I love incense. I’m a big fan. I remember as an altar boy processing through the aisles and thinking this is what heaven smells like. (I would also bang the communion plate into my friend’s Adam’s apples so don’t think I was a good kid)
Tonight I attended Holy Thursday Mass. It was nothing short of a Catholic-palooza.
Firstly, the parking lot was full. I was impressed and glad. When I opened the doors the incense hung thickly in the air under the overhead lights. The choir sang in wobbly and beautiful harmonies (in Latin! Gasp). What they lacked in pitch they made up for in volume. The children processed through the aisles trying to stifle smiles to grandparents and secretly wave to friends. Headlights from a nearby road illuminated the stained glass windows. Did I mention the incense? The Gospel of John. The mystery of Passover – a foreshadowing of the Passion with the unblemished lamb and the angel of death passing over. It all felt so beautiful and important. And when it ended most everyone shuffled out so quietly you could still hear the low murmurs of Hail Marys being mumbled from unvacated pews.
We all knew it. Something important had occurred here.
I thought about all the wonderful things Catholicism offers. Stained glass. Statues. Prayer Cards, the most wonderful music ever written, the sacrifice, prayers, and incense. We should use all of it more often and flaunt it. We shouldn’t just walk in the path of the apostles. We should strut. Just a little.
I thought to myself last night that if everyone could have been here for last night’s mass every pew would be filled on Sunday. Now sadly every Sunday is not like this. But perhaps it should.
This Mass stayed with me after I left. Tonight I brought the sacrifice and the celebration of the Mass out with me. Paradox? Sure. But I think paradoxes are the only things that truly make sense. Mathematicians end up in madhouses. I can sleep with dichotomies. I find that I see God most clearly in those things I don’t truly understand. I hear harmonies from choirs. I love it. I couldn’t harmonize in a million years. I also don’t know how to make incense so I’m…hmm…let’s put this kindly… uncluttered with information. The mystery of the Lamb of God. I could ruminate on this for years. I’m not going to know all there is to be known. So tonight I was happily like that kid thinking this is what heaven smells like.
I tend to cerebralize things and everything becomes an autopsy at some point. Mind you, I’m not anti-intellectual. In fact I’ve found that the more I honestly research there comes a point when the end of logic is reached and a greater mystery is revealed. I love to read stories about scientists like Michael Behe who research complexities like DNA and then become so overwhelmed with awe that their faith becomes childlike once again. Scientists recently said in the New York Times that perhaps only 4 percent of the universe is knowable by humans. That’s 96 percent of the universe that remains and will remain a mystery.
I’m good with that. It gives me pause. I like to pause. We should do it more often.
When I reached home I stood in the driveway for a moment staring up at the sky wondering about the 96 percent. I paused, the smell of incense still on my coat.