The Blessing of Lambs on the Feast of St. Agnes

On the feast of St. Agnes there is an interesting blessing celebrated at the church of the saint on Piazza Navona in Rome. Two lambs are blessed, and when they have grown, the wool from these lambs is woven and used to make the woollen pallia for the new metropolitan archbishops.

This may all seem a little convoluted, so let’s unpack it one step at a time.

First of all, why the feast day of St. Agnes? Well, that’s somewhat clear. Join the fact that the Latin word for lamb, Agnus, is so similar to Agnes, with the fact that Agnes was an innocent young woman when she was martyred, and the association is a no-brainer.

So what’s a pallium for? The pallium is a woollen scarf that was originally a common vestment that did what scarves do — it kept people warm. For the last millennium or so it has been a sign of having received a specific form of authority from the Pope, that of a metropolitan archbishop.

And so what makes an archbishop a metropolitan? This is a bishop in charge of an archdiocese, and so one who normally has a specific pastoral concern for the bishops in surrounding dioceses assigned to that archdiocese. Normally these “suffragan” dioceses were originally part of the archdiocese, but this is not always the case.

When the archbishop wears the pallium, it has three gems that are added to adorn it, but no one is quite sure where the practice comes from, nor do they have any specific meaning.

So happy St. Agnes day everyone! Lets spare a moment to pray for archbishops everywhere.

-Glenn Byer, Associate Publisher, Novalis Books

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