Incense in Church Ceremonies?
Would you explain why the priest uses incense at Benediction
of the Blessed Sacrament and other ceremonies?
The use of incense goes far back in time. The reference
books tell us that incense was in common use in Near East countries, burnt for its perfume.
Are they suggesting incense was an ancient kind of air freshener? From a secular use
it passed into religious service. Pagans employed it in worship of their gods. According
to one source, at a fete in honor of Baal the Babylonians burned 1,000 talents of frankincense.
Incense also played a part in honor given to kings and the Roman emperor.
And among the gifts of the Magi was frankincense--a gift
worthy of a king. Illustrations of altars of incense can be found in the St. Joseph edition
of the New American Bible.
Already in the Book of Exodus there is reference to incense.
In Chapter 30, Moses is told to make an altar of acacia wood for the burning of incense
and Aaron is to burn incense morning and evening. Also, in Exodus 30:34-38 Moses is given
a formula for incense to be used solely in the worship of Yahweh. It is to be made of
equal parts of storax, onycha, galbanum and frankincense, blended and ground into fine
dust. The incense is to be placed before the Commandments in the meeting tent. Elsewhere
in the Old Testament incense was often burnt in connection with the burnt offerings of
The sweet smell of incense and its rising smoke gave it
a kind of natural symbolism. It became the image of something pleasing to God. The rising
smoke came to symbolize a person's or people's prayers rising up to God. So in Psalm
141 we have the plea, "Let my prayer come like incense before you."
Early Christians also found symbolic meaning in the use
of incense. In the Book of Revelation, for instance, John has a vision of heaven and
a kind of heavenly liturgy where the 24 elders worship the lamb that was slain. The elders
hold harps and gold bowls filled with incense, "which are the prayers of the holy
ones" (5:8). In Revelation 8:3-4 an angel holding a gold censer is given a great
quantity of incense to offer and the smoke of the incense goes up before God with prayers.
So, among Christians today, incense has ritual and symbolic
meaning. Its sweet aroma symbolizes something pleasing and acceptable being offered to
Burning incense is also a sign of reverence and dedication.
Incensing the body at a funeral Mass is a sign of reverence for the body that was once
the temple of God. In a more solemn liturgy, incensing the Book of Gospels indicates
reverence for the word of God and Christ himself who is the Word Incarnate. Incensing
the altar shows respect for Christ whom the altar represents and his sacrifice made present
upon the altar. Incensing the Easter candle is, again, a sign of reverence for Christ
who is the light of the world. Incensing the Blessed Sacrament at Benediction is a sign
of adoration and worship given to Christ, truly present upon the altar. It becomes a
sign of our prayers rising to heaven.
to Reconcile John and Matthew on
We were discussing the Gospel (Matthew 9:36--10:8) read
on the 11th Sunday in Ordinary Time last year. Matthew writes about Jesus' missionary
discourse. The Twelve Apostles are restricted in their mission when Jesus says, "Do
not go into pagan territory or enter a Samaritan town." Later Jesus says, "I
was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel" (Matthew 15:24). Only
after the death and resurrection of Jesus does the mission extend to non-Jews and Samaritans
But then the question came up about the Samaritan woman
at Jacob's well in the Samaritan town of Sychar (John 4:1-42). We are told that Jesus
stayed with the Samaritans for two days and through his own spoken word many came to
faith. This account strongly reflects the Church's post-resurrection mission to Samaria
as described in Acts 8:4-25.
We are left in a dilemma, not knowing how to reconcile
these two opposite Gospels by Matthew and John. Would you be so kind as to comment?
Start with the realization that each Gospel has its own
author, intended audience and purpose. Each author tells Jesus' story from his own viewpoint,
selecting and recounting events and sayings in Jesus' life to make his points and convey
the lessons he wishes.
Further, the Gospels were written after the death and resurrection
of Christ. The evangelist told the story of Jesus in the light of post-resurrection events
and faith. He described past events with knowledge and understanding that came from the
present or future.
There can hardly be any doubt that Jesus saw his mission
during his lifetime as directed to the Jews. As Alexander Jones in The Gospel
According to St. Matthew (Sheed and Ward) puts it, "Israel was to be the first
beneficiary of the messianic offer, Romans 1:16; so the apostles are not yet to walk
the roads leading to non-Jewish districts--neither northwards to pagan Syria nor south
to Samaria, mixed in population and di-luted in Yahwism...."
