Excerpt: Lamb of God

Posted by Jeffrey Pinyan at 2:29 PM


“Lamb of God”

After the Sign of Peace, the priest or choir intones the Lamb of God, the Agnus Dei:
Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccáta mundi:  miserére nobis.
Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccáta mundi:  miserére nobis.
Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccáta mundi:  dona nobis pacem.

Lamb of God,                                                               Gen. 22:8; Ex. 12
you take away the sins of the world, have mercy on us.                 Lev. 16:21
Lamb of God,                                                                             Rev. 5:6
you take away the sins of the world, have mercy on us.                   John 1:29
Lamb of God,                                                          1 Cor. 5:7; 1 Pet. 1:19
you take away the sins of the world, grant us peace.            John 14:27; 20:26
While this ancient chant is being sung, the priest is performing the Fraction Rite, breaking the primary Host into fragments.  This represents the breaking of Christ’s body (though not His bones, cf. John 19:32-36) on the cross, and it calls to mind the breaking of the bread which Jesus did at the Last Supper and at Emmaus.  The Agnus Dei can go on as long as needed to accompany the Fraction, singing the first verse as many times as necessary (at least twice), but the final verse is always “Lamb of God … grant us peace.”
Every time we say that Jesus “take[s] away the sins of the world,” we should be aware that we are speaking in the present tense, not the past tense.  This is a reminder that Christ’s work of redemption is continual and ongoing:  the Mass is offered for the expiation of our sins.
We should remember that, after the consecration, Jesus Christ is present sacramentally on the altar in the Eucharist.  This prayer, then, is addressed directly to the Blessed Sacrament visible before our very eyes.  Recalling the death He endured for our sins, we humbly beg Him to show us His abundant mercy and to give us the peace which the world cannot give. (cf. John 14:27)  By addressing Christ in the Eucharist this way, we remind ourselves of the price He paid that we might be able to receive Him in Communion; we are also reminded that Jesus takes away the sins of the world, not just our sins. (cf. 1 John 2:2)
The priest quietly says a prayer after the Fraction as he places a small piece of the Host into the Chalice.  Just as the separate consecration of the bread and wine was a sign of the separation of Christ’s body and blood – His true bodily death – this mingling of the Host and the Chalice is a sign of the reunion of His body and blood (or His body and soul) at His Resurrection.