The Ambrosian Rite, also called the Milanese Rite, is a Catholic Western liturgical rite. The rite is named after Saint Ambrose, a bishop of Milan in the fourth century. The Ambrosian Rite, which differs from the Roman Rite, is used by some five million Catholics in the greater part of the Archdiocese of Milan, Italy (excluding, notably, the areas of Monza, Treviglio, Trezzo sull'Adda and a few other parishes), in some parishes of the Diocese of Como, Bergamo, Novara, Lodi and in about fifty parishes of the Diocese of Lugano, in the Canton of Ticino, Switzerland.
Although the distinctive Ambrosian Rite has risked suppression at various points in its history, it survived and was reformed after the Second Vatican Council, partly because Pope Paul VI belonged to the Ambrosian Rite, having previously been Archbishop of Milan. In the 20th century, it also gained prominence and prestige from the attentions of two other scholarly Archbishops of Milan: Achille Ratti, later Pope Pius XI, and the Blessed Ildefonso Schuster, both of whom had been involved in studies and publications on the rite before their respective appointments.
There is no direct evidence that the rite was the composition of St. Ambrose, but his name has been associated with it since the eighth century. It is possible that the Ambrose, who succeeded the Arian bishop Auxentius of Milan, may have removed material seen as unorthodox by the mainstream church and issued corrected service books which included the principal characteristics distinguishing it from other rites.
According to St. Augustine (Confessiones, IX, vii) and Paulinus the Deacon (Vita S. Ambrosii, § 13), St. Ambrose introduced innovations, not indeed into the Mass, but into what would seem to be the Divine Office, at the time of his contest with the Empress Justina for the Portian Basilica, which she claimed for the Arians. St. Ambrose filled the church with Catholics and kept them there night and day until the peril was past. And he arranged Psalms and hymns for them to sing, as St. Augustine says, "secundum morem orientalium partium ne populus mæroris tædio contabesceret" (after the manner of the Orientals, lest the people should languish in cheerless monotony); and of this Paulinus the deacon says: "Hoc in tempore primum antiphonæ, hymni. et vigiliæ in ecclesiâ Mediolanensi celebrari cœperunt, Cujus celebritatis devotio usque in hodiernum diem non solum in eadem ecclesia verum per omnes pæne Occidentis provincias manet" (Now for the first time antiphons, hymns, and vigils began to be part of the observance of the Church in Milan, which devout observance lasts to our day not only in that church but in nearly every province of the West).
From the time of St. Ambrose, whose hymns are well-known and whose liturgical allusions may certainly be explained as referring to a rite which possessed the characteristics of that which is called by his name, until the period of Charlemagne (circ AD 800), there is a gap in the history of the Milanese Rite. However, St. Simplician, the successor of St. Ambrose, added much to the rite and St. Lazarus (438-451) introduced the three days of the litanies. (Cantù, Milano e il suo territorio, I, 116) The Church of Milan underwent various vicissitudes and for a period of some eighty years (570-649), during the Lombard conquests, the see was moved to Genoa in Liguria.
In the eighth-century, manuscript evidence begins. In a short treatise on the various cursus entitled "Ratio de Cursus qui fuerunt ex auctores" (sic in Cott. Manuscripts, Nero A. II, in the British Museum), written about the middle of the eighth century, probably by an Irish monk in France, is found perhaps the earliest attribution of the Milan use to St. Ambrose, though it quotes the authority of St. Augustine, probably alluding to the passage already mentioned: "Est et alius cursus quem refert beatus augustinus episcopus quod beatus ambrosius propter hereticorum ordinem dissimilem composuit quem in italia antea de cantabatur" (There is yet another Cursus which the blessed Bishop Augustine says that the blessed Ambrose composed because of the existence of a different use of the heretics, which previously used to be sung in Italy).
