Many Catholics will tell you that one of the great things about our Church is that the Mass is the same where ever you go. The particular language may change, but the structure, prayers, and scripture readings remain the same. People who are fans of the Extraordinary Rite of the mass (sometimes called the Latin mass or Tridentine mass) proclaim that it is always the same everywhere. These are great notions about the church, except that they’re not entirely true.
The fact is, in addition to the normative Post-Vatican II mass, there are a few other ways of celebrating the Mass. There are Eastern-rite Catholic Churches with their own liturgies, languages and traditions. But there are also forms of the Mass in some places that are not entirely Roman Catholic.
The best example of this is the Ambrosian Rite of the Mass, This liturgical form is used by more than 5 million Catholics, including most of the Archdiocese of Milan in Italy, some parishes in northern Italy, and about 50 parishes in the diocese of Lugano Switzerland.
Although named for St. Ambrose, the Ambrosian Rite isn’t directly attributable to him. Instead, it has its roots in the late 4th century, when it arose as a response to prayers composed by followers of the Aryan heresy. In the late 8th century the emperor Charlemagne tried to abolish the Ambrosian Rite, but it persists to this day.
In addition to having its own cycle of scripture readings, the Ambrosian Rite of the Mass has some structural differenced from our more familiar form. Among those differences: the priest blesses all the readers, not just the deacon; the sign of peace happens at the very beginning of the liturgy of the Eucharist, after the offertory, there is no Agnus Dei or Lamb of God, and before the final blessing, the people pray Kyrie eleison, or Lord have mercy. In the Ambrosian Rite, Advent lasts six weeks, not four, Lent starts four days later, and between Pentecost and the third Sunday of October, liturgical vestments are red, not green.
The continued existence of the Ambrosian Rite illustrates the value that the Church places on long-standing local traditions in worship. In this instance, “we’ve always done it that way” is a valid and compelling argument.