The Agnus Dei
This week’s Little Liturgical Lesson is a little long, but it is interesting!
- I have pointed out several times in these lessons that following the little conversation between the priest and the congregation that begins ‘Lift up your hearts’, our prayer is directed towards the Father.
- Now the Eucharistic Prayer is complete, and we have prayed the Lord’s Prayer, quite unexpectedly we move from addressing the Father about Jesus, and our adoration and attention is addressed to Jesus himself under his beautiful title first uttered by John the Baptist (John 1 : 29)
- ‘Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world have mercy….’ It seems that this was first used by the Syrians who had a particular devotion to Jesus as the Lamb, and it was adopted into the Roman Rite around 700.
- It is best regarded as a hymn, even a plea to the Saviour. In the traditional language it begins, ‘O Lamb of God’ which suits the tone, and over the years some very beautiful music has been written to express our longing to receive mercy.
- As time went by, the third petition was changed to grant us your peace. You may remember that on various occasions in the Gospels Jesus says ‘Peace be with you’ and offers the disciples his peace, ‘not as the world gives…’(see John 14) Only the divine Son can give us such a gift…
- The priest bows his head and puts his hand together for these three petitions, though this attitude of prayer is broken for two purposes which may not be so noticed by the kneeling congregation:
- The breaking of the large ‘priest’s’ host. This is called ‘The Fraction’. I remember years ago a catholic scholar telling a group of us young priests that given the original ‘breaking’ we are recalling, the bread would be best ripped apart! We cannot be saved, cannot be fed with the bread of eternal without the Body of Jesus being broken on the Cross! We cannot share of the one bread unless it be broken..
- A small portion of the consecrated bread, now called the ‘HOST’ identifying the bread with the One who is both the host of the meal and the food…is broken off and placed in the chalice. This is called the Comingling. This is a very ancient practice, for in the early Church the bishop would send consecrated bread from his mass to all the masses being said by his deputies (the priests) in his city. They would then drop the piece brought to them into the cup as a reminder that all are united together in the one meal with their bishop.
Later the idea that just as the ‘Words of Institution’ (This is my body broken..my blood poured out) recall the death of the Lord, death as it does dividing body from life giving blood, so the comingling symbolise the the reuniting of the body and blood of Jesus at the resurrection.
The priest offers a quiet prayer : ‘May the mingling of the Body and Blood of Christ bring eternal life to all who receive it.’ In other words, may the resurrection bring forth the fruit of eternal life to all of us!