The much-admired Dr Peter Kwasniewski was in Oxford on Friday evening to give a lecture at the Church of SS Gregory and Augustine; he spoke with crisp and elegant decision about the dogmatic teaching of the Canon of the Mass. But that makes his lecture sound pompously dry. It was anything but. Don't miss the opportunity to go and hear him, if the chance presents itself to you during his lecture tour of Blighty. And buy the book!
The lecture was preceded by a High Mass. As the incense rose in generously thick clouds above the oblata at the Offertory, my mind wandered ... I'm afraid ... but I had said my own Mass, of course, earlier in the day, and in such circumstances I don't feel the same sort of necessity to discipline my distractions. And yesterday, on All Hallows' Day, images of the Whole Company of Heaven dimly seen through excessive clouds of incense seemed absolutely on message.
Evening Incense ... sicut incensum in conspectu tuo ... it ought to be commoner in our churches than it is. Long before Evening Masses became popular, we had Vespers, and the smoke rose above the Altar as we sang Mary's Song. And two millennia ago, incense rose in the Temple at Jerusalem from the Golden Altar by the curtain shielding the Holy of Holies.
I bet they were generous with it. Not spoonfulls, but shovels full. I picture sacks of the stuff on creaking wagons drawn by oxen up the Temple Hill. Did our ancestors look knowingly on as the wheels groaned on the cobbles?
How suitable, during Solemn Vespers, that incense accompanies the Canticle of the Daughter of Sion.
How appropriate, as we remember All Souls, that we should think of the great pillar of sacrificial smoke that rose from the Temple Mount, as our Fathers prayed for all the People, for all their kin.