I have often wondered what it must have been like for the Blessed Mother and also for St. Joseph. They were told remarkable things about their Son Jesus. They were told he would save his people from their sins, that he was destined for the rise and downfall of many, that his name would be great and that he was the Son of God. But for all this, they were given very little detail as to how all this would unfold. Perhaps from time to time they wondered, “Did I really hear all that from the angel?….How will all this come to pass?” In the end Joseph and Mary had to walk by faith, not knowing all the details but just trusting that God had it all worked out.
And isn’t it the same for us? I don’t know exactly what the future hold but I do know Him who holds the future. And I trust him. Isn’t that enough? It has to be because God isn’t going to show me the road map. He is just going to say, I am the Way, follow me. Don’t worry where we are going, just follow me.
Here is a video that meditates on Mary’s walk of faith: Mary Did you know?
Holy Smoke! What is all that incense about? The reaction is rather mixed when it comes to incense. So love it and some love to hate it. But the bottom line about incense is that it is a symbol of prayer. As the incense gently rises it images our prayers going up to God. As the incense slowly settles in is a fragrant symbol for God’s graces. And don’t fan that incense away! Take a breath! It is holy smoke. Like holy water that literally showers a blessing on us, so too does the fragrant incense, blessed by the priest bring us God’s blessings as we breathe it in. Perhaps it is a blessing best received in moderation but it is a blessing.
So here at the beginning of the Mass the priest may incense the Altar. Why? What is the history of this action and and what is our intention in using incense?
In the first place, the use of Incense is another way of showing prayerful reverence to the altar which is a symbol for Christ. This is done by circling the altar and swinging a smoking censor of fragrant incense . In addition to the altar, the Cross is also incensed at this time. The use of incense does not take place at every Mass. It is an option and although it may be used at the discretion of the celebrant, it tends to be reserved to special occasions and to more solemn feasts of the Church. The General Instruction indicates it is to be used “when the occasion warrants it.” In the old Latin Mass the use of incense was restricted to solemn and sung Masses. Today there are few restrictions on its use but ironically it is seen less often. Its use then, tends to be oriented to a heightening of the solemnity. As with so many externals, vestments, flowers, music, and the like, there is intended an aid to the senses in grasping the greatness of the feast. Incense lends itself especially to religious symbolism for prayer and such imagery is used in the 141st psalm: Let my prayers rise like incense before you O Lord...(Vs. 2). See also Rev. 8:4 “The smoke of the incense of the prayers of the saints ascended before God from the hand of the Angel.” It is therefore a sign of our prayers rising to God and His blessings descending upon us. The incensing prayer to be recited by the priest at the incensing of the gifts that was recited by the priest in the Extraordinary Form of the Latin Mass beautifully describes this image: “May this incense, blessed by You, ascend to You O Lord, and many your mercy descend upon us.” In addition, its burning symbolizes the burning zeal which should consume the Christian, the sweet fragrance is the odor of Christian virtue. Here too the prayers of the priest in the Solemn Latin Mass as he hands the thurible to the Deacon at the Offertory includes this image: May the Lord enkindle in us the fire of His love and the flame of everlasting charity. Amen.
The use of incense in the culture of the early Church was common in wealthier homes as its perfume was in demand. It was a strong part of burial traditions and it was a major component in both the Jewish Temple and in pagan worship. It was probably its connection with pagan worship that limited it use in early Church. However, with the virtual disappearance of paganism after the 4th century, incense found its way gradually into the Liturgy being carried especially in processions. By the 9th century incense was in use at least at the beginning of the Mass and by the 11th century there is explicit mention of the incensing of the altar. During the Middle Ages the use of incense at other points during the Mass was introduced. Likewise the objects of incense became more numerous. Now persons, relics, and the oblations were incensed as well as the altar. The Tridentine Missal prescribed that when incensed was used it was to be used at the following times:
1. The altar, cross, and celebrant are incensed at the beginning.
2. The Gospel is incensed just prior to its being sung.
3. At the offertory, the oblations, the altar, the cross, the priest, the deacon, subdeacon, choir, and the assembly are all incensed in this order.
4. The host and chalice after each consecration are incensed as they are held aloft.
Today, this “schedule” of incensations is retained with the exception of the incensation of the celebrant at the beginning. This is now done only at the offertory.
After incensing the altar the celebrant goes immediately to the chair.
