Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Is the Ambrosian Lectionary an Older Form of the Traditional Roman Lectionary?

Continuing to follow up on Dr. Kwasniewski’s recent post about the Mass lectionary, I shall here offer some considerations of the relationship between the three-reading system of the revised Roman Rite, and its most important putative model, the lectionary of the Ambrosian Rite.

The traditional Ambrosian liturgy of the Mass bears a number of very notable resemblances to the traditional Roman Mass. The most important of these is the use of a single canon, a custom which they alone share among historical Christian liturgies, the Ambrosian being essentially the Roman Canon, with a number of variants. The Mass of the Catechumens is superficially similar in structure, as is the Offertory, and of course, both rites are celebrated in Latin. Many prayers and readings of the Mass, much of the temporal cycle, and a large number of feasts are common to the two. The external accoutrements, such as architecture and vestments, are also essentially the same; vestments made for the Ambrosian Rite could easily be used in the Roman, and vice versa, and apart from the presence or absence of the cappino, no one would be the wiser.

For these and various other reasons, there was a time when some scholars believed that the Ambrosian Rite was simply an archaic form of the Roman. In an article published in La Civiltà Cattolica in 1896, the prefect of the Ambrosian Library, Msgr. Antonio Ceriani, is quoted thus in his work on the Ordinary of the Ambrosian Mass:
“I would confidently say that the Ambrosian liturgy and the Roman were originally one and the same, and that (the Ambrosian) was brought here (to Milan) from Rome, and … already established in the form which it has now.”
And the following year, in his preface to Msgr. Marco Magistretti’s edition of the pre-Tridentine Ambrosian Pontifical:
“Although the Ambrosian manuscripts yield in antiquity to those of the Roman Liturgy, by comparing them it can be proved that the Ambrosian ones have continued the oldest Roman use, … both in the Mass and in the other most important parts, (in which the variations are secondary) and which can provide help in recognizing and determining the traces of the oldest uses in the West.”
Of course, if the Ambrosian Rite were an archaic form of the Roman Rite, its Mass lectionary would be an archaic form of the Roman lectionary. At the time when this theory was commonly held, (from the later part of the 19th to the middle of the 20th), Duchesne’s theory about the original presence of three readings in the Roman Rite predominated, as we have seen earlier. The similarity on several points between the two rites seemed to provide the lynchpin of the theory, especially since no other lectionary tradition with three readings has so much in common with the Roman.

To give an example, since this past Sunday was the beginning of Advent in Milan: of the seven Gospels read at the various Masses of Ambrosian Advent, five are read in the Roman Rite in Advent, and one (Matthew 24) on the last Sunday after Pentecost, although four of these are shorter in the Roman version. The seventh, Matthew 21, 1-9, is found in Advent in various medieval uses of the Roman Rite; it was read at Sarum, and passed thence into the traditional form of the Book of Common Prayer. Only one of the Roman Gospels is missing, that of the first Sunday (Luke 21, 25-33). Of the five Pauline Epistles in Roman Advent, three are read in a longer form in the Ambrosian.
The antiphon “in choro” from Vespers of the First Sunday of Advent in the Ambrosian Rite
Fragmentary coincidences of this sort are numerous. The Roman Gospels of the 3rd and 4th Sundays after Pentecost are those of the 8th and 9th Sundays in the Ambrosian; those of the 15th Sunday are the same. A correspondence only slightly less exact is found at the end of the year, where the Roman Gospels of the 19th, 21st and 22nd Sundays are the last three of the Ambrosian liturgical year. The concluding Gospel of the Roman year is the first of Ambrosian Advent.

Despite these examples, and many others which might be adduced from various parts of the liturgy, the differences between the two traditions greatly outnumber the similarities. Thus, for example, of the seven lessons from Isaiah read on the Ember Days, only two are found (again in a longer form) in the Ambrosian Missal. Many of these arise not from a common liturgical tradition, but rather from a common exegetical tradition, or more simply, common sense. It should be obvious that the most important Gospels pertaining to St. John the Baptist (Matthew 11, John 1 and Luke 3) would play a prominent role in Advent, alongside the Annunciation and Visitation.

The lack of similarity in several important places is even more notable. During Holy Week, for example, the Gospels are arranged in the Ambrosian Rite in a manner entirely different from the Roman; the Passions of St. Mark, Luke and John are read only in the Divine Office. The Gospels of Easter Week are not all the same as the Roman ones, and those that are common to them both are in a completely different order. On Holy Saturday and through the Octave of Easter, the church of Milan celebrates two Masses each day, one “of the solemnity”, and another “for the (newly) baptized.” Of the 32 non-Gospel readings assigned to these Masses, only three are read within the same period in the Roman Rite, none of them on the same day. For the rest of Eastertide, the only non-Gospel reading of the Ambrosian Rite that corresponds with the Roman is the lesson from Acts 2 on Pentecost.

The principal, and, to my mind, insuperable objection to Msgr. Ceriani’s theory is as follows. Supposing that the Milanese liturgy did come from Rome, and is, as Bl. Ildephonse Schuster once said, more Roman in origin than the current Roman Rite itself: when and why did it begin to consistently reject all subsequent changes made to the Roman Rite, changes which are manifestly not “secondary”, when they were accepted by absolutely everyone else who used that rite? A host of similar objections might also be raised, such as the completely different chant, and the radically different structure of the Divine Office.

The theory now being happily abandoned, it can no longer be claimed that the Ambrosian lectionary is an archaic form of the Roman lectionary either.

Two leaves of an Ambrosian Missal printed in 1499, showing the Ingressa, the Oratio super Populum (Collect), Prophecy, Psalmellus, Alleluia and the beginning of the Gospel, (with the chapter annotated incorrectly), for the First Sunday of Advent. Milanese Advent begins on the Sunday after the feast of St. Martin. This missal puts the feasts which can occur in Advent first, so the first column and a half on the left are part of the Mass of St. Thomas the Apostle.

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