Capturing the Incense of the Faithful

I don’t know about you, but sometimes I wonder where all the smoke from the incense goes once the thurible has disappeared from sight and set onto its stand.  I often watch the smoke as it sets up in the lofts of the churches and hovers within the sanctuary until it seemingly disappears even while the fragrance still lingers throughout the nave of the church.

Certainly, we are all familiar with Psalm 141 that cites the passage about incense being our prayers.  Truly believing that the incense is a lifting up of our prayers, means we must believe it culminates at the throne of Almighty God.  The One God who hears our many prayers and is able to smell the desire that stems from our pleas and the gratitude of our thanks.

I recall reading about the Universal Prayers of the Church and how each individual prayer begins from a person’s voice and eventually fills the air with noise that, once exceeding our capabilities, become tones only God can hear.  Many are sour and ugly.  Some are calm and serene. Yet, as each prayer passes through the cosmos, they begin to take shape and bond together, until they reach up to the throne of God as a wonderful and beautiful symphony pleasing to the senses of God. I would like to believe that the smoke from the thurible is a visual sign of these prayers.

Yet, even in the analogy above, there is no indication of what happens once these many prayers are received by God.  Of course, as Catholics we are confident that God answers these prayers and provides for those who seek Him with a sincere heart.  Even still, in some ways, it is the Deacon who is able to capture these prayers and package them in their proper order so they become the prayers of the Church—the Bride of Christ.  Indeed, this is in keeping with the Basic Norms which states, “His {The Deacon} role is to express the needs and desires of the Christian community…which is an essential part of the mission of the Church.”

How do we do this?  Probably the most obvious thing we, as slaves of Jesus Christ, need to do is to know the community we have been assigned to serve.  Since the Deacon is a sacramental sign of the Church, it stands to reason that he needs to be in keenly attune with the concerns and difficulties of the parish members, individually, and as a whole.  Like Simon of Cyrene, the Deacon needs to help carry the crosses that have weighed down on the people he has been ordered to serve.

Next, Deacons need to do is what Pope Francis conveys as filling our own prayers with people.  This is synonymous with an earlier statement by the Pope in which he challenged clergy to smell their sheep.  The prayers from the Liturgy of the Hours are a start but we also need to fill our prayers with the images of those who are in need of healing, both spiritually and physically.

With each action we take, especially in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, Deacons need to petition God for answers to prayers.  The incensing of the congregation and the preparing the gifts of bread and wine are examples of opportunities to pray for the people of God.

At the same time, the Deacon is chartered to make sure the Celebrant is able to pray for those under his care (which should be one and the same for the Celebrant and the Deacon).  As the Minister of the Liturgy, the Deacon is called to enable the Celebrant to be free of distractions and the busy activities of the Mass so that he can be in continuous prayer for the people present in the assembly.

Providing a blessing to those in need and making sure the sick and ill receive anointing from a Priest are other examples where the Deacon is able to capture the holy incense of the People of God.  This is how we are able to make a wonderful and beautiful symphony that builds up a community united in faith and thrives on the love of Jesus Christ whom we serve.


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