Our priest uses large quantities of incense at Mass, creating difficulties in being able to see with so much cloud, and people with respiratory issues are struggling. When we speak to him he mentions about history and liturgy. Any thoughts?
As with most things, moderation is proper when it comes to the use of incense. It would seem, as you describe, too much incense is being burned at one time. And while certain factors such as the size of the church, the height of the ceiling and the ventilation may affect how much can be used, the goal in the modern use of incense is not to overwhelm, or make it difficult to see.
Your pastor's reference to history may indicate that he has something of the Old Testament concept in mind. When the High Priest went into the Holy of Holies of the ancient Temple, ample amounts of incense were used, lest he catch sight of God, and be struck dead.
But given Jesus' ministry to us of sanctifying grace, this sort of concern is not a preoccupation today. Indeed, we are instructed in the liturgy to "Behold the Lamb of God". So, the use of incense to create a kind of impenetrable cloud, is something of a misapplication of an Old Testament concept, and also an excess to be avoided.
However, also to be avoided is the complete rejection of the use of incense in the liturgy which is increasingly demanded by some in parishes.
The use of incense is permitted, even encouraged by the Church for feasts of greater solemnity. It is a beautiful image of prayer and worship ascending to God, as Psalm 141:2 says, Let my prayer rise like incense, the lifting of my hands as an evening offering. And so, incense symbolizes our prayers and praises going up to God, and its fragrant aroma is a sign of his blessings descending gently upon us.
Incense is not to be equated with cigarette smoke, it is not a known carcinogen, it is not a pollutant when used moderately. In fact, incense, like holy water, is often blessed by the priest, and therefore brings blessings.
That said, there are some who suffer from various forms of respiratory distress who may suffer with excessive incense, at least physically. One compromise in these sorts of situations, is to follow the older norms of the Traditional Latin Mass. According to those norms, incense was not carried in the aisle, or the opening and closing processions, but was only imposed and used in the sanctuary area around the altar. As such, at least in larger churches, its effect on the whole congregation can be moderated.
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