Part one of series…
Vatican II, though opened with the best of intentions, threw the Catholic Church into chaos. Comparing the Church today and the Church a mere seventy years ago is mind-numbing. It’s almost as if one Church walked into the Council and a completely different one walked out.
Theological repercussions and architecture aside, two victims of Vatican II were devotions and practices. Today, a majority of Catholics either have never heard of these practices. If they have, then they most likely see them as relics of the past with no value today. This is just one of the tragedies of Vatican II.
Agnus Dei is Latin for “Lamb of God”. The phrase refers to a part of the Mass but it also can refer to a sacramental.
According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, the origins of the Agnus Dei sacramental are unknown. Most authorities claim it originated in the ninth century because documents of that era frequently mention it. We do know it began in Rome.
An Agnus Dei is a disk of wax stamped with the image of a lamb and blessed by the Pope. They were made from the reworked wax of the Paschal Candles from the year prior. The decorations on the wax can also include figures of saints, the Pope’s coat of arms, crosses, or flags. The Pope blessed them on the first year of his pontificate and then every seven years afterward.
The blessing occurred on the Wednesday of Easter week when His Holiness dipped them into a mixture of water, chrism, and balsam while saying various consecratory prayers. On the following Saturday, His Holiness distributed them after the Agnus Dei of the Mass by putting them into the inverted mitre of each bishop and cardinal who came forward to receive them.
Like the Paschal Candle, the wax of the Agnus Dei represents Christ’s pure flesh. The sacramental has protective qualities and is used as protection in combat and against tempests, lightning, fire, water, demons, pestilence, sickness, adversity, and a sudden and unprovided death.
After Vatican II, the practice of the Agnus Dei disappeared until 2000 when Pope St. John Paul II blessed them in honor of the Jubilee Year. After that, however, there have been no more Agnus Dei.
I have had the pleasure of seeing a fragment of an Agnus Dei. I was traveling with some friends on a road trip and they brought it along for protection. During the drive, a dangerous thunderstorm appeared on the horizon heading toward us. To our surprise, we watched the storm suddenly change direction and go around us. Whether it had something to do with the sacramental or the vagaries of nature, I don’t know, but I have always wondered.
Long before it entered Canon Law in 1917, women veiled before entering the presence of the Blessed Sacrament, whether at church or at a sick call.
In 1 Corinthians 11:2-16, St. Paul directs women to cover their heads when they pray and for men to uncover theirs. The reasoning has to do with where men and women fit into the hierarchy of the Body of Christ. Men represent Christ, the Bridegroom and women the Bride. Women are submissive to men, so they cover their glory, i.e. their hair.
St. Paul says women should veil also “because of the angels”. No one seems to know what that means but it suggests veiling isn’t a mere matter of fashion or hierarchy. It is a matter that concerns even the angels, who see the face of God.
While veiling proclaims that men and women are different, it also points to them being equals. Men and women are dependent on each other. St. Paul wrote his directives for both sexes. While women needed veiling, men needed to be uncovered. (That’s why you see bishops and the Pope remove their head coverings during certain parts of the Mass.)
The Church veils what it considers sacred. Women, by veiling, are not only showing their submission in the hierarchy of the Church but also proclaiming that they are sacred.
The issue of veiling reveals a very troubling aspect regarding Vatican II. During the Council, reporters mobbed Cardinal Bugnini about potential changes. One question concerned whether women would still be required to veil.
He replied that the issue was not under discussion. Journalists twisted his words to mean that women no longer needed to veil. That went through the Church as wildfire and Church authorities never bothered to correct the misunderstanding. No official declaration regarding veiling came out of Vatican II.
In the 1983 Canon Law, Canons 20-21 clearly state that only a specific statement abrogates, or revokes, earlier Canon Law. Without that specific statement, then that Canon still stands. The 1983 Canon Law never specifically abrogated veiling. Technically, the law still stands.
But, since Vatican II, you wouldn’t know that from the number of bare women’s heads at Masses. Today, some call women who wear veils “rigid” and “old-fashioned”.
The Tragedy of Vatican II
In the next post, we’ll be looking at meatless Fridays and fasting but one can already see the great tragedy of Vatican II. A Council supposedly meant to bring the Catholic Church into modern times robbed it of beautiful traditions and devotions. Like high altars stripped in favor of plain, Protestant “communion tables”, the Catholic spiritual life has been stripped and replaced by the inadequate.
It’s little wonder that Catholicism is experiencing the current confusion because most Catholics don’t even know what it means to truly live their religion.