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Cabrol F. Chapter V. The Ambrosian Mass


By the Right Reverend Dom Fernand Cabrol



The books of the Ambrosian liturgy. — Analogies with other liturgies.

THE Ambrosian liturgy is still practised in the Cathedral of Milan. It takes its name from the great Bishop of that See, St. Ambrose, who died in 397, and who did so much for the liturgy.

THE BOOKS OF THE AMBROSIAN LITURGY. — We have studied elsewhere the books which contain this liturgy.[1] They are Sacramentaries, Pontificals, a manual, some "Ordines," and lectionaries: in fact, a collection which enables us to reconstitute the Ambrosian Mass. Not one of these is really earlier than the ninth century; we must confess that the preceding period is rather obscure, and that from the fourth-ninth centuries this liturgy has probably been subject to influences coming from the East, from Rome, and other countries. It has been stated in the book referred to in our note below that the characteristics of this liturgy have been explained in two ways. One party declares that they are strongly influenced by the East; while Mgr. Duchesne attributes them specially to an Arian Bishop, Auxentius (355-374), who occupied the See of Milan for some years. Another group of liturgiologists, on the contrary, without denying Eastern or Byzantine importatiolls, such as are found even in the Roman liturgy, use every effort to emphasise the analogies between the Ambrosian and Roman liturgies; affirming that the first is almost identical with the second, especially with a Roman liturgy existing previous to the reforms of Damasus, Gelasius, and St. Gregory.[2] It must be admitted that this last hypothesis has gained ground to-day, and certain coincidences recently noted, concerning Rome and Milan, would seem to strengthen it.

. — In this sketch it will be enough to note, as they occur, analogies with Rome on one hand, and with Oriental and Gallican liturgies on the other.

In the Ambrosian rite certain ceremonies were accomplished in the "Basilica major" or "ecclesia aestiva," and others in the "Basilica minor" or "ecclesia hiemalis." This custom has been compared with that of the Roman "Stations."

At the beginning of Mass the clergy came to the sanctuary from the sacristy to the singing of the "Ingressa," which has been compared to the Roman "Introit." The "Ingressa," however, is not the chanting of a psalm, as the "Introit" is; it has only one verse, which is not always chosen from a psalm, and it has no doxology.

The prayers at the foot of the altar are almost the same as those of the Roman Missal, but these prayers as a whole date only from the late Middle Ages.

The "Gloria in Excelsis" was sung as at Rome, but is followed instead of preceded by the "Kyrie Eleison," which is different from the Roman "Kyrie," being composed of the first acclamation, thrice repeated by the Priest alone, "Christe Eleison" not being said. This "Kyrie" is again repeated after the Gospel and after the Post-communion. This use secms particular to the church at Milan.[3] The Ambrosian rite has also preserved an old form of prayer, the "preces" or litanies, which are translated almost literally from the Greek.[4] This is found, with a few variations, in the Missal of Stowe (Chap. IV) under the title: "Deprecatio sancti Martini." This has been studied in the article "Litanies" in DACL. It would seem that Rome and the other Latin liturgies were acquainted with litanies of this kind.

The celebrant salutes the people with: "Dominus vobiscum," as at Rome. Thc prayer which follows is called "Super populum," a title given by Rome to certain prayers in Lent, and which is also used in the Gallican liturgies. There are three readings or Lessons in the Ambrosian Mass: one from the Old Testament, sometimes replaced by the reading of the Acts or "Gesta" of the Martyrs; one from the New Testament (Acts or Epistles); and finally, the Gospel. These three Lessons are found in the Mozarabic and Gallican liturgies, while those of the Eastern rite have three, and sometimes many more, Lessons. The question is to know whether Rome had not three Lessons also, at one time, as the presence of the "Alleluia" after the Gradual would make us believe. This anomaly is not found at Milan, each reading being followed by a chant. The Gradual is called "Psalmellus," but has the same characteristics as the Roman Gradual; the second Lesson is followed by the "Alleluia;" while the Gospel is followed by the "Kyrie," and by an anthem of which we shall speak immediately.

The song of Zacharias, Benedictus, after the Gospel, seems at first sight a Gallican importation. Not long ago Pere Thibaut showed the importance of this chant in the Gallican liturgy ;[5] yet others, notably the Roman liturgy, have also adopted it, and it has sometimes even taken the place of thc "Gloria in Excelsis."[6]

The catechumens were dismissed before the Offertory. A celebrated formula, as to which we shall have a word to say, is as follows:

"Si quis cathecumenus est, procedat. 
Si quis haereticus est, procedat. 
Si quis judaeus est, procedat. 
Si quis paganus est, procedat. 
Si quis arianus est, procedat. 
Cujus cura non est, procedat."

This formula was discussed at Rome in 1905 during the conferences on Christian Archceology. Mgr. Stornaiolo, who had discovered it in a Vatican codex of the eleventhtwelfth centuries, gave it as a unique example of the "missa," or "dismissio," of the non-Catholics before the Mass (of the Faithful). Bannister gave it another interpretation; in his opinion it was an appeal from the Church to come and be baptized. He himself had found the same formula in the Office of Holy Saturday, after the "Sicut servus." Cardinal Tommasi had already published two formulas of this kind, found in the Roman books; Muratori two others, from the Ambrosian rite.[7] The "Paleographie musicale" of the Solesmes Benedictines gave the formula of the "codex urbinatus"(that published by Mgr. Stornaiolo) with the neumatic Ambrosian notation (Vol. VI, pp. 174, 175, and 262). Finally, the same formula was discovered in Beroldus by Mgr. Magistretti, who proved by the context that the meaning of "procedat" could not be an appeal to advance, but, on the contrary, an invitation to withdraw, "procedat" being equivalent to "recedat."[8]

There was an anthem, "post Evangelium," which, according to Lejay, was connected with the Offertory. However, as has been observed in Chapter IV, a chant after the Gospel cannot be considered as unfamiliar in Rome. After this anthem there was the "Pacem habete, corrigite (erigite) vos ad orationem." This is an ancient rite, which seems clearly to indicate that in the primitive Ambrosian Mass the Kiss of Peace took place here, and even the reading of the Diptychs. On this point, then, this rite was different from that of Rome, in which the Diptychs were recited in the middle of the Canon, and where the Kiss of Peace was given at Communion; but it does agree with the Gallican, Mozarabic, and Eastern liturgies. This difference is the most important of all between Rome and the other Latin liturgies. Certain liturgiologists have boldly affirmed that it is reasonable to believe that on this point it is the Roman liturgy which has changed, while all the rest remained faithful to the primitive system.[9]

The Ambrosian liturgy has adopted prayers which are not very ancient for the Offertory. Otherwise both ceremonies and formulas are very like those of Rome.

On the paten on which he has placed the Host the Priest says: "Suscipe, clementissime Pater, hunc panem sanctum ut fiat unigeniti corpus in nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus sancti. When he puts wine and water into the chalice, he says: De latere Christi exivit sanguis et aqua pariter, in nomine Patris," etc.

Here there are two prayers, "Suscipe sancte Pater" and "Suscipe sancta Trinitas," which strongly resemble the Roman formulas. Then comes this prayer, with imposition of hands over the oblations: "Et suscipe sancta Trinitas hanc oblationem pro emundatione mea; ut mundes et purges me ab universis peccatorum maculis, quatenus tibi digne ministrare merear, domine et clementissime Deus." All these formulas are of later origin, and can be found in other books of the Middle Ages, with variants.

The prayer, "Super sindonem" (or, prayer over the winding-sheet or Corporal), is, on the contrary, very ancient. It is true that the Roman liturgy has not that prayer to-day, but it has at this moment the ceremony of the Corporal, and further, the "Dominus vobiscum" and "Oremus," which are not followed by any prayer, which surely indicates that there is a gap here. Many liturgiologists have said, and still say, that what is missing here is the Prayer of the Faithful; but we are of Bishop's opinion: that it is more reasonable to believe that once at Rome, as now at Milan, the "oratio super sindonem" stood in this place.[10]

The offerings were brought to the singing of the "antiphona post evangelium;" and this too is conformable with the Roman rite. The celebrant blessed them with this further prayer:[11] "Benedictio Dei omnipotentis Pat tris et Filii et Spiritus sancti copiosa de coelis descendat super hanc nostram oblationem et accepta tibi sit haec oblatio, Domine sancte, Pater omnipotens, aeterne Deus, misericors rerum conditor."

In certain manuscripts the prayer "Adesto Domine" is found at this point.

The blessing of the incense resembles the Roman blessing; having the same formulas, with one exception. But all these prayers are also of the late Middle Ages.

During solemn Masses at Milan a characteristic ceremony took place. Ten old men (vecchioni) and ten old women, who lived at the expense of the Chapter, came in special costume to offer the bread and wine. This, too, is a custom which reminds us of the Roman Offertory. This offering also is accompanied by a prayer, "oratio super oblatam," which answers to the Roman Collect.[12]

The Ambrosian Preface is framed on the Roman lines, and also concludes with the "Sanctus." But the Milanese rite has kept a large number of these Prefaces. Lejay has an interesting study on that of the manuscript of Bergamo; and he distinguishes amongst them the following types:

Prefaces in the form of Collects, ending with the doxology "Per Dominum nostrum," etc.;

Prefaces in the form of a narrative, recounting the Lives of Saints;

Oratorical Prefaces, true rhetorical efforts, sometimes perhaps rather stilted in tone; and related more closely to the Gallican or Mozarabic style rather than to the sobriety of Rome;

Antithetical Prefaces, in which two subjects are opposed to each other in a series of contrasts;

Lastly, Lejay also distinguishes Parallel Prefaces, in which two Saints are compared with each other; or Eve with Our Lady, or Christ with St. Stephen.

In spite of the oratorical tone of all these compositions, he yet declares that "some of these pieces are really beautiful, and betray a master's hand" (loc. cit., cols. 1413-1414). Two of these Prefaces even contain hexameters, and one, pentameters.

At the present day the Ambrosian Canon, except for very slight variants, is like the Roman Canon, and has been like it for many centuries. In his article on the Ambrosian rite, Lejay has published the entire text of the Sacramentary of Biasca, as well as that of the Missal of Stowe and the Gelasian Sacramentary (loc. cit., cols. 1407-1414). The comparison of these texts is most instructive, but it can be seen at a glance that, excepting for the list of Saints, to which the Ambrosians have added several specially honoured at Milan, and for a few less important variants, the Ambrosian Canon is exactly similar to the Gelasian, which itself is but the Gregorian Canon of our own Missal,with a few very slight variations.[13]

We may agree with certain liturgiologists that the Canon of "De Sacramentis "(which is printed on Chap. IV) gives us a very much earlier form of the Canon than the Ambrosian; one, indeed, which goes back to about the year 400. But, as was then said, that text too presents many analogies with the Roman Canon. Lejay, following Mgr. Duchesne here, attempts to go back to an even earlier epoch, in which, he says, "there was no Ambrosian Canon really; before the adoption of the Roman Canon at Milan the consecrating prayers were still variable in their tenor, as we find them in the Gallican books."[14]

Lejay seeks traces of this primitive Ambrosian Canon in the offices of Holy Week, which, as we know, often preserve the most ancient vestiges of the old liturgies. Thus, on Holy Thursday, we have a formula which is a pendant to the Gallican "Post pridie," as follows: after the words of the Institution: "Haec facimus, haec celebramus, tua, Domine, praezcepta servantes etad communionem inviolabilem hoc ipsum quod corpus domini sumimus mortem dominicam nuntiamus."

On Holy Saturday there is a "Vere Sanctus," just as there is in the Eastern and Gallican liturgies: "Vere benedictus dominus noster Jesus Christus, filius tuus. Qui cum Deus esset majestatis descendit de coelo, formam servi qui primus perierat suscepit et sponte pati dignatus est ut eum quem ipse fecerat liberaret. Unde et hoc paschale sacrifcium tibi offerimus pro his quos ex aqua et spiritu sancto regenerare dignatus es, dans eis remissionem omnium peccatorum, ut invenires eos in Christo Jesu domino nostro; pro quibus tibi, domine, supplices fundimus preces ut nomina eorum pariterque famuli tui imperatoris scripta habeas in libro viventium. Per Christum Dominum nostrum, qui pridie." Here the "Vere Sanctus," as in the Gallican and Eastern liturgies, joins the "Sanctus" to the "Qui pridie."

There is yet another variant of the "Vere Sanctus" on Holy Thursday: "Tu nos, domine, participes filii tui, tu consortes regni tui," etc.[15]

In the Canon of Biasca the formula of consecration is followed by these words: "Mandans quoque, et dicens ad eos: Haec quotiescumque feceritis in meam commemorationem facietis; mortem meam praedicabitis, resurrectionem adnunciabitis, adventum meum sperabitis, donec iterum de coelis veniam ad vos." This is a variant of the Roman anamnesis, evidently of very ancient authorship, which recalls the formula of the "Apostolic Constitutions" (VIII, 12, P.G. Vol. I, col. 1104; cf. VII, 25, col. 1O17), themselves inspired by the actual text of St. Paul: "Hosakis gar an esthiete" (I Cor. Xi. 26). It is also found in other Eastern liturgies, as those of St. James and St. Basil, in the Missal of Stowe, and in the Mozarabic rite.

In the text of Biasca the Canon ends, like the Canons of all the rites, with a doxology; but this, slightly different from the Roman doxology, runs thus: "Et est tibi Deo Patri Omnipotenti ex ipso, et per ipsum, et in ipso omnis honor, virtus, laus, gloria, imperium, perpetuitas et potestas in unitate spiritus sancti. Per infinita saecula saeculorurn. Amen." This is very nearly the same as that of "De Sacramentis," which in that document follows the "Pater." According to Lejay this would be its primitive place in the Ambrosian liturgy. Now a doxology after the "Pater" is a primitive custom already found in the "Didache;"so ancient that it has slipped into certain manuscripts after the Lord's Prayer given by St. Matthew (chap. vi. 13).[16]

As at Rome, the Pater is preceded by a short prelude and followed by an embolism which differs only very slightly,from the Roman use. The Fraction preceded the "Pater" as it did at Rome before St. Gregory's day. This was also the case with the Gallican liturgies, on this point in agreement with Rome, while the Greeks placed the Fraction afterwards. After the doxology at the end of the Canon the Priest divides the Host, saying: "Corpus tuum frangitur," "Christe; Calix benedicitur," and breaks off a piece destined to be placed in the chalice, with these words: "Sanguis tuus sit nobis semper ad vitam et ad salvandas animas." The Commixtion is made with the words: "Commixtio consecrati corporis et sanguinis D.N.J.C. nobis edentibus et sumentibus, in vitam aeternam. Amen." This rite is accompanied by a chant called "Confractorium." Lejay mentions one taken from Psalm xxii. 5, according to St. Ambrose (col. 1419).

The "Pax" is given at this moment, as at Rome; but certain indications allow us to believe that in the primitive Ambrosian rite it was doubtless at the Offertory.

The "Agnus Dei" and the three prayers before the Communion have been adopted by the Ambrosian as they have by the Roman rite; but they are prayers of a later age.

The ancient formula for Communion was formerly: "Corpus D.N.J.C. proficiat mihi sumenti et omnibus pro quibus hoc sacrificium attuli ad vitam et gaudiun sempiternum." It is unnecessary to remark that this is not a very ancient formula, such as that given in "De Sacramentis," which is very old. The Priest says: "Corpus Christi," and the faithful reply: "Amen."

There is a prayer of Post-communion, as at Rome.

The Mass ends thus: after the Post-communion and "Dominus vobiscum "the "Kyrie Eleison" is said thrice. Then the Blessing: "Benedicat et exaudiat nos Deus. Amen." The Deacon says: "Procedamus in pace. In nomine Christi." To this ending has been added the "Placeat," the Blessing, and the Gospel of St. John.

In this Mass, as we have just depicted it, we find a large number of elements which are identical with the Roman Mass; either because they have been borrowed from it, or else that both have flowed from the same source. Other features remind us rather of the Gallican and Mozarabic, or even the Eastern liturgies; and it has already been said that both these opinions have gathered a certain number of supporters: In the future perhaps an even closer study of the documents will produce fresh arguments which will weigh down the balance in one or the other direction. But for the moment we see no sufficient reason to give up that opinion stated in Chapter II. Beyond the reforms imposed by Rome, it seems to us that, during the first few centuries, liturgical unity, understood in its widest sense, gives the key to a certain number of differences, just as it does to analogies between the two liturgies.

