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A History Of The Mass And Its Ceremonies In The Eastern And Western Church -Rev John O'Brien A.M.

For quite a long time the custom prevailed in the Western Church, and we see it continues yet in the Eastern, of employing a fan at the Offertory, and up to the end of Communion, for the purpose of driving way flies and other troublesome insects from the priest and the sacred oblation. The charge of this fan was entrusted to the deacon, and its delivery to him at his ordination formed, in early days, one of the necessary things, and is still so considered in the Greek Rite.

In the ancient Rite of Sarum these fans were remarkable for the beauty and costliness of their workmanship, being sometimes made of the purest silver and gold curiously wrought. In an inventory found in the Cathedral of Salisbury, in 1222, a fan of pure silver is mentioned. In the great Cathedral of York there was a precious fan which exhibited on one side an enamelled picture of the bishop of that see (Church of Our Fathers, iii. p. 200). Sometimes these, fans were made of parchment finely wrought, and sometimes again of peacock’s feathers. They had a long handle attached, which was, for the most part, made of ivory. Hano, Bishop of Rochester, gave a fan to his cathedral in 1346 which was made of precious silk, with an ivory handle (ibid.)

The earliest definite account that we have of these fans is that which is furnished by the so-called Apostolic Constitutions. These give the following directions concerning their use: “Let two deacons stand on both sides of the altar, holding a small fan made of parchment, peacock’s feathers, or fine linen, and with a gentle motion let them keep away the flies, in order that none of them may fall into the chalice” (Riddle, Christian Antiquities, p. 603).

We have said that the use of the fan is yet kept up by the Orientals during divine service. That employed by the Maronites is circular in shape, and has a number of little bells round its rim. It is generally made of silver or brass (Church of Our Fathers, p. 179). The Greek fan—of which Goar gives a full account, with a print on the opposite page, in his Euchol Græc., p. 136—is made in the shape of the winged face of a cherub. In the Western Church fans were symbolic of the Holy Spirit, and the flies and other troublesome insects which the fan was made to banish were supposed to be vain and distracting thoughts (Durandus, Rationale Divinorum, iv. p. 35). As the fan of the Greek Church resembled a cherub in shape, its motion during Mass symbolized the flitting about of these blessed spirits before the throne of God (Prim. Liturgies, by Neale and Littledale, Introduction, p. xxix.)








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