October 14, 2010

Why Be Catholic? Smells and Bells: The Catholic Liturgical Tradition

The most recent in a series of posts on "Why Be Catholic". Any similarities to a series at a local parish are a weird cosmic confluence!

Smells and Bells? Seriously?

How many Catholics under the age of 30 attend Mass at a parish that actually regularly uses incense and bells in the liturgy? I could go even further and ask: how many Catholics, regardless of age, regularly experience the use of bells and incense at Mass?

Bells and Smells are not all there is to Holy Mass, of course. But, the crowd that disparages how Mass "used to be" regularly laughs about the fog banks of choking incense and "those stupid little bells". Ironically, most of that group missed the point even back in "those days" But, they are convinced those rituals and traditions were tied to something stupid so you should think so too.

I'm well aware that incense used at Mass, when it is still used, is occasionally some incense stick purchased by the liturgical coordinator at the local head shop or sweetgrass because we need to be in solidarity with our oppressed Native brothers.

I'm also aware that perhaps bells used at Mass are the parish handbell choir. When I see that I wonder at what point I entered the Lutheran campus of a college to the south of the Twin Cities (which ironically is one of the most Catholic campuses anywhere!). However, I'll trade you the handbell choir for any liturgical dance group you want!

Note the use of the word "Tradition" in the title. Incense and bells have a long Tradition in the Catholic Mass-going back centuries. Incense signals purification. It also signals our prayers rising to Heaven. Sweetgrass to Natives also means purification and prayer. However, why would we use an incense that breaks with the formula/ingredients Traditionally used at Mass? Why not express our solidarity with not only the Mass in Heaven; but also all the Masses in as many ages of time as we can?

As an Anishinabeg woman it gives me a headache when people try to express their solidarity with The People by adapting Native traditions. Normally, the adaptation has nothing to do with the actual lived reality of The People but looks back to some alleged fantasy time when all Natives reportedly lived in solidarity with each other and the earth. It's as much reality as those d----d soft porn Native American plates. I don't even like to see sweetgrass used as incense at Masses on Indian Reservations or neighborhoods that a lot of Native Americans live in. Why? If there was ever a time for all of us, regardless of color and ethnicity, to be one Catholic Nation it is at Holy Mass. I could rant a length about how I think Latin should be used in all liturgies for the same reason but I'll leave that for another time.

Often rituals used at Holy Mass, pull weak minded people like me back to what is going on. When I hear the bell ringing at the Sanctus it does more than tell the servers to get "out there" with the torches, it tells me this is the moment the heavenly choirs of Angels are united to us in the Mass, this Mass, all Masses. When I hear the bell ring at the Consecration, it tells me "this is IT". Now is THE MOMENT, now is THE TIME, right at THIS MOMENT is SALVATION. They also, I'm ashamed to admit it, stop my mind from wondering. My mind wonders most of the time-not even at Mass. I've always had trouble staying in the moment.

Sadly, many people replace Tradition of ages past with whatever the liturgy coordinator came up with last night. It will be used at tomorrow's Masses and maybe never again. Or, maybe once more next year. We've, often, replaced steady and reliable Tradition with random and meaningless variety.

Thankfully, more and more young Catholics are reclaiming Tradition and asking for its reinstatement in the liturgy.


Anonymous Chris said...

About eighteen months ago, i joined a more traditional parish, which uses incense and bells.

i can't say that i had really missed either at my previous parishes, but i do like having them as part of the Mass in my current parish.

October 14, 2010 12:24 PM  
Blogger Fr. John Mary, ISJ said...

For all the "hype" that dissenters and modernists create about "symbol",
"sign", "getting rid of minimalism", they sure do reject what has been "handed down" to us throughout centuries and then try to "tweek" it when they can into some kind of lame "horizontal" experience.
Great post!
We need signs and symbols of transcendence, of beauty, of the sacred, not more trite and inane "created" ritual.
Smells and bells do it; Gregorian chant does it; silence and reverence and the sense of being in the presence of God does it.
Spot on!

October 14, 2010 1:42 PM  
Anonymous gradchica said...

My husband and I are 20-somethings and just moved to a new state and our new parish uses bells--to indicate when we should stand before the procession, at the consecration, and to indicate when the extraordinary ministers can come forward to receive the chalices...we have enough deacons or priests to distribute the hosts--and incense. And usually has a basketball team's worth of altar boys/young men dripping lace. We love it--our old parish only used incense and bells on major feast days.

October 14, 2010 2:20 PM  
Anonymous L said...

Well said Miss Cathy!

October 14, 2010 2:20 PM  
Blogger Terry Nelson said...

Excellent post!

October 14, 2010 3:03 PM  
Blogger TLW said...

I love your comment about how rituals pull "weak minded people" back to what is going on. That is why I love hearing church bells, the sight of an oxidized steeple against the dusk sky, a burning sanctuary lamp and smelling incense when I enter a church. Because I am a terribly weak person, I need the engagement of my senses to remind me that I'm in the presence of the Divine Master. All of these things are not simply part of the past, they are part of something that is ancient and should be accorded the utmost reverence and dignity. There is nothing reverent or dignified about liturgical prancers and the like.

October 14, 2010 7:43 PM  
Blogger ignorant redneck said...

Cathy--our parish uses incense at the Sunday and Holiday Masses, and uses Latin chant, bells, etc.

if you ever head this way, come and assist at Mass at St. Martins! Heck, I'll even talk the queen of the House into having you over for Sunday Dinner or something!

BTW--If you watch when the incense is used, it serves an instructional purpose: it marks the presence of the Lord. The altar is a "primary symbol" of the Lords Presence. The tabernacle, when present, is incensed. The Gifts will become the Body and Blood. The Gospel is one of the four ways Christ is present in the Mass, as are the ministers, especially the celebrant, and the people. So the incense marks Christs presence in the Eucharist, in the Scriptures (especially the Gospel), the Ministers and the People.

By skipping that, you don't have to deal with the fact that we are in the presence of the Lord in the same way, and can discount those presences you don't want to acknowlege or believe in.

October 17, 2010 1:26 PM  
Blogger Cathy_of_Alex said...

Thanks, everyone!

Redneck: You are on!

October 17, 2010 1:37 PM  
Blogger Cathy_of_Alex said...

Thanks, everyone!

Redneck: You are on!

October 17, 2010 1:37 PM  

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