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Saturday, January 21, 2017

Blessing of lambs

This morning, in the Hall of the Urban VIII Chapel, two lambs were presented to the Holy Father.  These lambs were blessed this morning (January 21 is the liturgical Feastday of Saint Agnes of Rome) in the Basilica of Saint Agnes located on the Via Nomentana.

The wool from these two lambs will be used to weave Pallia (white scarves with black crosses) which will be presented to newly-named Metropolitan Archbishops on June 29 of this year.  The Pallium is a liturgical sign of honour and jurisdiction which is worn by the Pope and by Metropolitan Archbishops when they preside at liturgical assemblies within their own local Churches or in those of their liturgical Province.  The Pallium for Metropolitan Archbishops is composed of a narrow strip of cloth which is woven in white and decorated with six black silk crosses.

The ritual of blessing the Pallia takes place during the celebration of the Mass on the liturgical Feastday of Saints Peter and Paul - June 29.  Having been blessed by the Pope, the Pallia are then imparted to the Metropolitan Archbishops by their respective Apostolic Nuncios.

Agnes, a young Christian convert, is honoured as one of the four great virgin martyrs of the Christian Church. She died for her faith in the early fourth century during the reign of Diocletian (284-305), the Roman emperor who ordered the last great persecution of Christians, starting in early 303. Saint Agnes, not only had no desire to marry, but was prepared to die for the sake of her faith and her virginity as the bride of Christ, rather than become the wife of the son of a Roman prefect. She was martyred when she was only 12.  Her death made a profound impression and she became one of the most widely honoured of Roman martyrs and one of the most popular of Christian saints. Agnes is regarded as the patron saint of young women and the special protectress of bodily purity. After her death, the young saint was buried in her parents' household cemetery which was located a short distance from the city limits of Rome. At first a modest chapel was placed over the saint's grave. After Christianity became one of the lawful religions of the Roman Empire, Agnes's shrine was enlarged and transformed. According to legend, Constantina, Constantine's eldest daughter by his first wife, Fausta, was afflicted with leprosy. She was reputedly cured of the disease after she had prayed as a pilgrim at Agnes's tomb. The shrine, now known as the Basilica of Saint Agnes Outside the Walls, is famous for its mosaics and galleried nave and for housing the relics of Saint Agnes, in an ornate silver sarcophagus solidly encased beneath the altar.

Basilica of Saint Agnes, in Piazza Navona

As a saint, Agnes is a person who imitated Christ.  As a martyr she died like Christ; as a virgin, she kept her faith, hope, and love alive even in the midst of horror.  That she is remembered today is continuing proof that imitating Christ is possible, in the specific circumstances of every person's own unique life.  Agnes took her baptism seriously.  She was baptized into the death of Christ so that she might share his new life.  May it be the same for us as well.

Agnes' symbol is a lamb, because her name means pure in Greek and is similar to the Latin word Agnus, which means lamb. When popes confer a portion of their authority on bishops, they send them a woollen cloth called a pallium. These are woven from the wool of lambs consecrated on Saint Agnes' day.
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