Catholic Mass

Why Does the Catholic Church Use Incense?

This answer from EWTN’s Fr Saunders. Has been edited here for brevity.

Q. Why do priests use incense at Mass? Where does it come from?

The use of incense in the ancient world was common, especially in religious rites where it was used to keep demons away. In Judaism, incense was included in the thanksgiving offerings of oil, rain, fruits, wine (cf. Numbers 7:13-17). The Lord instructed Moses to build a golden altar for the burning of incense (cf. Exodus 30:1-10), which was placed in front of the veil to the entrance of the meeting tent where the ark of the covenant was kept.

We do not know exactly when the use of incense was introduced into our Mass or other liturgical rites. At the time of the early Church, the Jews continued to use incense in their own Temple rituals, so it would be safe to conclude that the Christians would have adapted its usage for their own rituals

The purpose of incensing and the symbolic value of the smoke is that of purification and sanctification. For example, in the Eastern Rites at the beginning of Mass, the altar and sanctuary area were incensed while Psalm 50, the “Miserere,” was chanted invoking the mercy of God. The smoke symbolizes the prayers of the faithful drifting up to heaven: the Psalmist prays, “Let my prayer come like incense before you; the lifting up of my hands, like the evening sacrifice” (Psalm 141). Incense also creates the ambiance of heaven: The Book of Revelation describes the heavenly worship as follows: “Another angel came in holding a censer of gold. He took his place at the altar of incense and was given large amounts of incense to deposit on the altar of gold in front of the throne, together with the prayers of all God’s holy ones. From the angel’s hand, the smoke of the incense went up before God, and with it the prayers of God’s people.”

Q. Why do we use incense at some Mass’s and not at others?

It is optional.

In the General Instruction of the Roman Missal incense may be used during the entrance procession; at the beginning of Mass, to incense the altar; at the procession and proclamation of the Gospel; at the offertory, to incense the offerings, altar, priest and people; and at the elevation of the Sacred Host and chalice of Precious Blood after the consecration. The priest may also incense the Crucifix and the Paschal Candle. During funeral Masses, the priest at the final commendation may incense the coffin, both as a sign of honor to the body of the deceased which became the temple of the Holy Spirit at Baptism and as a sign of the faithful’s prayers for the deceased rising to God.

The usage of incense adds a sense of solemnity and mystery to the Mass. The visual imagery of the smoke and the smell remind us of the transcendence of the Mass which links heaven with earth, and allow us to enter into the presence of God.

Fr. Saunders is president of Notre Dame Institute and associate pastor of Queen of Apostles Parish, both in Alexandria.

Miracle of Yom Kippur/Miracle of Eucharist

Several years ago I read Roy Schoeman’s book Salvation is from the Jews. He tells the story of his conversion to the Catholic Faith. He was formerly a devout Jew. I was struck with his story about the Jewish Day of Atonement/Yom Kippur. I had never heard of this before and I was skeptical. So I contacted a university library and paid for copies of the references in the Talmud (Yoma 39) and Zohar ((Vayikra, Section 3). Mr. Schoeman’s quotes were absolutely accurate. I would like to share it with you on this Good Friday.

Excerpted from:Salvation is From the Jews by Roy Schoeman pp. 130-132.

Both the Talmud and Zohar contain accounts of how in the days of the Temple, the High Priest would once a year–on Yom Kippur, or the “Day of Atonement”–enter the Holy of Holies and offer sacrifice for the atonement of the sin of all Israel. Both mention the “miracle of the scarlet thread, in which a scarlet thread would miraculously turn white as the sign that God had accepted the sacrifice. From the account in the Zohar (Vayikra, Section 3, condensed)

All the sins are (taken) away…. on this day, the defilement of the soul and of the body…All that day…God makes atonement for Israel and purifies them from all their sins and they are not accused before Him…On this day the priest….makes atonement for himself and his house and the priests and the sanctuary of all Israel…They used to know by a certain thread of scarlet if the priest had been successful…It was known by the thread changing its color to white, when there was rejoicing above and below. If it did not, however, all were distressed, knowing that their prayer had not been accepted.

