Ambrosian Imbroglio

Here is Sandro Magister on the spat over the revised lectionary for the Ambrosian rite in Milan and some neighboring regions. Good heavens, seven Sundays of Advent…would that mean Christmas marketing starts in August rather than September?


  1. This Lectionary was already in use when I was in Milan in August. It, together with its terminology, seems to have been accepted without any problems, both in the Duomo and in the parishes of the diocese. A certain amount of good catechesis is evident both in printed Mass leaflets and in homilies. Is Cardinal Biffi annoyed because he feels he somehow owns the Ambrosian Lectionary and wasn’t consulted on its revision?

    It’s possible to respond in detail to some of his fulminations, but that would be very boring on this blog. I’ll merely mention one that I noticed with some amusement: the placing of a period (.) after the formulaic introductory phrase to the Gospel, In illo tempore.

    The fact is that to say “At that time” means little or nothing, and adds nothing to the Gospel reading. In fact, on an anthropological basis, one would say that it is actually counterproductive because it acts as a “switch-off” phrase” which discourages people from listening to the actual scriptural text which follows. In the current Lectionaries used in the British Isles, this phrase is deliberately never used at the beginning of a Gospel reading. I imagine that the Ambrosian revisers decided to include it in order to obtain the requisite approval from the Congregation, but concluded it with a period rather than a comma in order to show just how redundant it actually is, and thus to encourage pastors and deacons to omit it!

  2. I found Cardinal Biffi’s objections trenchent. If all these matters are as he reports (and I have no reason to doubt his word), this is a particularly egregius display of bone-headedness on the part of those who translated and approved this new lectionary.

    My first thought was that we are seeing the fruit of excluding well-qualified and appropriately educated liturgists from the Congregation and its staff. But my second is this: Did they follow Liturgiam Authenticam in producing this lectionary? Perhaps the “love of archaism” and reproduction of sentence fragments enters here? Whatever it is, I think Cardinal Biffi is right to complain.

    Finally, Paul Inwood, your theory that something is included awkwardly in hopes that it will be omitted in practice seems farfetched to me. The idea is entirely too subtle, and combined with the encouragement in Redemptionis Sacramentum for the faithful to “report abuses” it would certainly cause a log-jam if it were tried!

  3. Rita, I had a similar reaction to yours. I thought: “Advice to the reform of the reform: make sure you know what you’re doing before you start restoring things for the heck of it.”

  4. Rita,

    All I can say is that in the archdiocese of Milan they are very proud of their rite, which is not the Roman one. They do not, in fact, see any need to submit anything to the Roman congregation, but continue to do so to keep the peace.

    The archaisms that Cardinal Biffi complains about are in fact being very well explained from the pulpit ─ for example, the relationship of liturgical days to the Martyrdom of John the Baptist. People seem glad to be re-embracing their older traditions, rather in the same way that many post-conciliar Roman Catholics were glad to return to the values and practices of the earlier, pre-medieval Church. I have a very strong sense that the people are flexing their Ambrosian muscles. Perhaps Cardinal Biffi see this as a threat to Roman authority, and indeed perhaps it is.

    He is certainly not entirely accurate in his facts, for example when he says that Milan offers the only example in all Christianity of two Gospel pericopes in the same Eucharist. Evidently he has never heard of Palm Sunday.

    I’m in no way defending what the Ambrosian revisers have done ─ I have neither the knowledge nor the experience to do so ─ but I am quite clear that catechesis is being well done and that generally both clergy and people seem to be almost revelling in their independence from the Roman Rite.

    As well as revising the Missal, they are also producing a substantial quantity of other material. I have in my office a brand new Ambrosian Rite hymnal and a book containing a selection of ‘simple chants’. Both of these, incidentally, include a significant proportion of Ambrosian chant, both in Latin and with vernacular texts.

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