Agnus Dei Sacramental
The name Agnus Dei has been given to certain discs of wax impressed with the figure of a lamb and blessed at stated seasons by the Pope. They are sometimes round, sometimes oval in diameter. The lamb usually bears a cross or flag, while figures of saints or the name and arms of the Pope are also commonly impressed on the reverse. These Agnus Dei’s may be worn suspended round the neck, or they may be preserved as objects of devotion. In virtue of the consecration they receive, they are regarded, like holy water, blessed palms, etc., as "Sacramentals".
The origin of Agnus Deis is a matter of much obscurity. Recent authorities lay stress upon the lack of evidence for their existence before the ninth century. But it seems probable that they had their beginning in some pagan usage of charms or amulets, from which the ruder populace were weaned by the enjoyment of this Christian substitute blessed by prayer. The early history of Catholic ceremonial affords numerous parallels for this Christianizing of pagan rites. It is not disputed that the Agnus Deis originated in Rome. If so, we may probably trace the custom back to the final overthrow of Paganism in that city, say the fifth century. We know that when we first hear of them (c. 820) they were made of the remnants of the preceding year's paschal candle. We also know from Ennoldius (c. 510) that fragments of the paschal candles were used as a protection against tempests and blight (Migne, P.L., LXIII, pp. 259, 262). It is also possible that a mention of the blessing of wax under Pope Zosimus (418) in the "Liber Pontificalis" (first edition) should be interpreted, with Mgr. Duchesne, of the Agnus Dei, though it more probably refers to the paschal candle. It was at this period and before the Trullan Council of 691 that the symbolism of the Lamb most flourished; see the Sarcophagus of Junius Bassus. The alleged examples of early Agnus Deis, e.g. one of Gregory the Great in the treasury of Monza (see Kraus, "Real-Encyclopadie," s.v.) cannot be trusted. The earliest certain specimen now in existence seems to belong to the time of Gregory XI (1370).
From the time of Amalarius (c. 820) onwards we find frequent mention of the use of Agnus Deis. At a later period they were often sent by the Popes as presents to sovereigns and distinguished personages. A famous letter in verse accompanied the Agnus Dei despatched by Urban V to the Emperor John Palaeologus in 1366. In the penal laws of Queen Elizabeth Agnus Deis are frequently mentioned among other "popish trumperies" the importation of which into England was rigorously forbidden.
Blessing and Distribution
We learn from an "Ordo Romanus" printed by Muratori ("Lit. Rom", II, p. 1,004) that in the ninth century the archdeacon manufactured the Agnus Deis early on Holy Saturday morning out of clean wax mixed with chrism, and that they were distributed by him to the people on the Saturday following (Sabbato in Albis). At a later date the Pope himself generally assisted at both the blessing and the distribution. 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 followed. The discs of wax are now prepared beforehand by certain monks, and without the use of chrism. 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 Dies into the inverted mitre of each cardinal and bishop who comes up to receive them.
Symbolism and Use
The symbolism of the Agnus Dei’s 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.
There are also Agnus Deis of a grey colour, made from wax mingled with the dust which is believed to be that of the bones of martyrs. These, which are called "Paste de' SS. Martiri", are held to need no special consecration and are treated as relics.
A sacramental is a sacred object, or action, which the church uses for the purpose of obtaining spiritual favors through the Church’s intercession. One such sacramental, and one of the Church’s most ancient, is the Agnus Dei.
Agnus Dei means Lamb of God, and is eh name given to certain wax discs upon which are impressed the figure of a lamb, and the blessing of which, actually a consecration, is reserved to the reigning Supreme Pontiff.
The Agnus Dei dates from before the eighth century, and the matter, from, and prayers for the consecration ceremony are duly described in the Roman Ritual.
In the making of the Agnus Dei, pure white unadulterated wax must be used, and is mixed with Holy Water, Balsam, and Chrism. The wax must be pure since it is designed to typify human nature as being absolutely free from imperfection, when, in virtue of His Own Divine Power, it was assumed by our Saviour in the Immaculate Womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
The figure of a lamb is impressed on these discs as it is symbolic of the Lamb of god, without blemish, immolated on the alter of the Cross in atonement for man’s sins. Holy water is also used because it was chosen by god, both in the Old and New Testaments, for the institution of the Great Sacraments. Balsam is mixed with the Holy Water to signify the sweet perfume of the virtues of Christ, which should be eminently characteristic of His followers. Chrism is added to show that things so consecrated, such as churches, alters, and the priests themselves, have been specially set apart for the divine service, the perfection of Christian charity being likewise set forth.
