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Incensing Bishops


meaning of incensing: gerund or present participle of incense (verb)
1. to perfume with incense
2. to make very angry

I received an interesting question during Lent. A bishop had visited a community during Lent, and, at a service with this community, they had used incense. The bishop strongly criticised the community. Incense, according to the bishop, is not to be used during Lent. Question: what the heck?!

This was a new one to me. No “Alleluia”; no “Glory to God in the highest…”; yes, those I was aware of. But, no incense in Lent was a new one. I had to research and found: some communities only used incense in Lent; some communities stopped using incense in Lent; some communities changed how they used incense in Lent; some communities, during Lent, changed the type of incense they used…

So I checked the ruliest of the rule books, the General Instruction Of The Roman Missal. There is a lot there about incense. But not a hint that it might not be used during Lent. Its regular refrain is

if incense is being used [repeated 12 times in Chapter 4]

As far as I can tell – there is no requirement to stop, start, or alter a community’s incense tradition during a season.

Bishops can come up with rulings on vesture, when and how to wear what; on gesture, when to bow; on practices, forbidding intinction or accepted ways of doing things in a service – but these are all beyond a bishop’s reach. If a bishop has a particular issue with a church practice and wants it altered to what they would like to insist on, they can follow the church’s processes to alter the rules just like anyone else.

Bishops who overreach their authority and call out communities and individuals need themselves to be called out.

I hope this post does not incense too many bishops.

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4 thoughts on “Incensing Bishops”

  1. Ruth Hendry-Rennie

    There is a practical reason for in sence;at a country church, that has cluster flies ploblems, I have been told that if you vacuum the flies up, you need to burn them ( I was just putting the dead flies on the outside garden) you do this because other flies will smell the fee moans and keep coming back. In sence; I have been told upsets this smell! Interesting for me to learn this. Blessings Bosco. Ruth

  2. robert e lewis

    It is not just bishops. Several tmes I have noted in a parish Sunday service bulltetin the instruction to kneel for the prayer of consecration whem the US BCP says “The people stand or kneel”. This is especially irritating when the prayer includes the phrase “You have made us worthy to stand before you.”

    1. The Canadian BAS does not have a rubric on posture, but the practice in my parish (and most of my diocese) is to kneel after the Sanctus. For that reason I don’t use the Eucharistic Prayer that includes that line.

      (in my previous parish and diocese, remaining standing was the norm)

  3. Hmmm OK. The Orthodox Church censes the icon of the body of Christ in repose in the tomb on Holy Saturday. If that’s not the most intense example of the use of incense in Lent, I don’t know what is.

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