BOOK 6, CHAPTER 10
THE CELEBRANT INCENSES THE ALTAR

1. The kiss of peace given, the bishop or the priest, receiving the censer from the hands of the deacon, incenses the consecrated altar, because Christ, who took a body by the generation of the prophets, and who was born according to the flesh, of the blood and the race of David,[1] embraces the Church in His prayers, as He does in the Gospel, saying Holy Father, ‘I pray for them,’[2] and ‘Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word.’[3] When the deacon takes up the censer to incense the bishop or the priest, it teaches us, in the moral sense, that if we wish to offer the incense of prayer worthily, we must take the censer of the incarnation, for without faith in the Mediator, men cannot please God. Also, according to His promise, if they ask for something with faith, when they pray, they will receive it.[4] The censer thus symbolizes the Incarnate Word.

2. For, as in the censer, the upper part and the lower part are united by three little chains, thus in Christ there are three rings that connect divinity and humanity, flesh and soul, uniting humanity to the flesh, divinity to the soul. There are those who indicate a fourth ring, which is that of the divinity joined to a being composed at the same time of a soul and flesh; which is why some censers have four chains. Moses also speaks of this censer to Aaron in a special way, ‘Take you censers…And put fire therein, and put incense in them.’[5] There is another consideration to be made with regard to the censer, as we have touched on in the chapter, Of the Priest and Pontiff Arriving at the Altar and of the Procession.

3. The bishop or the priest incenses the altar which has already been incensed for a second time, to show that Christ is at the same time altar and host, pontiff and priest; it is to Him that one offers sacrifice, because one adores Him, not only as God, but also as a man. That is why, in certain churches, after having praised the pontiff, the deacon incenses all around the altar, which made the Psalmist say, ‘so will I compass thine altar, O Lord.’[6] The golden censer signifies wisdom, because all the treasures of God’s wisdom were hidden in Christ.[7] Hence the angel stood by the altar, having a censer of gold, and was given incense to garnish it;[8] that is to say, Christ, by His Resurrection, has taken power from the flesh. Silver means the flesh of Christ, pure from all fault, and shining with chastity; copper, His fragility and His mortal nature; iron, the power that made Him resurrect. If the censer has four chains, it demonstrates that Christ is composed of four elements or adorned with four virtues, which are, justice, prudence, strength, and temperance. The fifth chain, which passes in the middle of the others, designates the soul which, during three days, separated from the flesh. If the censer has three chains, it represents the soul, the flesh and the Word united in one person. The fourth chain, which serves as separation, is the power given to Christ to give His life for His sheep. If the censer has only one chain, it points out that only Christ was born of a virgin, and that He alone has not been subjected to the slavery of death. The ring, to which all these chains are attached, is the divinity of Christ, which has no beginning nor end, which contains and operates all things.

4. In addition to mystic reason, the altar is also incensed to ward off all the malice of demons, because it is believed that the smoke of incense has the power to put the demons to flight. Hence, when Tobit asked the Angel to tell him how many curative virtues there were in the fish he had ordered him to keep, the Angel replied, ‘If thou put a little piece of its heart upon coals, the smoke thereof driveth away all kind of devils.’[9]

5. Pope Soter forbade the nuns to incense around the altar.

 

 

[1] See Romans 1:3

[2] John 17:9

[3] John 17:20

[4] See Matthew 21:22

[5] Numbers 16:6-7

[6] Psalm 26:6

[7] See Colossians 2:3

[8] See Revelation 8:3

[9] Tobit 6:8

RATIONALE DIVINORUM OFFICIORUM

I INVITE YOU ON A JOURNEY

UNDERSTANDING THE RATIONALE AND ITS SIGNIFICANCE

BOOK VI CHAPTER 60, OF THE FIFTH SUNDAY OF LENT, OR THE SUNDAY

OF THE PASSION

FULL LIST OF CHAPTER TITLES

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