Thursday, April 20, 2023

The Rite of Blessing of the Agnus Deis (Part 1)

Following up on our post on Tuesday about the blessing of the Agnus Deis, we here give the text of the blessing promulgated by Pope Benedict XIV. A previous version from the late 15th century will be given in the second part. This post is reproduced with some modifications from the website of the Cappella Gregoriana Sanctae Caecilia (St Cecilia Gregorian Choir), based in Manilla in the Philippine Islands, with their kind permission, and our thanks.

In 1752, Pope Benedict XIV ordered the publication of the text of the Blessing of the Agnus Dei. (Latin text in pdf here.) The rite, republished in 1865 by Father Jules Caron, begins with the consecration of the water wherein the waxen discs are to be later submerged. To the blessed water are mixed balsam and chrism. Afterwards, the Pope distributes the consecrated water to other fonts that will be used for the submersion of the discs, to be presided by other cardinals. The Pope himself, assisted by cardinals, presides over the blessing in the main font.

The Pope then approaches the Agnus Dei, which are placed in baskets, or some similar vessels, and pronounces a three-fold blessing over them, the first addressed to God the Father, the second to God the Son, and the third to God the Holy Spirit. These collects enumerate the various graces gained by bearers of the sacramental, such as deliverance from calamities and diseases, protection during childbirth, and consolation in this life and life-everlasting. After these powerful prayers, the Pope censes the discs thrice, and then into every font of consecrated water, the discs are submerged, and then later taken out and brought into an adjoining chamber where they are dried.

The Pope afterwards enters this chamber, and then pronounces the final collect, which highlights one of the central mysteries behind the sacramental, and this is the Conception of the Lord, otherwise known as the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin. The wax used for the discs traditionally came from the paschal candle of the Sistine Chapel, and of the other churches of Rome, from the previous Easter, and into this wax was usually mixed an amount of pure unused wax, hence the last collect calls it the cera virginea. And just as the conception of the Lord was preserved from human contact, so the last collect expresses its hope that bearers of the Agnus Dei will be protected from mortal troubles, and after death will merit eternal life. In the end, the discs are gathered in the baskets, and are distributed on the following Low Saturday, after the Agnus Dei is chanted at Mass.
Pope Benedict XIV (1740-58), by Pierre Subleyras, 1741 (Public domain image from Wikimedia Commons.)
Blessing of waxen Agnus Dei
published in 1752 by order of Pope Benedict XIV
The Supreme Pontiff, standing without Mitre, says:
V. Our help is in the Name of the Lord.
R. Who hath made heaven and earth.
V. The Lord be with you.
R. And with thy spirit.

Let us pray. O Lord God, Father almighty, Creator of all the elements, and Giver of spiritual grace, from Whose Only-begotten Son’s most holy side did flow forth waters together with Blood, and Who didst sanctify the waters of the Jordan through the same Only-begotten Son, and didst vouchsafe all nations to be baptised in these waters, and didst finally institute the greatest sacraments in the substance of the waters: benignly and mercifully attend, and deign to bless and sanctify this element of water, that crimes may be washed off and graces may be granted to Thy servants devoutly venerating the waxen discs plunged in this water, that they may merit to obtain eternal life with Thy elect. R. Amen.

This Collect complete, the Supreme Pontiff receives the Mitre, and, with the most senior Cardinal ministering the ampoule of Balsam, which the Sacrist hands to the Cardinal, the Supreme Pontiff pours the Balsam from the ampoule into the Water, in the form of a cross, saying:

Deign, O Lord, to consecrate and sanctify these waters through this holy pouring of balsam, and Our blessing. Here, thrice he signs with his hand, saying: In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Then, from another ampoule of Chrism, with the most senior Cardinal ministering, as above, the Supreme Pontiff pours the holy Chrism into the same Water, in the form of a cross, saying:

Deign, O Lord, to consecrate and sanctify these waters through this holy anointing of Chrism, and Our blessing. Here, thrice he signs with his hand, saying: In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The water blessed, the Supreme Pontiff, with a ladle or a silver spoon, takes from this water and pours into other fonts of water in the form of a cross, saying nothing: then he turns to the baskets in which are place the Agnus Dei, and standing close to them, the mitre removed, says:

