Ecce Agnus Dei

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Today is Septuagesima Sunday. This means that we are approximately seventy days away from the Pasch of the Lord. The Church measures all time in reference to the Immolation and Glorification of the Lamb. Take heed, then, lest the beginning of Lent catch you unawares. Already, the Church looks forward to singing "Ad coenam Agni providi — At the Lamb's High Feast." Already, she lives for that joy. The photo shows the sculpture of the Lamb of God in the sanctuary of the Gable Church at the Shrine of Knock.


Septuagesima Sunday
(Second Sunday of the Year A)

Isaiah 49:3, 5-6
Psalm 39: 1 & 3ab, 6-7a, 7b-8, 9
1 Corinthians 1:1-3
John 1:29-34

Jesus Comes to John

“Behold, John saw Jesus coming to him” (Jn 1:29). John the Baptist lifts his eyes and sees Jesus coming toward him. Can it be any other way? Is not Jesus, then and now and always, the One who comes toward us “full of grace and truth” (Jn 1:14), “revealing the Father” (Jn 1:18), “the dayspring dawning upon us from on high to give light to those in darkness and in the shadow of death” (Lk 1:79)? Any movement toward Jesus on our part is, at one and the same time, a free response to His movement toward us and a pure gift of the Father in the Spirit. “No man can come to me,” says Our Lord, “except the Father, who hath sent me, draw him” (Jn 6:44) and again, “Every one that hath heard of the Father, and hath learned, cometh to me” (Jn 6:45).

Benedictus Qui Venit

Prayer begins, not with any movement of ours toward God, but rather with God’s movement toward us in Christ. No matter how early we rise, no matter how long we spend in prayer, Christ Jesus is there before us. His coming is not the response to our prayer; His coming anticipates our prayer and causes it to well up. His coming is not the fulfillment of our desire; His coming is its source. The coming of Christ causes praise to spring up. We sing it in the Benedictus of every Mass: “Blessed is He Who comes in the Name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest” (Mt 21:9; Ps 117:26).

The Lamb

Our Lord Jesus Christ comes to us as the Lamb. This, Saint John the Baptist knew with the immediacy of sudden recognition, with a certitude born not of reasoning, but of the spiritual intuition that strangely stirs the heart and bends the mind to truth. In a flash of spiritual intuition John looks at Jesus and recognizes the Lamb of the Passover, the spotless Victim whose Precious Blood marks the lintels of the houses of the saved (Ex 12:5). He recognizes the Suffering Servant, the Silent Lamb of Isaiah, “led to the slaughter” (Is 53:7).

The Sacrifice of the Lamb

Always Jesus comes to us as the Victim Lamb, the innocent Lamb, the spotless Lamb, the immolated Lamb, the living Lamb. This He did 129 years ago on that rainy night of August 21st at Knock in Ireland. In a blaze of heavenly light the humble witnesses saw, on the south gable of their parish church, a Lamb, immolated and living, standing upon an altar in front of a Cross. The Lamb was surrounded by angels in adoration. The apparition at Knock revealed the mystery of the Mass, and confirmed the poor people of Knock in their attachment to the Sacrifice of the Lamb renewed upon the altar.

For the Life and Salvation of the World

The Byzantine Churches signify the same mystery by referring to the bread of the Eucharistic Sacrifice — called “the Host” in the West— as “the Lamb.” The preparation and cutting of the bread in the Byzantine liturgy is accompanied by the words, “Like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep without blemish, silent before its shearer, so He opened not his mouth” (Is 53:7); and then, while scoring the bread in the form of a cross, the priest adds, “The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world is sacrificed for the life and salvation of the world” (Jn 1:29; 6:51).

In the Roman Mass, the fraction of the Sacred Host is accompanied by the singing of the Agnus Dei. If you listen attentively to the words of the rite of Holy Communion you will count that Our Lord is addressed or referred to as the Lamb no less than five times. Apart from the triple invocation of the Agnus Dei, there is the invitation to Holy Communion taken directly from today’s Gospel. “Behold the Lamb of God, behold Him who takes away the sins of the world” (Jn 1:29). To the words of John the Baptist the Church adds those of John the Theologian, “Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb” (Rev 19:9).

