The occasional, often ill-considered thoughts of a Roman Catholic permanent deacon who is ever grateful to God for his existence. Despite the strangeness we encounter in this life, all the suffering we witness and endure, being is good, so good I am sometimes unable to contain my joy. Deo gratias!

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Annual Blessing of the Lambs of St. Agnes

Yesterday, January 21, was the feast day of St. Agnes, a young girl barely in her teens, who gave her life for her faith in the early 4th Century. Because her name, Agnes, means lamb, it is also the day when the Holy Father, in her honor, blesses two lambs. As you can see in the photo, the lambs are given special treatment, and each even wears a garland of flowers on its head.

The wool from these lambs will be used to make the pallium, a stole-like vestment which the Holy Father will give to new Metropolitan Archbishops. The pallium, is a papal vestment that the Pope gives to archbishops to wear as a sign of their pastoral authority and it typifies their participation in the supreme pastoral power of the pope, who concedes it to them for their proper church.

Interestingly, although the pallium is now reserved, by law and liturgical norms, to metropolitan archbishops, a single exception has become customary: Pope John Paul II conferred a pallium on then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger when the cardinal became dean of the College of Cardinals and therefore also Cardinal Bishop of Ostia, a purely honorary title and one without an archbishopric or metropolitanate attached. When Cardinal Ratzinger was elected Pope Benedict XVI, he continued that exception by conferring the pallium on Cardinal Angelo Sodano, the new dean.

The wool of the two lambs is given to the Benedictine nuns who reside in the monastery adjacent to the Basilica of St. Cecilia in the Trastevere section of Rome. The nuns then use the wool to make each pallium the Pope presents during the upcoming year. By the way, St. Cecilia is a must see if you go to Rome. When you go there be sure to visit the crypt and St. Cecilia's tomb as well as the excavations of her family's home -- all located right beneath the present basilica.

I took the above photo of St. Cecilia's in September when Diane and I visited Rome. The basilica is in the center, surrounded by the monastery. The below photo is of the statue of St. Cecilia in death displayed under the main altar.
And all this because little 12-year-old Agnes gave her life protecting her virtue and out of tremendous love for Our Lord. If you go to Rome, you will find two churches dedicated to St. Agnes: St. Agnes Outside the Walls which claims to have the martyrs body; and St. Agnes in Agony, located in touristy Piazza Navona right behind Bernini's famous Rivers Fountain. The latter church claims to have her head. It would seem St. Agnes is the perfect example of "divide and conquer."
St. Agnes pray for us.

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