Saturday, December 14, 2019

History of Incense. . .

Ran across it the other day.  From the Catholic Encyclopaedia, I believe.  I am sure it will rankle a few comments.


In ancient times incense was furnished by two trees, viz. the Boswellia sacra of Arabia Felix, and the Boswellia papyrifera of India, both of which belong to the Terebinthian family. Mention is made of it in Num.7:14; Deut. 33:10, etc. It was procured from the bark much as gum is obtained at present. To enhance the fragrance and produce a thicker smoke various foreign elements were added (cf. Josephus, "Bella Jud.", V, 5).

The use of incense was very common. It was employed for profane purposes as an antidote to the lassitude caused by very great heat, much as perfumes are now used. Mention of its introduction into pagan worship is made by classical writers (cf. Ovid, "Metamorph.", VI, 14, Virgil, "AEneid", I, 146). Herodotus testifies to its use among the Assyrians and Babylonians, while on Egyptian monumental tablets kings are represented swinging censers. Jewish usage was extensive and connected especially with the eucharistic offerings of oil, fruits, and wine, or the unbloody sacrifices (Leviticus 6:15). By the command of God Moses built an altar of incense (cf. Ex.. 30), on which the sweetest spices and gums were burned, and to a special branch of the Levitical tribe was entrusted this prayer office of daily renewal (1 Chronicles 9:29).

When, exactly, incense was introduced into the religious services of the Christian Church is hard to nail down. During the first four centuries there is no explicit reference to its use and yet there is no reference to it being forbidden or not used. However, with its consistent association and usage in the Temple and the references to it in the New Testament (cf. Luke 1:10; Revelation 8:3-5), it would be difficult to say that Christians were not familiar with it or that it was not used in conjunction with early Christian worship. Oftentimes the historical record does not mention things common or presumed but spends more ink on those things extraordinary or unusual.  When references do occur, it is likely that they acknowledge the more uniform usage which has become ordinary or commonplace.

The earliest authentic reference to the use of incense in the worship of the Church is found in Pseudo-Dionysius ("De Hier. Ecc.", III, 2). The Liturgies of Sts. James and Mark -- which in their present form are not older than the fifth century -- refer to its use at the Sacred Mysteries. A Roman Ordo of the seventh century mentions that it was used in the procession of the bishop to the altar and on Good Friday (cf. "Ordo Romanus VIII" of St. Amand). The pilgrim Etheria saw it employed at the vigil Offices of the Sunday in Jerusalem (cf. Peregrinatio, II). Almost all Eastern liturgies bear witness to its use in the celebration of the Mass, particularly at the Offertory. In the Roman Church censing at the Gospel of the Mass appears very early, at the Offertory in the eleventh century, at the Introit in the twelfth century, at the Benedictus and Magnificat of the canonical Hours about the thirteenth century, and, in connection with the Elevation and Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament, about the fourteenth century. "Ordo Romanus VI" describes the censing of the celebrant, and in the time of Durandus (d. 1024/5; Rat. off. Div.) the assisting clergy were censed. In the present discipline of the Western Church incense is used at solemn Mass, solemn blessings, functions, and processions, choral offices, and absolutions for the dead. On these occasions people, places, and things such as relics of Christ and the saints, crucifix, altar, book of Gospels, coffin, remains, sepulchre, etc. are censed. While incense is generally burned, there are two cases when unburned incense grains are placed into the Pascal candle and placed into the sepulchre of consecrated altars.

At Mass incense is generally blessed before use.

Symbolism and Manner of Incensing

Incense, with its sweet-smelling perfume and high-ascending smoke, is typical of the good Christian's prayer, which, enkindled in the heart by the fire of God's love and exhaling the odour of Christ, rises up a pleasing offering in His sight (cf. Amalarius, "De eccles. officiis" in P.L., CV). Incensing is the act of imparting the odor of incense. The censer (q.v.) is held in the right hand at the height of the breast, and grasped by the chain near the cover; the left hand, holding the top of the chain, is placed on the breast. The censer is then raised upwards to the height of the eyes, given an outward motion and slightly ascending towards the object to be incensed, and at once brought back to the starting point. This constitutes a single swing. For a double swing the outward motion should be repeated, the second movement being more pronounced than the first. The dignity of the person or thing will determine whether the swing is to be single or double, and also whether one swing or more are to be given. The incense-boat is the vessel containing the incense for immediate use. It is so called from its shape. It is generally carried by the thurifer in the disengaged hand.
Those who find themselves interested in this subject may wish to also consult the Alcuin Club's, A History of the Use of Incense in Divine Worship, written by E.G. Cuthbert Atchley, which extensively covers the subject.


Janis Williams said...

Those of us with inflammatory diseases also use boswellia (frankincense) internally.

That incense was not used before the 4th c in the Church seems unlikely, IMHO. Since the Jewish rites in both Tabernacle and Temple used incense, it seems likely the early Christians would have continued the practice. Also there were wealthy members in the early church, who could afford the purchase of the best of such. The church did meet in homes, and even in pagan Roman homes, the well-to-do did incensed them.

Carl Vehse said...

There are people, including Lutherans (and at least one Missouri Synod pastor) who have asthma or are allergic to what you earlier referred to as "holy smoke."

