Palmer: Origines Liturgicæ 07.

Vol. I: Diss. on Primitive Liturgies, Sect. VII.


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liturgy of the church of Milan bearing the venerable name of Ambrose, archbishop of Milan, and primate or exarch of the Italic diocese in the fourth century, has long been celebrated. Several attempts have been made at different times to introduce the Roman liturgy in its place, but the attachment of the clergy and people of Milan to their ancient rites has prevailed against the zeal of rash and prejudiced innovators. The Ambrosian liturgy certainly differs in several respects from that of Rome; but it will be seen, in the sequel, that this difference was originally less than might at first sight appear.

The earliest ecclesiastical writer who has been cited as speaking of the Ambrosian rite is Walafridus Strabo, who died A.D. 849, and who wrote thus: "Ambrose, bishop of Milan, appointed for his own church, and for the rest of Liguria, the arrangements of the liturgy and other offices, which are preserved even to this day in the church of [126]

 Milana."1 An anonymous Irish writer, of about the year 700, speaks of Ambrose as the author of some offices2, in which he may perhaps allude to the liturgy.

The Ambrosian liturgy, that is, the order of variable prayers, and the text of the canon, can be ascertained by means of ancient MSS., of which two, still extant at Milan, are as old as the ninth or tenth century3. The testimony of Walafridus, and the tradition of the church of Milan, at a distance of four hundred years after the death of Ambrose, are not sufficient proofs that he composed missæ for the use of his church; but it is by no means improbable that he may have done so; and this would partly account for the sacramentary, or collection of missæ used at Milan being called by his name; although the substance of the canon and the order of the variable prayers are probably much more ancient than his time.

The first thing to be remarked of this liturgy is, that it has been different from the Roman ever since the time of Gregory the Great, A.D. 594. This patriarch probably first placed the Lord’s Prayer immediately after the Roman canon4, or before the breaking of bread. The Milan liturgy, which agrees in almost every other respect with the ancient Roman, differs from it in placing the breaking of bread between the canon and the Lord’s Prayer5, as was the case at Rome until the time of [127]

 Gregory. The Milan liturgy is therefore more ancient than the time of Gregory the Great.

Another difference between the liturgy of Milan and the Roman, seems to carry back the former to a period of much greater antiquity. In the ancient canon of Milan it appears that the second oblation of the elements, which occurs in the Roman canon after the words of institution, is wanting. Two MSS. of the ninth or tenth century, the oldest monuments of the Milan rite now existing, concur in excluding the second oblation from the canon6. This seems to me a proof that the Milan liturgy has been distinct from the Roman, at least since the fifth century, as it appears that this oblation is extant in the sacramentary of Gelasius; and Leo is said to have added some words to it7. With these two exceptions, we shall find that the liturgy of Milan was essentially the same as the Roman in the time of Gregory the Great.

On examination, the liturgy of Milan is found to consist of the following parts, omitting those which have been introduced into it since the time of Gregory.

The anthem called "Ingressa"8—"Kyrie eleëson"9—"Gloria in excelsis"—the Collect—the Propheti10[128]

 the Psalm11—Epistle12—Alleluia—Gospel and Sermon13—Prayer "Super sindonem"—oblations of the people14—Prayer "Super oblata"—Preface and Canon, which agrees in almost every respect with the Roman canon of the fifth century, except in omitting the second oblation15—breaking of bread—Lord’s Prayer—kiss of peace—communion—prayer "Post communionem."


