Pope Benedict celebrates St. Agnes with blessing of lambs

Vatican City, Jan 22, 2013 / 10:43 am (CNA/EWTN News).- In a traditional ceremony marking the feast of Saint Agnes, Pope Benedict blessed a pair of lambs whose wool will be used to make palliums for the Church's new metropolitan archbishops.

On Jan. 21, the priests of Rome's Cathedral of St. John Lateran presented the Pope with the lambs in baskets with flowers.

The wool of the lambs, who were raised by the Trappists of Tre Fontane Monastery, will be used to make palliums, a vestment worn by metropolitan archbishops to signify their unity with the Church of Rome.

On the feast of Saints Peter and Paul, June 29, Pope Benedict will bestow the palliums on the men who were named metropolitan archbishops in the last year. June 29 is an important feast for the Roman Church, since the two apostles were martyred there in the first century.

The pallium is a white wool vestment, emblazoned with six black silk crosses. Metropolitan archbishops wear it on their shoulders over their chasuble. The wearing of the pallium dates back to at least the fifth century.

St. Agnes, whose name means “lamb” in Latin, was a Roman virgin-martyr who at the tender age of 12 gave up her life for the sake of Christ and her consecrated virginity.

Since she is mentioned in the Roman Canon, her association with the pallium is an important symbol of unity with the successor of Saint Peter.

One of the lambs wore a crown of white flowers in memory of St. Agnes' purity, and the other bore a red floral wreath to recall her faithful witness until death.

The lambs were presented to Pope Benedict at the Urban VIII Chapel at the Vatican's Apostolic Palace. They had been blessed earlier at the Basilica of St. Agnes Outside-the-walls, where the virgin-martyr is buried.

The lambs had been brought to a convent the day before, where they were washed and cared for in preparation for their presentation to the Pontiff.

After their presentation to Pope Benedict, the lambs were taken to the Saint Cecilia convent, where Benedictine sisters will care for them and finally shear them on Holy Thursday. Then the sisters will
weave the palliums from their soft, pure wool.

After the palliums are woven, they will be kept in an urn at St. Peter's tomb until their bestowal by the Bishop of Rome on the newly-appointed metropolitan archbishops.

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