Sunday, October 16, 2022

The Feast of the Dedication of Milan Cathedral

This article is mostly the work of our Ambrosian writer Nicola de’ Grandi; I translated it from Italian, and added the parts about the Ambrosian arrangement of the Sundays after Pentecost.

In the Ambrosian Rite, there are only fifteen Sundays formally named “after Pentecost”, and if Pentecost is very late, as few as eleven may be actually celebrated. The series is interrupted by the Sundays “after the Beheading of John the Baptist,” of which there may be four or five, followed by the first and second Sundays of October. On the third Sunday, the church of Milan commemorates the dedication of its cathedral, followed by three Sundays “after the Dedication.” This division is found in one of the very oldest surviving Ambrosian liturgical books, the 8th century lectionary of Busto Arsizio. The largest possible number of Sundays after Pentecost is therefore 26, whereas it is 28 in the Roman Rite, since the Ambrosian Advent begins two weeks earlier, on the Sunday following St Martin’s day.

A tradition which is not recorded in particularly early sources states that the dedication commemorated on third Sunday of October took place in the year 453 under St Eusebius, archbishop of Milan from 449-462, after the cathedral had been destroyed by the Huns, and that on the same day, the lesser of the city’s two cathedrals was dedicated in 836. However, there are two things which suggest that the choice of this day as one of the hinges of this part of the liturgical year depends on more than a simple recollection of these events, especially in light of the highly conservative tradition of the Ambrosian rite.

The cathedral of Milan as it stood for many years, before the façade was completed in 1812.
The first, as noted in an article in 2016, comes from St Ambrose himself, in his “Second Apology for David”, a stenographer’s record of sermons which he preached over two or three days in the year 388. This work attests that the Gospel of the Sunday “before the Dedication”, that of the woman caught in adultery, John 8, 1-11, and that of the Dedication itself, John 10, 22-30, were already in their places next to each other in his time. Both of these Gospels take place in the temple in Jerusalem. “At that time, Jesus went unto mount Olivet. And early in the morning he came again into the temple.” (John 8, 1-2) “At that time, it was the feast of the dedication at Jerusalem: and it was winter. And Jesus walked in the temple, in Solomon’s porch.” (John 10, 22-23) This does not seem likely to be a coincidence.

The second comes from a comparison with other liturgical traditions. The rite of Milan is the only Western rite which has a liturgical season marked by a dedication, but the Syrian Rite, in both its eastern and western form, also has a season “of the dedication”, which in turn may derive from the ancient rite of the city of Jerusalem. The Armenian lectionaries of the fifth century, which faithfully reproduce the order of readings used in the Holy City, contain a feast of “the Dedication of the Holy Places” on September 13th, and assign John 10, 22-42, to be read at the “Anastasis”, the great church of the Resurrection built by Constantine. The existence of a liturgical season centered on a dedication, attested in the very oldest Ambrosian sources, may therefore derive from the tradition of Jerusalem.

The Mass texts of the Solemnity of the Dedication refer repeatedly to the Church as the bride of Christ. The Preface, for example, one of the oldest in the Ambrosian repertoire, reads as follows.

“Per Christum Dominum nostrum, qui eminentiam potestatis acceptæ Ecclesiæ tradidit, quam pro honore percepto, et Reginam constituit et Sponsam. Cuius sublimitati universa subiecit: ad cuius iudicium consentire iussit e cælo. Hæc est mater omnium viventium, filiorum numero facta sublimior: quæ per Spiritum Sanctum quotidie Deo filios procreat: cuius palmitibus mundus omnis impletus est: quæ propagines suas ligno baiulante suspensas erigit ad regna cælorum. Hæc est Civitas illa sublimis iugo montis erecta, perspicua cunctis, et omnibus clara: cuius conditor, et inhabitator est idem Dominus Noster Jesus Christus Filius tuus. Quem una tecum...”

The central portion of the apsidal mosaic of the church of St Clement in Rome, with an acanthus vine, symbolizing the Church, springing up from the Cross. (Image from Wikimedia Commons by Dnalor 01, CC BY-SA 3.0)
“…through Christ Our Lord. Who gave to Church the fullness of the power with which He received, and made Her both Queen and Spouse, in accordance with the honor (She) received, subjected all things to Her majesty, and from heaven ordered that they obey Her judgment. She is the mother of all the living, all the more exalted for the number of Her children, that daily beareth sons unto God through the Holy Spirit. All the world is filled with Her branches; She lifts up Her shoots to the kingdom heaven, supported by the wood of the Cross. She is that exalted city, built upon height of the mountain, visible and bright to all; and He that founded and dwelleth in Her is the same Our Lord Jesus Christ, Thy Son; Whom together with Thee, Almighty Father, and the Holy Spirit, the Angels sing praise…”

The connection between this theme and the Sunday of the Dedication is confirmed at the very beginning of the Ambrosian Rite’s history, in the writings of St Ambrose himself, and indeed, in the same “Second Apology for David” in which he comments on the Gospel of the Adulteress. “Thus did Christ love the beauty of His Church, and prepared Her in order to take Her as His Bride.”