The scarlet thread turning white would be the sign that God had accepted the sacrifice and forgiven the Jewish people their sins (“though your sins be like scarlet, they may become white as snow; though they be crimson red they may become white as wool”–Isaiah 1:18) Yet the Talmud itself reports that forty years before the Temple was destroyed, this great miracle, which gave divine confirmation that the High Priest’s sacrifice had been accepted taking away the sins of the Jewish people, ceased to occur. The passage from the Talmud reads (Rosh Hashanah 31b):

Originally they used to fasten the thread of scarlet on the door of the Temple court on the outside. If it turned white the people used to rejoice, and if it did not turn white they were sad…For forty years before the destruction of the Temple the thread of scarlet never turned white but it remained red.

The Temple was destroyed about 70 A.D.; hence the miracle ceased to occur at about 30 A.D., which is precisely when the crucifixion took place—the crucifixion that replaced the sacrifices of the Old Covenant with that of Jesus on the Cross. According to the New Testament at the very moment that Jesus died on the Cross the curtain of the Temple that separated off the Holy of Holies was rent in two, symbolizing the end of the efficacy of the sacrifices of the Old Covenant. It is the Talmud itself that unwittingly confirms this when it recounts that from that time on—forty years before the desruction of the Temple in 70A.D.–the scarlet thread never again turned white.

And in the New Covenant we have the miracle of transubstantion at every celebration of the Sacrifice of Christ.

Below are two online sources of this practice and it’s extinction.

Tabernacle in Branson
Later on in Temple history a certain ritual was added to all of this, using three scarlet woolen ropes. One scarlet rope was tied to the horns of the sacrificial goat, one was tied to the horns of the scapegoat and one hung from the front of the temple. After all the Yom Kippur sacrifices were completed by the High Priest a mighty miracle took place. The scarlet rope hanging from the temple supernaturally turned “white”. This was God’s sign to the Israelites that their sins were forgiven, conforming to Isa. 1:18, “though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be white as snow”.

However, immediately after the crucifixion of Yeshua (Jesus) and for the next 40 years until the Temple was destroyed by the Romans in 70 A.D., the scarlet cord never turned “white” again. This, too, was God’s answer to the Israelites – that there was no need for that to happen any longer because the sacrifice of Yeshua, the “blood of atonement” that He shed on the tree of sacrifice, put an end to the Mosaic sacrificial system.

Wild Olive
The Talmud, the Jewish sacred writings second only in importance to the Tanach, record that one of the sacrificial animals had a scarlet cord tied around its neck, which turned white when GOD had accepted atonement for the people. This miracle occurred every nearly every year for around 1500 years but did not occur again from the year Jesus was crucified until the Temple was destroyed and all Temple worship ceased. (Talmud yoma 39a)

Missing Sunday Mass & Holy Days of Obligation

Q. Why is it a mortal sin to miss mass on Sundays?

A. Christ said, “If you want to enter into life, keep the commandments.” Now one of these commandments is,

“Remember the sabbath day and keep it holy.”

Thus God demands the sanctification of one day in seven in a special way. His very use of the word “Remember” implies a grave obligation not to forget or omit this duty. It is a mortal sin to disobey God in this matter. But how are we Christians to observe this commandment? Who is to tell us? Our Lord says,

If a man will not hear the Church, let him be as the heathen.“Mt. 18:17

We must, then, hear the Church. Now the Catholic Church tells us that the central factor in the religion of Christ is the Mass, and that the chief thing in the sanctification of Sunday is to be present at the offering of that Sacrifice to God. This obliges under pain of mortal sin, unless sickness or other grave difficulties prevent such assistance at Mass. Remember that men are not only individual beings. They are also social beings. Therefore, they are obliged to worship God in their individual capacity and collectively as well. God has always demanded public worship and from the earliest Apostolic times Christians met regularly for religious exercises in common. Radio RepliesVol. 1: #1168


The days to be observed as holy days of obligation in the Latin Rite dioceses of the United States of America, in conformity with canon 1246, are as follows:

Every Sunday

January 1, the solemnity of Mary, Mother of God; (Except in Southern California. Why? I don’t know) Thursday of the Sixth Week of Easter, the solemnity of the Ascension;
August 15, the solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary;
November 1, the solemnity of All Saints;
December 8, the solemnity of the Immaculate Conception;
December 25, the solemnity of the Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

Whenever January 1, the solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, or August 15, the solemnity of the Assumption, or November 1, the solemnity of All Saints, falls on a Saturday or on a Monday, the precept to attend Mass is abrogated.

