THE article on the sense of smell and the ritual use of incense in Liturgy Lines (CL 8/6/08) is particularly interesting because its relevance is universally unrecognised by us moderns who, in the main, see the ritual as quaint.
Incense performs two functions. Its fragrant perfume unveils and reveals beauty. On the other hand, its dense smoke veils the room and mystifies the object of the ritual.
The whole of the Old Testament rested upon the importance of incense according to Leviticus 10 and 16.
In Leviticus 16 Aaron’s two sons died in the sanctuary when they failed to observe proper ritual with their censers.
The Day of Atonement ritual which was the one day of the year where the high priest could go behind the veil marking the entry to the Holy of Holies.
The stringent pre-condition was that the high priest had to fill the Holy of Holies with so much incense that the Mercy Seat, God’s Presence, was hidden from view.
We easily imagine the Blessed Sacrament host hidden behind the tabernacle veil shrouded in mystery. The Benediction rite with its extensive use of incense draws heavily upon this imagery.
However, the synoptic gospels describe the veil of the temple being torn in two at Jesus death.
John does not mention the tearing of the temple veil. He mentions, in the resurrection narrative, two angels sitting at either end of where once Jesus lay in the tomb.
These two angels are the Old Testament equivalent of the two cherubim guarding the Mercy Seat in the Holy of Holies.
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