The Paschal Blessing of the "Agnus Dei" (Benedizione degli Agnus Dei nel Mercoledì di Pasqua)

Paul VI blessing the Agnus Dei on April 1, 1964
A forgotten sacramental of the Catholic Church is the rite and use of sacred waxes known as the "Agnus Dei." The Agnus Dei was a round, oval wax disk that was blessed by the pope on the Wednesday after Easter.  The blessing ceremony was considered so solemn it was called a "consecration."  This the popes did traditionally only during their first Easter as pope and thereafter once every seven years.  The ceremony was held generally in the audience hall room behind the central loggia of St. Peter's Basilica. 

It was said the wax medallions would protect those who would wear or possess them from all perils, including pestilence, epidemics and infectious diseases (which of course brings to mind COVID-19).  Miraculous effects have been attributed to the use of these wax "relics;" for example, the protection of soldiers in combat or the calming of winds, the dissipating of hurricanes, the calming of tornadoes, and in general keeping tempests at bay.  Sacramentals, when used properly with pious dispositions, can have special efficacy because the Church has blessed them with prayer.  The reason the Agnus Dei wax was so powerful in putting the devil to flight was because its blessing did not ask evil spirits to flee by way of impetration, but instead by way of command.  This command was besought by the pope in the prayers and exorcisms recited in the consecration and blessing of the sacramental.  The faith of the people in the power of the Agnus Dei is illustrated in the effective use of it as a sacramental. 

John XXIII in 1959 (images taken from a video)
On one side of the disk was depicted an embossed image of the Lamb of God while on the other side there was a similar image of a saint or Roman Pontiff (generally a saint canonized by the pope).  These disks were created by melting the wax of the previous year's Easter Paschal candles in Rome.  Chrism oil and aromatic balsam were added to a large silver pot along with the wax discs, kept in wicker baskets.  The pope would bless them and scoop them out with a large communion paten and place them back in the baskets.  The discs were then dried on a table and distributed to the faithful.  The Cistercian monks and nuns would make them and then distribute them and even sometimes cut them into smaller pieces for distribution.  They were available to pilgrim visitors to Rome.  Although not sold, a token donation was sometimes given.   This was the tradition for over ten centuries.

Pius XII in 1939 with Papal MC Mons. Enrico Dante churning the wax disks at the beginning of the rite
This very ancient rite and blessing of the Roman Church was last seen under the pontificate of Paul VI on April 1, 1964.  The rite was fascinating and totally unique.  On YouTube there is an archival VIDEO of John XXIII consecrating the Agnus Dei during his Pontificate in 1959.  At the beginning of the ceremony the pope would wear choir dress (Pius XII was fond of his white "Easter" mozzetta, seen in the photo).   Then during the rite, the pope would change and vest in cope and mitre. He would sit in the portable faldstool and then end with a blessing standing in front of his portable throne.  VIP visitors (Cistercians, nuns, members of the Papal Court and Papal Chapel and family members of the pope were invited (John XXIII's brother and grand nephew can be seen in the front row in the video).  Although the origin of this noble tradition is shrouded in mystery, mention is made of the rite in the Roman Order, which according to scholars dates from before the 8th century.  This ancient source gives details of the substance and form of the blessing.  This tradition is in my humble opinion an interesting papal ceremony that is worth keeping.  It was full of significance and meaning and I would like to see it return one day, especially in light of the current global pandemic.  Further, it was said to foster piety, banish tepidity, preserve Christians from vice and dispose them to virtue.  We need this (!) now more than ever.

Venerable Pius XII seated in the faldstool (with the throne behind him donated by the Savoy family)

John XXIII on April 1, 1959 with Papal Sacristan and Vicar General of Vatican City, Petrus Canisius Jean van Lierde, O.S.A. holding the basket and wearing the pectoral cross (he also holds the "sanctus" candle during the blessing)

Finally, the power of the sacramental cannot be emphasized enough.  In blessing the Agnus Dei wax, the Holy Father would pray: that those who wear or honor the blessed wax may be delivered from the perils of fire, floods, storms, pestilences, contagious diseases and falling sickness.  That they may be preserved from sudden and unprovided death.  That they may be protected against demoniacal snares and attacks of sorcerers and magicians.  That mothers may be preserved from the dangers to which they are exposed.  That all who wear or honor the blessed wax may be cleansed from sin and obtain many other graces and favors from God.  

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