The waxen Agnus Deis are, accordingly, immersed in the water already blessed and mingled with Balsam and Chrism; while before and after this action the Pope utters the most solemn invocations, beseeching God to bless, sanctify, and consecrate these discs, imparting to them such power that whosoever should revere them with true faith and sincere piety might as indicated by the writings of Popes Urban V, Paul II, Julius III, Sixtus V, and Benedict XIV, participate in the following benefits and graces:
-They foster piety, banish tepidity, preserve from face and dispose to virtue.-That at sight or touch of the Lamb impressed on these waxen discs, the faithful should be inspired to dwell on the Mysteries of our Redemption recalled by this symbol; and be moved to praise, venerate, and extol God’s goodness to us, hoping to obtain pardon for their sins, and to be cleansed form all stain.-They are a protection from sudden and unprovided death.-They are a protection in combat, and have power to ensure victory.-They cause evil spirits to tremble and flee; that hailstones should case; tempests subside, and whirlwinds, lightning, and hurricanes should be dispelled.-They deliver from poison and, through Divine Intervention, the snares, wiles, and frauds of Satan should not prevail.-They are excellent preventatives against sickness, and are also an efficacious remedy –especially in cases of epilepsy.-They dissipate hurricanes, clam whirlwinds, and keep away tempests.-They save from shipwreck and the danger of lightning and floods.-They preserve mothers and babies from peril and provide for a safe and easy delivery.
It is a matter of firm belief, confirmed by striking miracles, which these graces and favors are wont to be vouchsafed to the faithful by Divine munificence in virtue of the blessings and prayers of Christ’s Vicar, the Pope, consecrating those waxen discs as Head of the Catholic Church. If, however, the desired result is not always obtained, this should not be attributed to want of efficacy on the part of the Sacramental, but rather to the luke-warmness of suppliants, or to some hidden cause in meet accordance with the counsels of the Most High.
Throughout the life of the Church favors too numerous to count have been granted by God through the intercession of one of the Church’s most treasured Sacramentals, the Agnus Dei. It is, however, worth of not that in the Cause for Canonization of Bl. Innocent XI, tow first-class miracles were accepted, both involving the use of Agnus Dei’s.
In times past, the reigning Pope would consecrate the Agnus Dei’s during Holy Week in the first year of his pontificate, and then every seventh year during his reign. Inexplicably, the practice of consecrating the Agnus Dei Sacramental was abandoned following the Second Vatican Council.
O my Lord Iesus, Christ, the true Lamb Who takest away the sins of the world; by Thy Mercy, which is infinite, pardon my iniquities, and by Thy Sacred Passion preserve me this day from all sin and evil. I carry about me this holy Agnus Dei in Thy honor, as a preservative against my own weakness, and as an incentive to the practice of that meekness, humility, and innocence which Thou has taught us. I offer up to Thee as an entire oblation, and in memory of that Sacrifice of Love which Thou didst offer for me on the Cross, and in satisfaction for my sins. Accept this oblation, I beseech Thee, O my God, and may it be acceptable to Thee in the odour of sweetness. Amen.
Pope Pius XII immerses the Agnus Dei Wax
(For those who carry or wear an Agnus Dei)
Jesus, my Savior, true Lamb of God, Who takest away the sins of the world, by Thine infinite mercy, I beseech Thee to pardon my iniquities. By Thy sacred Passion, I beseech Thee preserve me this day from sin and shield me from all evil. To Thine honor and glory I carry about with me this blessed Agnus Dei as a protection to my soul and body, and as an incentive to practice the virtues which Thou hast inculcated, especially meekness, humility, purity and charity. In memory of that sacrifice of love which Thou didst offer for me and all mankind on Calvary, I consecrate my whole being to Thee. Thou didst die on the cross for love of me; let me die to self for love of Thee! Keep me in Thy love and Thy grace to the end of my life, that I may bless Thee forever with the Saints to heaven. Amen.
The last pope to consecrate the wax and make it available was Pope Pius XII. You may order this Sacramental by clicking here.