Saturday, August 25, 2018

The Beneventan Rite: A Missing Link in Liturgical History?

Benevento Cathedral, built in the 8th century, prior to its liberation/destruction in World War II
Study of Western liturgy in the first millennium, aside from the reasonably well documented Roman rite, is a field ripe for confusion if one is not also prudent. Even study of the Roman rite requires some prudence since some of the better resources for the Roman liturgy, like the Gregorian, Gelasian, and Stowe Sacramentaries, are really conscientious adaptations of the Roman ways in places with pre-existing local customs in an era before the Congregation for Rites. If we mention the various rites that preceded those local adaptations of Roman books we look at even more scarce documentation with even less context. All the same I trust my readers' restraint in looking into one of the more curious local rites, that of Benevento, a city whose name came up in the Mattins of Saint Bartholomew.

This city, north of Naples and part of the Byzantine Empire after de facto rule of central and north Italy turned to the Papacy and Goths respectively, celebrated what we assume to be its own unique liturgy until gradually integrating the Roman liturgy at the end of the first millennium. Practically nothing of its texts survive outside of music. There are no Sacramentaries, lectionaries, psalters, or kalendars. Sources for this rite consist of a few pieces of a Gradual for certain Masses, mostly in Advent, Lent, Christmas day and St. Stephen, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday; the Gradual includes the Gradual of the Mass and the Ingressa, an entrance antiphon without any accompanying psalm verses. Some fragments of an Antiphonale for celebration of the Office also survive, but with little direction as to the psalmnody that accompanies the texts. Curiously, the notation is written freely and without constriction to the stave notation popular in Rome and Byzantium. Ensemblem Organum has transcribed some of the music to staves and recorded it with their signature Hellenic droning, something probably foreign to Benevento. Aside from being recorded freehand and without contemporary notation, another anomaly of Beneventan music is how modest it is compared to both Roman and Byzantine chant: everything is either in the key of G or D, whereas the Roman and Greek rites each with eight tones or "modes", distinct melodies based on the initial key of the chant.

The Beneventan ordo Missae is remarkably like that of the Ambrosian tradition in Milan, far across Italy in the Lombard region. The consequences of this fact are uncertain, but made for considerable confusion a century ago when anything different from the Roman rite was taken to be older and hence more "right" and original. In resembling the Ambrosian Mass the Beneventan ordo also parallels many parts of the Byzantine Divine Liturgy. The Gloria begins the popular part of Mass, followed by the Kyrie (no Christe eleison), the Symbol of Faith is sung after the offertory and before the preface, and the dismissal appears to have been Benedicamus Domino. The Greek Divine Liturgy often begins with the Great Doxology (Gloria) at the conclusion of the preceding Orthros (Mattins), Kyrie eleison is the response to the Great Litany which opens the Liturgy proper, the Creed is said before the preface and after the moving of the gifts to the altar, and the dismissal is absolutely not the Roman one but rather several different dismissals and blessings.

A hasty analysis may conclude that the Greek, Ambrosian, and Beneventan rites belong to a common liturgy ancestor from which the Roman liturgy deviated. More likely the Ambrosian and Beneventan rites reflected the cultures in which they were fostered, parts of Italy in which Greek culture and Constantinopolitan influence remained strong long after Rome fell to the foederati and began its own series of liturgical enhancements. Perhaps one strong demonstration of this point is the Great Doxology, the Gloria in excelsis Deo. In both the Ambrosian and Beneventan rites this approximates to the singing of the same in the Divine Liturgy. The Divine Liturgy, however sings this as part of the Office and not the Eucharistic Sacrifice. In Rome the singing of the Gloria was not introduced until near the time of Gregory the Great and then only for the celebration of Papal Mass; even in the twelfth century a papal Mass during Lent would hear the Gloria while Pascha at a local parish would not. It would be difficult to criticize the Roman ordo for not resembling the Byzantine Liturgy when there is little evidence it ever did to begin with.

Instead of similar and dissimilar descendants of a pure ancestor the various rites of Italy could more favorably be viewed as open systems of liturgy that cross pollinated over time until a few larger traditions (Rome, Milan) supplanted smaller ones (Benevento, Aquila). The extant rubrics for the Beneventan Holy Saturday reveal, among many things, that both the Roman and Ambrosian Masses were known in Benevento and their rubrics widely practiced; additionally, the separate traditions of the Greek and Latin communities of the city had to be integrated during Holy Week, which admitted one common Eucharist a day. In Rome fire would be blessed, the Paschal candle would be blessed in the church using the Exultet, the twelve prophecies would be sung in Latin entirely and then in Greek, catechumens would be baptized, and then the Mass would be sung. Benevento, and presumably Monte Cassino, which imitated Benevento's liturgical practices, had a different order for Holy Saturday: fire was blessed at the door of the church and brought in on a candle like in the Roman rite, then the prophecies were sung once through alternating Latin and Greek depending on the congregation (in Salerno as late as the 13th century they sang eight in Latin and four in Greek), singing the Benedicite and blessing the candle with the Exultet after the 11th prophecy; then catechumens were baptized and Mass sung.

At first glance the alternative order may seem a minor variation. In a larger context, the Roman practice of blessing fire and then immediately the Paschal candle in the church preserves the ancient lucernarium in the celebration of Vespers, the last such preservation in the Roman Church. Benevento follows the Greek rite of Holy Saturday and consequently Pascha by not beginning their vesperal liturgy with the lucernarium and instead treating the whole thing as an extended Mass with some additional ceremonies; the Exultet after the Benedicite roughly corresponds to the changing of colors during the same hymn in the Liturgy of Saint Basil the Great. Not until the reforming papacies of St. Gregory VII and Victor III (himself abbot of Monte Cassino) did the Exultet switch to the Franco-Roman text and placement; around the same time Benevento integrated Roman chant into its liturgy and standardized according to the uses of Rome, which begs the question: did they lose their own rite?

Answering this question may be difficult because liturgical practice varied so greatly before Trent, when many dioceses had their own "uses" or dialects of the Roman rite. It is even harder to answer in the first millennium, when mutual enrichment was more than a seminar concept and liturgical traditions were not quite as established, outside of a few fundamentals, as they would be in the high Middle Ages. In the surviving rubrics of the Beneventan liturgy there are several directives as to when something should be done "according to Roman use" or "according to Ambrosian use". It may be that the Beneventan rite was a "use" of Milan in the same way Sarum is a "use" of Rome, only with some modifications for the local Greek community and some influences from neighboring Rome. Another possibility, which is not presented in the articles I have read, is that both the Roman and Milanese rites were celebrated in Benevento, the latter gradually being merged into the former.

Benevento represents a missing link in the study, but not the history, of the Latin liturgy. It contributes scarce information, but when it does it warns us to approach the subject with as much caution as enthusiasm, for theories have clean delineations which confirm or reject hypotheses, but history just is not that clean.

For more information John Boe's Chant Notation in South Italy and Rome before 1300 and Thomas Kelly's The Exultet in Southern Italy are good starting points and both are available on Google books. The remaining musical texts might be searchable as facsimiles (Benevento 38 and Benevento 40). Benevento 33 has the ordo for Good Friday and Holy Saturday.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you very much for this very informative post. I must confess that I though of Benevntan chant as just another "choral dialect" with melody variants, and also a different notation style like the German "choral dialect" with its hoofnail notation, but did not know about a distinct Beneventan liturgical use.