But perhaps the dose of mockery you provided back then for objectors can be used today against any such people (e.g., pregnant mothers) objecting to filling the air at a worship service (and passing such compounds on through the umbilical cord) with CO, NO2, SO2, benzene, toluene, isoprene, various xylenes, aldehydes and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (e.g., acenaphthylene, naphthalene, acenaphthene, fluoranthene and phenanthrene), as well as particulate matter such as thoracic coarse particles in the range 10 to 2.5 um (PM2.5-10) and particles less than 2.5 um in diameter (PM2.5) that can accumulate in the alveoli.

Such allergic and asthmatic non-Tiberwaders also will probably object when the church budget includes the purchase of liturgical hardhats to be used for the swing of the thurible.

But those who object can simply bring their own liturgical headwear.

Anonymous said...

Welp, we know that Luther chose not to use incense at the dedication of the first constructed Lutheran church at Torgau.

Glancing at the article above yields some no-brainer reasons why.

For Lutherans, Christ is the perfect and final (see Hebrews) offering and sacrifice for the sins of the world. There is no need for us to offer anything to God, and this is especially true in eschewing the symbolism of censing the altar at communion. We receive God’s gifts in the Divine Service. As Luther said, corporate worship is nothing other than the assembly of Christians to hear God’s word and respond in prayer and praise. Roman Catholic theology, however, requires quite a bit of additional sacrifice (that of the mass) and offering of works to earn grace, thus adding to Christ’s sufficient and completed work for the justification of mankind.

A note on the historical Lutheran aversion to opulence in the church. We may today think of elaborate carvings, pictures, etc. in a church as opulent. But Lutheran churches had these things (they still do) and this is not the opulence that even a cursory evaluation of Lutheran writings during the Reformation invariably condemn. Lutherans attacked Roman opulence that took the focus away from Christ and placed it instead on the works and ordinances of men. This is why we don’t “do” holy water, chrism, salt (?), baptize church buildings and bells, wear mitres, break the Host (as if we are mimicking a play or offering a sacrifice instead of following Christ’s ordinance), or emphasize crossing ourselves, as if these are somehow synergistic acts whereby we merit or add to God’s abundant mercy and grace.

Unknown said...

Anonymous has laid out perfectly the reasons why Lutherans cannot have nice things. Everything is about the mind. It's a type of gnosticism that has invaded Lutheran churches and is paraded about as the new "pietism." Why have worship at all? Reap what you sow, Lutherans. I'll just laugh at you from afar.

Anonymous said...

God likes incense. He notes its use in Old Testament, Psalms, even in use in heavenly worship now as we see in Revelation.

If you don't like it, don't want it, your problem is really with God; not with confessional Lutherans who promote its 'continued' use.

Anonymous said...

Here are several things to be said in response to "Carl Vehse" who in fact Richard Strickert, a man who has an obsession with ignorance about anything regarding the Lutheran Church.

Carl, your congregation is now a "church" consisting of a single congregaion. Good luck with that.

Your opinions posted here are wholly ignorant of Lutheran history.

You foolishly keep posting crap here, and less so elsewhre (thankfully) that reflect your pathetic ignorance of Lutheran doctrine and history.

Do yourself a favor, find something else to do in your golden years.

Pastor Peters said...

Predictable. Stir the pot and you find a little bit of crazy. If you applied the same fear of allergy or dislike to anything else, the worship service would be empty of song, baptismal water, eucharistic bread and wine, instrumental music, and, ultimately, people. That is my point. If the concerns, allergies, or dislike of one or a few or even many is the deciding factor in what we do, we will do nothing at all but meditate on Christ in the mind and you don't need a church building, pastor, or anything else churchy to do that. But it seems some Lutherans want just about that much.

Anonymous said...

I don’t find anything crazy about locating the Lutheran “middle way” between pomp and puritanism.

Luther wrote:

“ build this and that church or that we ornament them in such and such a way, or
that singing be of a certain kind or the organ or the altar decorations,
the chalices, the statues and all of the other paraphernalia which are contained in our temples. Finally it is not necessary that the priests
and other religious wear the tonsure or go about in distinctive garb […] For all of these things are shadows and signs of the real
thing and thus are childish.”

“[T]his emphasis on externals is an enticement of the devil, which he uses to mislead his people, so that they leave the Pope and yet do not come to Christ. They are neither papist nor Christian but continue to hang on to external things as much as the papists do.”

Matthias Flacius wrote, “The Church of Christ teaches us to fight the devil with the sword of the Spirit (Scripture) and the shield of faith. The church of the Antichrist teaches us to fight the devil with the sign of the cross and blessed water.”

Which is in the mind, and which is relational and real?

Neil Stauffer said...

I say bring on the incense. For Christmas Eve, Epiphany, and Easter. I think more people would appreciate it if they understood the meaning, symbolism, and biblical support for its use.

Carl Vehse said...

Given current and previous Pastoral Meanderings columns on incense and some comments, it seems pretty safe to conclude that the answer to the LCMS Disability Task Force's question in its Disability Assessment Ministry Assessment Tool (p. 2)—"Are strongly-scented items, such as heavily-scented flowers or incense, avoided so that people with chemical sensitivities may be present during worship and programs?"—is an emphatic "Of course not!"