Officium Beatae Mariae Virginis

 of the

Ambrosian Rite

Its Origins,  its similarities to and differences with other versions of the Officium Parvum.


The Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the Ambrosian Rite is printed in the 1957 Breviarium Ambrosianum (Milan: Daverio, 1957) as Officium Beatae Mariae Virginis.  In the breviary, it follows the Common of the Dedication of a Church, and precedes the Office of the Dead.

However, a slightly different title is used and information about how and when it may be prayed is given in the Rubricae Generales, # 39 - De officio parvo B. Mariae Virginis.

Si ex devotione in choro Officium parvum B.M.V.  dicendum erit, singulae Horae parvi officii singulis Horis officii diei postponuntur.  Et tunc, dicto V.  Benedicamus Domino, statim absolute incohatur dictae Horae B. Mariae Virginis.  Extra chorum vero dicitur pro opportunitate temporis.

(It should be noted that neither this Rubric nor its office are printed in the breviary's  Winter II (Hyemalis II) volume which includes the offices for the season of Lent and Holy Week.)

We know that the Little Office was one of the elements of the Books of Hours in Medieval western Europe, and also an office which was added to the obligation of any who were required to pray the complete Divine Office.  The Abbey of Cluny may have been the first to add this to its already long office, but it soon spread, and by 1095, Pope Urban II imposed its recitation on all clergy.  That obligation was removed in 1568 by Pius V, but several orders, and perhaps even some cathedral chapters maintained this devotion as supplemental, even into the 20th century.

Certainly, Magistretti (Manuale Ambrosianum) verified that an Officium Parvum existed in the Ambrosian Rite as early as the 11th century, and there may have been earlier uses.  Without actual source texts from any period prior to the 11th century, this is merely conjecture.

This essay provides a general overview of the Ambrosian Little Office, as follows.

a)  The actual office text as printed in the 1957 breviary;

b)  a comparison for each hour with the 11th century source text, and

c)  a listing of similarities with other versions of the Officium Parvum, as well as related offices.


The only editing done in the Magistretti text is the addition of square brackets [...] and word completions within those brackets.  These additions are all self evident.

The comparisons, as well as the indication of various similarities to the other offices, are basic, only partial, and therefore,  incomplete.  The comments made at some places in most of the hours is limited and certainly not exhaustive, as texts and elements from the Officium Parvum appear throughout the Marian Feasts in the Church Year in many of the other Roman Rite or Monastic Rite versions.  Even so, there are some important conclusions:

a)  most of the Little Office texts made use of the same sources - often, this was from one of the offices of the Blessed Virgin (a feast, or the Common of the Blessed Virgin Mary, or the Saturday Office).  In large part,  the psalmody and its patterns are the same, as well.  The principal feasts from which texts were taken were: The Annunciation (March 25th), the Assumption (August 15th), the Nativity of the BVM (Sept 8th), and also the Purification, today called the Presentation of the Lord (Feb. 2nd).  Other Marian Feasts which were added over time, often used texts from these sources (e.g., Our Lady of the Rosary, on October 7th, the Presentation of Mary, November 21st, and Mary, Queen of the World, May 31st).

b)  the same can be said for euchology - the final and other prayer texts are used in many of the versions, though where (what hour of the office) they are used highlights the differences of the offices.

c)  Even the many similarities, it is clear that the Ambrosian Little Office is no copy of an existing office, either from within the Ambrosian Rite or from one of the other uses (Roman Rite, Roman-derived, Monastic, etc.).  Structurally, it follows the pattern of the canonical office of the Church of Milan, and the various principles which identify the Ambrosian Rite as its own liturgical entity are clear.  

d)  While there was some streamlining done and adjustments made in the Ambrosian Little Office passim since the 11th century,  it is clear that the 1957 Little Office remained textually and structurally very close to its predecessor. 

Some examples will illustrate these conclusions:

Matins -- this hour begins like the Canonical Matins, i.e., Deus, in adjutorium, etc.., no invitatory psalms, a hymn (in this case, Mysterium Ecclesiae) followed by a Responsory, and then the Benedictus es canticle (Canticle of the Three Youths), with its antiphon (one for ordinary days and one for solemn days).  The "psalmody" for Sunday is true to the Canonical Office:  An OT canticle (Anna), divided into 3 sections, is used.  On Monday through Saturday, the psalms are from common Little Office Matins psalms, e.g., 8,. 18, 23, etc.   3 short readings follow, and after them, the Te Deum.

Lauds -- also follows the Canonical office's pattern:  there is an antiphon & the Benedictus canticle from Luke, then the Oratio Secreta.  Then follows the Daniel Canticle Benedicite with its antiphon, and then Oratio I.  Then the antiphon and the Psalmi Laudativi with their doxological psalm conclusion (148+149+150+116) and a very short capitulum, after which the antiphon is repeated.  The Psalmus Directus follows (in this case, ps 86).  The hymn, Vere gratia plena es, is the second part of Mysterium Ecclesiae.  The 12 Kyrie, eleison's follow.  A Psallenda and a Completorium follow these.  Then Oratio II and the concluding rite, where the Lord's Prayer is prayed (in the Ambrosian major hours of Lauds and Vespers, the Lord's Prayer is the final prayer; no other euchology follows it.

Prime, Terce, Sext and None are more or less similar to the same hours of other versions in structure (as well as the use of the hymn, Memento salutis Auctor).  However, the Ambrosian Rite (until the current reformed office) did not use antiphons for the psalmody of these hours.

Vespers begins in the classic Ambrosian format, with the Lucernarium, followed by the antiphona in choro, and then the entire hymn, Mysterium Ecclesiae, which, in turn, is followed by a responsorium in choro.  Pss 114, 133 and 116 under one concluding Gloria Patri and under one antiphon follow.  After Oratio I, the antiphon and Magnificat canticle from Luke are prayed, and as is Ambrosian custom, the first line of the Magnificat is repeated before the Antiphon is repeated.  Oratio II is next, then a Psallenda and Completorium I and Completorium II, followed by Oratio III.  The concluding rite is similar to Lauds.

Compline begins with Converte, nos, etc. and follows the pattern of the other Little Office texts.  There is a concluding Pater Noster, and the Antiphons to the BVM are not in the places usual among the Roman Rite variations of the Little Office.  In addition, the Ambrosian Rite includes the Inviolata, which is not found in the other offices, and which was used from the 1st Sunday after Pentecost until the Nativity of the BVM (8 September).


Continue to the text of the Officium Beatae Mariae, as printed in 1957. Continue to the Terce Comparison..
Continue to the source text from the 11th Century, as given by Magistretti in Manuale Ambrosianum. Continue to the Sext Comparison
Continue to the Matins Comparison. Continue to the None Comparison.
Continue to the Lauds Comparison. Continue to the Vespers Comparison.
Continue to the Prime Comparison Continue to the Compline Comparison.


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Added February 7, 2001