The Supper of the Lamb

The Agnus Dei and the invitation to Holy Communion form a unity in three parts: invocation, confession, and invitation. The three parts must be not be separated. The faithful invoke the Lamb during the fraction of the Sacred Host by singing: “Lamb of God, who take away the sins of the world, have mercy on us, grant us peace.” Then the priest, in the words of John the Baptist, confesses the presence of the Lamb, and draws the eyes of the assembly to the Sacred Host and the Chalice of the Precious Blood, saying, “Behold the Lamb of God” (Jn 1:29). Finally, the priest pronounces the Eucharistic beatitude from the Apocalypse: “Blessed are those who are called to the supper of the Lamb” (Rev 19:9). The Sacrificial Banquet of the Eucharist here is the pledge and foretaste of the supper of the Immolated Lamb made ready in heaven.

The Adoration of the Lamb

Eternally, Jesus Christ is the Lamb who was slain. “And I saw a Lamb,” says Saint John, “standing as it were slain . . . . And the four living creatures, and the four and twenty ancients fell down before the Lamb, having every one of them harps, and golden vials full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints” (Rev 5: 6, 8). All Eucharistic adoration is a real participation in the adoration of the Lamb that is ceaseless in heaven.

The Lamb and the Spirit

Jesus, the Lamb of God, comes to us from the Father, bearing the Holy Spirit. All the saints have understood this. The sacred liturgy bears it out. The priest invokes the descent of the Holy Spirit over the consecrated Gifts that are the real presence of the Lamb of God. One who adores the Lamb of God, and partakes of His Flesh and Blood, experiences the real presence of the Holy Spirit. Clearly, this is the experience of Saint John the Forerunner in today’s Gospel. Where the Lamb is, there too is the Dove.

In times past, the Holy Spirit descended in a sudden rush upon Moses and the seventy men of the elders of the people (Num 11:24), upon the judges, kings, and prophets. Before the appearance of the Lamb, the Holy Spirit was experienced in a fleeting passage, elusive and, in some way, measured. Jesus is the one of whom Isaiah prophesied, saying, “I have put my Spirit upon Him” (Is 46:1). John, the last and greatest of the prophets, bears witness to this: “I saw the Spirit descend as a dove from heaven, and it remained on him” (Jn 1:32).

Jesus, the Lamb of God, comes toward us in the adorable mystery of the Eucharist. He comes communicating the grace of the Holy Spirit. “He whom God has sent utters the words of God, for it is not by measure that He gives the Spirit” (Jn 3:34). The Lamb comes because He is sent, sent out by the Father. “I have come,” says Our Lord, “in my Father’s name” (Jn 5:43). “I came forth from the Father, and am come into the world: again I leave the world, and I go to the Father.” (Jn 16:28).

The Lamb Sent by the Father

The Lamb sent by the Father comes to us today. He comes to us that we might eat His Flesh, drink His Precious Blood, and receive His life-giving Spirit. We who partake of the Body and Blood of the Lamb, and remain with Him beneath the mystic descent of the Dove, are gathered to the bosom of the Father. This is the reality of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. The Lamb is sacrificed and the Dove sent forth. Behold the Lamb of God! Receive the Holy Spirit!


"John, the last and greatest of the prophets.."

A wonderful posting as usual. However, I don't think I can agree with that there are no more prophets. If there are still Kings and Priests, then there must as well be prophets. Maybe John begun the prophetic ministry.

I sadly noticed when I heard the "We Three Kings of Orient Are" at Christmastime it mentioned the Priest and the King but it appeared to leave out the definitive Prophetic identity for some reason as well.

Father Mark,

Thank you for this post. The picture of the Lamb of God in the Apparition chapel is quite memorable to me. My family took a trip to Ireland last March, and one of the highlights was our pilgrimage to Knock.

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About Dom Mark

Dom Mark Daniel Kirby is Conventual Prior of Silverstream Priory in Stamullen, County Meath, Ireland. The ecclesial mandate of his Benedictine community is the adoration of the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar in a spirit of reparation, and in intercession for the sanctification of priests.

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