Sunday, April 04, 2010

Easter in the Ambrosian Rite - Part II

In the previous part of this article, we gave an overview of the ceremonies of the Hebdomada Authentica according to the Ambrosian Tradition.
We will now describe the ceremonies of Easter Vigil according to the Ambrosian Rite, until the announcement of the Resurreection, with a particular focus on the ritual and spiritual differences between the Roman and the Ambrosian understanding of the Chistian Pascha.

In my previous post, I suggested that in the liturgy of the days of the Holy Week, there exists a strong climax focused on the dramatic Death of Our Lord on the Cross.
The faithful gathered in the church follow the last days of Our Lord before his Death moment by moment, hour by hour, until the acme seems to be finally reached, with His crucifixion and Death on the Cross.
Every joy, every light, every sound is then extinguished, apparently forever.
The Church meditates on the dead Christ, died in expiation of the sins of the humankind.

Msgr. Navoni, in his interest booklet "La Settimana Santa Ambrosiana" notices that, in this respect, the Ambrosian liturgy follows a very ancient tradition common to some Churches of the East, that celebrated the Pascha staurosimon, or Easter of Crucifixion, as a commemoration of Our Lord's bloody Sacrifice on the Altar of the Cross.
According to this view, Christ's Death is actually the death of the Death herself, and Christ, seated on the Throne of the Cross, is a powerful representation of God's final triumph over Death.

According to this perspective, it must be interpreted the fact that, on Palm Sunday, the Ambrosian liturgy reads that Jesus visited Bethany "ante sex dies Paschae" - six days before Pasch/Easter-, or that, in the psallentium sung during Palm Sunday procession, one Antiphon says:

Venite omnes: adoremus thronum Dominationis ante sex dies Passionis

"Come ye all: let as worship the throne of the King six days before His Passion".

Palm Sunday, in fact, falls exactly on the sixth day before Good Friday.

Furthermore, the proclamation of the Death of Our Lord strikes for its great solemnity, and the sudden, tragic sense of desolation that falls on every aspect of the liturgical life.

But the sadness for the Pascha staurosimon can't be separated from the expectation for the Pascha anastasimon, or Easter of Resurrection, which is the common meaning we give to the word in the Christian West.

In fact, on Good Friday, between the two readings from Isaiah, and after the chant of psalm 21, the Celebrant sung this prayer:

Deus, qui pro nobis Filium tuum crucis patibulum subire voluisti, ut inimici a nobis expelleres potestatem, concede nobis famulis tuis: ut resurrectionis ejus gratiam consequamur. Per eundem Dominum...

and, during the Adoration of the Cross, the first of the antiphons sung by the choir says:

Crucem tuam adoramus, Domine: et sanctam resurrectionem tuam glorificamus.

According to Msgr. Navoni's interpretation, in the texts and symbology of Ambrosian Holy Triduum, can be thus tracked out a co-existence of the two "Easters", even if the reference to the Easter of Resurrection is preeminent.

However, as we are about to give an overview of the Paschal Vigil in the Ambrosian Rite, we can't but notice that, according to the uninterrupted Ambrosian liturgical tradition, the Mass on Maundy Thursday, Vigil of the Pascha staurosimon,is celebrated inter Vesperas, like all Masses in the Vigil of greater liturgical feasts, and in a perfect parallel with the paschal Vigil of Holy Saturday, Vigil of the Pascha anastasimon.

On Holy Saturday, after the Catechesis whose contents we expounded in the previous post, the Office of Sext and None is sung.

While the clergy in choro sings the Office, the rite of the Blessing of the Fire takes place in the sacristy, as a private ceremony.
This ceremony is far less important than in the Roman Rite, and isn't meant as the benediction of the "new" fire. On the contrary, according to the ancient ceremonial books, a light should be blessed, that was kept alight in the midst of the Good Friday darkness, to represent the life surviving to death.
The origins of this practice can be found perhaps in an imitation of the ancient rite of Jerusalem, where, in the V century, the fire for the Paschal Candel was taken from the chapel of the Holy Sepulchre.
In fact, according to the Ordo Ambrosianus of the XI Century, in the Middle Age the custom was to take the fire to be blessed for the ceremonies in the Cathedral from a light kept in the Basilica of the Holy Sepluchre, built in Milan after the First Crusade.

After the Chant of the Office of None has ended, the Ministers walk out from the sacristy: first the Thurifer, then three acolytes carring the blessed water, the five grains of incense, and the Paschal Candle -still not alight-, then the Suddeacon wearing white tunicle -see here for the colour-, two Deacons wearing surplice, amice, and white dalmatics with the candles -again estingushed-, then the Deacon with the Exultet book, finally the Celebrant wearing a white cope.
According to the original prectice, the Subdeacon was meant to carry the "rotulus" of the Exultet for the Deacon.

After the due reverence to the cross on the altar, the Deacon of the Exultet immediately askes for the Celebrant's benediction, which the latter gives. This is the first public blessing after the proclamation of the death of Our Lord.

