Our Catholic liturgy often seems baffling to Protestants who visit our services. The changes in posture, from standing, to sitting, to kneeling, are very strange to them. I like to explain that “Catholics pray with our bodies.”
When I was ordained a deacon, a Protestant friend of mine who attended the rite made fun of the “smoke and bells” in his comments to me after the ordination Mass ended.
As with most of the practices of Catholics that are not followed by our Protestant brothers and sisters, what we do actually has a basis in the Bible. With regard to incense, for example, Psalm 141:2 says “Let my prayer be incense before you; my uplifted hands an evening offering.” In Saint John’s vision of heaven described in the Book of Revelation is this passage:
“Another angel came and stood at the altar, holding a gold censer. He was given a great quantity of incense to offer, along with the prayers of all the holy ones, on the gold altar that was before the throne. The smoke of the incense along with the prayers of the holy ones went up before God from the hand of the angel.” Rev.8:3-4
I mentioned in my last blog a beautiful Mass which I recently attended at Christ in the Desert Monastery in New Mexico. The Mass featured the liberal use of incense. After the Mass, I went for a stroll behind the monastery, enjoying the view of the cliffs that backed up to the chapel. In the sky above the cliffs were small puffy clouds, the likes of which I had never seen. My first thought upon seeing the clouds was that they were the incense from the Mass, continuing their elevation to heaven, taking our prayers with them. Here’s a picture of what I saw: