Today is the Feast Day of St. Agnes, a fourth-century martyr who is one of the most beloved of all female saints, because of her heroic commitment to purity. It is within the Church on January 21st, the day of Agnes’ execution, that two lambs are presented to the Pope, who blesses the lambs. The lambs suggest the name of Saint Agnes, a play on the word “agnus”, which in Latin means lamb-life. But more than this, the lambs represent the sacrifice of Saint Agnes, who offered her life as a sacrifice to Christ the Lord.
The wool from these lambs prepared on Holy Thursday and used to weave the palliums that the Pope bestows on archbishops. The pallium is a circlet of woolen cloth decorated with crosses that is worn by an archbishop as a sign of the dignity of his office, an office he exercises in communion with the Pope.
We must all be willing to give up our lives in service to Christ the Lord. We may not be asked to accept as our mission torture and death like Saint Agnes but we will be asked to make a sacrifice.
What that specific sacrifice will be will be specific to our vocation and differs from person to person, but whatever our sacrifice will be it will be an act of love, a manifestation of fidelity to Christ, and a witness of our hope that Christ the Lord offers us more than anything than the world can give.
Saint Francis wrote: An Act of Love to the Blessed Sacrament
I believe Thou art present in the Blessed Sacrament, O Jesus. I love Thee and desire Thee. Come into my heart. I embrace Thee, O never leave me. I beseech Thee, O Lord Jesus, may the burning and most sweet power of Thy love absorb my mind, that I may die through love of Thy love, Who wast graciously pleased to die through love of my love.
An act of spiritual communion expresses our belief in Christ’s Real Presence in the Eucharist and asks Him to come into our heart even when we cannot receive Him physically.
Humanity is like God not only in thinking and loving, but also in creating. Whether we make a table or a cathedral, we are called to bear fruit with our hands and mind, ultimately for the building up of the Body of Christ.
“The Lord God then took the man and settled him in the garden of Eden, to cultivate and care for it” (Genesis 2:15). The Father created all and asked humanity to continue the work of creation. We find our dignity in our work, in raising a family, in participating in the life of the Father’s creation. Joseph the Worker was able to help participate in the deepest mystery of creation. Pius XII emphasized this when he said, “The spirit flows to you and to all men from the heart of the God-man, Savior of the world, but certainly, no worker was ever more completely and profoundly penetrated by it than the foster father of Jesus, who lived with Him in closest intimacy and community of family life and work. Thus, if you wish to be close to Christ, we again today repeat, ‘Go to Joseph’” (see Genesis 41:44).
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If you wish to be close to Jesus, “Go to Joseph” (see Genesis 41:44)
132-year-old tradition—the Blessing of the Lambs and Saint Agnes
Every year on her feast day (January 21), lambs–a sign of Saint Agnes’s purity–are blessed at the basilica, and their wool is then used to create palliums, the distinctive garments given by the Pope to archbishops to show their unity with the Holy Father.
This beautiful English lullaby carol originated in the Coventry Corpus Christi Mystery Plays performed in the 15th century. In a play called The Pageant of the Shearmen and Tailors, the women of Bethlehem sing this song just before Herod’s soldiers come to slaughter their children. It tells the story of the murder of the Holy Innocents, and is sung on December 28, the feast of those tiny martyrs.
Lully, Lullay, thou little tiny child.
Bye, bye, lully, lullay.
Lullay thou little tiny child
Bye, bye, lully, lullay
O sisters, too, how may we do,
For to preserve this day;
This poor Youngling for whom we sing
Bye, bye lully, lullay
Herod the King, in his raging,
Charged he hath this day;
His men of might, in his own sight,
All young children to slay.
Then woe is me, poor child, for thee,
And ever mourn and say;
For thy parting neither say nor sing,
Bye, bye lully, lullay.