Friday, November 22, 2013

Is the Ambrosian Liturgy a Source for the Modern Lectionary?

Apart from the basic structure of the readings and chants (1st Reading – Gradual/Psalmellus – Epistle – Alleluia – Gospel), very little of the Ambrosian tradition found its way into the post-Conciliar lectionary. Like all historical Christian lectionaries, the Ambrosian has a single annual cycle. Unlike the Roman Rite, it never had a ferial lectionary outside of Lent; indeed, the weekdays were originally aliturgical in as in the Byzantine Rite, and the lessons of Lent on those days are borrowed directly from the Roman Rite, with three exceptions. (Fridays of Lent are still to this very day aliturgical in Milan, while the Saturday Masses have a very ancient set of proper readings for the catechumens.) There is no trace of “lectio continua”, the continued reading of the same book of the Bible over a set period of time, which is of course the guiding principle of much of the new system. All feasts of whatever grade have three readings, not only the most solemn.

A few modifications in the post-Conciliar lectionary are obviously based on Milanese customs. One example is the displacement of the three long Gospels of St. John, those of the Samaritan Woman, the Man Born Blind and the Resurrection of Lazarus, from their traditional places in Lent to three of the Sundays in year A; another is the removal of Isaiah 53 from Spy Wednesday to Good Friday. The Gospels of the Fourth Sunday of Advent in years B and C, those of the Annunciation and Visitation, are the same traditionally said at the two Masses of the Sixth and final Sunday of the Ambrosian Advent.

On the other hand, of the 27 readings from the Old Testament added to the Roman lectionary in Advent, two are taken from the older Ambrosian Mass lectionary, and one corresponds in part to a reading from First Vespers of Christmas. Of the eight New Testament Epistles added, one is from Ambrosian Rite. Of the forty readings added ex novo to the Roman corpus of readings for Lent, (counting all 15 sets for Sundays, and the ferias) one is taken from the Ambrosian.

The singing of the first reading in an Ambrosian Solemn Mass.
Our readers may also be interested to know how the three readings are done in the traditional Ambrosian liturgy. Taking the Solemn Mass as the norm: during the Gloria, a reader goes to the sacristy, puts on a cope, and comes to stand before the middle of the altar. (When there is no Gloria, he goes during the Ingressa, the equivalent of the Introit, and first prayer.) After the prayer or prayers, the celebrant repeats “Dominus vobiscum”, which is generally said much more often than in the Roman Rite. The reader then sings the title of the lesson, bows towards the celebrant, and asks his blessing with the words “Jube, domne, benedicere” The celebrant makes the sign of the Cross over him, saying, “May the Prophetic (or Apostolic) reading be to thee the teaching of salvation.” The reader sings the lesson, and departs to the sacristy to remove his cope.

During the singing of the Psalmellus, the subdeacon takes his place before the Epistle side of the altar, (or in the ambo, if the church has one), accompanied by two of the six acolytes. He is also blessed by the celebrant after singing the title, with the words, “May the Apostolic teaching fill thee with divine grace.” After the Epistle, he does not bring the book to the celebrant, or kiss the celebrant’s hand as in the Roman Rite. Instead, he waits in front of the altar on the Epistle side, while the deacon prepares for the singing of the Gospel.

The deacon, accompanied by the other four acolytes, goes to the sacristy to get the book of the Gospels, while the acolytes prepare their candles and incense. (The incense is not imposed or blessed by the celebrant.) They return to the sanctuary, where the deacon lays the book upon the altar, kneels and say the “Munda cor meum”. He then takes the book, and the Gospel procession goes to the ambo, or the left side of the sanctuary. After singing the title, he asks for the blessing from the celebrant, and is blessed as in the Roman Rite. He then incenses the book, and sings the Gospel. The procession returns to the altar, where the book is given to an acolyte to bring back to the sacristy. (Only the archbishop is brought the book to kiss at a Pontifical Mass.)

This custom dates back to the very ancient times when books in general, and especially books with elaborate decorations and illuminations like an Evangeliary, were rare and expensive, and therefore kept under lock and key in the sacristy. Indeed, the church of Milan maintained until quite recently the position of a “lector clavicularius – a reader with the key (to the cupboard)”, who would consign the book of Gospels to the deacon at solemn Mass in the cathedral. Since the ritual of the Gospel procession is per force so much longer, the Ambrosian liturgy has a number of spectacularly long Halleluiahs, or other chants before the Gospels. The Cantus (equivalent to a Tract) on the Sixth Sunday of Advent is just shy of 900 notes long. 
Saint Lawrence, in the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia at Ravenna, ca. 450. The armoire on the left contains four books labelled with the names of the four Evangelists, a reference to the custom of keeping liturgical books locked in the sacristy.

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