MORTAL SIN=Grave Sin + Knowledge+ Free Choice CCC

II. THE PRECEPTS OF THE CHURCH These are the bare minimum that a person must do to be in good standing in the Faith of Jesus Christ.

2041 The precepts of the Church are set in the context of a moral life bound to and nourished by liturgical life. The obligatory character of these positive laws decreed by the pastoral authorities is meant to guarantee to the faithful the very necessary minimum in the spirit of prayer and moral effort, in the growth in love of God and neighbor:

2042 The first precept (“You shall attend Mass on Sundays and holy days of obligation and rest from servile labor”) requires the faithful to sanctify the day commemorating the Resurrection of the Lord as well as the principal liturgical feasts honoring the mysteries of the Lord, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and the saints; in the first place, by participating in the Eucharistic celebration, in which the Christian community is gathered, and by resting from those works and activities which could impede such a sanctification of these days.82 The second precept (“You shall confess your sins at least once a year”) ensures preparation for the Eucharist by the reception of the sacrament of reconciliation, which continues Baptism’s work of conversion and forgiveness.83

The third precept (“You shall receive the sacrament of the Eucharist at least during the Easter season”) guarantees as a minimum the reception of the Lord’s Body and Blood in connection with the Paschal feasts, the origin and center of the Christian liturgy.84

2043 The fourth precept (“You shall observe the days of fasting and abstinence established by the Church”) ensures the times of ascesis and penance which prepare us for the liturgical feasts and help us acquire mastery over our instincts and freedom of heart.85 The fifth precept (“You shall help to provide for the needs of the Church”) means that the faithful are obliged to assist with the material needs of the Church, each according to his own ability.86

The faithful also have the duty of providing for the material needs of the Church, each according to his own abilities.87

You can view the Precepts of the church in the CCC

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Mass as a memorial

Q. I’d like to comment on your “anamnesis” article, if I may. The word may indeed always be used in a “sacrificial” context, but this in no way makes communion / the Lord’s Supper –a SACRIFICE. The reason for the “sacrificial” context is simply because Jesus wanted us to “remember” Him by looking BACK to His work /sacrifice on the cross. OF COURSE it has sacrificial overtones!But what do you do with verses like

Hebrews 10:18“Now where remission of these is, there is no more offering for sin.”

The penalty for sin has already been paid in full. The sacrifices offered today are of our total selves, our obedience, our praise and thanksgiving. THAT type of “sacrifice” is acceptable. But there is no more sacrifice to offer for
SIN (as the RCC views the Eucharist).

A. You make a good point and if one is confined to scripture alone it cannot be proven one way or the other. However, historically the mass WAS referred to as a sacrifice in the very earliest writings before the Bible was even canonized. Therefore, the same Church that called the mass a sacrifice decided which books would be canonized and closed the canon of Scripture. If one accepts the canon of scripture how can one exclude the Faith as practiced by the very same Church that defined the canon?

But of course the sacrifice of the mass is not another sacrifice, as clearly stated by John Chrysostom in 403AD. Our masses are Re-Presentations of that ONE Sacrifice.That Once and for all sacrifice.

The Didache

“Assemble on the Lord’s day, and break bread and offer the Eucharist; but first make confession of your faults, so that your sacrifice may be a pure one. Anyone who has a difference with his fellow is not to take part with you until he has been reconciled, so as to avoid any profanation of your sacrifice [Matt. 5:23–24]. For this is the offering of which the Lord has said, ‘Everywhere and always bring me a sacrifice that is undefiled, for I am a great king, says the Lord, and my name is the wonder of nations’ [Mal. 1:11, 14]” (Didache 14 [A.D. 70]).
Pope Clement I

“Our sin will not be small if we eject from the episcopate those who blamelessly and holily have offered its sacrifices. (Letter to the Corinthians 44:4–5 [A.D. 80]).

