The formula sounds the theme of divine sacrifice, calling to mind the sacrifice of Christ on the cross and sacrifice of the lamb in the Old Testament. It appears in various forms of worship in the Coptic church.
In the Anaphora of Saint Gregory, the priest says, “Thou camest as a lamb to the slaughter, even unto the cross.” At the descent of the Holy Spirit, the deacon asks the congregation to “bow down to the Lamb, the Word of God.” In the fraction prayers at the feasts of angels, the heavenly host, and the Blessed Virgin Mary, the prayer starts with these words, “Here He is present with us at this sacred table, this day, Emmanuel, our God, the Lamb of God who carries away the sin of the whole world.” Prayers said on Holy Saturday, include, “. . . Thou of Whom the Prophet Isaiah hath prophesied saying, “He is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth.'” And the fraction prayers according to Saint CYRIL OF ALEXANDRIA begin, “O Lamb of God who, by Thy suffering hast carried away the sins of the world . . .”
In the Gloria of the morning prayer is the invocation, “O Lord God, the Lamb of God, Son of God, Who raisest away the sins of the world, have mercy upon us. . . .” In the collect of None (the prayer of the ninth hour) following the reading of the Gospel is the phrase, “. . . when the Mother saw the Lamb and Shepherd, Savior of the world, on the cross. “
Some church historians believe that the Agnus Dei was introduced into the Roman Catholic liturgy of the mass by Pope Symmachus (498-514), but others ascribe it to Pope Sergius I (687- 701), who ordered it to be sung in the mass in protest against the decision of the Council in Trullo (692), which banned representation of Christ in the form of a lamb. The term is also given by the Roman Catholic church to a sacramental wax medallion carrying the figure of a lamb, which is blessed by the pope in the first year of his reign and every seventh year thereafter.
- ‘Abd al-Masih al-Mas‘udi. Kitab al-Khulaji al-Muqaddas. Cairo, 1902.
- Daniel, H. A. Codex Liturgicus, 2 vols. Leipzig, 1847-1848. Duchesne, L. Le Liber Pontificalis, 2 vols. Paris 1886, 1892.
- Henry, W. “Agnus Dei.” In Dictionnaire d’archéologie chrétienne et de liturgie, Vol. 1. Paris, 1907.
- Mangenat, E. “Agnus Dei.” In Dictionnaire de théologie catholique, Vol. 1. Paris, 1923.
- Froger, J. Les Chants de la messe aux viiie et ixe siècles. Tournai, 1950.
- Jungmann, J. A. The Mass of the Roman Rite, 2 vols., trans. F. A. Brunner. New York, 1951-1955.