Since there were no questions in the Liturgical Question Box we continue with our journey through the Holy Mass. Last week we discussed the beginning of this journey, the procession. Once the procession reaches the sanctuary, the most sacred part of the Church building, the Altar Servers (if they are not carrying anything) genuflect along with the priest. The genuflection is a sign of reverence for our Lord truly present in the Tabernacle. After this the priest and deacon reverences the altar with a kiss. The altar is venerated in this way because the Altar represents Christ Himself. This is also why at this time the Altar is often times incensed.
Incense, according to the Institutio “is an expression of reverence and of prayer, as is signified in Sacred Scripture (Psalm 141:2, Revelation 8:3). Incense may be used…in any form of Mass.” Incense is a beautiful expression of our prayer rising before the throne of God, and its sweet aroma reminds us that our prayers are pleasing to God. Incense is also a beautiful reminder that the presence of God is mysterious. Just as He appeared to Moses in the cloud on Mt. Sinai, and as He appeared to Peter, James and John on Mt. Tabor in the midst of a cloud, so in the Eucharist He comes to us in the midst and mystery of a cloud.
Incense also allows us to enter into the Liturgy using all of our senses. The Liturgy is meant to involve the whole person, not just parts of us. So in addition to hearing the words of scripture, the music and the bells, seeing the altar, the statues, the windows and many other beautiful things in our Church, tasting the very Body and Blood of Christ, touching Him with our tongue or hands, we also see clouds of smoke and smell its sweet odor. Truly then Mass becomes a full body, full sense experience, which is exactly what it is supposed to be. Truly then we are living out what the Second Vatican Council called for when saying we should have “full, conscious, and active participation” in the Liturgy.
Next week we, unless there is a question, we will move on to the Greeting, Act of Penitence, and the Kyrie Eleison.