|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
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.
The actual office text as printed in the 1957 breviary;
comparison for each hour with the 11th century source text, and
listing of similarities with other versions of the Officium Parvum, as
well as related offices.
THE COMPARISON AND COMMENTARIES
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
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,
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
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Added February 7, 2001