Thursday, March 6, 2008

Let my prayers rise like incense

A byzantine-style censor (with the twelve bells representing the 12 apostles) shows the smoke of incense rising and spreading towards heaven.

I know that some people have problems with the use of incense in Latin-Rite Catholic worship. I appreciate the fact that people sometimes have breathing problems due to asthma, or allergies. I personally struggle with trying to be sensitive to the needs of the super-allergic to incense, and then dealing with the liturgical practices and rubrics of the Latin Rite.

At St. Anselm, I've taken to using Byzantine-style incense which I find to be the lightest "flavor" that I've ever found. At funerals, we're called to use incense. At Vespers, we're called to use incense. As we approach Holy Week, I'm struggling over the use of incense in our liturgies. We could use the cheap, very smoky incense that other parishes use. However, to try to satisfy the needs of the liturgy and the people with allergies, we use the best Byzantine-style incense that we can get.

Since the Byzantine Catholics use incense in their Divine Liturgies every day, they have a lot more experience with the different flavors of the incense.

I've been thinking about why we use incense sometimes in our liturgies. I've come to believe that our ancestors realized somewhere along the line that ALL of our senses need to be engaged in our liturgical practices: touch, hearing, seeing, tasting, and smelling! As the Second Vatican Council asked us to "open up" all of our symbols, I believe that we're called to find the best ways to do our liturgies with lots of touch, with lots of oils, with the best bread, with the best words that we can use, etc.

Maybe we're called to use the best "holy smoke" that we can use, and use it to round out our symbolic and liturgical practices.

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