Monday, January 09, 2012

“Smells and Bells”

... is what we call the phenomenon, that which adds light and shade to the ars celebrandi of sacred worship, the dimension of sound and scent that lifts the senses. Katrina Fernandez, author of The Crescat, calls our attention not only to the sensation, but to the science.

Incense is ... more than something that just smells nice and serves the more practical purpose of masking the stench of unwashed peasantry – as some claim. It apparently can also alleviate symptoms of depression and anxiety.

IMAGE: November 2010. The author as Senior Master of Ceremonies at St John the Beloved Church, McLean VA, holding a replica of the "Botafumeiro", a famous thurible found in the Santiago de Compostela Cathedral in Spain. More information:

Father Peter Stravinskas was fond of telling a story, one which to this writer hopes to do justice. At one parish where he celebrated Mass regularly, there was a woman in the pews who would always be coughing whenever the thurifer* walked by in procession. This was apparently part of a crusade of hers to have the practice of using incense at Mass eliminated from parish life. One Sunday, the good Father decided to leave the thurible* empty. As the procession went along, there she was, still coughing. What can often be a legitimate concern, particularly with incense of poor quality, can also be addressed by sitting farther away.

That, and getting a life.

Perhaps the greatest cause of incense not being used is part of a larger problem, that of the loss of quality of training of altar servers, which are little more than window dressing in many parishes. With all the attention focused on including girls and making some sort of ideological statement, little time and energy is left over to prepare them for the more complex functions of their role. This is in addition to the lingering iconoclasm which still pervades Catholic worship in the life of the average parish.

* The thurifer, or censer-bearer, is responsible during the Mass for the possession and care of the thurible, or censer. In more formal celebrations of the Mass, as he is in the lead position, he often functions as a de facto Master of Ceremonies, in the absence of one so designated.

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