After the Resurrection the mission of Jesus passes from
Israel to the whole world. In the passage in John concerning the Samaritan woman, commentators
see a kind of "prophetic future." It looks forward to the command of Jesus
at the end of Matthew (28:19-20) to make disciples of all nations and the words of Jesus
in the Acts of the Apostles at the time of the Ascension, Acts 1:8, "You will be
my witnesses to Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth."
The same is true of the incident with the Caananite woman
in Matthew 15. The personal concern of Jesus is his mission to Israel. Yielding to the
woman's plea looks forward to the Church's mission after the crucifixion, says Daniel
Harrington, S.J., in The Collegeville Bible Commentary on Matthew.
I think you might compare the incident with the Samaritan
woman to other actions of Christ in the Gospels. When his mother comes to him at the
wedding feast of Cana pleading the case of the couple who have run out of wine, Jesus
pronounces that his hour has not yet come. But, moved by the plea and faith of Mary,
he acts. When he encounters a Samaritan among the 10 lepers, he heals (Luke 17:11-19),
even though his mission is to Israel and not to Samaritans. Moved by the faith of a gentile
centurion, Jesus heals the man's servant (Matthew 8:5-13) in anticipation of the graces
to come through Jesus' death and resurrection.
Does Reparation Mean?
I am a young adult and a devout Catholic. Do you have
any books, booklets, leaflets, prayers or pamphlets on Prayers of Reparation?
Please explain to me what reparation is, and please
give me ideas or examples to make reparation to the Hearts of Jesus and Mary.
In general, reparation means repairing or making up for
damages done. For example, after World War I, Germany was made to pay reparations for
damages done to France and Great Britain in the war. In the Sacrament of Reconciliation
a person who has done an injustice to another will be required to make reparation, if
that is possible. One who has slandered or libeled another is required to repair the
damage done to that person's reputation. A thief is required to make reparation by restitution--paying
back or returning the money or property stolen.
In a spiritual sense, we sinners make reparation for our
sins and the sins of others through voluntary acts of penance or works of piety and devotion
done in the spirit of reparation.
To make reparation for acts of blasphemy and profanity,
Catholics recite the divine praises ("Blessed be God, Blessed be his holy name," etc.),
especially after Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament.
Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, as promoted by St.
Margaret Mary Alacoque, calls for prayers and acts of reparation as well as Communions
(especially on First Fridays) received in the spirit of reparation and atonement.
The old Roman Raccolta contained prayers of reparation
to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary. So do some prayer manuals
and books of prayers and devotions in honor of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
The present Enchiridion of Indulgences (which superseded
the Raccolta) contains an Act of Reparation, "Most Sweet Jesus," which
carries with its recitation a partial indulgence, whenever it is prayed, and a plenary
indulgence, if it is publicly re-cited on the Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
And the Roman Ordo (a calendar and daily guide with directives
for the celebration of the liturgy) reminds pastors that Pope Pius XI required special
prayers on the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart. In all churches there is to take place
a re-newal of consecration to the Sacred Heart, and a prayer of consecration and reparation
is to be recited. Also, the Litany of the Sacred Heart is to be prayed during exposition
of the Blessed Sacrament.
We at St. Anthony Messenger Press have St. Anthony Novena
leaflets and holy cards for the asking, without charge. We try to keep the books we publish
at an affordable price, but we do not have books to give away.
of Days and Months
When I grew up I learned what or to whom each month
of the year was dedicated. A lot of years have passed. Can you tell me if the months
still have a special dedication? How are they dedicated?
According to Catholic Source Book (The Printers),
the months of the year are dedicated to:
January The Holy Childhood
February The Holy Family
March St. Joseph
April The Holy Spirit
(also the Eucharist)
June The Sacred Heart
July The Precious Blood
August The Blessed Sacrament
September The Seven Sorrows
October The Holy Rosary
November The Souls in Purgatory
December The Immaculate Conception
Days of the week are dedicated to:
Sunday The Holy Trinity
Monday The Souls in Purgatory
(The Holy Spirit)
Tuesday Guardian Angel
Wednesday St. Joseph
Thursday The Blessed Sacrament
Friday His Precious Blood
I have not been able to discover who determined the dedication of the days and months
in this fashion. But according to the Dictionary of Catholic Devotions, the first
month of the Sacred Heart was observed in 1833. Incidentally, Catholic Source Book also
notes the connection between the First Fridays and the Sacred Heart.
Pope Leo XIII extended the custom of October devotions to all parish churches who were
to pray for the normalization of relations between the Holy See and the Kingdom of Italy
after the desegregation of the Papal States. The linking of Mary with May goes back to
Spain as far as the 13th century. A Jesuit author had produced a small book, The Month
of Mary, or the Month of May, describing customs around the world.
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