The Liturgy is Opening Doors
Recently a youth group comprised of high school age students attended Mass along with their pastor; somewhat of a Protestant “field trip” to the local Catholic parish. While most of the young adults left soon after Mass, the visiting minister remained for the better part of an hour to speak with the priest.
The conversation, rather than being confrontational in tone, or challenging toward the teachings of the Church, instead consisted of the minister sincerely asking about Catholicism and confiding how much he was intrigued by Catholic worship. He admitted to having been particularly drawn in by the use of incense within the Mass, even noting how “very biblical” it all was.
This “very biblical” connection between sacred scripture and the liturgical use of incense was also noted by the 19th century liturgist and Benedictine abbot Dom Prosper Guéranger:
The blessing, which the Priest gives it (the incense) in the Mass, raises this production of nature to the supernatural order. Holy Church has borrowed this ceremony from Heaven itself, where St. John witnessed it. In his Apocalypse, he saw an Angel, standing, with a golden censer, near the Altar, on which was the Lamb, with four-and-twenty elders around him. (Apoc. 8:3) He describes this Angel to us, as offering to God the prayers of the Saints, which are symbolized by the incense. Thus, our Holy Mother the Church, the faithful Bride of Christ, wishes to do as Heaven does; and taking advantage of the veil of its mysterious secrets being even thus partially raised up by the Beloved Disciple, she borrows, for our earth’s imitation, the tribute of honour thus paid, yonder above, to the glory of her Spouse. (The Holy Mass, pp. 12-13)
Later, while reflecting back on that conversation with the visiting minister, Father noted:
“It seems that the liturgy is what is opening doors and that the more traditional elements are having an impact.”
Indeed, the use of incense is just one of several ways that traditional elements are being reintroduced within the liturgy. Restoring the sacred-the sense of the supernatural-to the Mass by its very nature is evangelizing others.
In the below clip, former prefect for the Congregation of Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith discusses how incense, along with language and chant, restores mystery and awe to Catholic worship. As Catholics, we need to stop the liturgical innovation and experimentation and instead once again trust in the power of tradition and beauty to open doors.