27 March 2011

LIFE: Is it Easter Yet?

SARONNO, Italy -  A couple of weeks ago, after I had written about the grand finale of the pre-Lent celebrations at the Carnival in Venice, I took a walk around Saronno. Much to my surprise the streets were full of kids dressed like little royal princesses and Johnny Depp pirates with eye patches and gray plastic swords, giggling and laughing and throwing confetti and silly string at each other. And it wasn’t just the kids. In Saronno’s main piazza, right in front of the Cathedral, kiddie rides and stands selling colorful candies and other goodies had been set up and everyone was acting like Carnival was still in full swing. What’s going on here, I asked myself. Don’t these people know Carnival is over?

 These two Italian kids are not from Saronno but I couldn resist.
So I went home and started re-checking my Carnival facts thinking I would have to re-write the blog and apologize to everyone for getting my facts wrong. But the truth is Carnival really did end on Fat Tuesday, and there really was a grand finale along Venice’s Grand Canal with candles and costumes and a gondola parade, and Lent really has started. 

I decided to call my Saronno maven, Andrea, and ask him if he knew what was going on.

“Oh sure,” he said, “it's simple. In Saronno we don’t follow the calendar of the Roman Catholic Church, we follow the Ambrosian calendar, and for us Lent doesn’t start on Ash Wednesday but the following Sunday.”

 An Carnival Announcement from a few years back
Oh, well that explains it. Are you kidding me? For all of my life the church was the church, the rules were the rules, and now I find out that isn’t the case? There are two calendars and what else? Are there two Christmas’, two Easters? Can I make up my own calendar?

So back I go to the internet, Google in Ambrosian calendar and oh my God! up pops a whole load of stuff starting with Saint Ambrose.

If you have ever visited the Duomo in Milan, you already know that Saint Ambrose (Aurelius Ambrosius) is the patron saint of Milan. He was Bishop of Milan in the 4th century, a time when various religious factions, including the Church in Rome and the church here in Lombardia, were struggling to become the prevailing religion in Europe. And while the Roman rite eventually became the dominant Catholic rite, the Ambrosian rite, or Milanese rite, has managed to maintain its position. At least here in Lombardia  - until you get to Como that is. In Como they follow the Roman calendar, or maybe their own, I’m not quite sure of anything any more.

While the Roman calendar and the Ambrosian religious calendar are similar, there are basic differences. In the Ambrosian calendar Advent has six weeks and not four; Lent starts four days later so there is no Ash Wednesday, and Carnival isn’t over until Sabato Grasso (Fat Saturday) instead of Martedi Grasso (Fat Tuesday aka Shrove Tuesday).

Another difference is that Mass is not celebrated on Fridays during Lent and communion is not offered.

But reading on, I discover that the Ambrosian rite, or Milanese rite, is only one of several variations on this theme. 
 Milan's Duomo 

There are others. The ancient Mozarabic rite was first practiced in Spain. They have their own calendar and even their own feast days like December 18th, which is the Mozarabic Feast of the Incarnation, and January 23, the feast day of Saint Ildephonsus. both of which are still celebrated.

In the area in and around Venice they used the patriarchal rite of Aquileia. It was similar to the Milanese rite and practiced until the ended in the sixteenth century when the calendar of the Roman church was adopted. In France the traditions of the Gallican liturgy were popular and are still followed in the city of Lyon. While in Braga, the oldest city in Portugal and one of the oldest Christian cities in the world, the Archdiocese of Braga practices still another rite, the rite of Braga, just as they still do occasionally in the city of Providence, Rhode Island.

This is all so confusing. I was never all that great at keeping up with  all the rules and regs anyway so I think the best thing for me to do is to get my oh-so-blonde Paris Hilton wig, the old faux fur boa and my red high heel shoes off the top shelf of the closet, call up some friends and have my own private Carnival. And for Lent I can give up trying to figure all this stuff out. 

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