Ignatius of Antioch

“Make certain, therefore, that you all observe one common Eucharist; for there is but one Body of our Lord Jesus Christ, and but one cup of union with his Blood, and one single altar of sacrifice—even as there is also but one bishop, with his clergy and my own fellow servitors, the deacons. This will ensure that all your doings are in full accord with the will of God” (Letter to the Philadelphians 4 [A.D. 110]).

Justin Martyr

“God speaks by the mouth of Malachi, one of the twelve [minor prophets], as I said before, about the sacrifices at that time presented by you: ‘I have no pleasure in you, says the Lord, and I will not accept your sacrifices at your hands; for from the rising of the sun to the going down of the same, my name has been glorified among the Gentiles, and in every place incense is offered to my name, and a pure offering, for my name is great among the Gentiles . . . [Mal. 1:10–11]. He then speaks of those Gentiles, namely us [Christians] who in every place offer sacrifices to him, that is, the bread of the Eucharist and also the cup of the Eucharist” (Dialogue with Trypho the Jew 41 [A.D. 155]).

“He took from among creation that which is bread, and gave thanks, saying, ‘This is my body.’ The cup likewise, which is from among the creation to which we belong, he confessed to be his blood. He taught the new sacrifice of the new covenant, of which Malachi, one of the twelve [minor] prophets, had signified beforehand: ‘You do not do my will, says the Lord Almighty, and I will not accept a sacrifice at your hands. For from the rising of the sun to its setting my name is glorified among the Gentiles, and in every place incense is offered to my name, and a pure sacrifice; for great is my name among the Gentiles, says the Lord Almighty’ [Mal. 1:10–11]. By these words he makes it plain that the former people will cease to make offerings to God; but that in every place sacrifice will be offered to him, and indeed, a pure one, for his name is glorified among the Gentiles” (Against Heresies 4:17:5 [A.D. 189]).


“Accept therewith our hallowing too, as we say, ‘Holy, holy, holy Lord Sabaoth, heaven and earth is full of your glory.’ Heaven is full, and full is the earth, with your magnificent glory, Lord of virtues. Full also is this sacrifice, with your strength and your communion; for to you we offer this living sacrifice, this unbloody oblation” (Prayer of the Eucharistic Sacrifice 13:12–16 [A.D. 350]).

Cyril of Jerusalem

“Then, having sanctified ourselves by these spiritual hymns, we beseech the merciful God to send forth his Holy Spirit upon the gifts lying before him, that he may make the bread the Body of Christ and the wine the Blood of Christ, for whatsoever the Holy Spirit has touched is surely sanctified and changed. Then, upon the completion of the spiritual sacrifice, the bloodless worship, over that propitiatory victim we call upon God for the common peace of the churches, for the welfare of the world, for kings, for soldiers and allies, for the sick, for the afflicted; and in summary, we all pray and offer this sacrifice for all who are in need” (Catechetical Lectures 23:7–8 [A.D. 350]).

Ambrose of Milan

“We saw the prince of priests coming to us, we saw and heard him offering his blood for us. We follow, inasmuch as we are able, being priests, and we offer the sacrifice on behalf of the people. Even if we are of but little merit, still, in the sacrifice, we are honorable. Even if Christ is not now seen as the one who offers the sacrifice, nevertheless it is he himself that is offered in sacrifice here on Earth when the body of Christ is offered. Indeed, to offer himself he is made visible in us, he whose word makes holy the sacrifice that is offered” (Commentaries on Twelve Psalms of David 38:25 [A.D. 389]).

John Chrysostom

“When you see the Lord immolated and lying upon the altar, and the priest bent over that sacrifice praying, and all the people empurpled by that precious blood, can you think that you are still among men and on earth? Or are you not lifted up to heaven?” (The Priesthood 3:4:177 [A.D. 387]).

“Reverence, therefore, reverence this table, of which we are all communicants! Christ, slain for us, the sacrificial victim who is placed thereon!” (Homilies on Romans 8:8 [A.D. 391]).

