Eucharist as a sacrament of Forgiveness; Using Incense

In the past I’ve written about the eucharist by focussing on some of its key characteristics, for example, the eucharist as memorial, as covenant and as sacrament of unity.
One very important aspect of the eucharist that is sometimes overlooked is the understanding of it as a sacrament of reconciliation.
It is not difficult to find examples of texts and gestures in the celebration of eucharist which expresses sorrow and ask for forgiveness.
One of the introductory elements of the Mass is the penitential rite. This may take the form of the community saying together the “I confess…” (confiteor) which also includes the simple gesture of striking the breast as a sign of sorrow. It is followed by a set of acclamations usually called by its Greek (not Latin) first word kyrie or “Lord, have mercy”.
Alternatively, and more commonly, a set of three invocations address to Christ is used. This form incorporates the kyrie. Whatever form is used, the priest concludes the penitential rite with the absolution.
During the “Glory to God”, another element of the introductory rites, we pray “Lord, God, Lamb of God, you take away the sin of the world: have mercy on us”. These words are repeated in the “Lamb of God” which is sung during the breaking of the bread and pouring of the wine.
In the Lord’s Prayer we ask that our sins might be forgiven and that we might be delivered from evil. Immediately before receiving communion we say: “Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed”. And, of course, the sharing of communion itself forgives sin.
The sacrament of reconciliation is the church’s special celebration of pardon and people aware of grave sin should celebrate reconciliation before presenting themselves for communion. But perhaps we need to recapture the understanding that was strong in the early church before a separate sacrament of penance developed, namely, that our participation at Mass grants forgiveness through word, gesture and sacrament.
KICKING UP A STINK!! Some of you will have seen a recent letter in “Have Your Say” taking me to task for writing about the use of incense in worship because “it has extremely unpleasant effects on the respiratory system and results in exclusion from the liturgy”.
If we were to cut out everything that people might be allergic to, we’d have a very “sterile” liturgy indeed! No flowers, because pollen can trigger an allergic reaction; no bread because some people are gluten intolerant; no wine because it contains preservatives and tannins, because alcoholics can’t take it and, anyway, we might pick up germs from sharing the common cup!
One lady recently rang and suggested (seriously!) that the sign of peace at Mass should be cut out because she is certain that that is how she caught scabies!
All of the above could be described as “non-essential forms of symbolism”, but would we really want to eliminate them in the name of health and hygiene?
Medical friends assure me that incense smoke is less harmful than the exhaust fumes in the church carpark! Of course, common sense dictates that good quality incense be used and the quantity adjusted according to the size and ventilation of the worship space!


Elizabeth Harrington