Monday, September 12, 2011

The Golden Legend on the Ambrosian Rite

From the life of St Gregory the Great, as told in the Golden Legend of Blessed Jacopo da Voragine. (The term “office” is here used to the whole of the liturgy, not just the Divine Office.)
In the life of Saint Eugenius it is read, that when the Ambrosian office was still kept by the churches more than the Gregorian, a Pope of Rome named Hadrian convoked a council, in which it was decreed that the Gregorian office should be observed everywhere. And since the Emperor Charles (the Great) was responsible for bringing this about, he went through the various provinces, and by threats and punishments compelled all the clerics to do this, and everywhere he burned the books of the Ambrosian office, and put many rebellious clerics in prison. Now the blessed bishop Eugenius went to this council, but found that it had been dissolved three days earlier; and prudently he brought the lord Pope to recall all of the prelates who had been present at it… When the council was convened, the fathers agreed unanimously that the Ambrosian missal and the Gregorian should be placed upon the altar of the Apostle Peter, and the door of the church tightly closed, and most carefully sealed with the seals of many bishops, and that they should pray intently through the whole night, that the Lord might reveal by some sign which of the two should rather be kept by the churches. … In the morning, they opened the doors of the church, and found both missals open upon the altar. Or, as others assert, they found the Gregorian missal completely unbound, and the leaves of it scattered about, but the Ambrosian missal by itself, open on the altar in the same place where they had placed it. And by this sign, they were divinely instructed that the Gregorian office should be spread throughout the world, but the Ambrosian should be kept only in its own church, and so the fathers… decreed, and this rule is kept even unto this day.
The Virgin Enthroned with the Doctors of the Church, by the Venetian painter Antonio Vivarini, 1446. Pope St. Gregory the Great is shown on the left with St. Jerome, traditionally dressed as a cardinal. St. Ambrose on the right holds a whip in his hands, a symbol of the uncompromising fierceness with which he enforced the Law of God; next to him, his disciple St. Augustine, whom he baptized in Milan at Easter of 387 A.D.

Voragine’s source for this account is a Milanese chronicler of the eleventh century, Landulf, who seems to have written the story to justify the continued existence of the Ambrosian Rite. Although it cannot be considered historically factual, it is reminiscent of some real events pertaining to the liturgical history of Milan and of the Church generally. First, Charlemagne did indeed compel the churches of his domain to adopt the liturgy of Rome in place of the ancient Gallican Rite, a rite with which the Ambrosian has several things in common. Second, in the eleventh century, two Popes tried to force Milan to abandon her ancient tradition in favor of the Roman Rite, Nicholas II (1058-61) and St. Gregory VII (1073-85). These attempts failed; so thoroughly, in fact, that in the days of the Bl. Jacopo, who was archbishop of Genoa from 1286 to 1298, it was no longer remembered in what century they had happened, despite the long-standing historical ties between his see and that of Milan. Third, the native rite of Spain, the Mozarabic Rite, was put to an ordeal several times during the same eleventh-century move towards reform and uniformity; it was eventually abolished from almost all of Spain, despite coming out the victor in various trials.

An Ambrosian Mass celebrated in St. Peter's Basilica by Archbishop Montini, the future Pope Paul VI, during the Second Vatican Council, in the presence of Bl. Pope John XXIII.

Over the centuries, the abolition of the Ambrosian Rite has been proposed with varying degrees of seriousness a number of times, most recently in the wake of the Second Vatican Council. Had such a proposal been put into action, it would have been one of the most flagrant acts of repudiation of the Council. As things currently stand, the Rite of Milan has been preserved, but like the Roman Rite, has lost far more of its traditions in the post-Conciliar reform than the Council Fathers themselves would have ever imagined. Furthermore, being confined to a much smaller territory than the Roman Rite, the historical memory of its traditional form is concomitantly much smaller. It is very much to be hoped that the motu proprio Summorum Pontificum will also bear fruit in maintaining such a precious part of the Church’s liturgical heritage.

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