“‘The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not communion of the blood of Christ?’ Very trustworthy and awesomely does he [Paul] say it. For what he is saying is this: What is in the cup is that which flowed from his side, and we partake of it. He called it a cup of blessing because when we hold it in our hands that is how we praise him in song, wondering and astonished at his indescribable gift, blessing him because of his having poured out this very gift so that we might not remain in error; and not only for his having poured it out, but also for his sharing it with all of us. ‘If therefore you desire blood,’ he [the Lord] says, ‘do not redden the platform of idols with the slaughter of dumb beasts, but my altar of sacrifice with my blood.’ What is more awesome than this? What, pray tell, more tenderly loving?” (Homilies on First Corinthians 24:1(3) [A.D. 392]).

“In ancient times, because men were very imperfect, God did not scorn to receive the blood which they were offering . . . to draw them away from those idols; and this very thing again was because of his indescribable, tender affection. But now he has transferred the priestly action to what is most awesome and magnificent. He has changed the sacrifice itself, and instead of the butchering of dumb beasts, he commands the offering up of himself” (ibid., 24:2).

“What then? Do we not offer daily? Yes, we offer, but making remembrance of his death; and this remembrance is one and not many. How is it one and not many? Because this sacrifice is offered once, like that in the Holy of Holies. This sacrifice is a type of that, and this remembrance a type of that. We offer always the same, not one sheep now and another tomorrow, but the same thing always. Thus there is one sacrifice. By this reasoning, since the sacrifice is offered everywhere, are there, then, a multiplicity of Christs? By no means! Christ is one everywhere. He is complete here, complete there, one body. And just as he is one body and not many though offered everywhere, so too is there one sacrifice” (Homilies on Hebrews 17:3(6) [A.D. 403]).

Fulgentius of Ruspe

“Hold most firmly and never doubt in the least that the only-begotten God the Word himself became flesh [and] offered himself in an odor of sweetness as a sacrifice and victim to God on our behalf; to whom . . . in the time of the Old Testament animals were sacrificed by the patriarchs and prophets and priests; and to whom now, I mean in the time of the New Testament . . . the holy Catholic Church does not cease in faith and love to offer throughout all the lands of the world a sacrifice of bread and wine. In those former sacrifices what would be given us in the future was signified figuratively, but in this sacrifice which has now been given us is shown plainly. In those former sacrifices it was fore-announced that the Son of God would be killed for the impious, but in the present sacrifice it is announced that he has been killed for the impious” (The Rule of Faith 62 [A.D. 524]).For more see Catholic Answers at

Re-sacrificing Jesus?

Q. Are there any theological differences between the old mass and the new mass of 1970?I grew up in the church after Vatican Two so I do not know much about the old tridentine latin mass.

A. There are no theological differences between the old Latin mass and the new one. None. The dogmas and doctrines have not changed and cannot change. I think that is one of the main points that the Pope wanted to make by freeing the Latin Mass from the control of Bishops–Vatican II did NOT CHANGE THE CHURCH AND MOST OF THE CHANGES WE HAVE HAD WERE NEVER RECOMMENDED LET ALONE COMMANDED BY VATICAN II. I think perhaps he would like to go back and try it again. Vatican II was meant merely to refresh the Church.

Q. Do catholics with the old mass have to comeback every Sunday to be atoned for? Because, I read that the prayers of the old mass were. ” receive this spotless host which I your humble servant offer to thee to atone for my numberless sins and offences”or something close to this.

A. NO. Jesus died once for our salvation. He atoned for the eternal consequences of our sin. He is ETERNAL and His sacrifice is ETERNAL. We are the ones trapped in time and need to return to receive Bread From Heaven at each mass to strengthen us on our journey.

Q. My brother who is a Presbyterian said he thought that the Catholic mass was were the priest offered up a sacrifice for you and the souls being purified in purgatory.



A. No that is not Theologically correct.

The mass is a RE-Presentation to God of the ONE sacrifice of Christ. Jesus is not re-sacrificed. He makes Himself present to us under the appearance of bread and wine for our sake–in order to be fed by HIM.

We do need to come and receive forgiveness for our sins over the past week or day, however. That is why there are several places in the mass where we ask for forgiveness.

We who are in time return to Calvary to partake of that ONE sacrifice. Yes, this is done in an unbloody manner in obedience to Jesus Christ. We actually receive sanctifying grace in communion if we are free from mortal sin, otherwise we compound our sin.

Latin is a Dead Language

Q.What is the point of saying mass in Latin? It is a dead language.

