Within the Advent and Christmas seasons, several liturgical celebrations are marked with such solemnity, that the use of incense is not only appropriate but encouraged. In an effort to prepare our worshiping community for these celebrations, I wish to share the following catechesis (teaching) on the use of incense:
“Three demerits for excessive use of incense, Father.”
“I loved the use of incense, Father, it heightened the liturgy and I was especially aware of God’s presence.”
“You gotta be kidding me!?”
These are but three differing comments I have received before and after Mass within the last six years as a presider. It seems people either really love incense or absolutely hate it. Very few are without opinion when it comes to the use of incense. Admittedly, some individuals are incense-intolerant due to allergies or respiratory conditions. For this very reason, hypoallergenic incense is offered for use in parishes, as will now be the practice here at Saint Noel. While we need to be very considerate of the needs of the faithful, the use of incense has an important element in Catholic liturgy because of historical, theological, and liturgical reasons.
The use of incense in religious worship predates Christianity by thousands of years. The Bible mentions incense 170 times. Historically, we can trace our use of incense back to Jewish religious rites, as well as Roman imperial ceremonies. Theologically, the use of incense is connected with Psalm 141, which compares our prayers rising up to God with the rising incense used during our prayers: “My prayers rise like incense.”
Liturgically, incense is a sacramental used to venerate, bless, and sanctify. Its smoke conveys a sense of mystery and awe. Not unlike Sacred Chrism (the holy oil used at Baptism, Confirmation, and Holy Orders), it is a reminder of the sweet-smelling presence of our Lord. The visual imagery of the smoke and the smell reinforce the transcendence of the Mass linking Heaven with Earth. Yes, incense is used because of its olfactory qualities; that is, it engages our sense of smell. Since we take the world in through our five senses, ideally, every one of our senses ought to be engaged during the Mass to heighten our awareness of God’s presence.
We see the liturgical color prescribed for the day or season, the beauty of mosaics, paintings, frescoes, statuary, and stained glass. We hear the dialogue of the Mass and the sound of music, instruments and voice, that which the spoken word alone cannot convey. We touch holy water and sign ourselves, and we offer one another the Sign of Peace. We taste the Body and Blood of Christ under the elements of bread and wine. We smell the fragrance of incense used to reverence the altar, the Crucifix, the Paschal Candle, the Book of the Gospels before its proclamation, the gifts of bread and wine, and to bless the priest (because of his sacred ministry) and the people (by reason of their baptismal dignity), as well as to venerate the earthly remains of the deceased during the Final Commendation at Funeral Masses.
Our sense of smell is powerful. The slightest whiff of a certain perfume or cologne can whisk you off to an entirely different place and time as it reminds you of a certain person or event. Similarly, incense is used as a reminder of the sacred, so that every time we smell it, we are reminded that we are at prayer. Many churches have abandoned the use of incense out of consideration for people who are physically intolerant of it. This is especially the case in smaller churches where there is little or no airflow. Although this is very important in terms of creating a hospitable liturgical environment, our parish is comprised of a large enough space with high ceilings, and apart from solemn processions, the action takes place up in the sanctuary. To abandon its use entirely would be a disservice to the liturgy, resulting in the loss of an ancient visual and olfactory symbol, especially called for upon the celebration of solemnities and on holy days of obligation. While the use of incense is at the discretion of the presider, it should have little to do with his personal preference, and more upon the occasion of the liturgical celebration.
Monsignor Romano Guardini (1885-1968), who greatly influenced the writings of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI had these beautiful words to say about the use of incense:
The offering of an incense is a generous and beautiful rite. The bright grains of incense are laid upon the red-hot charcoal, the censer (thurible) is swung, and the fragrant smoke rises in clouds. In the rhythm and the sweetness, there is a musical quality; and like music also is the entire lack of practical utility: it is a prodigal waste of precious material. It is a pouring out of unwithholding love.
Peace and prayers as we enter fully into our Advent journey once again,
Excerpts from Johan van Parys, What’s the Smoke For? (Liturgical Press: Collegeville, MN), 2014; and Msgr. Romano Guardini, Sacred Signs, English translation, 1956. Saint Louis, Pio Decimo Press.
THE FEAST OF THE IMMACULATE CONCEPTION – All are invited to celebrate the Feast of the Immaculate Conception at daily mass on Monday, December 9th at 8:30 a.m., in the Chapel. This is the Patronal Feast Day of the United States of America, but not a Holyday of Obligation this year.
CHRISTMAS PROJECT – Be sure to bring your cash donations, $10 Giant Eagle and Target gift cards, and gift basket items to the table in the Narthex by NOON this Sunday, December 8th. You can sign up on the kiosk to assemble baskets (5:00 p.m.) and wrap baskets (6:00 p.m.) this TUESDAY, December 10th, or to deliver baskets this Saturday, December 14th at 9:00 a.m. Thank you for your generosity and for sharing the light of Jesus with those in need this Christmas.
CHRISTMAS ITEMS – Thanks to all who donated used Christmas items for the N2N meal. The response was tremendous! We no longer are accepting used Christmas items as our next N2N meal is in January.
