21 January 2009

A "Palatial" Feast

It makes sense that on today's feast of Saint Agnes two lambs are blessed and their wool is collected for a special purpose. The origin of this custom is somewhat obscure. It is likely that Roman Christians would have been familiar with the pagan custom of offering lambs to the goddess of shepherding, Pales. The temple of Pales is speculated to have been located near the forum on the Palatine hill. When many important (and wealthy) Romans built their homes close to the forum, these mansions became known as palaces. It is possible that they "baptized" this custom in honor of the young virgin martyr.

The wool from the two lucky lambs is woven into pallia, which can be seen on the shoulders of archbishops (when presiding at Mass in their own dioceses), patriarchs and the Pope himself. The pallia made from this year's wool are placed above the relics of St. Peter on the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul. They rest there until they are bestowed upon the new archbishops. Although "pallium" and the goddess "Pales" sound similar, it is unlikely that the vestment owes its name to the Roman deity. More likely, the long white garment used as outerwear for a woman, a palla or the rectangular garment worn by Greeks, the pallium is responsible for the moniker of this sacred vestment.

"If the martyrs had looked upon their torments outside this good-pleasure, how could they have sung, in chains and flames? The truly loving heart loves God's good-pleasure not in consolations only but in afflictions also; yes, it loves it better upon the cross in pains and difficulties, because the principal effect of love is to make the lover suffer for the thing beloved."
St. Francis de Sales

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