V. The Lord be with you.
R. And with thy spirit.

Let us pray. O God the Author of all hallowing, Who didst look upon Abel’s lamb of sacrifice, Who didst vouchsafe that a ram stuck in the brambles should be sacrificed in the place of Isaac’s immolation as a foreshadowing of our redemption, and didst command Moses that a perpetual sacrifice should be offered in lambs, humbly we beseech Thee, that Thou mayest deign to bless and sanctify these waxen figures fashioned with the image of the most innocent Lamb, that, in their presence, the crash of hailstorms, the storm of whirlwinds, the force of tempests, the rage of winds, the troublesome thunders may dissipate: and, just as the Angel, at the sight of the blood which Thy people had sprinkled on the upper door posts and on the side posts did pass over striking without harm upon the houses thus sprinkled, so at the sight of these images may malignant spirits flee and tremble, and may unprovided death not meet devout bearers of these images, may the human enemy not prevail against them, may no adversity reign over them, may no shadow incite fear in them, may no pestilential breeze or corruption of the air, nor epilectic or any other violent disease, nor storm or tempest of the sea, nor inundation of rivers or waters, nor conflagration of fires, inflict harm upon them: through the invocation of Thy Only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord: Who with Thee liveth and reigneth in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God: through all the ages of the ages. R. Amen.

Let us pray. O Lord Jesus Christ, who art the true innocent Lamb, offered upon the altar of the Cross for the salvation of the world, by Whose death mankind was delivered from eternal death and diabolic power, and recalled unto life, deign to bless, sanctify, and consecrate these waxen images of the Lamb, that those devoutly carrying them, out of reverence and honour to Thy Name, may be delivered from sudden death, and from all cunning and wickedness of infernal deceit: and may the pangs of mothers in childbirth be thus soothed, so a safe delivery with the mother be kept through the power of Thy Passion: Who livest and reignest in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God: through all the ages of the ages. R. Amen.

Let us pray. O nourishing Spirit, Who with Thy breath makest the waters fruitful and holy, and turnest their bitterness into sweetness, deign to bless, sanctify, and consecrate these waxen lambs about to be poured forth with water and holy Chrism, that all their bearers, strengthened by the fortitude of Thy power, may rejoice in Thy consolation, Who art truly called the Paraclete, and, with the Father and the Son, livest and reignest, God: through all the ages of the ages. R. Amen.

From the YouTube channel of British Pathé, some unused footage (without sound) of Pope St John XXII blessing Agnus Deis in 1959.

The Collects complete, the Supreme Pontiff places incense in the thurible, a Cardinal-Priest ministering the boat, blessing it in the usual way, while saying: Mayest thou be blessed by Him in Whose honour thou art burned.

Afterwards, he censes the Agnus Dei with three swings of the thurible: then he receives the mitre, is girded with a linen apron, and receives the upper apron, known in Italian as bavarola, sitting in the midst of two Cardinals at one of the fonts of blessed Water: the Cardinals, likewise girded with linen aprons, sit on either side at the farthest side of the same font, facing each other. Servers, on the other hand, and others, bring the Agnus Dei, in clean silver platters, to the fonts of blessed water, where they are submerged. The Supreme Pontiff, and the Cardinals assisting him, take the Agnus Dei out with silver spoons, and place them back in the same platters, in which they were brought, or in other platters, with the servers receiving and bringing them to the place prepared for this purpose, whereupon they put them on the tables, with clean cloths, prepared for this purpose, that moisture having been taken out, they may be dried. The other Cardinals summoned for this purpose, likewise girded with linen aprons, sit by the other fonts of blessed Water, and submerge the Agnus Dei brought by the servers, and take them out with silver spoons in the same way as above, and they are brought to the place already mentioned. With the Agnus Dei already baptised by the Supreme Pontiff and the Cardinals, the Supreme Pontiff, entering the chamber wherein the abovementioned tables are placed, and standing without mitre, says:

V. The Lord be with you.
R. And with thy spirit.
Let us pray. We beseech Thy immense mercy, O God almighty, that the bearers of these Lambs without blemish, which, being formed from virgin wax as a sign of the Conception of Thy Only-begotten Son our Lord, which was obtained by divine power without human contact, We have consecrated with sacred water and sacred Chrism through the merits of the Cross, delivered from all terrors, as well as conflagrations, of malignant spirits, of inundations, of lightning, of tempest, of untoward childbirth, and from all other dangers and diseases, may depart unharmed from this age, and rejoice with Thee in the age to come without end: Who livest and reignest in perfect Trinity, God: through all the ages of the ages. R. Amen.

These done, the Agnus Dei are placed in the baskets, and are distributed on Low Saturday after the chanting of the Agnus Dei at Mass.

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