Gaudete in Domino semper: iterum dico, gaudete. Dominus enim prope est.
The English translation is:
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice! The Lord in near.
Since Gaudete Sunday is a day of special rejoicing because the coming of Christ is near the Church allows us a little leeway in our Advent penances so that we can anticipate what is about to happen, and the Sacred Liturgy expresses this by allowing flowers in the sanctuary, rose colored vestments, and here at St. Rose, at the Sunday Morning Mass we used rose scented incense – all ways to remind us that we should rejoice because Christ is drawing near. During these last days of Advent I encourage everyone to keep up their preparations; to not give up on their Advent practices. After all, our Christmas will only be as good as our Advent preparation. So please, take advantage of the opportunities to cleans your hearts through confession during these last days of Advent. There will be extra confession times this week to allow as many people as possible to prepare in this way...
The topic of the use of incense in the Sacred Liturgy has been covered previously in my comments in the bulletin and so I reprint what I said then below as well as make some additional comments.
This is from the September 23rd bulletin:
“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.”
Surely some of you have noted that we have been using incense fairly frequently. This is because the Church encourages us to ensure that the Sacred Liturgy is celebrated in the very best possible way that it can be celebrated. When we come to the Holy Mass we are here to give our very best to God, and we do this by striving to worship in a way that incorporates our whole selves (see above). It also means that we worship in the way that He desires to be worshiped, not the way we desire that He we worshiped. It’s kind of like marriage. If a husband desires to love his wife he will do things that she desires – he will love her the way she desires to be loved, not the way he desires to love her. So, he will give up his own desires in order to love his wife the way she desires to be loved. Yes, it is a sacrifice, but love always involves sacrifice; if we truly love someone we will die to ourselves and our wishes in order to give the one we love what they desire. The same is true of our relationship with God and our worship of Him. He desires to be worshiped in a particular way and that particular way is given to us through the scriptures and through the teachings of the Church that Jesus Himself founded. We may not personally like some of the particulars of how He desires us to worship Him, but if we love Him – truly love Him – then we should be willing, out of our love for Him, to sacrifice our own likes and dislikes in order to worship Him as he desires to be worshiped.
One of the many ways that Scripture and the Church tells us we can offer fitting worship to God is by using incense as part of our liturgical celebrations – especially ones that are more solemn such as Sundays and Solemnities. It helps to remind us that God is present at Mass, that our prayers rise up to Him as a fragrant offering, and that what happens at Mass is mysterious and awesome.
“But Father” some of you might ask “why are we doing this when none of the other parishes are doing it?” It’s a good question, but we are certainly not the only parish using incense on a regular basis. There are many, many parishes in our diocese that are using incense regularly. Some are even using it every Sunday of the year. Recently I came across a bulletin from another parish in our diocese and the pastor was addressing the very same issue in their bulletin. Here is what that pastor said in his bulletin on the Sunday right before Advent:
“In a couple of weeks we begin a new liturgical year – we move from Ordinary Time into Advent. Advent is a season of anticipation and hope. Mixed in with the preparation for Christ’s coming as a baby, is the preparation of His future coming in the “end times.” Of course, that means there will be changes in the liturgy. The most obvious one is color…Another addition to the 9 and 11 a.m. Masses will be the use of incense. I know at times this “incenses” some of our people who don’t like it or who are allergic to it. So I had to ask myself if it is really necessary. Why does the Church ask us to use incense...? Well, for one, incense was a gift brought by the Magi to the Christ child. It indicated that the Magi recognized Christ’s divinity. Aa we contemplate the end times during Advent, we will hear readings from the Book of Revelation describing in detail how the Lamb on the Throne is “incensed” by the angels o His right and left. When we begin to remove these important tangible signs and symbols from our worship, we mitigate the greater meaning of our celebration, and lose a certain understanding of our faith. This year, we will be using hypoallergenic incense in hopes of being sensitive to those with allergies. Today Malachi says in the First Reading that “the Day of the Lord is a fire that consumes some, and heals others.” May the “fire” we use this Advent be a sign of our desire for healing in every area of our lives.”
As we move toward Christmas I encourage all of us to be willing to allow ourselves to truly enter into the Sacred Liturgy; to let the signs and symbols, the sound and the sights, the smells and gestures to soak into us and lead us deeper and deeper into the mysteries that we celebrate.
As always, thank you for your questions and comments. I appreciate them because they help us to better understand our faith and can be a tool to help us understand why we do what we do.