|INCENSING OF THE ALTAR
We have already seen how the Altar represents our Lord; this explains why it is treated with so much honour; the rest of the Church represents the members of the Mystical Body of which Christ is the Head, that is to say, the Faithful of whose aggregate Holy Church, the Bride of Christ, is composed. On first going up to the Altar, the Priest has already incensed it in every direction, thus paying homage to Christ Himself. Now again, this ceremony is performed with sacred pageantry; just as the Eastern Kings laid their rich gifts at the Feet of the Divine Infant, as the Gospel tells us, so too is the Priest about to burn incense, in his turn, as a homage to his Master and his King.
But, another ceremony must precede that of the incensing of the Altar itself. This Bread and Wine just offered by the Priest have been raised above the order of common things by this very offering made of them, so much so indeed, that were the Priest to die at this moment of the Function, this Bread and Wine must be disposed of in the Piscina [or sacrarium]. To show her reverence for them, Holy Church sheds on them the perfume of her incense, as if she were doing so to Christ himself. This custom of using perfumes in Church ceremonies began in the East, where they can be procured in rich abundance. But in our cold countries though it is much more difficult to get them, Holy Church will not allow our ceremonies to be utterly deprived of them, and so she prescribes the use at least of Incense, just as for the Chrism, she will at least have Balsam mixed with the Oil. After the incensing of the Bread and Wine, incensatio super oblata, the Altar itself is honoured in like manner. Before making use of the incense, it must be blessed; the Priest does so by the following Prayer: Per intercessionem beati Michaelis Archangeli stantis a dextris altaris incensi... [Through the intercession of blessed Michael the Archangel standing at the right side of the altar of incense...] The angel who holds the golden Thurible in the Apocalypse is not named. Holy Church here names Saint Michael, Prince of the Heavenly hosts. Some have thought that there is an error in this passage, because in Saint Luke, the Angel Gabriel is named standing at the Right of the Altar; but Holy Church pays no heed to these their objections; St. Luke does not say that Gabriel held a golden Thurible. The first blessing of the Incense was less solemn; the Priest then only said: Ab illo benedicaris in cujus honore cremaberis. Mayst thou be blessed by Him in honour of whom thou art to be burned. But in this place, the Angels are called upon because the Mystery of Incense is no other than the Prayer of the Saints presented to God, by the Angels, as St. John tells us, in His Apocalypse (viii. 4): The smoke of the Incense ascends as does the Prayer of the Saints before the Throne of God: Et ascendit fumus incensorum de orationibus sanctorum de manu Angeli coram Deo.