Saturday, April 03, 2010

Easter in the Ambrosian Rite - Part I

Upon posting on the NLM my last article, some kind commentators asked for more information about the Paschal Vigil according to the Ambrosian Rite.
The aim of this fist post is to prepare our readers to the answer to this question.

In fact, it is very important to notice that the Ambrosian understanding of the Holy Week -which according to the Ambrosian Tradition is called Hedomada Authentica- is in many ways different from the Roman parallel, and gives a very fascinating example of liturgical diversity inside the common frame of the Western or Latin Liturgical Tradition.
This differences ask for some preliminary clarifications, without which it would be almost impossible to understand the meaning of the Ambrosian Paschal Vigil.

In some sense, during the Holy Week, and particularly during the Holy Triduum, the sacred ceremonies of each Rite of the West keep an authentic, venerable memory of the mystical meaning the first Christian communities gave to the most sacred mysteries of our Faith.

In the Ambrosian Liturgical Tradition, unlike the Roman, each day of the Hebdomada Authentica is seen as a part of a dramatic chronicle of the Passion of Our Lord until His blessed Dead on the Cross and burial, alterned with readings pre-figuring His sufferings, prayers, and beautiful antiphons.

In this post, due to evident time and space limits, we will focus almost exclusively on the scriptural pericopes.

The chronicle of the Passion begins with Palm Sunday, when, apart from one single Mass celebrated by the Archbishop, no mention exists, in the sacred rites of the day, of the triumphal entrance of Our Lord into Jerusalem.
The readings of the day are:

Isaiah: 53, 1-12. The prophecy of the rise of the Redeemer.

Thessalonians: 2, 14-16; 3,7-5. An exhortation of the Apostle to keep the Traditions of the Church and be strong in Faith, albeit every suffering and pain.

However, the liturgy of the day is inspired by the reading of the Gospel according to
St.John: 11,55; 12,1-11. The visit of Our Lord to Bethany "six days before the pasch", in perfect parallel with the chronological succession of the days.

During the Hebdomada Authentica itself, liturgical books would seem to call the faithful and the clergy to live the Passion of our Lord -either as predicted in Our Lord's own words, or in the "live" chronicle of the Gospel according to St. Matthew, or as pre-figuration in several books of the Old Testament- during a long succession of sung offices and Catecheses throughout the day.
A Catechesis is a sort of Mass of the Catechumens, with three readings and a prayer.

In every Ambrosian Church, on the first three days of the Holy Week, two readings are sung:

Monday in Authentica:
Isaiah: 50, 5-10. A prophecy of the last sufferings of Our Lord.
Luke: 21, 34-36. Jesus urges his Disciples to be strong and ready in preparation to every trial.

Tuesday in Authentica:
Isaiah: 11, 18-20. A prophecy by Jeremias on the Lamb of God.
John: 11, 47-54. The Jews plot to kill Jesus.

Wednesday in Authentica:
Isaiah: 62, 11; 63, 1-7. Another powerful prophecy of the Passion.
Matthew: 26, 1-5. The final preparations of the Jews.

The reading Gospel according to Matthew will become from now on the main feature, at least from the scriptural side, of the days of the Holy Week.

In addition, only in the Cathedral, according to a custom dating back to the first centuries, and cited by St.Ambrose himself (Epist. 76,14), a Deacon wearing a special kind of stole under the dalmatic, sings a series of readings from the Books of Tobias and Job, which clearly represent a pre-figuration of the Passion of Our Lord.

Maundy Thursday is considered, in the Ambrosian Tradition, not only, as in the Roman tradition, the day of the institution of the Holy Eucharist, but also the day of the betraial of Judas, and of the reconciliation of Penitents before Easter.

On the day before, Solemn Matins had been sung. Again unlike the Roman tradition, "Tenebrae" Matins are completely unknown to the Ambrosian Tradition, but the structure of Matins for the Holy Triduum is very peculiar.

On Maundy Thursday, in the Cathedral, and in churches with a chapter of Canons, after Terce has been sung, a solemn "Catechesis" takes place.
After a Dominus Vobiscum sung by the Celebrant, three Deacons wearing red dalmatics sing the following readings:
Daniel: 13, 1-64. The story of Susanna tempted and calumniated by the iniquitous men.

Wisdom: 2, 12-25; 3, 1-8. The Jews plot against a just man, but the Lord frees his faithful from evil and rewards them with the eternal life.

Matthew: 26 14-16. Judas is offered a reward to betray Jesus.
Rubrics direct to sing this Gospel "in tono quadragesimali", and in a way that shouldn't be heard from anybody, but the clerics around the Deacon.

Then, the Priest sings a prayer and closes the Catechesis with the usual formulae.

