Blessing of the Agnus Dei

Last Easter Week, NLM published an article on the blessing of the Agnus Dei, which are discs of wax embossed with the image of the Lamb of God, traditionally made by Cistercian monks of Santa Croce in Gerusalemme, and traditionally blessed by the Pope on Easter Wednesday in the first Easter of his pontificate, and every seven years thereafter. In this article by NLM, we see a footage of the blessing made by Pope John XXIII in 1959, coinciding with the first Easter of his pontificate.

Agnus Dei | Francisco de Zurbarán | 1635–1640

In 1752, Pope Benedict XIV ordered the publication of the text of the Blessing of the Agnus Dei (click the thumbnail to the right to open the file; our translation follows at the end of the ceremony outline). 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, first addressed to God the Father, the second to God the Son, and the third to God the Holy Ghost. 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.

Cistercians from Santa Croce in Gerusalemme preparing the Agnus Dei to be blessed by Pope John the XXIII in his first Easter week as Pope in 1959 (photo by Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images)

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 in the following Low Saturday, after the Agnus Dei is chanted at Mass.


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: benignantly and mercifully attend, and deign to bless and sancti  fy 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 Ghost. 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 Ghost. Amen.

The Water blest, 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 Moyses that a perpetual sacrifice should be offerred in lambs, suppliantly we beseech Thee, that Thou mayest deign to bless and sancti  fy 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 thusly 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 Ghost, 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, sancti  fy, and con  secrate 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 thusly 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 Ghost, God: through all the ages of the ages. R. Amen.

Let us pray.

O nourishing Ghost, Who with Thy breath makest the waters fruitful and holy, and turnest their bitterness into sweetness, deign to bless, sancti  fy, and con  secrate 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.

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.


Interestingly, Dom Prosper Guéranger, in volume 7 of his L’Année liturgique, quotes an even older source for the prayers of the blessing of the Agnus Dei, and that is the Cæremoniale Romanum (click the thumbnail to the left to open the file; our translation follows at the end of the ceremony outline), published in 1488 by two-time papal master of ceremonies, Agostino Patrizi Piccolomini, bishop of Pienza and Montalcino, erected from the diocese of Arezzo on 13 August 1462, later split in 1582 into the independent sees of Pienza and Montalcino. Here is an English translation of the prayers based on Dom Guérangers French rendition, and below is our translation based on the original Latin.

A fragment of wax from a blessed Agnus Dei (image taken in 2015 from Orbis catholicus secundus)

The prayers in the older version are much, much longer, and the immediate ancestors of the prayers in the text published in 1752. The older version confirms that the water consecrated at the start of the ceremony is already blessed, carried out beforehand as usual either by the Pope himself or by any of his domestic prelates. Other ceremonials call the consecrated water the water of the New Lamb, by reason of the sole and eminent purpose it is reserved. Because the collects are untrimmed, we can clearly discover the scriptural foundations of this special blessing reserved alone to the Pope. Unlike the 1752 rite, which arranges the constitutive prayers addressed to God from Father to Son to Holy Ghost, the 1488 rite addresses God first the Father, then the Holy Ghost, and finally the Son.


Blessing of waxen Agnus Dei

according to the 1488 Cæremoniale Romanum

On any day after Easter, before Low Saturday, having said or heard Mass in his private Chapel, the Supreme Pontiff, vested in Amice, Alb, Cincture, and simple Mitre, blesses Water with the usual blessing, as is done on Sundays by Priests, in a vessel thither prepared, and, if it is more suitable, said Water may be blessed beforehand by one of the Pope’s domestic Prelates. Then, the Pontiff approaches the aforesaid vessel, and, the Mitre removed, standing, 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, Founder of all the elements and Keeper of mankind, Giver of spiritual grace and Bestower of eternal salvation, Who didst vouchsafe the waters flowing from the spring of Paradise to irrigate all the earth, upon which Thy Only-begotten Son hath walked with dry feet, and hath deigned to be baptised in them, which hath flowed forth with His Blood from His most holy side, and hath commanded His Disciples to baptise all nations in them: benignantly and mercifully attend, and let the grace of Thy blessing come upon us who remember these Thy wonders, that Thou mayest bless and, having been blest, sancti  fy the objects, which We cause to be cast and plunged in this vessel of water that was prepared for the glory of Thy Name, that, by the veneration and honour of these same objects, crimes may be washed off us Thy servants, stains of sins may be wiped off us, pardons may be obtained for us, graces may be granted to us, and we may finally merit to attain eternal life together with Thy saints and elect. Through the same Christ our Lord. R. Amen.

