Friday, April 8, 2011

Incense: Reverence, Prayer, and a Shovel-Stoked Thurible

Something I like about being a Catholic is that, when we worship: we WORSHIP.

That table with the purple cloth on it? It's not just a table: It's an altar.

Folks use tables for lots of things. Altars? They're for worship.

The gold-covered book on the altar is what we call the Gospel book: containing Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

A gold-covered book on a stone table isn't exactly ordinary - not here in central Minnesota, anyway. But as Mass proceeds, there's another indication that I'm looking at something special.

Incense: Lots of Incense

Father Statz, the parish priest at Our Lady of the Angels church here in Sauk Centre, Minnesota, isn't stingy with incense.

Particularly during Lent.

Not that we're in the same class as the Santiago de Compostela Cathedral in Spain. Not even close.

I understand incense is loaded into the Santiago de Compostela thurible with a shovel. Father Statz uses a spoon to fill ours.

Still, when he's done - there's no doubt that the altar, the crucifix, the Gospel book, and the first few pews have been incensed.

Why do we do this? Simple: it's in the rules:
"...Thurification or incensation is an expression of reverence and of prayer, as is signified in Sacred Scripture (cf. Ps 141 [140]:2, Rev 8:3)...."
(Incensation, Some General Norms for All Forms of Mass, "General Instruction of the Roman Missal" (March 17, 2003))
Those verses again, with links:
The Catechism has a paragraph or two about incense, too:
"The liturgy of the Word is an integral part of sacramental celebrations. To nourish the faith of believers, the signs which accompany the Word of God should be emphasized: the book of the Word (a lectionary or a book of the Gospels), its veneration (procession, incense, candles), the place of its proclamation (lectern or ambo), its audible and intelligible reading, the minister's homily which extends its proclamation, and the responses of the assembly (acclamations, meditation psalms, litanies, and profession of faith)."
(Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1154, and see 2581)
I've put these, and a few other links, at the end of this post, under Background.

Is Incense 'Biblical?'

My guess is that someone with a Bible and a bit of imagination could take Jeremiah 44:15-19, 23; and Exodus 30:9: and not only 'prove' that those heathen Catholics are defying God, but that we worship Mary. (We don't. (March 20, 2011))1

That verse from Exodus reads:
"On this altar you shall not offer up any profane incense, or any holocaust or cereal offering; nor shall you pour out a libation upon it."
(Exodus 30:9)
Someone reading that - and ignoring Exodus 30:7 - would have 'proof' that incense is profane. 'It says so, right there in the Bible! "Profane incense!"

I'd like to believe that nobody could be that silly: but back in the sixties I heard some 'Bible expert' explain why verses from Revelation described a particular missile launcher in the Soviet arsenal.

The Catholic Church has the Bible, Tradition, and the Magisterium to keep roll-your-own-theology 'Bible experts' in check.

Does the system work fast, every time? No. I've mentioned Job 5:7 before.

Anyway, it's fairly obvious that incense was very much part of how descendants of Abraham worshiped God. There's another reference to incense in Exodus 30:27. And, for that matter, Matthew 2:11. Okay: that's frankincense, a particular kind of incense, which has nothing to do with Frankenstein, Mary Shelley, or Boris Karloff.

And that's another topic. Topics. I've posted about the 'dark side' of Bible study before. (November 19, 2010)

Where was I?

Incense, Jeremiah, and getting a grip. Right.

Incense is Just Part of Mass

Incense isn't all there is to Mass - it's not even the most important part. And that's yet another topic. (Catechism, 1322-1419, for starters)

Incense, the way it's used during Mass, "is an expression of reverence and of prayer." It helps me stay focused on worship of my Lord.

Even if we don't have a shovel-stoked thurible at the parish church.

Vaguely-related posts:

1 What's Mary, mother of Jesus, got to do with Jeremiah?

Not all that much, really: but one of her titles is "Queen of Heaven."

And it says "queen of heaven" right there in Jeremiah 44:17.

Never mind that Mary wouldn't be born for about another six centuries when Jeremiah was around.


Brigid said...

I've run into someone who was apparently incensed at being incensed so thoroughly.

Brian Gill said...


"...incensed at being incensed...."

>< Ouch! Good one.

I like it, myself - but that might have something to do with growing up in the '60s.

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