A tradition continues. Watch below, courtesy Rome Reports:
A couple years ago, CNS described some of the history and customs surrounding the blessing, which occurs on the feast of St. Agnes:
L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper, interviewed Holy Family Sister Hanna Pomnianowska about her convent’s role in the ancient tradition which makes a connection between the name of St. Agnes, an early Christian martyr, and “agnus,” the Latin word for lamb.
The wool of the lambs blessed on the feast day is woven by a different community of nuns and becomes the fabric for the “pallium,” a circular stole, which the pope gives each June to new archbishops from around the world.
Sister Pomnianowska said her order got involved in 1884 when a group of elderly sisters living nearby could no longer handle the task of preparing the lambs to attend a Mass and then be blessed by the pope.
She said that as soon as the Trappists arrive with the lambs, “we take them to the top floor of our house, where we have a large terrace and laundry room. As you can imagine, they are the joy of the entire community, especially of the younger sisters.”
“The first thing we do is wash them. We put them in a tub with baby soap to delicately wash the dirt away. Then we dry them. We used to use towels, but now we use a blowdryer. We are careful not to leave their skin damp because they are young and could get sick,” she said.
The baby lambs spend the night in the laundry room, in a covered pen filled with straw to keep them warm.
The morning of their big blessing day, she said, a decorative blanket is placed on each lamb. One blanket is red to recall St. Agnes’ martyrdom; the other is white to recall her virginity.
“Then we weave two crowns of flowers — one red and one white — and place them on their heads. And we tie bows around their ears,” she said.