Apologia: The Fullness of Christian Truth


``Where the Bishop is, there let the multitude of believers be;
even as where Jesus is, there is the Catholic Church'' Ignatius of Antioch, 1st c. A.D


Agnus Dei

Holy Family with Lamb, by Raphael, 1507

 
 
An Agnus Dei (the name means, of course, "lamb of God," and is pronounced "ah-nyoos day-ee") is a round or oval wax disk impressed, most often, with the figure of a lamb, but sometimes with a flag, figure of a Saint, or the papal arms, etc. They were blessed and distributed by Popes in the first year of their pontificates, and then every 7 years thereafter, on Holy Saturday. After the "Agnus Dei" at the Mass that day, the Pope would place a packet of them into the mitres of the Bishops present, who would then distribute them themselves.

They are very ancient, being first mentioned ca. A.D. 820 -- possibly earlier if the mention of blessing wax in by Pope Zosimus in the Liber Pontificales in A.D. 418 refer to Agnus Dei -- and it is believed that the first ones were made of leftover wax from the Paschal candle mixed with chrism. More recently, they'd be dipped in water mixed with chrism after being formed, and then sewn into small pouches of various shapes to keep them clean and safe.

The symbolism of the Agnus Dei is the same as that of the Paschal Candle; the wax is the pure flesh of Christ, and their protective qualities are like those of other blessed objects, with the Pope's blessing mentioning specifically protection in combat, and protection against tempests, lightning, fire and water; malice of demons and of every adversity; pentilence, sickness, and a sudden and unprovided death.

Popes no longer bless and distribute Agnus Dei, what with the obvious sophistication of "modern man" who, in his gnosticism, has no need for blessed objects (if you don't believe me about "modern man," I invite you to read the history of the peaceful 20th century. If the two world wars, the wars in Korea and Vietnam, the slaughter of the Sudanese and Rwandans, the Christian Holocaust in the former Soviet Union, Tianneman Square, the Jewish Holocaust, the slaughter of the Cristeros in Spain and Mexico, the fall of the Twin Towers, etc. don't convice you, then, perhaps a review of the Church's teachings on original sin and man's fallen nature will. At any rate, any Agnus Dei you come across (that is genuine) will date to before 1964, the year "modern man" apparently came into being. You should keep it very safe.

Update: I've received an e-mail from a priest who was kind enough to take the time to inform me that the Holy Father issued Agnus Dei sacramentals during the Jubilee Year 2000. Wonderful!

 

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