A.Yes, Latin is a dead language and that is precisely why it is so useful. The meaning of the words do not change as they do in living languages. Because of this, what the Church teaches and prays remains constant and unchanging, just as it should. The essential doctrines of Christianity must not change, and the safest way to preserve them intact is to keep them in an unchangeable, “dead” language.

Latin is the liturgical language of the Catholic Church, just as Hebrew is the official litugical language still used in the Synagogue.

In the Latin Mass, that Pope Benedict, recently liberalized in his motu proprio (personal intitiative), Summorum Pontificum, when the Priest is speaking not to men, but to God in the name of men, during communal prayers and the liturgy of the Eucharist he will speak in the language of the Church-in Latin. When on the other, hand he speaks to the people, he will speak in the local language. The homily/sermon is never in Latin.

If the faithful do not know Latin they can use a missal that has both the English and the Latin translations side by side. I am very pleased. I have only been Catholic for eight years but I had a weird experience shortly after coming into the Church.

As a convert I was especially excited about the fact that the Catholic Church was THE ORIGINAL CHURCH founded by Jesus Christ Himself. This was evidenced to me by the unchanging aspect of Her doctrine, especially how the beliefs of the Church today could be found in the first centuries of the writings of the Church Fathers. I had also learned how the Latin Language had been instrumental in preserving the Faith because Latin was a DEAD LANGUAGE. In a class that was training catechists someone asked a question about Latin. I began to explain how useful the Latin was for the Church…when I was immediately cut off as soon as it became apparent that my comments were positive about Latin. The instructor countered what I said and pooh poohed any use for the Latin. I was dumbstruck. I did not get it because I did not know about the politics of Latin in the Church. Later, I found out that there are many who think the doctrines of the Catholic Church should change. Therefore, getting rid of Latin would make it much easier to change and shift the doctrines to conform with the Spirit of the Age.

So, this reaffirmation of the Latin will bind us ever closer to authentic Christian doctrine as taught by Jesus Christ.

Motu Proprio-Summorum Pontificum

Q. Why has Pope Benedict XVI given all priests the freedom to say Mass in Latin?

A. To re-focus the Church on the documents of Vatican II. What the Motu Proprio did was give permission for every priest to say mass according to the 1962 Rite. Up until now it was up to the local bishop who could or could not celebrate the Latin Mass in his diocese. The Novus Ordo is in Latin. This has been translated into the local languages of the faithful and Latin has always been permitted in the Novus Ordo. It just was seldom done…

As Archbishop Ranjith, Secretary of the Congregation for Divine Worship said:

“Today the problems of the liturgy center on language (vernacular translations or Latin) and the position of the priest, whether he faces the assembly or faces God. I will surprise you here:

Nowhere in Vatican II does it say that the priest must face the assembly, nor that the use of Latin is forbidden!

The use of the common language is permitted, notably in the liturgy of the Word, but the decree (Vatican II) is very clear that the use of the Latin language should be maintained in the Latin Rite. It must be clarified that the Latin ritual has not been outlawed.”

“And it is certain that a new generation is seeking a greater orientation toward mystery. Once again, it is not a question of being progressive or conservative, but simply of permitting man to pray, to listen to the voice of the Lord. What happens in the celebration of the Lord’s glory is not merely a human reality. If one forgets this mystical aspect, everything gets mixed up and confused. If the liturgy loses its mystical and heavenly dimension, then who is left to help man free himself from his egoism and self-enslavement? The liturgy must be a road to freedom, in opening man to the infinite.”

It really is so much more fitting that during the Eucharistic Liturgy, when the Priest offers the Sacrifice of the Mass to God on behalf of the faithful, that the priest faces God and the altar along with the congregation. The ritual tradition is towards the East, in the direction of the the rising sun, Light of Christ.

The Latin Mass

If you would like to read an interesting perspective on the recent Motu Proprio which gives any priest the freedom to say mass according to the 1962 Tridentine liturgy click HERE.

Some are cheering. Some are complaining. But according to this commentary it is the youth and young families that currently seek out the Latin Mass.

Latin Mass

For commentary on the recent liberalization of the Latin Mass according to Pope John XXIII click HERE