Some of you may remember the 1963 movie “The Cardinal” which was based on the Book of the Same name. The movie was about the life of a Priest, Fr. Stephen Fermoyle and shows the human struggles of a man called to be a priest. It is a fine movie and rather respectful of the Church, though for its time it was rather “edgy” to show priests as human. It is an historically significant film because of what was happening in the Roman Catholic Church at the time it premiered — the Second Vatican Council. Though the film is set in the first half of the 20th century it premiered just as the Vatican II was underway and many of the issues touched upon in the film — the liturgy, the role of lay persons and women in the Church, rights of the mother vs. the child, mixed marriage, ecumenism — were being hotly debated by the bishops in Rome. The film added to that debate among ordinary Catholics.
Some one recently posted a clip of the film covering the ordination of Fr. Fermoyle to the Priesthood. It is beautifully filmed. One quirky thing about it however, and the reason I post it here, is the Entrance Procession. I wrote of the entrance procession earlier (HERE) . What is interesting is how fast the procession is in this movie! It’s off to the races! I wonder if they were trying to save film or if processions in the “old days” really were conducted that fast. Any way I thought this clip might be a nice footnote to that article below. Enjoy this clip.
One of the last unprotected classes in the world is believing Christians. There is much lament rightly expressed over discrimination against other religious, ethnic and various protected groups but it is usually open seasons on Christians with a special hatred reserved for the Catholic Church. It is “alright” to use ugly stereotypes and hateful imagery regarding Christians. Unsympathetic simplifications of our doctrine are common as are ugly labels such as “reactionary, hateful, homophobic, intolerant, backward and rigid.” The President recently insisted that the name of Jesus be covered over at Georgetown while he spoke there no one cried foul (even at Georgetown! 🙁 ). No one would ever dare suggest that holy symbols be covered over at a mosque or synagogue. But it is open season on Christians. Perhaps it is because we seldom speak out against things such as this.
A rather interesting development along these lines took place at the World Conference on Racism. A Russian Orthodox Delegate to the conference actually suggested that there may be such a thing as hatred against Christians. He chided the other delegates for saying nothing about what he termed “Christianophobia” while at the same time denouncing many other forms of hatred. It seems a long overdue observation and thanks are due to this courageous delegate. More about this story at Gloria TV:
As the Entrance procession draws to its close something rather unusual happens! Upon entering the sanctuary, (the part of the Church where the Altar and Tabernacle are located) the priest and deacon enter the sanctuary and kiss the altar as a sign of reverence and veneration. Many of us who go to Mass all the time may hardly notice this gesture. But to someone observing Mass for the first time this gesture may seem quite unusual and raise questions. Why kiss an altar? Where did this gesture come from and what does it mean?
The significance of this kiss has had the following historical development: At first it was intended simply for the altar itself where the Sacrifice of the Lord would occur. Subsequently this idea was enlarged to include the understanding that the altar built of stone represented Christ himself, the rock, the cornerstone. (Cf. 1 Cor. 10:4). Later, as the relics of saints were ordinarily placed within the altar stone, the kiss was also seen as a salutation of the saint and through the saint the whole Church Triumphant.
But why is there a kiss, rather than a bow or some other salutation? The kiss was actually very common in ancient culture. The temple was honored by kissing the threshold. In pagan culture it was common to greet the images of the gods either by kissing it directly or throwing a kiss. Likewise it was not uncommon in the ancient world to kiss the family meal table with a kiss before the meal. Hence it was not surprising to find the practice brought into Christian worship.
Until the 13th century it was customary at Rome to kiss the altar only upon coming in for Mass and departing. However, in the later Middle Ages the kissing of the altar seems to have been multiplied. In the Tridentine Missal the altar was kissed numerous times:
1. At the beginning of the Mass
2. Any time the priest turned away from the altar, faced the people and addressed them. According to one explanation the priest does this on order to confirm his communion with the Church Triumphant in heaven and then turns to greet the Church on earth.
3. At the words ex hac altare participatione (Then as we receive from this altar…) in the canon.
4. Before the sign of peace. Again an explanation advanced is that the priest kisses the altar here in order to receive the kiss from Christ (whom the altar represents) in order to pass it on to others.
5. Upon leaving the altar at the end of the Mass.
Today the altar is kissed only twice in conformity with the earlier tradition.
The design of Altars has varied over the years. The current widespread practice of celebrating Mass facing the people has tended to require a rather simple table form to modern altars. But Mass facing the people is a rather recent phenomenon. Until very recently Mass was everywhere celebrated with the priest and people facing the same direction toward the East or at least toward the Crucifix and tabernacle (if there was one on the altar). This meant that altar design could be much more elaborate. Altars tended to back up onto the apse wall and had a vertical dimension that was often quite splendid and decorative. (See photo at left). The Second Vatican Council directed that new altars should be free standing, that is they should not be attached to the wall, allowing the priest to walk around all four sides. Tragically this led some to conclude that many beautiful older altars should be removed. This was not however what the Council directed; only that new altars should not be attached to the wall. While this tends to imply a simpler design, it is not necessarily required that this be so since it is still possible to place ornate designs and an elaborate reredos in the area behind the altar if this is desired.
