Thursday, March 31, 2016

The Agnus Dei

Agnus Dei

Although its origin is shrouded in the mist of antiquity, the sacramental Agnus Dei is first mentioned in historical Church accounts as early as the sixth century, and referred to frequently by the early to middle ninth century. Thus, for over ten centuries the Agnus Dei has been a popular and treasured sacramental to Catholics, especially to those living in Europe where it was most easily obtained. Yet, regrettably, few Catholics living today have ever even heard of the Agnus Dei.

The name "Agnus Dei" was given to special discs of wax impressed with the figure of a lamb, the "Lamb of God" which were blessed by the reigning Pope in a ceremony so solemn that the Pope was said to consecrate the sacramentals. Popes traditionally consecrated Agnus Deis only during the first year of their pontificate and again every seven years.

In earlier times, on Holy Saturday, the Pope, with the assistance of the Archdeacon of Rome, prepared the wax from the previous year's paschal candles, adding both chrism and balsam to the wax. The Agnus Deis were subsequently consecrated on the Wednesday of Easter week and distributed on Saturday of the same week. In more recent times, the wax was prepared by monks and then consecrated by the Pope and distributed. When visiting Cardinals would visit the Holy Father, an Agnus Dei wax disc (or several of the discs) would be placed into his miter. The Cardinals then distributed the Agnus Deis as they saw fit.

In order to provide a comprehensive look into the meaning and importance of the Agnus Dei, we cite the Catholic Encyclopedia (1913 Edition) as it describes the "Symbolism and Use" of the Agnus Dei.

As in the paschal candle, the wax typifies the virgin flesh of Christ, the cross associated with the lamb suggests the idea of a victim offered in sacrifice, and as the blood of the paschal lamb of old protected each household from the destroying angel, so the purpose of these consecrated medallions is to protect those who wear or possess them from all malign influences. In the prayers of blessing, special mention is made of the perils from storm and pestilence, from fire and flood, and also of the dangers to which women are exposed in childbirth. Miraculous effects have been believed to follow the use of these objects of piety. Fires are said to have been extinguished, and floods stayed (Vol. 1, p. 220).

In a wonderful article by Charles Hugo Doyle, entitled "The Forgotten Sacramental," the author provides a summary of the special virtues of the Agnus Dei, as cited by Popes Urban V, Paul II, Julius III, Sixtus V and Benedict XIV, which include the following benefits:

They foster piety, banish tepidity, preserve from vice and dispose to virtue.

They cancel venial sins and purify from the stain left by grievous sin after it has been remitted in the Sacrament of Penance.

They banish evil spirits, deliver from temptation and preserve from eternal ruin.

They are a protection from a sudden and unprovided death.

They dispel fears occasioned by evil spirits.

They are a protection in combat, and have power to ensure victory.

They deliver from poison and from the snares of the wicked.

They are excellent preventatives against sickness and are also an efficacious remedy -- especially in cases of epilepsy.

They hinder the ravages of pestilence, of epidemics and infectious diseases.

They quiet the winds, dissipate hurricanes, calm whirlwinds, and keep away tempests.

They save from shipwreck and the danger of lightning and floods. An anecdote is recalled here of Pope St. Pius V, who had recourse to this expedient when the Tiber was in flood and seemed likely to submerge the city. We are told that when an Agnus Dei had been thrown into the river, the angry waters at once subsided.

Needless to say, due to the limited quantity of the Agnus Deis which were available, those which could be obtained were cherished by the faithful and gratefully passed down from generation to generation.

No comments:

Post a Comment