Sunday, October 21, 2012

Fanon Sighting!

This morning His Holiness Benedict XVI canonized seven saints, including ones American nun and one Native American—Ss. Marianne Cope and Kateri Tekakwitha. But there was an interesting twist: the Pope wore the fanon today!

Canonizations this morning in St. Peter's square
What is the fanon? The fanon is a silk shoulder cape striped in silver and gold that the Pope traditionally wears under the pallium. Why does this matter in the least bit? It is just an article of clothing.

This matters quite a bit in the grand scheme of things. The fanon is a traditional Papal vestment that dates back to at least the eighth century. Moreover, it was a vestment unique to the Papacy. In other words, because only the Pope could wear it, it made his Masses unique in some sense.

John Paul II at Santa Cecilia in 1982
When the legendary Cardinal Enrico Dante died after the Second Vatican Council many traditions of the Papal liturgy began to die. The fanon disappeared, as did the Papal tiara from the altars, the use of both Greek and Latin for the readings, the practice of the Pope and his deacons being the only communicants, and many more. Then after the introduction of the Pauline Mass in 1969, most all things that comprised "Papal Mass" vanished entirely. The manner in which the Popes have celebrated Mass since the late 1960s varies insignificantly from that of a local bishop. By bringing back this vestment, Pope Benedict takes a small but firm step in re-establishing the uniqueness and distinction of his office, liturgically manifested.

Between Vatican II and now the fanon was worn just once, by John Paul II in his visit to Santa Cecilia in 1982. Fr. Z recounts knowing the rector of that basilica at the time and the storm that broke out over the Pope wearing a vestment that seemed to suggest that he was not just a plain bishop, I imagine cries of "triumphalism" resounded. The Master of Ceremonies, Msgr. Magee, was not very pleased either. John Paul never wore it again. Nor did he ever revive any other unique Papal ceremonies, likely for the same reason.

Let us hope that this returns as a permanent item in the Papal sacristy rather than something brought out of a the museum once every few decades. The Pope is not just another bishop, and this is a sure visible symbol of that.

Paul VI wearing the fanon immediately after his coronation in 1963. If the tiara is ever revived,
pray that  they use  a different one than this space capsule.

1 comment:

  1. Well, Pope Benedict is very much a conservative... so no surprise there, that he is slowly but surely bringing back the old traditions.