Saturday, February 14, 2009

Holy Smoke

As has been discussed before on this blog, incense, among its many qualities, is known to be repulsive to demons. It is also a part of the ceremonies of the Mass in every rite I have ever experienced. Why then, is there so much opposition among the faithful to its use?
When we get to the offertory of the Mass, why would anyone not want to see incense rising from around the altar? Americans have a tendency to claim allergies to incense. Often the same people have allergies to the confessional, but that is another story. However, one has to wonder, when the coughing starts before the incense is even imposed, just how much is related to allergies, and how much is their imagination.
As the incense is imposed, it is blessed by the Priest. Traditionally, the prayer Ab illo benedicaris, in cuius honore cremaberis. is said as the incense is being imposed. It is blessed silently. Then the thurible is handed by the deacon to the Priest. First the Oblation itself is incensed. As a rupture from the past, the rubrics of the Ordinary Form call for there to be three swings (double) or a cross. This sad clarification in the General Instructions of the Roman Missal's most recent edition means that the Priest is no longer free to incense the Oblation with three crosses and three circles. After the Oblation is incensed, the Altar Cross and Altar are incensed as well. This is done with single swings of the thurible over or toward the altar.
A hermeneutic of continuity would lead one to incense the mensa (top) of the altar, then the sides, then continue around the back side (or as is the case in disoriented worship, around the front side) of the mensa, stopping, if necessary in the middle to incense the Cross. The other side of the Altar, and the Gospel Side of the mensa are incensed, followed by the front of the Altar. After this, the Priest hands the thurible to the Deacon, who incenses him and then the congregation. In the midst of this can be added any concelebrants, Deacons, Acolytes, or clerics in choir. The Priest and people are incensed as a sign of their being offered as part of the oblation to God the Father.


Flambeaux said...

In fairness to some, including thurifers, the reliance in the US on "fast light charcoal" is a big part of the problem.

The chemicals used are noxious and, to the chemically sensitive, inducing of all manner or reactions from a simple histamine response (runny nose, watery eyes, postnasal drip) to far worse for the chemically hypersensitive.

Also, some places tend to use cheap incense out of a misplaced sense of frugality. The artificial aromas produced by immolation of these compounds can also cause problems.

All that being said, I agree with your assessment. Perhaps alternatives to "fast light charcoal" should become part of the Reform of the Reform. It would, at least, remove a legitimate excuse and pave the way for solid catechesis on why incense is meet, right, and our bounden duty to offer to Our Sovereign Majesty.

I've oft heard it said that there are only two smells in the afterlife: incense and brimstone. Choose one.

Tangentially related: have you noticed that people will also tolerate all manner of cacaphony but scream bloody murder at the clamor of church bells (real or recorded)? About the only church-related noises that generate as much heat in a parochial setting are children and chant.

*rolls eyes*

Lone Star PLU said...

I have noticed that. Also with airports. I can't remember which one, DCA or Dulles, but one of the DC area airports shuts down earlier because the locals complained about the jet noise at night. My response is, "And you bought a house next to the airport why???"
In general, I think it is fair, although obnoxious, for people to ask that new bells not be added, or that a new church not have bells that ring at night, etc. I don't, however, think it fair for people to move into a neighborhood next to a church that has been around for 100+ years and expect them to silence their clock, or not to ring bells before Sunday Mass. In reality, if you want to sleep in on Sundays, you ought not to buy or rent a home near a church, because they won't be sleeping in on Sundays.

I had not thought of the gun-powder that is used to make the charcoal light faster.

Flambeaux said...

I can always tell when the charcoal has been lit in the sacristy because, even on the Epistle side of the nave, my nose twitches.

But I've also found, for many people with "allergies" to incense, the cure is more incense. Lots of it. Thick clouds of fragrant smoke that serve to highlight, while obscuring, the Sacred Action at the Altar.


Catechesis on the role incense plays is usually necessary since so many of the Faithful have embraced a Low Church mentality coupled with a misunderstanding of the Preferential Option for the Poor.

If you ever have the privilege to experiment with charcoal that isn't chemically enhanced to light easily, you may find that all but the most die-hard opponents of incense have no complaints.

Lone Star PLU said...

How does one light the other kind of charcoal? I have used it for grilling -- but with equally toxic lighter fluid. I'm sure in many northern countries, one could merely take a coal from the furnace, but that doesn't work too well in the Lone Star State!

Flambeaux said...

My understanding is that sacristies used to have braziers in them where hot coals were kept.

As you note, this is problematic in the Lone Star State for reasons relating to both temperature and fire codes.

You can buy real hardwood charcoal for BBQ grills that isn't treated with lighter fluid and other accelerants. With a small chimney starter and some newspaper, you can get a good hot coal in 10 or 20 minutes.

Once a buddy of mine, a priest of the Diocese of San Angelo, showed me how to use the chimney starter (we made one from a coffee can), I started my charcoal grill with nothing else.

You can also buy electric heating elements that you set in the thurible or in a fireproof vessel with the charcoal. With enough time, the heat it produces will ignite the charcoal, but I do not have any experience with these devices.


Jade Graham said...

he rubrics of the Ordinary Form call for there to be three swings (double) or a cross. This sad clarification in the General Instructions of the Roman Missal's most recent edition means that the Priest is no longer free to incense the Oblation with three crosses and three circles. After the Oblation is incensed, when I smoked I had worse allergies