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by Web Admin on January 19, 2022.

Veneration of the Altar and Incensing

Why do the priest and deacon kiss the altar at the beginning and at the end of Mass? In his book, “The Mystery of Faith: A Study of the Structural Elements of the Mass,” Lawrence Johnson writes, “In ancient times the kiss as a sign of greeting was used to show reverence for temples and images of gods. It seems that the table was likewise honoured before the family meal in places where every meal was considered sacred.”1 For centuries the Mass was celebrated in house churches and most likely the families’ tables were used for the celebration on the Lord’s day. Johnson explains the development. He writes,

By the fourth century Christian worship appropriated this sign of honor since the altar was the ‘table of the Lord.’ As the altar came to be constructed of stone, it was looked upon as the symbol of Christ, of the cult of the the altar, and the saints and through triumphant. Until was kissed only three beginning, during the dismissal. A century the importance of the obscured. Today the altar is venerated with a kiss only at the beginning and end of Mass.2

As part of the procession incense may be used to venerate the altar. Incense has significant meaning for worship. Johnson writes, The use of incense at worship is of great antiquity. In pre–Christian times it had numerous meanings: a symbol of sacrifice, a festive accompaniment for processions, a sign of honour, a means of purification and of expelling evil spirits. Christians first rejected the use of incense since it was closely associated with pagan cult. But after the time of Constantine (280–337) various dignities accorded to major Roman officials were transferred to the Bishop of Rome the cornerstone and the spiritual rock of the Church. With the growth martyrs, relics were placed beneath original kiss at the beginning and end of the celebration was perhaps kiss was seen as greeting the them the whole Church the thirteenth century the altar times during Mass: at the Eucharistic Prayer, and before the later this sign so multiplied that and the other Bishops. Thus it became customary to bear incense before them as they entered the church in procession—a vestige of the Roman-Byzantine ceremonial of carrying incense before the Emperor. A formal incensation of the altar in the Roman Mass, however, is only attested in the eleventh century. Scholars suggest that the original meaning of the practice was purification and protection. Furthermore, there was also the Old Testament injunction that the service of the High Priest was to begin with incense (see Leviticus 16:12). At any rate, this incensation was generally interpreted as a sign of the altar’s being encircled by an atmosphere of prayer and sacrifice ascending to God.3

A step by step explanation of the veneration process explains much of the theology of the altar and the surrounding sacramentals. The General Instruction of the Roman Missal reads; “When they have arrived at the sanctuary, the Priest, the Deacon, and the ministers reverence the altar with a profound bow. Moreover, as an expression of veneration, the Priest and Deacon then kiss the altar itself; the Priest, if appropriate, also incenses the cross and the altar.” 4 Furthermore, the GIRM adds, When they reach the altar, the Priest and ministers make a profound bow. The cross adorned with a figure of Christ crucified, and carried in procession, may be placed next to the altar to serve as the altar cross, in which case it must be the only cross used; otherwise it is put away in a dignified place. As for the candlesticks, these are placed on the altar or near it. It is a praiseworthy practice for the Book of the Gospels to be placed on the altar. The Priest goes up to the altar and venerates it with a kiss. Then, if appropriate, he incenses the cross and the altar, walking around the latter. 5

Hence, the altar or the symbol of Christ is venerated both with incense, a profound bow, and a kiss by the priest and deacon.

1 The Mystery of Faith: A Study of the Structural Elements of the Order of the Mass Pg. 13

2 Ibid Pg. 13

3 Ibid Pg. 13

4 GIRM Par. 49

5 Girm Par. 122-123

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