Sunday, March 06, 2022

The Dismissal of the Alleluia in the Ambrosian Rite

When the Ambrosian Rite adopted the season of Septuagesima from the Roman Rite, it did not include its most characteristic feature, the removal from the liturgy of the word “Alleluia”, which continues to be sung as usual in both the Mass and Office until Lent begins. In the liturgical books of St Charles Borromeo’s reform, there is no dismissal of the Alleluia of any sort. A rubric is placed in the Breviary before the First Sunday of Lent, which simply states that it is henceforth replaced in the Office by “Laus tibi…” as in the Roman Rite. In the Mass, the Alleluia before the Gospel is replaced by a Cantus, the equivalent of the Roman Tract. (The repertoire of these is small, and on the ferias of Lent, they consist of a single verse of a Psalm; that of the Thursdays of Lent is four words, “Domine, exaudi orationem meam.”)

Before the Borromean reform, however, Ambrosian Lent began on the first Monday, and the word Alleluia was still sung on the First Sunday in both the Mass and Office; it was then dismissed on the latter in a manner analogous to that of the Roman Rite, in two different places.

Ambrosian Lauds begins with the Benedictus (sometimes replaced with another canticle, and omitted in Holy Week), followed by the antiphon “ad Crucem”, although this is not said every day. A cross with candles on it was carried in procession, and the antiphon repeated either five or seven times at various stations within the church.

An illustration from a medieval Ambrosian liturgical book, showing the processional cross with candles, in this case, at a bishop’s funeral.
On the First Sunday of Lent, several antiphons had extra Alleluias added to them, and the text of the “antiphona ad crucem” was as follows:

“Alleluia, claude et signa sermonem, alleluia, et requiescat in interioribus vestris, alleluia, usque ad tempus constitutum: et cum gaudio magno dicetis die illa, qua venerit, alleluia, alleluia, alleluia. – Alleluia, close and seal the word, alleluia, and let it rest within you, alleluia, until the established time; and with great joy ye shall say on that day when it shall come, alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.” The antiphona ad crucem is then omitted as a feature of Lauds for the whole of Lent.

A leaf from an Ambrosian Breviary of 1539, with the “antiphon ad crucem” of the First Sunday of Lent in the middle of the right-hand column.
This beautiful text is attested in a manuscript now at the Houghton Library of Harvard, ms lat. 388, a recent acquisition attributed by scholars to the mid-12th century, and one of the oldest, perhaps the oldest, witnesses to the Ambrosian musical tradition. In the Borromean reform, however, the First Sunday of Lent was assimilated to the rest of the season, and this antiphon was therefore removed.

The dismissal of the Alleluia was often called in the rubrics of Western liturgical books “clausum Alleluia – the closure of the Alleluia”, and this title coincides with a second occasion in the Ambrosian Rite. At Vespers on the First Sunday of Lent, the following responsory “cum infantibus” was sung.

“Quadraginta dies et noctes aperti sunt caeli, et omnes animae habentes spiritum vitae ingressae sunt in arca, et clausa est. Alleluia. – For forty days and nights the heavens were opened, and all souls having the spirit of life entered the ark, and it was closed, alleluia.”

From the same breviary, the responsory “cum infantibus” of the First Sunday of Lent is in the upper part of the right-hand column. In the Ambrosian liturgy, many of the musical propers were traditionally appointed to be sung by a particular member of a chapter or choir, or a group within it, and these designations are noted in the rubrics. In this case, the responsory is to be sung “with the children”, i.e. the boys’ choir of the cathedral.
Here, the members of the Church who are enter into the Lenten fast are prefigured by Noah and his family, who, together with the animals, find refuge in the ark during the flood. The antiphon cleverly ends with the words “it was closed, alleluia”, referring both to the ark, and to the above-mentioned expression “Clausum Alleluia.”

In the new edition of the Vesperale Ambrosianum commissioned by the Bl. Ildephonse Schuster, this ancient responsory, also removed by the Borromean reform, was restored (as seen below), a first step towards what should have been a general return to the rite’s historic tradition. However, in the post-conciliar reform, the Alleluia is dismissed at Vespers of the preceding Saturday, not on the Sunday, an unfortunate example of romanization.

In the pre-Borromean Ambrosian Mass of the First Sunday of Lent, the Gloria in excelsis was sung, and there was also an Alleluia between the Epistle and Gospel. In the Borromean reform, the Gloria was suppressed, and the word Alleluia was removed, with its versicle retained as a Cantus. “Non in solo pane vivit homo, sed in omni verbo quod procedit de ore Dei. – Not by bread alone doth a man live, but by every word that cometh from the mouth of God.” (Matthew 4, 4, from the Gospel of the day, Mathew 4, 1-11)

Part of the Mass of First Lent in an Ambrosian Missal printed in 1499. The left column has the Epistle (2 Corinthians 6, 1-10, as in the Roman Rite), followed by the “versicle in the Alleluia.”
This article is based on notes written by Nicola de’ Grandi, with my thanks!

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