Tuesday, April 18, 2023

Pope St John XXIII Blessing the Agnus Deis

Some interesting unused footage of Pope St John XXIII blessing the Agnus Deis in 1959, from the YouTube channel of British Pathé. (The video has no sound.)

Agnus Deis are discs of wax impressed with an image of the Lamb of God, and often with the arms of the Pope or the image of a Saint on the reverse. They were traditionally blessed by the Popes as described by the old Catholic Encyclopedia: “The great consecration of Agnus Deis took place only in the first year of each pontificate and every seventh year afterwards, which rule is still (in 1907) followed. The discs of wax are now prepared beforehand by certain monks ... On the Wednesday of Easter week these discs are brought to the Pope, who dips them into a vessel of water mixed with chrism and balsam, adding various consecratory prayers. The distribution takes place with solemnity on the Saturday following, when the Pope, after the Agnus Dei of the Mass, puts a packet of Agnus Deis into the inverted mitre of each cardinal and bishop who comes up to receive them.” The custom was a very ancient one, dating back to the early ninth-century; this photo shows some very old ones formerly kept in the Papal chapel of the Sancta Sanctorum at the Lateran, but now in the Vatican Museums.

As they were shaped like medallions, they were also used like medallions. Again from the Catholic Encyclopedia: “The(ir) symbolism ... is best gathered from the prayers used at various epochs in blessing them. 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. It was formerly the custom in Rome to accompany the gift of an Agnus Dei with a printed leaflet describing its many virtues. Miraculous effects have been believed to follow the use of these objects of piety. Fires are said to have been extinguished, and floods stayed. The manufacture of counterfeits, and even the painting and ornamentation of genuine Agnus Deis, has been strictly prohibited by various papal bulls.”

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