Getting ready for Advent ... of 2011 Print
Bishop Morlino's Column
Thursday, Nov. 11, 2010 -- 1:00 AM
Under the Gospel Book by Bishop Robert C. Morlino
This column is the bishop’s communication with the faithful of the Diocese of Madison. Any wider circulation reaches beyond the intention of the bishop.

Dear Friends,

We are approaching, hard as it is to believe, the First Sunday of Advent 2010. On the First Sunday of Advent 2011 we shall begin to use the new translations of our liturgical prayers at all of our Masses throughout the diocese and throughout our country. The new translations are in fact translations into English, though they sound differently than the translations to which we have become accustomed since the Second Vatican Council. In the translations presently at use, certain Latin words are left untranslated, and certain sentences or parts of sentences are more a “paraphrase” than a formal translation.

The new translation is a formal translation from the Latin to the English. No Latin words are omitted in the translation and the rich biblical allusions in the original Latin are all restored. For example, when the priest elevates the host just before Communion the congregation will say, “Lord I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof.” In this we are reminded of and echo the part of the Centurion in the familiar Gospel passage (Mt 8:8), a reminder which is lost when we simply say, “Lord I am not worthy to receive you.”

Since the translations are in fact English, the fact that they are new should present very little, if any, problem. However, the translations attempt to reflect the dimension of liturgical prayer as heavenly language, which is captured in the original Latin and in many instances lost in the translation currently in use. The point of implementing the new translations for us in the United States is to take the occasion to recapture a genuine, “sacramental attitude,” meaning a sense that when we go to church we are mysteriously borne into the heavenly sanctuary with Christ, our Blessed Mother, the angels and the saints, and that in that sanctuary we are able to participate in the one, eternal sacrifice of Christ on the cross. The sacramental attitude means that when we enter the church building, we do so knowing that we are about to enter mystically into heaven and to offer sacrifice.

Over the next year I will be writing periodically about elements of the liturgy, of which we should take a renewed account as we move to deepen, within ourselves, the truly sacramental attitude.

Incense and the nature of sacrifice

This week I would like to talk about incense and its use. This may seem like a strange place to start, especially since we’ve been focusing on the change in translations, but I hope that my purpose for such a starting point will become clear as we consider the overarching idea of a sacramental attitude.

In the beautiful ritual for the dedication of a church, a large brazier with burning incense is placed on the altar, newly consecrated with sacred chrism, and the bishop consecrating the altar also incenses that altar while simultaneously other liturgical ministers move through the church incensing the walls of the church and the people in the congregation. Whenever incense is used in the liturgical celebrations, we are to remember why it played such a prominent role in the dedication of the church and the altar in the first place.

The incense we use is generally, as you know, the petrified sap of trees. When this petrified sap or gum resin is burned, it gives off smoke and a fragrance, both of which are meant to bespeak the worship in heaven, which is described in the Scriptures as involving the angels offering incense. We are familiar with the words of the Psalm, “let my prayer rise up before you, Lord, like incense, the lifting up of my hands like an evening sacrifice” (Ps 141). So in the first place, the use of incense reminds us that our prayers do truly reach up to the heavens. But, those grains of petrified sap, in order to set free their beautiful smoke and fragrance must be burned, that is, they must be sacrificed.

The use of incense connected with the liturgy and with the altar reminds us that the holiness of the altar and, indeed, the holiness of the whole church comes from offering sacrifice as a pleasing burnt offering to the Lord. The grains of petrified sap, the incense that we burn, indicate the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross and the sacrifice that we come to the liturgy to offer. Thus, the use of incense is a powerful symbol of what the whole liturgy, the altar, and the church community, in heaven, on earth, and in purgatory are doing primarily when we are present as a liturgical assembly – that is, we come to sacrifice and to give thanks. The priest and the congregation receive an honoring with incense during the Offertory which reminds us that our lives, like the altar of sacrifice, should also become altars of sacrifice.

Being close to Christ

For those who are very close to Christ, sacrifice is joyful, if yet unpleasant and inconvenient, because they would prefer to be closer to Christ rather than to have more pleasure and convenience. Too often, I am sorry to say, people complain that their priests don’t give homilies which make them feel good. The true feeling of joy that should accompany the celebration of Mass is the joy that one who is close to Christ takes in offering sacrifice.

In coming to the Mass, we should not come in search of good feelings, but rather to accept and acknowledge our difficulties and to raise them to Christ in a peaceful sacrifice, allowing him then to bring true joy and peace into our hearts. The more the priest’s homily is an instrument for God to move us in that direction, the better off we are, lest we forget that the Eucharist is, in the first place, a representation of the sacrifice of Christ on the cross so that we can fully, actively, and fruitfully participate in it.

As we begin this year of preparation to renew among ourselves the sacramental attitude, let us take these thoughts to heart. If, in more recent times, we have been forgetful of the sacrificial dimension of the Mass, it would be hard to find a better way to renew our awareness of the Mass as sacrifice, than through the offering of incense. This does not dismiss the second dimension of the Mass, which is communal meal, but rather binds the community together with Christ in their sacrifice and imbues the community with a much more profound and fruitful participation.

Thank you for reading this. May the Lord continue to bless you and your families with sacrificial joy and love. Praised be Jesus Christ!