In our own opinion it would be more interesting profoundly to study the liturgy of this great church of Milan, which at one moment in the fourth century was "quasi-patriarchal," and of which we have here only been able to give the palest sketch, than it would be to attempt to resolve the above question. Like Antioch, Jerusalem, Alexandria, Rome, Constantinople, Toledo, Ravenna, Aquilea, it was a first-class liturgical centre. Such of its liturgical books as have been preserved, the great churches where this liturgy was celebrated, the great Bishops who were its protectors, all give us the very loftiest idea of it. But we are not now writing the history of the Latin liturgies, an enormous enterprise which would as yet be premature; we are but endeavouring to study the Mass of the Western Rite under its different forms.


1. See "Books of the Latin Liturgy" (Sands, 3s. 6d.), pp. 85-88.
2. Do not forget what has been said in Chapter II as to the liturgical  exchanges and borrowings between the Eastern churches (notably those of  Antioch and Jerusalem) and those of the West.
3. Lejay thinks (wrongly, in our opinion) that the second "Kyrie" is only a  vestige of the Prayer of the Faithful.
4. Cf. Duchesne, "Origines du culte," p. 203.
5. "L'ancienne liturgie gallicane, son origine aux Ve et VIe siecles,"  (Paris 1929), and our remarks on this subject in "Revue d'Hist. eccles. de  Louvain," Vol. XXVI, p. 851 seq.
6. Cf. DACL, "Cantiques evangeliques," col. 1995.
7. Thomasi-Vezzosi, VII, p. 6 seq.; Muratori, "Antiqu. Medii Evi.," Vol.  IV, pp. 842 and 914.
8. "De la missa ou dismissio catechumenorum," in "Revue Benedictine," 1905,  Vol. XXII, pp. 569-572; cf. also "Rassegna Gregoriana," 1905, July-August,  p. 338.
9. Cf. the works of Dom Cagin, Probst, Lucas, and Fortescue, already  mentioned; and also DACL, "Baiser de Paix," and "Diptyques."
10. Bishop-Wilmart, "Le genie du rit romain," p. 45 and note 45.
11. Lejay, who admits that the oblations were presented at the beginning of  the Mass (as in the Gallican rite), thinks that the ceremony described  above is a reduplication, and consequently an addition, of a later age.
12. Lejay considers that this prayer is a reduplication of the "oratio  super sindonem "(loc. cit., col. 1406). To me this does not seem exact,  each of these prayers having its own well-determined object.
13. Cf. DACL, "Diptyques."
14. Loc. cit., col. 1416; cf. Mgr. Duchesne, "Les origines du culte" 3rd  edition, p. 177. But this, we must confess, is at least a hypothesis for  the Ambrosian.
15. All these formulas will be found in Lejay, art. cit., cols. 1416, 1417.  It is well known that Dom Cagin has ingeniously endeavoured to find the  "Vere Sanctus" in the Roman Mass itself.
16. Lejay, art. cit., col. 1418. But we cannot agree with him that this is  a feature borrowed from the Eastern liturgies, for it is of far more  ancient origin. Cf. on this point the "Pater" in the "Revue Gregorienne,"  1928.


The Abbe Paul Lejay has published two articles, "Ambrosienne" (liturgy), one in the "Dict. de theol. cath.," the other, later and more complete, in DACL; both being under the same title. In his bibliography he mentions the works of CERIANI, MERCATI, MAGISTRETTI, and others upon this subject. To this the following articles may be added: —

In "Liturgia," p. 801 seq., a chapter on the Ambrosian liturgy. "Books of the Latin Liturgy" (Sands, 3s. 6d.), pp. 85-88, on the Sacramentaries, Rituals, Manuals, and Pontificals of the Ambrosian liturgy.

W. C. BISHOP, "The Ambrosian Breviary," in the "Church Quarterly Review," October 1886, p. 110 seq., published separately. Analogies with the Mozarabic and Gallican liturgies.

LUCAS, three articles on "The Ambrosian Liturgy," in the "Tablet," 4th December 1897; 29th January and 5th February 1898. (Cf. also the "Month," January 1902, p. 41.) The conclusions of CERIANI, MERCATI, MAGISTRETTI, and others are adopted, i.e. that the Ambrosian liturgy is derived from an ante-Gregorian Roman liturgy.

ARCHDALE KING, "Notes on thc Catholic Liturgies "(London, 1930)

For Ambrosian (the chant), see the article of Dom GATARD in DACL

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