On entering a Maronite Church, you will immediately smell the fragrance of sweet incense. It is used throughout the various liturgies.
Incense is referred to many times in the Old Testament.
- It is mentioned in the context of prayer and praise.
Let my prayer be counted as incense before you,
and the lifting up of my hands as an evening sacrifice. Psalm 141:2
- It is mentioned in the context of mercy and purification
He shall take a censer full of coals of fire from the altar before the Lord, and two handfuls of crushed sweet incense, and he shall bring it inside the curtain and put the incense on the fire before the Lord, that the cloud of the incense may cover the mercy seat that is upon the covenant, or he will die. Leviticus 16:12-13
- It is mentioned in the context of making an offering
For from the rising of the sun to its setting my name is great among the nations, and in every place incense is offered to my name, and a pure offering; for my name is great among the nations, says the Lord of hosts. Malachi 1:11
Similarly we see incense used in the Qorbono (Maronite Mass)
At the beginning of the Service of The Word, we see incense used during the Hoosoyo at the prayer of forgiveness.
The priest places the incense in the thurible and says:
“To the glory and honour of the Most Holy Trinity”
The celebrant or someone appointed by him, chants the Prayer of Forgiveness. Meanwhile either the priest or deacon incenses the cross three times (in the middle, to the right, and to the left), the four corners of the altar, the clergy, the entire Church and congregation.
This represents a purification of the space of worship and reference is always made to the incense being offered in the Prayer of Forgiveness. For example, in this week when we are celebrating the Birth of John the Baptist we hear:
Now, O Prophet of the Most High, we ask you, with the fragrance of this incense, to obtain the miraculous grace of Christ for us, so that our souls may be adorned with good works as we witness to the true faith. With Zechariah, your father, and Elizabeth, your mother, we glorify the Father who sent you, we worship the Son whom you longed to see while you were still in the womb, and we give thanks to the Spirit who sanctified you before you were born. To the most Holy Trinity be glory and thanks, for ever.
Incense is used again at the Gospel. The celebrant incenses the Gospel three times before reading it. Again as a sign of purification.
Incense is used in the pre-anaphora after the gifts are brought to the altar. This is to purify the gifts being offered for the consecration. The priest again incenses the cross three times, the offerings (in the middle, to the right and to the left); the four corners of the altar and the congregation. He concludes by incensing the relics of the martyrs in the altar.
Incense is also used in the Maronite para-liturgies. It is an ancient practice, deeply rooted in the scriptures.
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