According to a narrative of Landulphus Senior, the eleventh-century chronicler of Milan, Charlemagne attempted to abolish the Ambrosian Rite, as he or his father, Pepin the Short, had abolished the Gallican Rite in France, in favour of a Gallicanized Roman Rite. He sent to Milan and caused to be destroyed or sent beyond the mountain, quasi in exilium (as if into exile), all the Ambrosian books which could be found. Eugenius the Bishop, (transmontane bishop, as Landulf calls him), begged him to reconsider his decision. After the manner of the time, an ordeal, which reminds one of the celebrated trials by fire and by battle in the case of Alfonso VI and the Mozarabic Rite, was determined on. Two books, Ambrosian and Roman, were laid closed upon the altar of St. Peter's Church in Rome and left for three days, and the one which was found open was to win. They were both found open, and it was resolved that as God had shown that one was as acceptable as the other, the Ambrosian Rite should continue. But the destruction had been so far effective that no Ambrosian books could be found, save one missal which a faithful priest had hidden for six weeks in a cave in the mountains. Therefore the Manuale was written out from memory by certain priests and clerks (Landulph, Chron., 10-13). Walafridus Strabo, who died Abbot of Reichenau in 849, and must therefore have been nearly, if not quite, contemporary with this incident, says nothing about it, but (De Rebus Ecclesiasticis, xxii), speaking of various forms of the Mass, says: "Ambrosius quoque Mediolanensis episcopus tam missæ quam cæterorum dispositionem officiorum suæ ecclesiæ et aliis Liguribus ordinavit, quæ et usque hodie in Mediolanensi tenentur ecclesia" (Ambrose, Bishop of Milan, also arranged a ceremonial for the Mass and other offices for his own church and for other parts of Liguria, which is still observed in the Milanese Church).
In the eleventh century Pope Nicholas II, who in 1060 had tried to abolish the Mozarabic Rite, wished also to attack the Ambrosian, and was aided by St. Peter Damian, but he was unsuccessful, and Pope Alexander II, his successor, himself a Milanese, reversed his policy in this respect. St. Gregory VII made another attempt, and Le Brun (Explication de la Messe, III, art. I, § 8) conjectures that Landulf's miraculous narrative was written with a purpose about that time. Having weathered these storms, the Ambrosian Rite had peace for some three centuries and a half.
In the first half of the fifteenth century Cardinal Branda da Castiglione, who died in 1448, was legate in Milan. As part of his plan for reconciling Filippo Maria Visconti, Duke of Milan, and the Holy See, he endeavoured to substitute the Roman Rite for the Ambrosian. The result was a serious riot, and the Cardinal's legateship came to an abrupt end. After that the Ambrosian Rite was safe until the Council of Trent. The Rule of that Council, that local uses which could show a prescription of two centuries might be retained, saved Milan, not without a struggle, from the loss of its Rite, and St. Charles Borromeo though he made some alterations in a Roman direction, was most careful not to destroy its characteristics. A small attempt made against it by a Governor of Milan who had obtained a permission from the Pope to have the Roman Mass said in any church which he might happen to attend, was defeated by St. Charles, and his own revisions were intended to do little more than was inevitable in a living rite.
Since his time the temper of the Milan Church has been most conservative, and the only alterations in subsequent editions seem to have been slight improvements in the wording of rubrics and in the arrangement of the books. The district in which the Ambrosian Rite is used is nominally the old archiepiscopal province of Milan before the changes of 1515 and 1819, but actually it is not exclusively used even in the city of Milan itself. In parts of the Swiss Canton of Ticino it is used; in other parts the Roman Rite is so much preferred that it is said that when Cardinal Gaisruck tried to force the Ambrosian upon them the inhabitants declared that they would be either Roman or Lutheran. There are traces also of the use of the Ambrosian Rite beyond the limits of the Province of Milan. In 1132-34, two Augustinian canons of Ratisbon, Paul, said by Bäumer to be Paul of Bernried, and Gebehard, held a correspondence (printed by Mabillon in his "Musæum Italicum" from the originals in the Cathedral Library at Milan) with Anselm, Archbishop of Milan, and Martin, treasurer of St. Ambrose, with a view of obtaining copies of the books of the Ambrosian Rite, so that they might introduce it into their church. In the fourteenth century the Emperor Charles IV introduced the Rite into the Church of St. Ambrose at Prague. Traces of it, mixed with the Roman, are said by Hoeyinck (Geschichte der kirchl. Liturgie des Bisthums Augsburg) to have remained in the diocese of Augsburg down to its last breviary of 1584, and according to Catena (Cantù, Milano e il suo territorio, 118) the use of Capua in the time of St. Charles Borromeo had some resemblance to that of Milan.
Important editions of the Ambrosian Missal were issued in 1475, 1594, 1609, 1902 and 1954. The last of these was the final edition in the form of the Ambrosian Rite that preceded the Second Vatican Council, and is now used mainly in the church of San Rocco al Gentilino in Milan.