The Duomo of Milan as it stands today is the result of a project which began in 1386, to replace the two cathedrals which had hitherto served the see of St Ambrose. The “winter church” as it is still called in Ambrosian liturgical books, was the smaller of the two, dedicated to the Virgin Mary, and used from the Third Sunday of October, the feast of its Dedication, until Holy Saturday; it stood where the modern cathedral stands, but was nowhere near as large. The Gospel from John 10, which is attested on this day in the oldest Ambrosian liturgical books, was read in the winter church. The “dedication” or “renewal” (“enkainia” in Greek) to which it refers at the beginning is the re-dedication of the Jerusalem Temple which took place under Judas Maccabee, as recorded in 1 Maccabees 4, 59.

On this occasion, in the portico of the Temple, the Lord rebukes those who insist that He tell them whether or not He is the Messiah. “I speak to you, and you believe not: the works that I do in the name of my Father, they give testimony of me. But you do not believe, because you are not of my sheep.” In contrast to those who do not believe, “My sheep hear my voice: and I know them, and they follow me. And I give them life everlasting; and they shall not perish for ever, and no man shall pluck them out of my hand. That which my Father hath given me, is greater than all: and no one can snatch them out of the hand of my Father. I and the Father are one.” In the treatise cited above, St Ambrose explains this same passage as a reference to the replacement of the old Temple, and the old covenant of which it is the symbol, with the New and Eternal Covenant.

The larger “summer church”, which was demolished in 1543, stood on the opposite end of the modern Piazza del Duomo, and was dedicated to St. Thecla, for which reason her name is included in the Canon of the Ambrosian Mass. In several important liturgical books of the Ambrosian Rite, another Gospel is assigned to the Mass on the same day in the “summer church”, Matthew 21, 10-17.

“Jesus went into the temple of God, and cast out all them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the money changers, and the chairs of them that sold doves: And he saith to them: It is written, My house shall be called the house of prayer; but you have made it a den of thieves.” The purification of the Temple which follows looks forward to the establishment of the Church as the new house of God. In like manner, the basilica of the Anastasis in Jerusalem, built by the Emperor Constantine, is seen in the liturgical tradition of Jerusalem as the replacement of the temple destroyed by Titus in 70 AD.

For the many centuries during which the two cathedrals were still in use, the cathedral chapter of Milan, led by the archbishop, would celebrate a particularly interesting rite on both this day and Holy Saturday. All of the liturgical objects used in the cathedral were loaded into an “ark” (arca), and transported from the winter to the summer church on Holy Saturday, vice versa on the feast of the Dedication. The Latin word “arca” was also used for the place where the Scroll of the Law was kept in a synagogue; its use in the Milanese rite perhaps refers to the substitution of the synagogue’s worship by that of the Church, the one replacing the other as the church building itself replaces the old temple.

A text from Vespers of the Dedication may also been read as a corroboration of this explanation. As on many of the most ancient and important feasts in the Ambrosian Rite, the first Vespers of the Dedication has only one Psalm, to which Psalms 133 and 116 are added at the end, and the three sung as a single Psalm. The Psalm in this case is 85, from which is also taken the antiphon, “All the nations thou hast made shall come and adore before thee, O Lord.” This text is therefore an assertion that Christ came as redeemer and savior not of the Jewish people alone, but for all nations who are called into His Church.
Finally, we may note the epistle of the Sunday preceding the Dedication, Romans 7, 1-6: “Know you not, brethren, (for I speak to them that know the law,) that the law hath dominion over a man, as long as he liveth? For the woman that hath an husband, whilst her husband liveth is bound to the law. But if her husband be dead, she is loosed from the law of her husband. Therefore, whilst her husband liveth, she shall be called an adulteress, if she be with another man: but if her husband be dead, she is delivered from the law of her husband; so that she is not an adulteress, if she be with another man.” In this context, this passage is taken to mean that the Law of Moses no longer has dominion over the people of God, which now lives under the grace of Christ, the “new” spouse of the Mystical Body.

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