Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Common Liturgical Roots Found in the Oddest Places: The Flabellum

I was looking through Bonniwell's History of the Dominican Liturgy the other evening and was interested to discover that the flabellum -- or liturgical fan -- which is still used to some extent in the Eastern Church (see below) and is often placed behind their altars, was also used in the West not only for the Carmelite rite, but also for the Dominican.

I further was looking through my recently acquired copy of Archdale King's Liturgies of the Past (which looks at various defunct rites and uses) where I noticed at least one other reference to this usage in, if memory serves, the Sarum use.

Previously, I had considered the presence of this item a likely unique Easternization of the Carmelite liturgy (which tradition seems to include particularly Eastern elements in places), but evidently that was an incorrect assumption.

Originally the flabellum, like so many things, was tied to a practical purpose; namely, to keep insects away from the sacred species. From the Apostolic Constitutions: "Let two of the deacons, on each side of the altar, hold a fan, made up of thin membranes, or of the feathers of the peacock, or of fine cloth, and let them silently drive away the small animals that fly about, that they may not come near to the cups"

My purpose is not, of course, to advocate the return of the flabellum in the Latin Church, but given its evident presence in the East, I was quite interested to read that it also, at one time, had a greater presence in the West.

Such helps to show through some of the common roots shared between the Eastern and Western liturgical traditions which may not be so evident in our own day.

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