15 July 2008

More on Neglected Rubrics

In Evening Prayer, a rubric notes under Psalm 141 (p. 338, LSB Altar Book): "The use of incense is appropriate as Psalm 141 is sung." Well, duh. Three times the cry rings out: "Let my prayer rise before You as incense." But the rubric gives zero guidance on HOW it is to be used. Since most of our parishes are quite unfamiliar with this venerable practice, LBW's Minister's Desk Edition suggests setting an incense burner upon the altar during this Psalm. That's a good way to introduce the practice. Traditionally in the Church incense is swung from a thurible, and that's also appropriate. As the sweet smell wafts aloft we recall that our prayers also rise before the Father and are acceptable in His sight through the sweet savor of His Son who presents them in His name.


Anonymous said...

I attended an Anglo-Catholic parish this Sunday...I swear I could actually see the seraphim and cherubim admist all the smoke!
Unfortunately my Lutheran (ELCA) parish only uses it at the Easter Vigil and then only a whisp...darn Norwegians!
Dan Pharr

Chris said...

When I was a member of a High Liturgical Lutheran Church, our priest (pastor) used incense which caused some uprorar. In Orthodoxy it is used a lot. There's an old joke that says when you stop sneezing from all the incense, then you've truly become Orthodox. On another board I am on, this link to an article was provided as to the benefits of incense in worship. I hope that some of your readers read this and perhaps be not too quick to condemn this practice as too Romanish or whatever pejorative is now in current use. Enjoy.


elephantschild said...

I wonder how many people who get sent into fits of violent sneezing from incense can walk into a smoky bar with nary a tear in their eyes?

(That being said, I *do* know a friend who is genuinely allergic; she loves the smell so much, though, that she puts up with the irritation a few times per year.)

William Weedon said...

My sneaky plan has always been to put some dry ice in the censor and see how many people started coughing and sneezing...

Sean said...

Even more appropriate is the use of incense during the Magnificat at Vespers, a service that has historical precedent in Lutheran history and the western catholic Church. Are there rubrics for that in the LSB? :P

William Weedon said...


You are quite correct, but there's nothing in LSB about it (so far - the Desk Edition is supposed to contain more and more explicit directions).

J.G. Fleischmann said...

Once I brought a thurible into the sanctuary for a Sunday School lesson I was teaching. It had no coal and no incense (and even no dry ice!) and folk still coughed when they came into the church at the end of Sunday School.....

Anonymous said...

Huh? It says that? That is pure hyper-ritualism that Hogg and Fenton must have put in there after slipping doctrinal review a mickey.

Well, it's wrong. I'm a bigwig at CPH, and I will just have to get that changed!

The liturgy: in sense, yes; incense, no!

Peter M. McAbel

Dixie said...

LOL!!! I hope it's OK that I laughed so hard that I spewed my mineral water all over my computer screen at the thought of Father Fenton and Father Gregory slipping the doctrinal reviewer(s) a mickey to get incense use in the new LSB. I am glad their dastardly deeds are easily rectified by your CPH bigwig commenter. ;)

Rt. Rev. Jack Bauer said...

Let's not call this stuff "high church." It isn't. It does reflect a high view of the church and the marks of the church. Much of what gets called "hyper-euro" or "romanizing" or "high church" by bronze or pietistic Lutherans is really just standard old Lutheran practice and is not foreign, strange, or un-Lutheran in terms of our history.

Please, no "high church." High churhc is a derogatory term. Our practice expresses reverence, awe, catholicity, continuity, and recognizes holiness and God's presence.

Anonymous said...

Blame it on the Vicar!


William Weedon said...

I have it on good authority that Pr. McCain very much enjoyed the Evening Prayer service at HT St. Louis which used incense.

William Weedon said...

Utterly agreed about "high church" - a useless term for Lutherans. We speak about employing more or less ceremonies in the Church's worship.

BrotherBoris said...

When I was Lutheran, I had a pastor (St. Louis grad) who wanted to use incense, and patiently taught an Adult Bible Class on the Liturgy for at least a year. It was really quite remarkable, and we all learned a lot. I grew to appreciate the Liturgy much more than I ever had before. And although this pastor made many ceremonial changes over time (always with explanation), he never did bring in incense because so many people in Bible Class said it was "too Catholic" and it would be "the last straw" for them. Later, after I become Orthodox, and got used to incense at every single service, I noticed that it kind of fades into the background and you really don't notice it that much. It does create a certain "church atmosphere" and "church smell," but it would surprise you how it fades into the background and simply becomes part of how you "do Church" when it is present at every service.

Rev. Jim Roemke said...

Any rubrics for using incense at other services, like Matins or Compline? I love the imagery we see from Revelation, the prayers of the saints ascending. I do use incense in my own devotions at church and in small gatherings where I know it will not offend anyone present. I would love to use it more often but do not want to fight that battle yet ;)
There is something to be said about the sense of smell and engaging that in our worship of the living God. My wife always chooses a different body wash/spray for our annual anniversary trip. I still get nostalgic when I smell white ginger and amber. It reminds me of the mountains of West Virginia where we honeymooned. Don't be afraid to take all your senses captive to the worship and adoration of the living God people!

Orianna Laun said...

