Saturday, September 01, 2018

Ambrosian Mass with Music by the Schola Sainte Cécile

As part of the Schola Sainte Cécile’s recent northern Italian pilgrimage, we had two Masses in the Ambrosian Rite; the first of these was celebrated last Saturday at the church of San Maurice at the Greater Monastery, known as the Sistine Chapel of Milan. (We have written about this extraordinary church before; on this occasion, I was able to get some pictures from the church’s gallery, which are included below.) Here are two videos of the Mass, the first of which runs from the end of the Preface to the end of the Canon, and the second from the Fraction, which takes place before the Lord’s Prayer, to the Peace. The magnificent Sanctus and Benedictus are from the Missa Exsultate Deo by François Cosset (1600-64), choir-master of Rheims cathedral and one of the favorite composers of King Louis XIV; the score can be seen here at the Schola’s website. Below each video, I include some notes on the Ambrosian Mass.

The Mass was that of the Martyr St Genesius, an actor who, in the presence of the Emperor Diocletian was performing a mockery of the Christian faith when he was suddenly inspired to embrace it. - The default position, so to speak, of the servers in an Ambrosian sung Mass is standing before the altar. The Preface conclusion “per quem majestatem” names all nine choirs of the Angels, and the melody is of course quite different. The Canon of the Mass is similar to the Roman Canon; the differences are outlined in these articles on the Communicantes, the Nobis Quoque, and the rest of the Canon. There is no lavabo during the Offertory; instead, the priest washes his hands right before Qui pridie. The coverless thurible is swung in a series of circles, as seen during the Elevation. As in most medieval Uses of the Roman Rite, the priest stretches his hands out in the form of a Cross immediately after the Consecration.
The fraction and commingling are done immediately after the Canon, accompanied by an antiphon called a Confractorium. On the feast of St Genesius, it is taken from an Old Latin version of Psalm 118: “In salutari tuo anima mea, et in verbum tuum speravi. Quando facies de persequentibus me judicium? Iniqui persecuti sunt me, adjuva me, Domine, Deus meus. - In thy salvation is my life, and in thy word I have hoped. When wilt thou execute judgment on them that persecute me? The wicked have persecuted me; do thou help me, o Lord, my God.” Oremus is said silently before Praeceptis salutaribus moniti; at sanctificetur nomen tuum, all bow the head to the Cross. The embolism is sung outloud, and includes the name of St Ambrose; the conclusion is slightly different: “Praesta per eum, cum quo beatus vivis et regnas etc. -  Grant this through Him with whom Thou blessed livest and reignest etc.” The formula for the peace is “Pax et communicatio Domini nostri Jesu Christ sit semper vobiscum. R. Et cum spirito tuo. - May the peace and fellowship of our Lord Jesus Christ be always with you.”; all make the sign of the Cross. The priest then says “Offerte vobis pacem.  - Offer the peace to each other.”, to which the choir answers “Deo gratias.”; as in the Roman Rite, the peace is only given at solemn Mass.

At the conclusion of the Mass, the Schola sang this Magnificat by Orazio Colombano (1554-95), a Capuchin friar who was choir master first at the church of St Francis in Milan, and then become the choir-master of Vercelli cathedral, which we also visited during the pilgrimage. I took this very amateur video and the pictures below it from the upper gallery where the choir was singing, which runs around the whole church. (See the score here at the Schola’s website.)

The building is divided unevenly into two parts, the smaller being the public church, where the Mass was held, and the larger the nuns’ choir, which is on the other side of the wall from the altar. Most of the walls in both parts are frescoed, the work being done between 1509 and the end of the 1570s, and very well preserved. The religious community was expelled during the suppressions of the Napoleonic era, and has never been reestablished, but the church, although little used, is still consecrated.

The nuns’ choir.

The back sides of the doors of the organ.

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