Let us now compare this with the Roman liturgy about the time of Gregory the Great. The "Ingressa" is the same as the Roman "Introitus," introduced before the time of Gregory. The "Kyrie eleëson" was used with a litany, as it formerly was in the Roman and other western churches, up to the ninth century, according to Goar and Bona16. The "Gloria in excelsis," and the collect, had been used in the Roman liturgy before the time of Gregory. The Prophet and Psalm were only more frequently used at Milan than Rome. The Epistle, Alleluia, and Gospel, all occurred in the Roman rite. The prayer, "Super sindonem" is the chief difficulty to be explained17: but in fact there was anciently such a prayer in the Roman liturgy. Here occurred the Apology, or Confession of the priest, which he repeated in silence, while the people also prayed in secret; and then the offertory anthem was sung, while the oblations of the people were received. And of this a vestige still remains in the Roman rite; for the Gospel (or Creed when it is said) being ended, the priest says, Oremus, "Let us pray," which was mentioned by Amalarius in the ninth century; but no prayer, whether in secret or aloud, follows this exhortation, which is immediately succeeded by the offertory anthem18. This custom of secret prayer became obsolete at Rome from no form being appointed for the purpose. In Milan, however, the ancient prayers at this part of the liturgy have survived, having been embodied in regular collects, which were inserted in every missa. [130] The form of oblation which occurs in the Ambrosian missal after the reception of the people’s oblations19 is probably a recent thing; the ancient oblation took place in the canon, where it still remains. The prayer "Super oblata," corresponds to the "secreta" of the Roman liturgy in the fifth century. The preface and canon I have already noticed. The ablution of the priest’s hands occurs nearly about the middle of the Milan canon; in the Roman liturgy it occurs before the beginning of the preface: but this ceremony was probably introduced into the western churches after the time of Gregory, since it is not mentioned by Isidore Hispalensis, nor, I believe, by any western writer before the ninth century, when Amalarius and Fortunatus alluded to it20. When introduced, it was used in different parts of the Roman and Ambrosian liturgies. I have already remarked on the position of the breaking of bread, and the Lord’s Prayer, as proving the antiquity of this rite. The kiss of peace occurred in the same place as it did in the ancient Roman and African liturgies, which differed in this respect from all the other liturgies of the east and west.

It appears, then, that the Milan liturgy agreed substantially with the Roman up to the time of Gregory the Great, so as to afford unequivocal signs of a common original. There are several minor differences between the Milan liturgy and the Roman of later times; such as the repetition in the former of "Kyrie eleëson" in various places, the [131]

 singing of an anthem before and after the Gospel, &c.; but these things, though they render the Milan rite different from the Roman, are of no great consequence, and they must be attributed to the archbishops of Milan. Considering the evident signs of a common origin exhibited by the liturgies of Rome and Milan, and the independence of the early bishops of Milan, who had patriarchal authority over the Italic diocese21, it is not improbable that the order and main substance of the liturgy of Milan were derived from Rome, when the Christian church was first planted in the north of Italy.

It seems that the church of Milan adopted most of the improvements and additions gradually made in the Roman liturgy up to the time of Gregory. During the same period several peculiarities of small moment were probably introduced by the bishops of Milan also. In the time of Gregory, the church of Milan did not adopt the chief alteration made by him, which alteration in fact we know was objected to by other churches, as, for instance, by the Sicilians. From that time (if not previously) the liturgy of Milan began to be considered a peculiar rite; and as the Romans gave their sacramentary the names of Gelasius and Gregory. so the Milanese gave theirs the name of Ambrose; who, in fact, may have composed some parts of it. After the time of Gregory, the Milan liturgy doubtless received several additions, such as the oblation after the offertory, the [132]

 ablution of hands, the Nicene Creed, and latterly the second oblation in the canon. The church of Milan has, however, preserved many most ancient rites, not only in the liturgy, but in various parts of the ritual and offices. The ancient Italic version of the Psalter, used in the west before the time of Jerome, is still retained in use by this church. The same version is also found in all the Prophets, Epistles, and Gospels read in the Milan liturgy22.

No one has yet attempted to furnish an authentic edition of the ancient sacramentary of Milan from a collation of MSS.; but the documents which have been published establish satisfactorily the order of the variable prayers, and the text of the canon, which is all we need in examining the liturgy.

Joseph Vicecomes, doctor of theology at Milan, attempted to trace back the Ambrosian or Milan liturgy to the apostolic age. He ascribes its origin to St. Barnabas, who, he says, first preached the Gospel at Milan23; but this theory is altogether destitute of proof. He observes also, most incorrectly, that the liturgy of Milan scarcely agrees in any respect with those of other nations, or with the Roman24. Bona makes some observations on the liturgy of Milan, but does not attempt to explain its original derivation25. What I have said in this section may perhaps tend in some degree to the elucidation of the liturgy of Milan, which has not yet [133]

 (as far as I know) been attempted. Before I conclude, I must notice the liturgy of the church of Aquileia, which was the principal church in the provinces of Venetia and Istria in the north of Italy, but in early times was subject to the archbishop of Milan. This church and others adjoining, as Forum Julii, had formerly peculiar rites, which were supplanted by the modern Roman about A.D. 1596. There are MSS. of this liturgy of various ages in existence; one is of the eleventh century26, and apparently is the same as the ancient Roman liturgy. In fact, it seems that the same liturgy prevailed throughout the whole of Italy and Sicily during the primitive ages. There is no record of any material difference between the rites of these churches.


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1 Walafridus Strabo, de Reb. Eccl. c. 22.