Following the guidelines of the Second Vatican Council and the preliminary revisions of the Ordinary of the Mass of the Roman Rite, a new bilingual (Latin and Italian) edition of the Ambrosian Missal was issued in 1966, simplifying the 1955 missal, mainly in the prayers the priest said inaudibly and in the genuflections, and adding the Prayer of the Faithful. The eucharistic prayer continued to be said in Latin until 1967. The altars were moved to face the people.
When the Mass of Paul VI was issued in 1969, most Ambrosian-Rite priests began to use the new Roman Missal (only omitting the Agnus Dei), the Roman Lectionary, and the General Roman Calendar (with its four-week Advent). The Ambrosian form of administering the other sacraments was for the most part already identical with the Roman. This made it uncertain whether the Ambrosian Rite would survive. But in promulgating the documents of the 46th diocesan synod (1966–1973), Cardinal Archbishop Giovanni Colombo, supported by Pope Paul VI (a former Archbishop of Milan), finally decreed that the Ambrosian Rite, brought into line with the directives of the Second Vatican Council, should be preserved.
Work, still in progress, began on all the Ambrosian liturgical texts. On 11 April 1976 Cardinal Colombo published the new Ambrosian Missal, covering the whole liturgical year. Later in the same year an experimental Lectionary appeared, covering only some liturgical seasons, and still following the Roman-Rite Lectionary for the rest. Minor modifications of the Ambrosian Missal were implemented in 1978, restoring for example the place of the Creed in the Mass, and the new Ambrosian rite for funerals was issued.
In 1984-1985 the new Ambrosian Liturgy of the Hours was published, and in 2006 the new Ambrosian rite of marriage. On 20 March 2008 the new Ambrosian Lectionary, superseding the 1976 experimental edition, and covering the whole liturgical year, was promulgated, coming into effect from the First Sunday of Advent 2008 (16 November 2008). It is based on the ancient Ambrosian liturgical tradition, and contains in particular, a special rite of light ("lucernarium") and proclamation of the resurrection of Jesus, for use before the Saturday-evening celebration of the Mass of the Sunday, seen as the weekly Easter. Pope John Paul II celebrated Mass in Milan using the Ambrosian Rite in 1983, as did Pope Francis in 2017.
The origin of the Ambrosian Rite is still under discussion, and at least two conflicting theories are held by leading liturgiologists. The decision is not made easier by the absence of any direct evidence as to the nature of the Rite before about the ninth century. There are, it is true, allusions to various services of the Milanese Church in the writings of St. Augustine and St. Ambrose, and in the anonymous treatise "De Sacramentis", which used to be attributed to the latter, but is not his; but these allusions are naturally enough insufficient for more than vague conjecture, and have been used with perhaps equal justification in support of either side of the controversy. Even if the rather improbable story of Landulf is not to be believed, the existing manuscripts, which only take us back at the earliest to the period of Charlemagne, leave the question of his influence open.
This much we may confidently affirm: that although both the Missal and the Breviary have been subjected from time to time to various modifications, often, as might be expected, in a Roman direction, the changes are singularly few and unimportant, and the Ambrosian Rite of today is substantially the same as that represented in the early Manuscripts. Indeed, since some of these documents come from places in the Alpine valleys, such as Biasca, Lodrino, Venegono and elsewhere, while the modern rite is that of the metropolitan cathedral and the churches of the city of Milan, some proportion of the differences may well turn out to be local rather than chronological developments. The arguments of the two principal theories are necessarily derived in a great measure from the internal evidence of the books themselves, and at present the end of the controversy is not in sight.
The question resolves itself into this: Is the Ambrosian Rite archaic Roman, or a much Romanized form of the Gallican Rite? And this question is mixed with that of the provenance of the Gallican Rite itself. Some liturgiologists of a past generation, notably J. M. Neale and others from the Anglican tradition, referred the Hispano-Gallican and Celtic family of liturgies to an original imported into Provence from Ephesus in Asia Minor by St. Irenæus, who had received it through St. Polycarp from St. John the Divine. The name Ephesine was applied to this liturgy, and it was sometimes called the Liturgy of St. John. The idea was not modern. Colman, at the Synod of Whitby in 664, attributed the Celtic rule of Easter to St. John, and in the curious little eighth-century treatise already mentioned (in Cott. Manuscript Nero A. II) one finds: "Johannes Evangelista primum cursus gallorum decantavit. Inde postea beatus policarpus discipulus sci iohannis. Inde postea hiereneus qui fuit eps Lugdunensis Gallei. Tertius ipse ipsum cursum decantauerunt [sic] in galleis." The author is not speaking of the Liturgy, but of the Divine Office, but that does not affect the question, and the theory, which had its obvious controversial value, was at one time very popular with Anglicans. Neale considered that the Ambrosian Rite was a Romanized form of this Hispano-Gallican - or Ephesine Rite; he never brought much evidence for this view, being generally contented with stating it and giving a certain number of not very convincing comparisons with the Mozarabic Rite (Essays on Liturgiology, ed. 1867, 171-197). But Neale greatly exaggerated the Romanizing effected by St. Charles Borromeo, and his essay on the Ambrosian Liturgy is somewhat out of date, though much of it is of great value as an analysis of the existing Rite. W. C. Bishop, in his article on the Ambrosian Breviary (Church Q., Oct., 1886), takes up the same line as Neale in claiming a Gallican origin for the Ambrosian Divine Office.
