Tuesday, 11 April 2006

On the Agnus Dei

Here is some info on a much neglected Catholic sacramental, associated with this time of year:

The first year of their pontificate, and every seven years, the Popes, in the octave of Easter, bless a certain number of medals marked with the image of a lamb – a symbol of the sweetness and patience of Jesus Christ. Neither gold nor silver enter into the composition of these medals; they are made of what remains of the paschal candle of the preceding year. On Easter Tuesday the Pope mixes some holy water, balm, and chrism, in which he dips them. From this odoriferous immersion they take the name of Agnus Dei. On Easter Saturday a sub-deacon, preceded by the cross, presents himself at the gate of the chapel where mass is being celebrated, and holding a basin full of these medals, he intones, in a loud voice, the following words:
‘Holy Father, here are the lambs which announced the resurrection to you, the messengers who brought tidings of victory: they are now come to the fountain, they are shining with brightness.’
The choir answers, ‘Alleluia, praise to God, alleluia.’ He then advances to the throne, and the Pope taking these medals, distributes them to the dignitaries of the chapel. Urban V, in sending three of them to the Greek Emperor, John Paleologus, thus enumerates the graces attached to the gift: ‘They bring down,’ says he, ‘ the blessings of heaven on those who carry them, and who honour them by the sanctity of their lives – they preserve from fire and shipwreck, and are a pledge of peace and tranquillity.’

Baron Ferdinand von Geramb, Journey from La Trappe to Rome (1841)

In virtue of the prayers which are said over them to that end the Agnus Dei’s are considered to possess special virtue against the fury of the elements. It is considered lawful to throw them into a burning house or into a swollen river. The Empress St Helena, we are duly reminded, did not scruple to cast one of the holy nails, with which our Lord was crucified, into the Adriatic in order to appease the waves which threatened her with destruction. As a matter of fact, St Pius V had recourse to this expedient when the Tiber was in flood and seemed likely to submerge the city, and we are told that when an Agnus Dei had been thrown into the river the angry waters at once subsided. On the other hand it is considered superstitious to nail Agnus Dei’s to the top of church towers or lofty buildings as a protection against lightning, or to break them up into pieces to scatter them broadcast over the fields.

Herbert Thurston, S.J., The Holy Year of Jubilee (1900), pp.250-51

Hmmm - I wonder if Pope Benedict will continue this tradition as he reaches the end of his first year? Pope John Paul resurrected the custom towards the end of his Pontificate and blessed Agnus Dei's can be obtained from S Croce in Rome (for a donation, I think, of 2 euros).

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