Festa di Sant’Agnese

This morning we followed with great anticipation a truly unique Roman liturgical celebration of the blessing of the lambs. On Jan. 21, the feast of Saint Agnes, Cardinal Camillo Ruini, blessed two small lambs at the high altar of Saint Agnes’s church, on the Via Nomentana.

Here, the wool from these small creatures will be used to weave the pallium — the garment worn by metropolitan archbishops. This conferral takes place the feast of Peter and Paul, June 29th. It is at this time the Holy Father gives to each of the newly appointed archbishops the pallium, as the formal sign of their office.

In what has to be among the most uncommon of Church ceremonies – into the ornate Church of Saint Agnes, replete with the most splendid mosaics, the two-tiny white lambs were carried in solemn procession. To accomplish this, the tiny-twosome, are tied down into wicker basket; adorning their heads are crown-like garlands with bold red roses. The cardinal, who is the Vicar General of Rome, blessed the lambs, as the lambs did as lambs do – baying. To the delight of the congregation.

Of course, the lambs stole the show – only until the conclusion of the opening prayer. At this point, the lambs taken out of the church – and shuttled to the Vatican by chauffeured limo, and received a blessing from the pope himself.

Obscure liturgical event? Not to this congregation. Like groupies at a rock-concert, every seat in the church was taken and with standing room only – for local parishioners holding attentive grandchildren, religious sisters from every congregation, including Mother Teresa’s Missionary Sisters of Charity; and ordinary Catholics like us and others from around the world, witnessing an extraordinary moment in our rich liturgical life.

Saint Agnes, was a virgin who suffered martyrdom about the year 305, and whose symbol is a lamb, and is buried in the basilica.  According to the VIS News, “the lambs are raised by the Trappist Fathers of the Abbey of the Three Fountains, and the palliums are made by the Sisters of Saint Cecelia from the newly-shorn wool.”

Father Mike R

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About Mike Russo

Mike Russo teaches political communication and the news of religion at Saint Mary's College of California. He is the writer and editor of the blog "The Francis Factor," which forwards his media ministry; and currently prepares for the Pope's 2015 Visit to the United States

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