Saturday, April 11, 2015

Images from Easter Past

Someone who spends more time on the internet than I think I should pointed me to this short (under two minutes) video, currently making the rounds, showing Pope Saint John XXIII in 1959 officiating at the traditional blessing of wax discs, impressed with the image of a lamb, known as Agnus Dei. This is an ancient Roman tradition of which I had hitherto been completely unaware. According to the old (early 20th-century) Catholic Encyclopedia, this blessing was performed in the first year of each new Pope's pontificate and every seventh year afterwards. 

The video from 1959 is black-and-white and (for whatever reason) has no sound, which may make it that much more effective, since there is no noise or commentary to distract us from the Pope's actions. To watch it, go to:

It begins with the discs being prepared and shows still scenes of the papal miters, chrism, and balsam waiting at the credence table. Pope John arrives in mozetta. The video then jumps to the Pope, now vested in miter and cope (and falda), who mixes chrism and balsam in a vessel of water, then dips the discs into the mixture, apparently accompanying these actions with various prayers. The ceremony ends with the Pope blessing the congregation from his throne and then departing.

According to the old Catholic Encyclopedia, this blessing took place on the Wednesday of Easter Week. Then, on the Saturday of Easter Week the solemn ceremony of distribution took place, at which the Pope put a packet of newly blessed Agnus Dei discs into the inverted miter of each cardinal and bishop who came up to receive them. Now that would be a really fun video to watch!

It is well known that Pope Saint John XXIII liked the baroque papal liturgy of the pre-conciliar Church, just as he expressed his affection for many of  the more devotional aspects of the old liturgy - like the Last Gospel, for example. He probably enjoyed himself as he performed that ancient ritual that Easter Wednesday in 1959, and from heaven he may still be enjoying our enjoying of him doing it!

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