The Pontiff then receives the Mitre again, and pours Balsam from its ampoule into the Water, in the form of a cross, saying:

Deign, O Lord, to consecrate and sanctify these waters through this anointing of balsam, and Our blessing. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

And he signs thrice.

Then, from another ampoule, He pours holy Chrism into the same Water, likewise 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. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

The Supreme Pontiff, with Mitre, having received consecrated Water with a silver spoon, consecrates another Water: then, he turns towards the baskets, where the Agnus Dei are, and, the Mitre removed, standing, says upon them:

V. The Lord be with you.

R. And with thy spirit.

Let us pray.

O God of all hallowing, the Lord the Ruler, Whose unending mercy is felt: Who didst vouchsafe Abraham, the father of our faith, arranging by Thy commandment to immolate Isaac his son as a foreshadowing of our redemption, to accomplish his sacrifice through a ram stuck amongst the brambles; and didst order Moyses, Thy lawgiving servant, that a perpetual holocaust should be offered in lambs without blemish: suppliantly we beseech Thee that, implored by the duty of our voice, Thou mayest deign to bless and, through the invocation of Thy Holy Name, sanctify these waxen figures fashioned with the image of the most innocent Lamb, that, at their touch and sight, the faithful may be invited to prayers; the crash of hailstorms, the storm of whirlwinds, the force of tempests, the rage of winds, the troublesome thunders may be subdued; malignant spirits may flee and tremble before the banner of the Holy Cross, which is engraved into them, to which all knee bendeth, and all tongue confesseth, for death being vanquished through the gibbet of the Cross, Jesus Christ reigneth in the glory of God the Father: for He, led as a lamb unto the slaughter, in death offered Thee, Father, the Holy Sacrifice of His Body, that He may guide back the lost sheep that was waylaid by the devil’s deceit, and bring it back carried upon His shoulders unto the fold of the heavenly homeland: He Who liveth and reigneth in the unity of the Holy Ghost, God: through all the ages of the ages. R. Amen.

He says another Collect:

Let us pray.

Almighty and eternal God, Who art the Founder of the sacrifices and ceremonies of the Law, and didst establish them to be accomplished for mankind’s atonement, just as Thy creation, which, deceived by the intimation of the devil, incurred Thy indignation in their disdain towards the empire of Thy majesty, and as Thou didst vouchsafe to be pleased in their obedience to these victims and sacrifices, as Thou didst establish in the sacrifice of Abel’s lamb of the firstfruits, and in the oblation of Melchisedech Thy Priest, and in the immolation of Abraham’s, Moyses’, and Aaron’s victims, lambs, rams, and fattened bulls, with Thy servants humbly offering as a foreshadowing everything that came in contact with them, because with Thy holy blessing, they became holy and salvific: and like the lamb, from whose blood the side posts and upper posts of the house were anointed, being immolated, delivered Thy people at midnight from the striking of the Egyptians; and in the same manner that the innocent Lamb, by Thy will immolated on the altar of the Cross, Jesus Christ, Thy Son, did deliver our forefathers from the power of the devil: so may these Lambs without blemish, which we offer to be consecrated before Thy divine majesty, receive that power: mayest Thou deign to bless, sancti  fy, and con  secrate them, that, sanctified by Thy generous blessing, they may receive the same power against all cunning of the devil, and deceits of malignant spirits, that may no tempest prevail against those devoutly bearing these Lambs upon themselves, may no adversity rule over them, may no pestilential breeze or corruption of air, and no mortal disease, no storm and tempest of the sea, no conflagration, nor any wickedness rule over them, nor may man prevail against them: may a safe delivery with the mother be kept through the intercession of Thy Only-begotten Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, Who with Thee liveth and reigneth in the unity of the Holy Ghost, God: through all the ages of the ages. R. Amen.

