This gives us an occasion to sum up some of the most important features of Ambrosian Lent until the Sabbatum in Traditione Symboli.

As a preliminary note, it should be noted that, in the Ambrosian Rite, like in most Catholic liturgical rites, during the time immediately before Easter, the liturgy retains its most ancient and venerable traditions, if not intact, then at very least visible. So it is not rare to find a testimony of the customs proper to the Milanese Rite in text written by St. Ambrose himself, who considered them as customary already by his time.

1) Lenten weekdays (excluding Saturdays):

As I mentioned in my previous article, all weekdays in Lent are feriae, according to the Ambrosian tradition. In all post-Carolingian sources, the text of the propers of weekday Masses during Lent - excluding only the ordo lectionum - are entirely borrowed from the Roman Rite.

An important study by Abbess Judith Frei about the Ambrosian-monastic Missal of St. Simpliciano (Judith Frei, Das ambrosianische Sakramentar D 3-3 aus dem mailändischen Metropolitankapitel), has given good evidence that, before the Carolingian reform of liturgical books, there existed an Ambrosian libellus quadragesimalis with prayers used throughout Lent for all weekdays. This would give a strong resemblance to the pattern of the Gallican liturgical books.

After the Carolingian reform, under influence of the Roman custom for every weekday in Lent to have its own propers, the older propers were replaced with the newer, "Roman" ones.

The original order of the readings, on the contrary, have always been retained. Amongst its features are worth noting:

- the lectio continua of Our Lord's "Sermon of the Mount" according to Matthew (from 5:1 on the Monday after the Dominica in capite Quadragesimae to 7:21 on the Thursday after the 4th Sunday of Lent)

- the readings from the books of Genesis and Proverbs before the Gospel, only in the Cathedral, until the Sabbatum in Traditione Symboli, attested to since St. Ambrose's time (De Mysteriis 1.1)

2) Lenten Sundays:

We have already focused on the strong catechetical character of Lenten Sundays in the Ambrosian Rite in a previous article, which can be read here.

3) Lenten Saturdays:

Lenten Saturdays, according to St.Ambrose's own words, were considered semi-festive days, and the fast was suspended (De Elia et jejunio, 34).

In fact, the Gospel of the First Saturday in Lent (Matth. 12:1-8) sounds very much like a strong defense of this Ambrosian custom, when, in response to the Pharisees reproaching the disciples who were eating corns ears on Sabbath day, Our Lord's words are proclaimed:

Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, and they that were with him: How he entered into the house of God, and did eat the loaves of proposition, which it was not lawful for him to eat, nor for them that were with him, but for the priests only? Or have ye not read in the law, that on the sabbath days the priests in the temple break the sabbath, and are without blame?

But I tell you that there is here a greater than the temple. And if you knew what this meaneth: I will have mercy, and not sacrifice: you would never have condemned the innocent. For the Son of man is Lord even of the sabbath

The special character of these semi-festive days is also attested by the three readings of the Mass, and by the presence of the Antiphona post Evangelium.

On Saturdays there also took place the scrutinies of the catechumens, as suggested by the Gospels for the Mass of the day.

2nd Saturday: the imposition of the hands. Mark 6:1-5:
...And Jesus said to them: A prophet is not without honor, but in his own country, and in his own house, and among his own kindred. And he could not do any miracles there, only that he cured a few that were sick, laying his hands upon them.

3rd Saturday: the anointing with the oil of the catechumens. Mark 6:7-13:
...And they cast out many devils, and anointed with oil many that were sick, and healed them.

4th Saturday: the imposition of the sign of the Cross on the catechumens' foreheads. Matth. 19:13-15a:
...Then were little children presented to him, that he should impose hands upon them and pray

Finally, there came the Sabbatum in Traditione Symboli.

According to St. Ambrose's testimony in a letter to his sister, St. Marcellina (Epist., 76,4) the Symbolum was originally handed over to the Catechumens on the Sunday before Easter. They had to learn it by heart and they were instructed to not write it down, according to the well-known "disciplina arcani", like St. Ambrose writes (Explanatio Symboli ad initiandos, 9 passim). The scrutinies probably also took place on Sundays.

Later, perhaps in the 5th century (see Navoni), under the strong influence of the liturgy of Jerusalem, the Sunday before Easter became Palm Sunday, and both the scrutinies and the Traditio Symboli were anticipated on the Saturday.

A special feature of the Mass of this day is that, unlike all other ferial Masses, the Credo is sung.

As I mentioned in a previous post, the Symbolum has, in the Ambrosian Mass, a strong mystagogical character, coming immediately before the Canon.

As a perfect parallel, the Mass dedicated to the ceremony of the Traditio Symboli stands immediately before the beginning of "Eminent Week" which leads the catechumens, and all the Christian faithful, into the "mystery" of the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

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