Thursday, February 02, 2023

Ambrosian Processional Chants for the Purification

In Rome, the blessing of candles on the feast of the Purification was originally done at the church of St Adrian in the Roman Forum, followed by a procession to the oldest church in the city and the world dedicated to the Virgin Mary, Santa Maria Maggiore on the Esquiline Hill. This custom gradually fell into disuse, and no station is mentioned in the Roman Missal on February 2, but of course, the blessing and procession are still held.

The Ambrosian Rite underwent a similar development. The clergy of the cathedral would traditionally bless the candles at a church called Santa Maria Beltrade, founded in 836, less than half a mile from the modern Piazza del Duomo, and then process back to the cathedral for the Mass. This procession has long since been transferred to the cathedral itself, which is also dedicated to the Virgin Mary, but a very ancient custom has been preserved of carrying an image of the Virgin and Child, known as the “Idea”, in the Candlemas procession. This is seen in a relief carving of the 12th century formerly in Santa Maria Beltrade; since the church was demolished in 1934, it has been at the Museum of the Castello Sforzesco. (Pictures of the Idea currently used, and of Santa Maria Beltrade, are given below.) 
The procession with the Idea in the Duomo of Milan in 2013.
The Ambrosian form of the blessing is rather simpler than the Roman. It begins with the same introductory formula used at the hours of the Divine Office in both the Roman and Ambrosian Rite (“Deus in adjotorium, etc.”), followed by a triple “Kyrie eleison” (a very frequent feature in all things Ambrosian), and then a prayer which is proper to the Rite.

“Omnipotens sempiterne Deus, qui hodierna die cum legalibus sacrificiis in templo præsentari, et justi Simeonis ulnis gestari, dignatus es: benedic, quæsumus, hanc papyrum cerea pinguedine superductam; ut tuus eam populus, igne caritatis tuæ accensus, ad laudem, et gloriam nominis tui gestans; pietatis tuæ dono, indeficiens se lumen habere cognoscat. Qui vivis.
Almighty and everlasting God, who on this day deigned to be presented in the temple with the sacrifices of the Law, and borne in the arms of Simeon the just, bless, we pray, this papyrus covered in the richness of wax, that Thy people, enkindled with the fire of Thy love, bearing it to the praise and glory of Thy name, may know by the gift of Thy love, that it hath the unfailing Light who liveth and reigneth with Thee, etc.”
The candles are then sprinkled with holy water and incensed as in the Roman Rite, and distributed to the clergy and faithful, without any chant prescribed to accompany the distribution. This is the form found in the earliest Ambrosian liturgical sources, such as the 10th century Manual of Valtravaglia, but in the post-Tridentine reform of the Ambrosian Missal, several elements were added to the ceremony from the Roman Rite: the fourth and first of the five Roman prayers of the blessing, the Nunc dimittis with its antiphon, the antiphon Exsurge, and the concluding prayer. In the 1902 reform of the Missal, all of these elements were removed, and the ceremony returned to its original form.
The procession then begins, with the same ceremonies as in the Roman Rite (incense, processional cross, etc.) and is accompanied by a repertoire of 21 antiphons. The following recording has 8 of these, beginning at 2:15.
I Virgo Dei Genitrix,
quem totus non capit orbis
in tua te clausit viscera
factus homo.
Virgin Mother of God, He whom
the world could not contain enclosed
Himself within Thy womb, having
become a man.
II Beata progenies
unde Christus natus est:
Quam gloriosa est Virgo
quae caeli Regem genuit!
Blessed is the daughter from whom
Christ was born: how glorious is
the Virgin who begot the King of
VI Virgo Verbum concepit,
Virgo permansit,
Virgo genuit Regem
omnium regum.
The Virgin conceived the Word;
a virgin She remained;
the Virgin begot the King of all kings.
VII Beata es Maria,
quae credidisti;
perficientur in te
quae dicta sunt tibi a Domino.
Blessed art Thou, o Mary, who be-
lieved; the things which were said to
Thee by the Lord shall be brought
to pass.
X Beatam me dicent genera-
quia ancillam humilem
respexit Deus.
The generations shall call me blessed,
for God hath regarded the low estate
of His handmaid.
XIII Magnificamus te, Dei Ge-
quia ex te natus est Christus,
salvans omnes qui te glorificant:
sancta Domina Dei Genitrix,
sanctificationes tuas transmit-
   te nobis.
We magnify Thee, o Mother of God;
for from Thee was born Christ, who
saveth all that glorify Thee; holy Lady,
Mother of God, impart to us Thy
XV Virgo hodie fidelis,
etsi Verbum genuit incarnatum,
Virgo mansit et post partum;
quam laudantes omnes dicimus:
Benedicta tu in mulieribus.
Today the faithful Virgin, though She
begot the Word incarnate; remained a
virgin even after birth; who we all
praise and say, Blessed art Thou
among women.
XVII Sub tuam misericordiam
confugimus, Dei Genitrix,
ut nostram deprecationem
ne inducas in temptationem,
sed de periculo libera nos,
sola casta et benedicta.
Unto Thy mercy do we flee, o Mother
of God, that Thou may not bring our
supplication unto trial, but deliver us
from danger, who alone are chaste and

If the procession has gone out of the church, when it returns to the door, the processional cross stops before it, while the clergy and servers stand facing each other in two lines, with the celebrant facing the cross. The choir sings 
twelve Kyrie, eleisons, six low and six high, and then an antiphon called a psallendum. As the choir sings Gloria Patri, all bow to the cross, and at Sicut erat, to the celebrant; the crossbearer then turns, and lead the procession into the church. (If the procession is done within the church, this ceremony is done at the chancel of the main sanctuary.)  

Psallendum Senex Puerum portabat, Puer autem senem regebat: quem Virgo concepit, et post partum virgo permansit; ipseum quem geniut, adoravit. Gloria Patri... Sicut erat... Senex Puerum...

Psallendum The old man carried the boy, but the boy ruled the old man, even He whom the Virgin conceived, and after the birth, remained a virgin; She adored Him whom She begot. Glory be... As it was... The old man...

The two sides of the Madonna dell’Idea, painted by Michelino and Leonardo da Besozzo in the 2nd quarter of the 15th century. (Both images from Wikimedia Commons by Dimitris Kamaras, 
CC BY 2.0)
The church of Santa Maria in Beltrade, which was reconstructed in 1601, as seen in this photograph taken not long before its demolition. 

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