SOCIAL JUSTICE COLLECTION – Next weekend, ushers will be in the narthex to accept your donations to the Social Justice Fund.
FAMILY FAITH FORMATION RESOURCES – Copies of Celebrating Sunday and the December TakeOut Magazine are available (one per family) in the kiosk and on the table in the Narthex.
ADVENT & CHRISTMAS REFLECTION BOOKLETS – “Waiting in Joyful Hope 2019-2020 can be found on the table in the Narthex. Please help yourself.
JUST 4 FUN COMMITTEE – Parishioners of St Noel, along with their families and friends, are invited to join us on Friday, December 20th at 6:45 p.m. for our Christmas Movie Night! All are invited to watch the movie ELF (rated PG) which will be projected on the big screen in the Banquet Center’s large hall beginning at 7:00 p.m. (run time 1 hr. 37 min.) Seating will be set up theatre style. Cookies and Hot Chocolate will be served! Wear your “Ugly Christmas Sweater” and join in on the fun! Hope to see you all there!
SOCIAL JUSTICE FUND 2019 – The Social Justice Fund supports a number of ministries including the Food Pantry, AERC, Buy Once, Give Twice Fair Trade Sale, CEPROSI, St. Augustine Meal, and the Neighbor to Neighbor Meal (in partnership with the Endowment Fund). In addition, the Social Justice Fund provides financial assistance for families in need within our Willoughby Hills community, in the wider community through the Lake County Community Network and other Catholic parishes, as well as nationally and internationally through Catholic Charities, USA and Catholic Relief Services. To date in 2019, the Social Justice Fund has contributed $29,515.64 to assist our brothers & sisters in need. Thank you for your support of the Social Justice Fund!
JAIL MINISTERS NEEDED – St. Noel is part of a 5-parish team that leads Sunday night communion services in the Lake County jail. We are in need of additional ministers for 2020. We always serve in pairs and training is provided. Please consider God’s call to this important ministry and contact Anthony if interested (440-946-1128).
CEPROSI CHRISTMAS CARDS – Cards (and other small items) from our Nicaraguan partners are available for purchase in the narthex. If you would like a larger item, please see Anthony. Thanks for your support of CEPROSI.
SPECIAL NEED – Parishioner needs under pads for the bed (hospital chucks). Please contact Anthony if you can help.
FOOD PANTRY NEEDS – So far in 2019, the pantry has served 1517 people with the equivalent of 13,841 meals. Special thanks to the United Way of Lake County and to Mentor United Methodist Church for recent donations to the pantry. Thanks, also, to all who donated egg cartons; we have enough now and are no longer accepting egg cartons. Thanks to all who support the pantry!!
NOEL CONCERT SERIES– Offer yourself and your loved ones a gift of music during this Advent- Christmas season. Three concerts will be presented at St. Noel this December.
- Sunday, December 8th at 4:00 p.m.- St. Noel Music Ministry (Freewill offering) Hodie Alleluia! CONDUCTOR: Agnieszka Bieniek FEATURING: St. Noel Church Choir, Youth Bell Choir, Adult Bell Choir, Soloists and Instrumentalists. PROGRAM: Traditional and contemporary Christmas songs from around the world. Please join us for a small reception in the narthex after the concert.
- Wednesday, December 11th, 7:30 p.m.- Apollo’s Fire Christmas Oratorio– J. S. Bach GUEST CONDUCTOR: Julian Wachner FEATURING: Molly Netter, soprano, Daniel Moody, countertenor, Steven Soph, tenor, Jesse Blumberg, baritone and Apollo’s Singers. Bach’s festive Christmas Oratorio is a feast of orchestral colors, with trumpets, timpani, flutes, oboes, bassoon, and strings. Tickets can be purchase by phone: 216-320-0012, Toll Free: 800-314-2535 or via e-mail: [email protected].
- Sunday, December 15th at 5:00 p.m.- CityMusic Cleveland (Freewill offering) Fire and Ice CONDUCTOR:Stefan Willich SOLOISTS, TBA, PROGRAM: Giaocchino Rossini – Overture to CinderellaJoseph Suk – Meditation on the old Czech chorale “St. Wenceslas” Franz Joseph Haydn -Symphony No.59 (“Fire”),Arcangelo Corelli – Christmas Concerto, Op.6, no.8, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart – German Dances, K.605 (“Sleigh Ride”),Engelbert Humperdinck – Knusperwaltzer (Gingerbread Waltz), Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky – Prayer from Suite No. 4 (“Mozartiana”),Manuel de Falla El Amor Brujo – Ritual Fire Dance.
ST. AUGUSTINE CALENDARS are now available in the parish office. Your $25.00 donation for each calendar gives you the opportunity to win throughout the calendar year and support a worthwhile cause.
Please complete the numbered card insert and mail to the St Augustine Hunger Center, 2846 West 14th Street, Cleveland, OH 44113. Checks are payable to St. Augustine. Winners will be mailed a check on Wednesday of each week.
BLOOD DRIVE – Volunteers are needed for the next blood drive on December 29th. Signup on the kiosk. Donors can schedule their appointments online at redcross.org.