The following video shows the temporary transformation of a simple table altar to an altar more suited for the celebration of the Latin Mass in the extraordinary form. It is quite a dramatic transformation but done quite swiftly.
I’d like to begin a series on the Mass explaining the meaning and history of what we do each Sunday. It is amazing how little Catholics know about or reflect upon what we do every Sunday. This is an attempt to add insight and understanding to our celebration of the Sacred liturgy.
The Procession and entrance song –Something very remarkable happens at the beginning of every Mass. It is so normal to us that we hardly think of it. As the priest is ready in the back of Church to begin the Mass the congregation suddenly comes to its feet and sings a hymn of praise as the priest walks down the aisle. What is this? Surely they are not just welcoming “Father Smith” are they? No indeed. The congregation is welcoming Jesus who has taught that when two or three gather in his name that he is there in the midst of them. The priest represents Jesus and acts in the person of Christ. Therefore, through his Holy Orders the priest is configured to Christ and is a sacramental sign of the presence of Jesus. Jesus Christ is walking our aisle and we welcome him with a hymn of praise! It is quite fitting to recognize Christ who, robed in priestly vestments, arrives to minister to us in Word and Sacrament. So, don’t just see “Father Smith” see, rather, Jesus and let him minister to you.
Here is a little historical background to the development of the Entrance procession and music associated with it:
In the earliest days of the Church, and in the small, ruder buildings of the primitive Church under persecution, there could hardly have been much thought or possibility of formal processions. But by the 4thcentury after the persecutions against the Church ended, larger, and even sometimes large ecclesiastical structures arose. The sacristies (the place of preparation for the Clergy et al.) were usually located near the entrance of the buildings. This meant that the procession to the altar was now much longer and thus took on added significance and importance. Such a procession could hardly be conducted in absolute silence. Hence the addition of music was natural. But the organ had not been invented and instruments of any kind were generally not allowed due to their connection with pagan rituals. Music in the early Church was left entirely to the human voice and, hence, singing alone gave color to this entrance procession. The texts for these songs were taken essentially from the psalms. The verses of the psalm selected would be sung antiphonally during the procession to the altar. It often happened that an introductory verse (or antiphon) would be sung by one or a few voices to introduce the psalm. Gradually the Antiphons came to overshadow the psalm itself. The Antiphons became more and more complex and were increasingly given over to be sung by a specially skilled choir called the “schola cantorum” with only the psalm verses being sung by the people. There developed a practice of shortening the psalm to correspond to the arrival of the members of the procession in the sanctuary. Once they were in place the psalmodywas brought to an end with the Gloria Patri (Glory Be). Over time there was a reducing of the Entrance song to the following elements: An antiphon, drawn usually from scripture, only one verse of a psalm, a Glory Be and a repetition of the antiphon. Today there exists the option of: Singing this Entrance Antiphon, singing a hymn appropriate to the Liturgy or the season, or in the absence of song the Entrance Antiphon is used as a spoken or recited text.
The following video gives and example of the sound of the the Entrance antiphon (also called the Introit) as is was sung in the ancient Church and up to about 1965. It is Gregorian Chant and the text is
Gaudeamus Omnes in Dominino. Diem festum celebrantes sub honore Mariae Virginis de cujus solemnitate gaudant angeli et colaudant Filium Dei. Eructavit cor meum verbum bonum, et dico ego opera mea regi. Gloria Patri, et Filio et Spiritui Sancto Sicut erat in principio et nunc et semper, et in saecula saeculorum Amen.
(Let us all rejoice in the Lord, celebrating a feast in honor of the Virgin Mary concerning whose solemnity the angels rejoice and praise the Son of God. Psalm: My heart pours forth a good word and to the King I sepak my work. Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy SPirit. As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end. Amen)
Today this form of singing is replaced by an opening hymn in most parishes although the singing of such Introits is still encouraged and permitted.
Many people struggle to pray well and consistently. Here is a three minute video which summarizes the teaching of St. Ignatius of Loyola and gives a brief description of a prayer method that some people call lectio divna, others just meditation. Fr. John Cihak is our teacher and he effectively communicates the method. I would quibble with one thing only. I would not use the word “contemplation” to describe this method. I am schooled more in the Spirituality of St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross who reserve the word, “contemplation” to refer to prayer that is beyond words or images but is rather a deep union with God well beyond images or mediated by words. They would call the method described here “meditation” since our experience of God is “mediated” by words and images. However, it remains true that many people today use the word contemplation in a more generic and less specific or technical sense. Enjoy this very instructive video and apply it.