After the chant of Sext and None, Solemn Vespers begin.
Like on a couple of other solemn occasions, on the vigil of major feasts of the liturgical calendar, like Epiphany, Mass is celebrated inter Vesperas: after the beautiful hymn "Hymnum canamus supplices" and the responsorium in choro, Vespers are interrupted, and Mass begins.

Before the Mass itself, a preliminary reading is sung by a Lector wearing a red cope
Jonas: 1, 2-34 that is the entire Book, excluding only the prologue.
This reading was considered "de more" by St.Ambrose (Hexameron 5,8,92), and must thus date back to the first centuries of the Church.

We are forced to put aside a number of important features of this Mass (including a proper Canon with a strong Gallican influence, and procession inside the very close to the Great Entrance of the Byzantine tradition) to focus on the readings:

Corinthians: 11, 20-34. The institution of the Holy Eucharist according to St.Paul, like in the Roman Rite. But the pericope is much longer than in the Roman version.
Matthew: 26, 17-75. The Passion of Our Lord from the Last Supper until St.Peter's denial.

After the end of the Mass, the Most Blessed Sacrament in carried in procession to the Altar of the Reposition.
Then, the last part of Vespers is sung.

Finally, only in the Cathedral, and only since 1840, the washing of the feet takes place. Before the whole ceremony took place side the private apartments of the Archbishop. Then he used to take a lunch with the Canons of the Metropolitan Chapter.

Around 15,30, the chant of Good Friday Matins begins, which are by far the longest in the whole Ambrosian Rite Office. In fact, the Passion according the three Evangelists -Mark, Luke, and John, whose text isn't read during the week, is sung within those Matins.

On Good Friday, of course, like on every Lenten Friday, no Mass is celebrated.
Every function is focused on the memory of the Death of Our Lord on the Cross.

After Terce, like on the previous day, a Catechesis takes place.
Again, the Officiant sings a Dominus Vobiscum, and the three following readings are sung, by deacons wearing red dalmatics, and alterned by beautiful inter-lectionary chants:

Isaiah: 49,21-50 The sufferings of the Servant of God
Isaiah: 53, 1-12 Again on the Servant of God
Between the two readings, the choir sings psalm 21, and the Celebrant sings a prayer.

After the last reading, the Archbishop, or the most prominent priest in the choir sings a beautiful responsory called "Tenebrae", from the first of its word, whose text is a cento from the Gospels of St.Matthew and St.John

Then, the Gospel of the Passion of Our Lord is sung.
Matthew: 27, 1-50

After the proclamation of the Death of Our Lord, the stripping of the altars and of the whole church takes place, lights are turned off, the sound of bells is interdicted, and, in churches where the large conopaeum is hung from the ceiling, it is folded around the ciborium magnum.
Even the common liturgical salutation "Dominus vobiscum" is replaced with "Benedictus Dominus, qui vivit et regnat in saecula saeculorum. Amen".

The distribution of the Communion on Good Friday is, even in the Ordinary Form, strictly forbidden.

Then, the Deacon continues singing at a low voice, without lights:
Mattew: 27, 51-56. Prodigies after Our Lord's Death, and the confession of the centurio.

At this point, the Celebrant and all the Ministers take off their vestments, and wear only a simple surplice over the cassock.

Then, after a sermon and a final prayer, the ceremony ends.

After the chant of Sext and None, the solemn Adoration of the Cross takes place, while the choir sings beautiful Antiphons of Eastern origin.
The Roman Rite "Improperia" are unknown to the Ambrosian tradition.

Then, in churces where Good Friday is celebrated in a more solemn way, another Catechesis takes place, then.

After the "Benedictus Dominus qui vivit..." the following readings are sung by Lectors

Daniel: 3, 1-24. The story of the three children in the furnace.
Daniel: 3, 91-100. Again, the story of the three children.

Between the readings, the Canticle "Benedictus" is sung by two choirs, the one singing each versicle of the Canticle, the other singing "Amen" in response to every versicle.

Finally, the Deacon sings the following Gospel without lights, or incense, and omitting salutations:

Matthew: 27, 57-61. The burial of the body of Our Lord.

Then, Solemn Vespers are sung.
After the last Responsory, the Ambrosian version of the Orationes Solemnes, are recited. They sound very close to the Roman Rite ones, but the ceremony is rather different.

On Holy Saturday, after Terce, before the Paschal Vigil begins, another Catechesis takes place.
After the usual salutation by the Officiant, one Lector wearing a red cope sings the following:

Gensis: 6-8, 21 The story of the Deluge.

Then, the Deacon, without lights and incense and omitting all salutations sings:

Matthew: 27, 62-66 The Pharisees ask Pilatus to guard the Sepulcre.

Then, after the final prayer, the service ends more solito.

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