We pray Thy mercy, O almighty God, Who didst create everything out of nothing, and, after Adam’s fall, didst bless Noe and his sons, who lived justly before Thy majesty, and were saved by Thy mercy from the waters of the deluge: mayest Thou thusly deign to bless, sancti  fy, and con  secrate these Lambs, so that those bearing them, out of reverence and honour to Thy Name, may be delivered from all inundation of waters, and from all vicissitudes of the devil’s tempest, and from sudden death, through the power of the Passion of Jesus Christ, Thy blessed Son: Who with Thee liveth and reigneth in the unity of the Holy Ghost, God: through all the ages of the ages. R. Amen.

These done, the Supreme Pontiff is girded with a linen Apron, and, having received the Mitre, sits by the vessel of Water, and the Servers bring to him the Agnus Dei in silver platters, which the Pontiff plunge into the Water, and the attending Prelates take them out, and bring them in platters upon Tables prepared with clean Cloths, that they may be dried; and all having been baptised by the Pontiff, or by his Prelates, the Supreme Pontiff, rising, and standing without Mitre, says these Collects upon them:

Let us pray.

O nourishing Ghost, Who makest the waters fruitful, and givest life to all, and didst establish every great sacrament in the substance of the waters, which, having relinquished bitterness, were transformed unto sweetness, and, sanctified by Thy breath, by impulse of the reception of the laver (of Baptism), at the invocation of the Name of the Holy Trinity, wash away sins: we beseech Thee, O Lord, that Thou mayest deign to bless, sancti  fy, and con  secrate these Lambs, poured forth with the sacred and everlasting water and with the balsam of holy Chrism, so that, being blessed by Thee, they may receive power against all the devil’s temptations, and all who bear them may be protected amidst adversity and prosperity, that, having received Thy consolation, they may fear no peril, and dread no shadow, and no devil’s savagery or man’s cunning may inflict harm upon them, but, strengthened in the fortitude of Thy power, they may glorify in Thy consolation, Thou Who truly art called the Paraclete, and livest and reignest in perfect Trinity: through all the ages of the ages. R. Amen.

O Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, Who truly art the innocent Lamb, the Priest and the Victim, Who art foretold by the voice of the prophets as the vine and the cornerstone, Who didst wash away the sins of the world, Who, being slaughtered, didst redeem us, O Lord God, in Thy Blood, and didst anoint with Thy Blood the posts of our breast and brow, lest the devil’s nighttime cunning, and noontime onslaught, and the people thrashing and passing over our houses, display their violence before us: Thou truly art the Lamb without blemish for our atonement, and didst vouchsafe to be perpetually immolated by Thy faithful in Thy memory, and to be eaten as the paschal Lamb under the species of bread and wine in the Sacrament unto the salvation and the remedy of our souls, that, having sojourned across the sea and the present age, we may come to the glory of the resurrection and eternity: we beseech therefore Thy mercy, and mayest Thou deign to bless, sancti  fy, and con  secrate these Lambs without blemish, which we have formed in Thy honour from virgin wax through the merits of the Cross, and, confected with holy water, and balsam, and the liquor of holy Chrism as a hallowing of Thy Conception, which Thou didst receive by divine power alone, without human contact and posterity, mayest Thou thusly uphold, protect, and defend those who bear these Lambs from all danger of conflagration, lightning, storm, and tempest, and guard them from all adversity through the mystery of Thy Passion, and mayest Thou thusly deign to deliver them and those labouring in childbirth from all perils, as Thou didst deliver Thy Mother from all peril, and Susanna from false accusation, and blessed Thecla Thy Virgin and Martyr from conflagrations; and just as Thou didst cause Peter, freed from fetters, to escape unscathed, mayest Thou cause us to depart unharmed from this age, that we may prevail to live with Thee without end: Who livest and reignest in the unity of the Holy Ghost, God: through all the ages of the ages. R. Amen.

These done, the Agnus Dei are placed back in their baskets, and then, on Low Saturday, after the Agnus Dei at Mass, they are given, as is more fully described in the ceremony of the mentioned day.

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