10/15/07

Incense or Nonsense

When the summer spread its fragrance, I had the opportunity to visit the Catedral de Santiago de Compostela in Spain (Santiago is the Spanish name of St James the Apostle). The name “James” is the translation of Iakobos, the Graecised form of the famous Patriarch, Jacob. The Apostle of this name was brother of John and belongs, together with Peter and John, to the group of the three privileged disciples whom Jesus admitted to important moments in his life. According to tradition, the Cathedral holds the remains of the Apostle James, who was martyred in Jerusalem around AD 44 and his body was brought there. It was a joyous moment in my life to visit my Patron’s tomb ( Jacob is my Christian name). Currently it is an important place of Christian pilgrimage next to Jerusalem and Rome.

One of the rituals that I have seen, for which Santiago cathedral is especially famous, was the swinging of a massive thurible down the central aisle of the cathedral during Mass. This incense burner is called a "botafumeiro" and it takes the muscles of several individuals pulling on a single rope to hoist and swing the thurible along its path. It is said that it’s the largest thurible in the world, weighing 80 kg and measuring 1.60 m in height. It is normally on exhibition in the library of the cathedral, but during certain important religious high days it is attached to the pulley mechanism, filled with 40 kg of charcoal and incense. Eight red-robed trained persons pull the ropes and bring it into a swinging motion almost to the roof of the transept, reaching speeds of 60 km/h and dispensing thick clouds of incense. ( check the video clip)

This custom was originated more than 700 years ago, and some people says in a witty manner that the reason for this exaggerated method of spreading the incense may have something to do with masking the smell that must have filled the cathedral when it was full of pilgrims, many of whom would not have washed for several days (those who come on foot following the ‘Way of St. James’). I also wish to agree with them as a spectator for it didn’t swing liturgically and prevent the real symbolism of incensation during the Mass. At the Santiago Cathedral I felt it as an amusement show in a theme park or something nonsense. Thurification or incensation in the real sense is an expression of reverence and of prayer, as is signified in Sacred Scripture (cf. Ps 141 [140]:2, Rev 8:3). It symbolizes the elevation of our prayers unto heaven. In the Oriental liturgy it has also the meaning of remission of sins like the incense consumed in the fire as a sacrifice and transforming to beauty and sweetness. The incense rises like the Gloria at the end of a psalm in adoration and thanksgiving to God for his great glory.

Nevertheless, as a believer I trust in the church teachings and laws which respect the believers true and prestigious customs. According to the canons of the church "...Unless it makes express mention of them, however, a law does not revoke centenary or immemorial customs, nor does a universal law revoke particular customs" (CIC 28, CCEO 6§2). Our Church seems often tolerating these sort of ‘shows’ as Jesus welcomed the prodigal anointing of Mary at Bethany though it was an unpleasant act for others.

[ NB: Courtesy to various authentic web resources ]

5 comments:

jairaj said...

hi jaimon.....
good it was.....
good effort......continue it....
my heartfelt congratulations....
iam proud of my co-diocesan.....
with love and prayers...
Fr. Jairaj kidangan mani

jaison said...

Dear Jaimon,
Your thoughts lead me to more recollection. Carry on. I have read your blogs...esp 'Who am I'
So nice.
Greetings from Kerala.

Sinto Maliyekkal said...

hai jaimonììììììììììììììììì
good work. continue to do the same. this artical create in me a desire to see that giant thurble in the world. sinto

Abhilash said...

inscence withoutcommen sence can or may benonscence

Jaimon Pallineerakkal said...

Dear Jaisonacha, Jairaj, Sinto and Abhilash,
Thanks a lot for your encouragements, they are realy lovely...