Then the Deacon, either at the Gospel side of the sanctuary, or on the ambo, exactly as for the proclamation of the Gospel, begins singing the Ambrosian Praeconium Paschale.

The text of this poetic composition of uncertain author is very different from the Roman Rite parallel.
It was by the way rather common for local Churches of the different Rites to have a proper composition for the Laus Cerei.

At this point, the Deacon lits the Paschal Candle and the small candles of the dwo Deacons with the fire of the lamp, that the Subdeacon has carried meantime from the sacristy.

Then he goes on singing:

At this point, the Deacon fixes the five grains of incense into the Candle in the shape of a cross, then he sings again:

And, at this poit, all the lights of the church are finally lit.

Then the Deacon asperges and thurifies the Candle.

The text of the Ambrosian Exultet bears, of course, a symbolism very different from the Roman parallel.
First of all, the Candle seems in no way seen like a symbol of the Risen Christ - whose resurrection hasn't been announced yet.
In this very complex text, full of scriptural and spiritul references to the fullness of times, and to the initiation of the neophits, through the power of Baptism, to the grace of the Eucharistic Communion, the Paschal Candel is described as a figure of the Column of Fire which leaded the People of Istrael through the desert, and to the Star of the sky which leaded the Magi to the Saviour.
In this sense, it is a figural means of the passage from the darkness of the exile and the silence of penance -the Easter of Crucifixion- to the new life in the promised Land and to the Eternal Life with God -the Easter of Resurrection.

After the Exultet has been entirely sung and the Candle has been put in its place in the sanctuary at the Gospel side, the three Deacons, with the Subdeacon and the acolytes go back into the sacristy.
Only the Celebrant, always in white cope, remains in the sanctuary, where he assists to the proclamation of the readings in the following pre-baptisml Catechesis

He blesses the Lector who read the following readings. After every reading a short psalm or a canticke is sung. Then the Celebrant sings a prayer.

Genesis: 1, 1-2,3 The Creation, as figure of the Redemption, new beginning of the World, and of the Baptism.

Genesis: 22, 1-19 The Abraham's sacrifice. God's promise to call the whole Mankind to salvation.

(The first two readings are in common with the Roman tradition)

Exodus: 13, 18-22; 14, 1-8 The exodus from Egypt of the people of Israel as a figure of the passage from sin to Redemption.

Then, the pueri cantores sing the Canticle "Benedictus", with an "amen" at the end of every versicle.

Exodus: 12, 1-11 The prescription to prepare the Paschal Lamb, figure of Christ.

Then, the schola (traditionally, in the cathedral, the four Lectors clavicularii) sings the Canticle of Moyses.

The last two readings are from the Book of Isaiah and bear a strong reference to Baptism
Isaiah: 54,17 - 55, 11
Isaiah: 1, 16-19

In those churches where a baptismal font exists, after the prayer sung by the priest after the last reading, the clergy goes in procession to the font, preceded by the lamp of the light and the cross.
During the procession, the clergy sings the antiphon "Exurge, quare obdormis, Domine", another reference to the eschatological waiting for the Lord.

Then, the long and incredibly beautiful Blessing of the Font is sung, partially in the tonus of prayer, partly in the tonus of preface.
It is worth noting that, amongst the formulae used for this blessing, only the first one is in common with the Roman Rite.

After the first part of the blessing, the newly blessed water is sprinkled over the faithful, and distrubuted to those who wish some water to be sprinkled in houses and on the fields.

Afterwards, the sacred chrism is infused only in the baptismal water of the font.
No Oil of the Catechumens is infused in the Font, instead.

At this point, in the Metropolitan Cathedral, it was the custom that the Archbishop baptized three children, giving them the names of Peter, James and John.
Before the liturgical reform, it was also a singular privilegeof the Archbishop to baptize during the Easter Vigil, in memory of the days when only the Bishop administeredthe Baptism to the Catechumens, at the end of the long and intense catechesis he gave thoughout Lent.
This custom has now disappeared, and every priest, if he wishes so, can administer Baptism during the Easter Vigil. Furthermore, all ceremonies connexed with the baptism have been moved from the centre of the Vigil, to the middle of the Mass wich follows, after the Announcement of the Resurrection and the reading of the Gospel.

Another prayer in prepartion for the Mass in said, then.
Finally, the following responsory is sung:

Then, the Most Blessed Sacrament is carried back from the Altar of the Repose, with all due reverence and solemnity, under a baldacchino, while a responsorial psalm is sung.
As the procession arrives into the sanctuary, the Deacon puts the ciborium into the taberbacle, and everything is ready to begin the Holy Mass.

At this point begins the Holy Mass of the Vigil.
The Celebrant wears the chasuble, and is flanked by the usual Minor and Major Ministers for the Mass. All vestments are, of course, white.

Right at the beginning of the Mass, after the Confession and the first incensation, the Celebrant, turned to the Altar, gives thrice the solemn announcement of the Resurrection of Our Lord, every time at a louder voice:



Then the organ sounds and all the bells of the church joyfully ring.

Announcement of the Resurrection in the Ordinary Form at St.Ambrose Basilica (Easter 2010):

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