2 Spelman, Concilia, tom. i. p. 177.

3 Muratori, Liturg. Rom. vet. tom. i. p. 130, &c.

4 Epist. xii. ad Jo. Syracus. lib. ix. edit. Benedict.

5 Miss. Ambros. ap. Pamelii Liturgic. tom. i. p. 303, 304. Bona, Rer. Lit. lib. i. cap. x. § 2.

6 Muratori, Liturg. Rom. vet. p. 133. tom. i.

7 See sect. vi. note 16, p. 118.

8 Missale Ambros. A.D. 1522. fo1. 127. Pamelii Liturg. tom. i. p. 293. Bona, p. 66. All the preceding matter in the Ambrosian liturgy is modern.

9 "Kyrie eleëson" is only repeated in this place during Lent. See Miss. Ambros. fol. 60. 66; Bona, p. 67.

10 "Audistis filii librum Job hodie legi qui solemni munere est decursus et tempore." Ambros. Epist. xx. ad Marcellinam. " Hæc de prophetica lectione libata sint: Evangelii quoque lectio quid habeat consideremus." Epist. xlii. ad Marcellin.

11 "Quantum laboratur in ecclesia ut fiat silentium cum lectiones leguntur. Si unus loquatur, obstrepunt universi: cum psalmus legitur ipse sibi est effector silentii. Omnes loquuntur, et nullus obstrepit." Ambros. Præfat. in Psal. i. p. 741. tom. i. ed. Benedict.

12 "Factum est ut illa Dominica, prophetica lectione jam lecta, ante altarium staret qui lectionem B. Pauli proferret." Greg. Turon. de Mir. S. Martini, lib. i. c. 5.

13 "Post lectiones atque tractatum dimissis catechumenis," &c. Ambr. Ep. xx. ad Marcell.

14 "Cum autem tempus advenisset quo dona sacræ mensæ erant offerenda," &c. Theod. lib. v. c. xvii.

15 The prayer for kings is thus referred to by Ambrose. "Itaque peto ut patienter sermonem meum audias. Nam si indignus sum, qui a te audiar, indignus sum, qui pro te offeram, cui tua vota, cui tuas committas preces." Ambrosius, Epistola ad Imp. Theodosium xv. p. 946. tom. ii. He also speaks in several places of the words of our Redeemer used in the consecration of the elements. "Si tantum valuit humana benedictio, ut naturam converteret, qui dicimus de ipsa consecratione divina, ubi verba ipsa Domini Salvatoris operantur? nam sacramentum istud quod accipis Christi sermone conficitur—ipse clamat Dominus Jesus, Hoc est corpus meum. Ante benedictionem verborum cœlestium alia species nominatur, post consecrationem corpus Christi significatur." Lib. de Myster. cap. 9. "Hunc panem dedit (Christus) Apostolis ut dividerent populo credentium, hodieque dat nobis eum, quem ipse quotidie sacerdos consecrat suis verbis." De Benediet. Patriarch. cap. ix. Although Ambrose and Gaudentius of Brescia repeatedly speak of the figurative, mystical, and commemorative sacrifice, I do not see that they refer to any express or verbal oblation in the liturgy. The second oblation mentioned in the text occurs in the recent editions of the Milan liturgy, but this and other things have been gradually introduced from the Roman rite.

16 Bona, Rer. Liturg. p. 337.

17 Pamel. tom. i. p. 297. Bona, lib. i. c. x. §. 2. p. 66.

18 See this subject noticed in the latter part of the preceding section, note x, p. 122.

19 Miss. Ambros. fol. 127. Pamel. p. 297.

20 Amalar. lib. i. c. 19. p. 416. Fortunatus in vita S. Marcelli Ep. Parisiensis ap. Surium cal. Novembr. See Gerbert. Liturg. Aleman. tom. i. p. 330.

21 This is satisfactorily proved by Basnage, Histoire de I’Eglise, livre vii. chap. i; who shews that Ambrose had, and exercised, patriarchal jurisdiction over the seven provinces of the Italic civil diocese, and that the bishops of Milan were not ordained by the bishops of Rome, nor under their jurisdiction.

22 Bona, Rer. Lit. lib. i. c. x. p. 67.

23 De Missæ Ritibus, lib. i, c. xi. xii. Milan, 1615.

24 "Nec fere quicquam in eo reperies, quod cum aliarum gentium ordinibus nedum cum Romano conveniat." Cap. xii. p. 171.

25 Rer. Lit. lib. i. c. 10.

26 For further information on this subject, see Zaccaria Biblioth. Ritualis, tom. i. p. 65, &c.


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