Fr Chris answers a burning question in the first of a series in which he explains some of the things we get up to at St Chrysostom’s.
Incense at St Chrysostom’s
Our sense of smell is amazing – though not as acutely honed as in many other mammals. We smell things like Fish and Chips, or Candyfloss at the seaside and we are taken back to childhood memories. The same can be true when we smell cigar or tobacco smoke, or when we get a whiff of a familiar perfume or aftershave.
In church this sense is engaged using perfumed smoke – incense.
We can allow ourselves to enter into a spirit of prayer and worship by smell. Of course, there are other things which help us do this – and our Catholic ethos uses many of them – colour, vestments, music etc
The perfumed smoke burns away – and as it rises we can imagine our thoughts and prayers ascending in a similar way. We can allow the “fog” to transport us into a nearer relationship with God.
Incense and the Almighty have long been linked. The Jews offered incense in the Temple at the time of Christ, and incense was also used in the worship of Greek and Roman gods. Incense was carried before the Emperor – both to ensure that he smelled pleasant smells, and also because of his “divine” nature.
In Church we dignify our worship by using it to honour sacred things. The Altar, the Gospel, the offerings at Mass, and the Sacrament are all honoured by incense because they are ways that God comes close to us. We too, all of us, are also honoured by the use of incense – we are God’s children, and as such God is recognised in us in the Mass at the offertory.
People seem to like or detest incense – and there is the old chestnut of there being two smells in the afterlife, the incense of heaven or the brimstone (Sulphur) of hell depending on where we end. At St C’s we are well known for our generous use of incense. We can safely say that we like it here on earth, and use it abundantly – let’s hope that we get to smell it in eternity!