But Louis Duchesne in his "Origines du culte chrétien" put forward a theory of origin which works out very clearly, though it is almost all founded on conjecture and a priori reasoning. He rejects entirely the Ephesine supposition, and considers that the Orientalisms which he recognizes in the Hispano-Gallican Rite are of much later origin than the period of St. Irenæus, and that it was from Milan as a centre that a rite, imported or modified from the East, perhaps by the Cappadocian Arian Bishop Auxentius (355-374), the predecessor of St. Ambrose, gradually spread to Gaul, Spain, and Britain. He lays great stress on the important position of Milan as a northern metropolis, and on the intercourse with the East by way of Aquileia and Illyria, as well as on the eastern nationality of many of the Bishops of Milan. In his analysis of the Gallican Mass, Duchesne assumes that the seventh-century Bobbio Sacramentary (Bibl. Nat., 13,246), though not actually Milanese, is to be counted as a guide to early Ambrosian usages, and makes use of it in the reconstruction of the primitive Rite before, according to his theory, it was so extensively Romanized as it appears in the earliest undeniably Ambrosian documents. He also appears to assume that the usages mentioned in the Letter of St. Innocent I to Decentius of Eugubium as differing from those of Rome were necessarily common to Milan and Gubbio. Paul Lejay has adopted this theory in his article in the "Revue d'histoire et littérature religeuses" (II, 173) and in Dom Cabrol's Dictionnaire d'archéologie chrétienne et de liturgie" [s. v. Ambrosien (Rit)].
The other theory, of which Antonio Maria Ceriani and Magistretti are the most distinguished exponents, maintains that the Ambrosian Rite has preserved the pre-Gelasian and pre-Gregorian form of the Roman Rite. Ceriani (Notitia Liturgiæ Ambrosianæ) supports his contention by many references to early writers and by comparisons of early forms of the Roman Ordinary with the Ambrosian. Both sides admit the self-evident fact that the Canon in the present Ambrosian Mass is a variety of the Roman Canon. Neither has explained satisfactorily how and when it got there. The borrowings from the Greek service books have been ably discussed by Cagin (Paléographie musicale, V), but there are Greek loans in the Roman books also, though, if Duchesne's theory of origin is correct, some of them may have travelled by way of the Milanese-Gallican Rite at the time of the Charlemagne revision. There are evident Gallicanisms in the Ambrosian Rite, but so there are in the present Roman, and the main outlines of the process by which they arrived in the latter are sufficiently certain, though the dates are not. The presence of a very definite Post-Sanctus of undoubted Hispano-Gallican form in the Ambrosian Mass of Easter Eve requires more explanation than it has received, and the whole question of provenance is further complicated by a theory, into which Ceriani does not enter, of a Roman origin of all the Latin liturgical rites: Gallican, Celtic, Mozarabic, and Ambrosian alike. There are indications in his liturgical note to the "Book of Cerne" and in "The Genius of the Roman Rite" that Mr. Edmund Bishop, who, as far as he has spoken at all, prefers the conclusions, though not so much the arguments, of Ceriani to either the arguments or conclusions of Duchesne, may eventually have something to say which will put the subject on a more solid basis.
The main differences in the liturgical year are:
Other differences are that:
The early manuscripts of the Ambrosian Rite are generally found in the following forms:
The following are some of the most noted Manuscripts of the rite:
Some editions of the printed Ambrosian service-books:
The editions of the Missals, 1475, 1751, and 1902; Breviaries, 1582 and 1902; Ritual, 1645; both Psalters, both Ceremonials, the Lectionary, and Litanies are in the British Museum.