Catholic Home - St. Agnes and the ‘yoke of friendship with Christ’

Many pilgrims accompanied Archbishop J. Peter Sartain when he received the pallium from Pope Benedict XVI in 2011. Photo: L’Osservatore Romano Many pilgrims accompanied Archbishop J. Peter Sartain when he received the pallium from Pope Benedict XVI in 2011. Photo: L’Osservatore Romano

Each year the pope blesses two lambs on the saint’s feast day; later their wool is used for archbishops’ palliums

When Archbishop J. Peter Sartain received the pallium from Pope Benedict XVI in 2011, pilgrims from the Archdiocese of Seattle were at St. Peter’s Basilica to pray with him — among them, Liz and Charlie Fritschen, parishioners at St. Monica on Mercer Island.

The Fritschens joined more than two busloads of pilgrims from Seattle and the archbishop’s former dioceses of Little Rock, Arkansas, and Joliet, Illinois, for the June 29 liturgy on the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul. As Charlie Fritschen said, it was a blessing to see the archbishop (even from afar) as he knelt before the pope to receive the circular woolen band that signifies communion with the pope and pastoral responsibility. Later, the pilgrims attended a reception to offer the archbishop congratulations and best wishes.

“He was welcoming to all, with a wonderful sense of Southern hospitality and kindness,” Charlie Fritschen recalled recently, referring to Archbishop Sartain’s childhood in Memphis.

The pallium is a stole made of lamb’s wool with six black crosses. In his homily on the day Archbishop Sartain and 40 other metropolitan archbishops received the pallium, Pope Benedict called it the “yoke of friendship with Christ.”

There’s a lovely tradition behind the wool that is later spun into those palliums, and it is related to the feast of St. Agnes on Jan. 21, when the priests of Rome’s Cathedral of St. John Lateran present the pope with two young lambs in baskets. One lamb wears a crown of red flowers; the other, white. The flowers symbolize the martyrdom and purity respectively of St. Agnes, who was born in 291 and put to death in 304. She is the patron saint of young girls, chastity and rape survivors.

St. Agnes grew up in a wealthy Roman family. The 12-year-old refused to marry, saying she would never give up her virginity. Her life, she said, was consecrated to Jesus. Angry suitors turned in St. Agnes to the authorities, and she was sentenced to death.

A lamb often appears in the iconography associated with St. Agnes. Agnus is the Latin word for lamb (as in Agnus Dei, or Lamb of God, from the Mass). But the name actually derives from the Greek meaning pure or holy.

To honor this saint on her feast day, try making hot chocolate topped with whipped cream that resembles the white, fluffy wool of the lambs that will be shorn to make archbishops’ palliums.

Hot cocoa with ‘lamb’s wool’ whipped cream

hot cocoa
Photo: Rachel Bauer

- 1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa
- 1/4 cup sugar
- pinch of salt
- 1/4 cup water
- 4 cups milk (whole or 2 percent)
- 1 teaspoon vanilla or peppermint extract
- whipping cream, stiffly beaten so it looks white and fluffy like lamb’s wool

Mix the cocoa, sugar and salt together in a saucepan. Add the water, and heat to make a paste. Now stir in the milk, heating gently. Flavor with vanilla or peppermint.

Beat the whipping cream until stiff peaks form. Add sugar if you wish, according to your preference. Top each mug of hot chocolate with peaks of whipped cream.

Northwest Catholic - January/February 2017

Janet Cleaveland

Janet Cleaveland is a member of the Proto-Cathedral of St. James the Greater in Vancouver.