Jesus wants you to go out of yourself, to leave all preoccupations, in order to withdraw into the solitude he has chosen for himself in the depths of your heart. He is always there, although you don't feel it; he is waiting for you and wants to establish a “wonderful communion” with you… He, through this continual contact, can deliver you from your weaknesses, your faults, from all that troubles you… Nothing should keep you from going to him. Don’t pay too much attention to whether you are fervent of discouraged; it is the law of our exile to pass from one state to the other like that. Believe that he never changes, that in his goodness he is always bending over you to carry you away and keep you safe in him. If, despite everything, emptiness and sadness overwhelm you, unite this agony with that of the master in the Garden of Olives… Think about this God who dwells within you, whose temple you are; Saint Paul speaks like this and we can believe him. Little by little, the soul gets used to living in his sweet company, it understands that it is carrying within it a little heaven where the God of love has fixed his home. Then it is as if it breathes a divine atmosphere; I would even say that only its body still lives on earth while the soul lives beyond the clouds and veils, in him who is the unchanging one. Do not say that this is not for you, that you are too wretched; on the contrary, that is only one more reason for going to him who saves. We will be purified, not by looking at this wretchedness, but by looking at him who is all purity and holiness. In the saddest times, think that the divine artist is using a chisel to make his work more beautiful, and remain at peace beneath the hand that is working on you.
In instituting the sacraments Christ did not determine the matter and form down to the slightest detail, leaving this task to the Church, which should determine what rites were suitable in the administration of the sacraments. These rites are indicated by the word Sacramentalia, the object of which is to manifest the respect due to the sacrament and to secure the sanctification of the faithful. They belong to widely different categories, e.g.: substance, in the mingling of water with the Eucharistic wine; quantity, in the triple baptismal effusion; quality, in the condition of unleavened bread; relation, in the capacity of the minister; time and place, in feast-days and churches; habit, in the liturgical vestments; posture, in genuflection, prostrations; action in chanting, etc.
Sacramental rites are dependent on the Church which established them, and which therefore has the right to maintain, develop, modify, or abrogate them. To her and to her alone belongs the right to determine the matter, form, and minister of the sacramentals. The Church, that is, the supreme authority represented by its visible head, alone legislates in this matter, because the bishops no longer have in practice the power to modify or abolish by a particular legislation what is imposed on the universal Church.
Apart from the ceremonies relating to the administration of the sacraments, the Church has instituted others for the purpose of private devotion. To distinguish between them, the later are named sacramentals because of the resemblance between their rites and those of the sacraments properly so-called. Sacramentalia is exclusively reserved for those rites which are practiced apart from the administration of the seven sacraments, for which the word ceremonies is used.
Another distinction classifies sacramentals according to whether they are acts, e.g. the Confiteor, or things, such as medals, holy water, etc. The sacramentals do not produce sanctifying grace ex opere operato, by virtue of the rite of substance employed, and this constitutes their essential difference from the sacraments. The Church is unable to increase or reduce the number of sacraments as they were instituted by Christ, but the sacramentals do not possess this dignity and privilege. Theologians do not agree as to whether the sacramentals may confer any other grace ex opere operantis through the action of the one who uses them, but the negative opinion is more generally followed, for as the Church cannot confer sanctifying grace nor institute signs thereof, neither can she institute efficacious signs of the other graces which God alone can give.
Besides the efficacy which the sacramentals possess in common with other good works they have a special efficacy of their own. If their whole value proceeded from the opus operantis, all external good works could be called sacramentals. The special virtue recognized by the Church and experienced by Christians in the sacramentals should consist in the official prayers whereby we implore God to pour forth special graces on those who make use of the sacramentals. Some sacramentals derive no special efficacy from the prayer of the Church; such are those which are employed in worship, without a blessing, or even with a blessing which does not specify any particular fruit. This is the case with the blessing of vessels meant to contain the holy oils.
One of the most remarkable effects of sacramentals is the virtue to drive away evil spirits that sometimes affect the physical activity of man. To combat this occult power the Church has recourse to exorcism and sacramentals. Another effect is the delivery of the soul from sin and the penalties therefor. Thus in the blessing of a cross the Church asks that this sacred sign may receive the heavenly blessing in order that all those who kneel before it and implore the Divine Majesty may be granted great compunction and a general pardon of faults committed. On the remission of venial sins St. Thomas is explicit on this point: “The Episcopal blessing, the aspersion of holy water, every sacramental unction, prayer in a dedicated church, and the like, effect the remission of venial sins, implicitly or explicitly.” Finally the sacramentals my be employed to obtain temporal favours e.g.: the blessing of a house and the benediction of the fields.
The name Agnus Dei has been given to certain discs, sometimes round, sometimes oval, of wax impressed with the figure of a lamb and blessed at stated seasons by the Pope. The lamb usually bears a cross or flag, while figures of saints or the name and arms of the Pope are also commonly impressed on the reverse. These Agnus Deis may be worn suspended around the neck, or they may be preserved as objects of devotion. In virtue of the consecration they receive, they are regarded, like holy water, blessed palms, etc., as “Sacramentals”.
The origin of Agnus Deis is a matter of much obscurity, but the earliest certain specimen now in existence seems to belong to the time of Gregory XI (1370). They were often sent by the Popes as presents to sovereigns and distinguished personages. We learn from an “Ordo Romanus” printed by Muratori that in the ninth century the archdeacon manufactured the Agnus Deis early on Holy Saturday morning out of clean wax mixed with chrism, and that they were distributed by him to the people on the Saturday following (Sabbato in Albis). At a later date the Pope himself generally assisted at both the blessing and the distribution. The great consecration of Agnus Deis took place only in the first year of each pontificate and every seventh year afterwards, which rule is still followed. The discs of wax are now prepared beforehand by certain monks, and without the use of chrism. On the Wednesday of Easter week these discs are brought to the Pope, who dips them into a vessel of water mixed with chrism and balsam, adding various consecratory prayers. The distribution takes place with solemnity on the Saturday following, when the Pope, after the “Agnus Dei” of the Mass, puts a packet of Agnus Deis into the inverted mitre of each cardinal and bishop who comes up to receive them. As in the paschal candle the wax symbolizes the virgin flesh of Christ, the cross is associated with the lamb suggests the idea of a victim offered in sacrifice, and as the blood of the paschal lamb of old protected each household from the destroying angel, so the purpose of these consecrated medallions is to protect those who wear or possess them from all malign influences.
We here at St. Patrick’s have been given a rare and unusual gift, namely a complete wax Agnus Dei blessed and consecrated by Pope Leo XIII. This wonderful gift which is a Sacramental will be displayed in a prominent place in the Church.