Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Peace of Space, Up in Smoke

(No children were harmed by the excessive amount of incense it took to get this picture, just like this.)

After all, we are a blog about the Domestic Church...


The second hardest thing, in my opinion, about building the prayer life of your family, of your Domestic Church, is creating a place apart to pray.  (The hardest thing, of course, is actually taking the time to pray, but that is a topic for another day.)

I have no doubt that there are very holy families that do not have a prayer space, prayer corner, etc., but dollars to donuts it is easier in the long run.  Our pastor here, Fr. Jerabek wrote an excellent article on the topic of home chapels:  Having a Home Chapel. If there was any question on our stance, we are keen on the idea.

I have mentioned it elsewhere, but we have had some prayer corner of some sort in each of our homes since we got married, and I always had a space set aside in my classrooms when I taught.  If nothing else, there is often a need to step aside from our busy lives and go somewhere safe.  I do think it begs the question of how to make that space set apart.

It is easy enough to say that sacred art, a kneeler, a Crucifix, candles, etc are sufficient; but it can be difficult to give children that sense of space.  We are lucky enough, now, to have a room set aside as a chapel, but we still have to remind the kids not to run though, not to eat, not to drag their dirty shoes through, and the like.  It was even more difficult with "dual use space."

OK, don't freak out on me and go all asthmatic...


Here I would make the argument for incense.  No, before we start, I'm not saying burn incense every day, or every time you pray as a family, or even every week. Incense can give a sense of place and a bit of peace to the space your family prays in.

Another caveat, I am a Novus Ordo Latin rite Catholic.  While I certainly appreciate the Extraordinary Form, it is not my regular form of worship.  I am heavily influenced by the Eastern Churches, particularly the slavic Byzantines, but I am a Latin.  The reason I make this clear is that some of the nuances and interpretations of the use of incense differ slightly as you move across the different Ritual Churches in the Catholic Church, not to mention the Orthodox Churches.

Don't lose me now, just a smidge of history...


Jews and Christians have used incense for millenia in the worship of God, not to mention many other religions using it in their ritual worship.

We can see in Exodus the exact instructions for burning incense:

For burning incense you shall make an altar of acacia wood,a
with a square surface, a cubit long, a cubit wide, and two cubits high, with horns that are of one piece with it.
Its grate on top, its walls on all four sides, and its horns you shall plate with pure gold. Put a gold molding around it.
Underneath the molding you shall put gold rings, two on one side and two on the opposite side, as holders for the poles used in carrying it.
Make the poles, too, of acacia wood and plate them with gold.
This altar you are to place in front of the veil that hangs before the ark of the covenant where I will meet you.

On it Aaron shall burn fragrant incense. Morning after morning, when he prepares the lamps,
and again in the evening twilight, when he lights the lamps, he shall burn incense. Throughout your generations this shall be the regular incense offering before the LORD.
On this altar you shall not offer up any profane incense, or any burnt offering or grain offering; nor shall you pour out a libation upon it.
Once a year Aaron shall purge its horns. Throughout your generations he is to purge it once a year with the blood of the atoning purification offering. This altar is most sacred to the LORD.

Exodus 30:1-10

There was an explicit recipe for the aforementioned specific group to use.

And the Lord said to Moses, “Take sweet spices, stacte, and onycha, and galbanum, sweet spices with pure frankincense (of each shall there be an equal part),  and make an incense blended as by the perfumer, seasoned with salt, pure and holy;  and you shall beat some of it very small, and put part of it before the testimony in the tent of meeting where I shall meet with you; it shall be for you most holy. And the incense which you shall make according to its composition, you shall not make for yourselves; it shall be for you holy to the Lord. Whoever makes any like it to use as perfume shall be cut off from his people.” 

Exodus 30:34-38

We can see more of the theology behind the use of incense in Psalm 141

Let my prayer come like incense before you; the lifting up of my hands, like the evening sacrifice

In the modern Catholic Church, grains of incense are used in the the building of a new altar, in the preparation of the Easter Candle, instructions are in the General Instruction of the Roman Missal for incense to be used at most official functions and actions of the Church.

An important change should be noted that while the Jews offered incense as a sacrifice, we are more in line with the Psalmist, using incense to symbolize and visualize our prayers rising to heaven.  The one, necessary, sacrifice has already been made for all.


I'm not a theologian or a member of the magisterium, take what I say with a grain of... incense...


From our various faith traditions, we see the importance of incense to the point of some Patriarchs insisting that they should jealously guard their use of incense and use it wherever possible.  

In the west, incense was probably not used much in the lay home until the last 60-70 years.  In part due to cost, and also the tradition just wasn't there. More and more people are burning incense, and we are seeing an increase in the liturgical use, as well.  It seems we went 20 years or so, where it just wasn't used, except at funerals... I could be wrong, just my 2 cents. 

I recently exchanged a slew of emails between various Latin and Byzantine clerics and a couple of liturgists about how to interpret the rubrics for home use, and the conclusion is fairly simple:

There are no official instructions from the magisterium as to the official use of incense in the domestic church.

period.

Don't get me wrong, the use is encouraged and allowed, but the Priests actions of blessing and purification simple don't have an equivalent for home use.  Furthermore, we no longer have the restrictions imposed by the levitical laws on who and what may use what and how.  On top of that, it is right and proper to bless one's children (although traditionally done with the tracing of a cross on the forehead.)  

Ooooooo kayyy...where are we going with this...


Like starting a new diet, you need to include your Doctor; starting a new spiritual practice you need to consult your spiritual father, whether that is your pastor, or spiritual director.  

I can tell you what we are doing, and what helps use to be more prayerful, I'm not saying it is THE liturgical practice for the Domestic Church.  I encourage you to evaluate the needs and prayer life of your family and do what seems sensible to you.  One of the best pieces of advice I received was from a Sub-Deacon in Philadelphia "If it's going to make you scrupulous or cause scandal, throw it out".  In that, don't be me and stress out about it, and don't pretend to be a priest.

Our main family prayer time is Vespers, shortly before the kids go to bed.  We will light the censer above (note: a thurible is a censer with chains, and a thurifer is the one who carries it... does that make the one who carries a hand censer, a censationalist?)  I put a little bit of incense in the censer before we start prayer.  Then our oldest son rings the bell, and we start.  SOMETIMES, I will stoke it up and add incense before the Gospel Canticle, since that is where incense is used in Solemn Vespers with a bishop/priest/deacon, but I don't cense anything.  We burn incense on feast days, solemnities, and some Sundays.

But wait, there's Myrrh


The next step for us is to take the traditional Litany of Saints and modify it a bit with our patron Saints and then the boy and I will process around the chapel with candle and incense and bow at each of the Saint's images as we pray for their intercession.  No actual censing, but a nice link between the idea of icons as windows to heaven, and prayers rising up with the incense.

Any last minute comments, critiquest, criticisms... compliments?


Start small.  The resource page has several places that sell both censers and incense.  Don't get a thurible (the liturgical one... the one with chains.)  I would recommend starting with an Ethiopian frankincense.  It is light, traditional, and really won't bother most people's airways.



Sometimes, even in our house, the censer get sent to the fume hood after prayer......


Pax et Bonum!
-The Voborils

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