Monday, June 29, 2009

ROMAN CANON: Commemoratio pro defunctis

Yesterday we looked at the ancient incense prayer and allowed our child-like imaginations to drift up into the sweet aroma of sacrifice, where the careful hands of God’s holy Angel is flying to God with our gift, and God is smiling down upon us through these clouds of incense.
Now the priest asks that the dead, marked with the Passover Blood of the Lamb of God, rise freely and happily on these sweet clouds up into Heaven, where they find sweet refreshment at the Holy Altar in Heaven.
I try to avoid personal reflections, but please allow me to mention my grandfather. I remember when he suffered a stroke in the 1970’s, just after his long-awaited retirement. This compounded other ailments, leaving him barely able to function. But of all his hardships, he told me his greatest was the medical prohibition against drinking sweetened iced tea, which Southerners simply call “tea”. And it seemed to me this would indeed be just about the worst thing that could happen to a fellow.
The Roman Mass presumes the use of sweet incense, especially in celebrations with a deacon. It is at the points in the Roman Canon we are discussing this week that it seems most certain that the air above the Altar ought to be filled with this holy, moving, living cloud of sweetness. Many today object that incense should be burned only on red-letter days or major feasts of saints, but incense is not about saints or schedules, but about sacrifice, which is the essence of the Holy Mass. Thankfully, our God-given imaginations allow even our diabetic celebrations to be filled with plumes of incense billowing up and pushing open the doors of Heaven, as our sacrifice, and our dead, rise to the Father.

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