I did everyone a big favor today.
This morning I decided to leave the computer off and simply say my Office, say Mass, have some breakfast without concerning myself with any news or voicemail or email. Whenever I do this, something big happens. So, I guess liberals can blame this on me.
Pope Benedict used the fanon today during the Mass and canonization of St. Kateri Tekakwitha.
So, what is the fanon? Why is this important? What does it portend?
The fanon, used since at least the 8th century, is a shoulder-length silken cape, striped in white and gold, that is worn on top of the pontifical vestments, though beneath the pallium. Only the Roman Pontiff may wear it. John Paul II used the fanon once, early in his pontificate, at a Mass celebrated at Santa Cecilia. I knew the rector of that basilica and heard all about the battle that occurred over that Mass! The expression on the face of then-MC Msgr. Magee, later the unhappy bishop of Coyne, says what the liturgical establishment thought of the fanon. Think of what the Fishwrap or Pill would say and will say.
Today, however, Benedict XVI looked like this for the canonization and Mass.
Liberals will sneer and claim that this is yet another imposition of this Pope’s own liturgical preferences. The usual suspects will proffer, again, that this is mere aesthetics. They will insinuate that there is something wrong with people who like this sort of thing. FAIL! Their attacks will again reveal that they are either a little stupid or, more likely, that they know they are losing everything the now-aging hippies worked to impose on worship. For decades they wrenched and disrupted and twisted us away from our Catholic tradition and our identity. A new generation, guided by Benedict XVI, is now sweeping aside their flotsam and jetsam and the liberals don’t like it one little bit.
“But Father! But Father!”, some of you will say. “The use of the fanon is not that big a deal! Why are you so … I dunno… intense about this?”
Sure, the fanon is not as big a deal in the minds of some as, say, the collapsing global economy or the rise of anti-Western, anti-Christian Islam.
I will stick to the mantra “Save The Liturgy – Save The Word”.
We all know that some more traditionally minded people are really into the old vestments and gear and that is about as far as it goes. The more thoughtful, however, see that the use of the older, traditional things has a deeper significance.
Our liturgical rites make a difference. Even small things have their influence. If we really believe what we say about what happens during Mass, if we we really believe that the Office is the Church’s official prayer, Christ the High Priest acting and praying through our words and gestures, then how can what we do, liturgically, not have a ripple effect through the whole Church (ad intra), through the whole world (ad extra)?
The virtue of Justice orders all our relationships so that we give to each what is his due. God is at the top of the hierarchy of all our relationships. God is qualitatively different from all other persons with whom we have a relationship. Thus, giving to God what is God’s due concerns its own virtue, the virtue of Religion. The first one to whom we owe something is God and the first thing we owe to God is worship, both as individuals and collectively. If we screw up our relationship with God, all our other relationships will be disordered. If we do not worship God and worship Him properly, we have a hard time living properly in relation to everyone else. Because we are wounded by Original Sin, it is hard for us to fulfill the virtues of Justice and Religion. And because we are limited mortals, we cannot offer God the worship that is His due. Our worship of God is, itself, a gift from God. God makes it possible for us to worship Him in a way that is pleasing to Him. One of the great gifts He gave us is Holy Church, upon whom He bestowed His own authority to determine how we, the members of the Church, worship Him and, therefore, order our lives properly. Christ, God man, the one mediator, the true Head of the Church, founded His Church on Peter, upon whom He bestowed the special role of exercising the highest authority in the Church in teaching and in worship.
Where Peter goes, we follow.
Peter, in the person of Benedict XVI, is teaching us – now during a special Year of Faith – about how to recover and reorder that which has been lost. We are disordered. In order to be better ordered again as a Church and as individuals, we must bring our worship of God into continuity with the way we have always, as Catholics, worshiped God.
The use of the fanon is, itself, a small gesture. The return to use of the ferula was a small gesture. The use of older forms of vestments was a small gesture. The white mozzetta during Easter season, a small gesture. Small gestures matter. They pave the way for larger gestures. The return of the Holy Father to a more worthy manner of distribution of Communion was a large gesture. The rearrangement of the altar with the Cross at the center, corpus toward the celebrant, is a large gesture. Summorum Pontificum was a huge gesture. More huge gestures will come, along with the small and the larger.
The Holy Father used the fanon today in a context.
First, use the fanon during a canonization. Canonizations had their own particular traditions. Some of those were restored today. For example, in the old days the Roman Pontiff was petitioned three times to enroll hitherto Blesseds in the “album of the saints”. Benedict XVI, and most theologians, have not considered beatifications to be infallible acts. Canonizations, however, are. The Pope has preferred delegate the celebration of beatifications to other prelates and also to have them celebrated in a local Church, since generally only local Churches or institutes recognize beati at the altar. The canonization has a different theological importance for the Church. Benedict has underscored the difference between beatification and canonization by the return of traditional gestures in the rite and by the use of the fanon.
Second, he used the fanon during the meeting of the Synod of Bishops in the Year of Faith. Benedict does not teach by imposition. In his writing for decades, when talking about the damage to our Catholic identity that occurred with the imposition of an artificial, cobbled-up liturgy and the abuses of it, he also cautioned against abrupt corrections. Pain and chaos was caused by the ripping apart of altars and the turning around of the focus during Mass. We mustn’t cause pain and chaos by an abrupt return to ad orientem worship even though it is superior. For example, Benedict has tried to lead by example, rather than by imposition, in the matter of ad orientem worship. The so-called “Benedictine arrangement” is an intermediate measure on the way to a wider return to ad orientem worship. He hasn’t with his own pen removed the permission to distribute Communion in the hand, but he has clearly shown what he thinks is the better way by his own example. He has hoped that prelates and priests would be with Peter in this, too, and not just give lip service to their unity. Today, with all the participants of the Synod of Bishop present, the Holy Father used the fanon. They cannot use the fanon, but they can pick up on the spirit of what he is trying to do: restore continuity to our worship of God for the sake of the right ordering of our relationships within the Church (ad intra) and with the wider world (ad extra). The participants of the Synod will have now something to reflect on as they return home.
Pope Benedict teaches by example.
For Benedict, gestures like the restoration of the fanon have layers of meaning. His liturgical choices, even details such as pontifical garb, are not simply personal preferences. They are polyvalent signs that point to deeper things.
The other day in Detroit I told Bishop Sample that I thought that Benedict would make a dramatic gesture during the Year of Faith. No, I don’t think the fanon is that gesture.
However, it may be a propaedeutic for something big.
Paul VI in 1967-68 had a special year to commemorate the centenary of the martyrdom of Sts. Peter and Paul. During that year all hell broke loose. The young Joseph Ratzinger was deeply influence by the upheaval he witnessed that year. During 1968 Paul VI issued Humanae vitae - in a gesture that confirms those few historic moments when we have a confirmation that the Holy Spirit will not allow Peter to err in a disastrous way. At the end of that special year, Paul issued the great “Credo of the People of God”.
During this Year of Faith, when all hell is again breaking loose, I think Benedict will issue an encyclical on Faith. He has written already on Charity and Hope. However, I don’t think that predictable encyclical will be the big gesture for the Year of Faith.
I sense, however, that the use of the fanon is a small teaching gesture that points to what that big gesture may be.