Agnus Dei or Lamb of God

During the fracturing and commingling, the congregation recites or sings the following:

  • “Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world, have mercy on us.”
  • “Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world, have mercy on us.”
  • “Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world, grant us peace.”

Going back to the days of Pope Sergius I (687-701), the Agnus Dei is coupled with the fracturing of the “consecrated” bread. Later, especially with the substitution of unleavened bread and a growing concern about small particles, many would employ it as a Communion hymn. The “sacrificial gifts” come to be referenced as “the Lamb of God” due to the testimony in the Book of Revelation. The appreciation of the “lamb” from the Old Testament bespeaks of a sacrificial appreciation; the New Testament adds to this something of the apocryphal and the end-times. This is also the Lamb of Victory. Historically, the litany acclamations referencing the oblation of Jesus as “lamb” is a custom likely introduced by the incoming clerics fleeing the Islamic takeover of Syria. While often unnecessary, the current rubrics still indicate that the invocations can be repeated if the breaking of the bread must be prolonged. Usually, though, there are only three invocations. Increasingly paired with the Sign of Peace, the last trope of the litany changes from “have mercy on us” to “grant us peace.”

Jesus is indeed the Lamb of God— a Passover Lamb for a new Seder in his blood.  This oblation will not be for freedom from Egyptian slavery or from Roman oppression or strictly from any earthly bondage.  His liberation is cosmic!  Jesus is the Lamb of Victory over sin, suffering, death and the devil.  He is the sin-offering satisfying for our redemption.  He lays down his life for his own, his flock.  More than a good shepherd, he is the alpha ram among the many sheep of his flock. 

The apostles are well aware of the “lamb” that commemorates protection from the angel of death and which brings about the freedom of the Jews under Moses. Going back even further they would remember their father in faith, Abraham, and how God provides a sacrifice in place of his son, Isaac. John the Baptizer calling Jesus “the Lamb of God” strikes an immediate chord in his disciples. Jesus is the one for whom they have been waiting. The pattern would be repeated again. Just as the meat of a conventional sacrifice is given to God, to those offering the oblation and to the poor; Jesus would make himself an acceptable oblation to the Father and a spiritual food for his people.  Jesus is priest and victim. Jesus would die in our stead.  Twice the people say, “Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world, have mercy on us” and then with the third acclamation, “Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world, grant us peace.”  This is the peace that the world cannot give.

About Father Joe

Father Joe Jenkins I am the pastor of Holy Family Church and a Catholic priest in the Archdiocese of Washington, DC.
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