Tag Archives: St Agnes

Saint Agnes

OTHER128892_ArticoloSaint Jerome spoke these words in a sermon for today’s feast: “This is a virgin’s birthday; let us follow the example of her chastity. It is a martyr’s birthday; let us offer sacrifices; it is the birthday of holy Agnes: let men be filled with wonder, little ones with hope, married women with awe, and the unmarried with emulation. It seems to me that this child, holy beyond her years and courageous beyond human nature, receives the name of Agnes [Greek: pure] not as an earthly designation but as a revelation from God of what she was to be.”

Two very young lambs were blessed by Pope Francis in the Urban VIII Chapel. When the wool is ready, they will be shorn and the wool used to make the pallia for the recently appointed metropolitan archbishops. At this writing, there are no new archbishops in the USA who will receive one of the pallia unless a new archbishop in Anchorage is appointed soon.

You would recognize the pallium as the outer stole worn by the Pope and the archbishops while they offer Holy Mass. Each pallium is white decorated with six black crosses and 3 pins symbolizing their pastoral communion and authority share with the Pope. The white connects the purity of heart each bishop ought to have with the chaste love he has for the Church. The white pallium recognizes her faithfulness. The quote taken from Saint Jerome above gives the real sense of what is going on today with the lambs viz. Agnes viz. the archbishops.

The name Agnes means “lamb” in Latin and “pure” in Greek. The young virgin-martyrd Agnes lived in the early 4th century and was known for her consecrated virginity. Her life was taken from her because she believed in Jesus Christ as the Messiah and not pagan gods. Saint Agnes is buried in the Basilica of Saint Agnes on the via Nomentana.

The Trappist monks raise the lambs to a certain age before they given to the Benedictine nuns at St Cecilia Abbey in Trastevere weave the pallia and given to the Apostolic Household to be placed in an urn at the tomb of Saint Peter until the Pope blesses them on June 29, the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul.

Saint Agnes and the lambs

pope-francis-blessing-of-lambsOn the feast of Saint Agnes –one of our early female martyrs– lambs are blessed by the pope and the wool harvested by Benedictine nuns to weave a pallium is given to metropolitan archbishops as a sign of communion with the Bishop of Rome on the feast of Ss. Peter and Paul (June 29); a solemn Mass is celebrated each year by the Holy Father with the presence of the Orthodox bishops because it is a key feast day for the Roman Church. Joan Lewis writes today about the event. Here is the opening paragraph:

Just before 9 am Wednesday morning, in keeping with the tradition for the January 21 liturgical memory of St. Agnes, two lambs, blessed earlier in the morning in the Roman basilica named for this saint, were presented to Pope Francis in the atrium of the Santa Marta residence where he lives. The lambs are raised by the Trappist Fathers of the Abbey of the Three Fountains. When their wool is shorn, the [Benedictine] Sisters of St. Cecelia weave it into the palliums that, on the June 29th feast of Sts. Peter and Paul, Apostles, are bestowed on new metropolitan archbishops as signs of their office.

The rest of the blog post is here.

Saint Agnes

St Agnes lambsThe prayer for Mass has this line that I think is a terrific reminder for us on this feast of Agnes the Virgin Martyr, follow her constancy in the faith. To have steadfastness of purpose in the faith and praxis is not only a terrific grace but also essential.

On the liturgical memorial of Saint Agnes it is custom for Holy Father to receive a couple of lambs. So, today in Rome at 12:30pm at the Domus Sanctae Marthae, two lambs were presented to Pope Francis. The wool of these lambs will be made into to the pallia for the new metropolitan archbishops (nominated since last June 29); six black crosses are placed on the it. The pallium is a stole that the metropolitan wears at “important Masses” in the respective province (unfortunately the archbishop wears the pallium all the time so it takes away from the sign of particular unity between the the particular archbishop and the bishop of Rome).

The wool of the lamb is noted for its purity and what these lambs sacrifice is a symbolic act that points to Christ Himself. Scholars like to point out that the Greek translation of Agnes means pure one while in Latin the name means lamb. The great Church Father Saint Jerome writes: “All nations, especially their Christian communities, praise in word and writing the life of St. Agnes. She triumphed over her tender age as well as over the merciless tyrant. To the crown of spotless innocence she added the glory of martyrdom.”

The lambs are raised by the Trappist monks of the Tre Fontane Monastery and the wool is turned into pallia by the Benedictine nuns of  Saint Cecilia Monastery, where they will care for them and finally shear them on Holy Thursday. The lambs were blessed earlier at the Basilica of St. Agnes Outside-the-walls, where the virgin-martyr is buried.

Thanks to Fr Dominic Holtz, OP for the picture today; Father Dominic teaches at the Angelicum.

The Eve of Saint Agnes

“The Eve of Saint Agnes”

St. Agnes Eve – Ah, bitter chill it was!
The Owl, for all his feathers, was a-cold;
The hare limped trembling through the frozen grass,
And silent was the flock in wooly fold;
Numb were the Beadsman’s fingers while he told
His rosary, and while his frosted breath,
Like pious incense from a censer old,
Seemed taking flight for heaven without a death,
Past the sweet Virgin’s picture, while his prayer saith.

John Keats (1795-1821)

The virgin-martyrs, like the one we honor today, has long been the object of our liturgical and poetic devotion. Some of what is passed on to us us pious legend, yet the substance of her life remains crucial to a vigorous Christian life. Agnes was a girl of 13 when she died —giving her life for Jesus Christ during Diocletian’s reign. Forget not that Constantine was soon to legitimatize Christianity making Agnes among the last of the martyrs. You can read up on those women, like Agnes, who are the most eloquent witnesses to Christ in Michael J.K. Fuller’s The Virgin Martyrs: A Hagiographical and Mystagogical Interpretation.

Keats’ poem develops the theme of lovers who are mortal enemies; his is a poem of the romantic genre which ends well. Indeed, in reality it does end well for Agnes: she gives witness to the love she had for her Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Saint Agnes

Saint Agnes of Rome

Saint Agnes of Rome

What I longed for, I now see; what I hoped for, I now possess; in heaven I am espoused to him whom on earth I loved with all my heart. 

Saint Agnes raised her hands and prayed: Holy Father, hear me. I am coming to you whom I have loved, whom I have sought and always desired.

The feast of Agnes, like the other virgin martyrs of the Church point to the fact that loving Christ is no easy fact, even when the burning desire of the heart is tangible. Much suffering, much rejection, unto death, is the sign of discipleship. In many ways the line from yesterday’s gospel, “Do what he tells you” is very exacting today with Agnes.

The cost of being in love with Jesus Christ and the willingness to suffer for and with His sacrament, the Church, is as much a reality today in all parts of the world as it was for Agnes in hers.

Let is pray for persecuted Christians, those who desire to belong to Christ but can’t.

About the author

Paul A. Zalonski is from New Haven, CT. He is a member of the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation, a Catholic ecclesial movement, and an Oblate of Saint Benedict. Contact Paul at paulzalonski[at]yahoo.com.
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