There should be a rubric which states that the use of incense is appropriate, even for Lutherans. It should also state that it should not be overdone, as in the case of one specific chapel service at the seminary (I'll leave it to you to figure out which) where the preacher was preaching on the clouds surrounding Mt. Sinai (or was it the call of Isaiah?) and had the sacristan stoking the censor as to be an object lesson. Let's save it for the sense of smell, not sight, hm? :)

Chris said...

"I do use incense in my own devotions at church and in small gatherings where I know it will not offend anyone present."

Are you speaking of offense in terms of how the smell may offend one's nasal passage and send them into an allergic fit or offend in terms that it is too Romanish. My answer is "who cares?" IF people are going to leave your church over incense, then chances are they are not there for the right reasons anyway, preferring "their" style to what was handed down from the saints. I find, unfortunately, that many of you pastors are liturgical wimps and shy away from the riches of the liturgy because you are too worried about causing offense.

Is the liturgy the liturgy or offices the offices without the incense? Yes, but glorifying God should be done with the whole person in a way that stimulates all the senses, which God has given. Our minds and hearts are not the only things that are lifted up, but the flesh as well which was deified at Christ's ascension.

I find it amazing that many Lutherans who are abhorred by "appearing Catholic" by the use of incense, or vestments, or making the sign of the Cross cannot in any substantively way tell you what seperates Catholics and Lutherans thelogically or doctrinally.

If you wish to use incense, use it, but, of course, clarify as to why it ought to be used and that has been how the Church has worshipped for thousands of years. If people are going to give fits about it, then ask them honstly why their opinion is greater than that of the praxis of 2000 years or the saints in heaven? See how they respond.

Since Lutherans are supposed to attach every practice to Scripture, cross them with this gem:

"Let my prayer arise in thy sight as the incense and the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice" (Psalm 140: 2 LXX)

Rev. Jim Roemke said...

I appreciate your straight-forward response. My cheif concern with the use of incense is not that it be thought of as being "too Catholic" but for some real health concerns. My wife being one of those. She suffers from some rather serious asthma and the sanctuary of Good Shepherd is very small. But, you are also correct in saying that many pastors are "wimps." I am a whimp, God help me!

Anonymous said...


Please consider C.F.W. Walther's On Ministry thesis IX below:


Reverence and unconditional obedience is due to the ministry of preaching when the preacher is ministering the Word of God. However, the preacher may not dominate over the Church; he has, accordingly,
***no right to make new laws, to arrange indifferent matters and ceremonies arbitrarily,****
and to impose and execute excommunication ALONE, without a previous verdict of the entire congregation.

That's why pastors can't "Just do it."

Barbara Szofran

Chris said...

'That's why pastors can't "Just do it." '

Then I guess I'm a hyper-euro. I didn't realize Walther's opinion was to supersede the testimony and praxes of the holy fathers. Just another example of how the "congregational" polity of the MO-synod is wiping out traditional confessional Lutheranism to make it indistinguishable from the Methodists and Baptists both in theology AND espeically in practice. It's really your unfortunate loss.

Chris said...

Rev. Jim,

As to your post, if you absolutely need to make allowance for health, I wasn't suggesting you be indifferent to that. My response was to those who just feel it is too Roman a practice, whatever that means!

William Weedon said...

You know, though, I don't recall in the fathers any talk about the use of incense. I think for quite some years the Church was rather "allergic" to its use because of the way it was employed in the emperor cult - how many martyrs died for refusing to offer incense? Many! I don't think in the fathers you see a taking over directly of incense from the worship of God's OT people, but in later years I think the practice came over to the Church more from the Byzantine court rituals. At least I *think* I read that somewhere.

On the citation from Walther, I wonder how it holds together with confessing AC XXVIII: "We answer that it is LAWFUL for bishops, or pastors, to make ordinances so that things will be done orderly in the Church, but not to teach that we merit grace or make satisfaction for sins" (53) and "It is proper that churches keep such ordinances for the sake of love and tranquility, to avoid giving offense to one another, so that all things be done in the church in order and without confusion" (55).

Anonymous said...


But I am a traditional, confessional Lutheran in a traditional confessional congregation and I would equally challenge my pastor on a sole decision to change the traditional service we now follow to one that follows more ceremonious practics OR abolishes the organ accompanied traditional hymns (or the like). The basis for my position rests on the checks and balances between "congregational polity" and the authority of the pastor beyond the public ministry of Word and Sacrament. To give offense to your congregational membership on matters not related to Word and Sacrament would require Scriptural support that I would read with interest.

Barbara Szofran

William Weedon said...

What I like in Barbara's response is the realization and confession that the liturgy does not belong to the pastor! It's the property of the whole Church (and hence, even beyond the congregation).

That we might walk orderly together, it would be wonderful though if pastors and parishes agreed together that the use as laid out in our service book could be used in all parts in all of our parishes. A dream, I know. But it is still my dream nonetheless.

Chris said...

Fr. Weedon,

I don't know anywhere in the writings of the fathers where incense is referred to as necessary nor would I expect to find it. But the praxis has been there for centuries on end and it is scriptural. I don't think that there was a conflict because the pagans used incense in their sacrifices to other gods or the emperor cult. Feel free to correct me if I am wrong.


I agree that the liturgy is the property of all of the church, laity and clergy alike. But democratic processes and the preferences of the people are not sufficient for unilaterally eliminating those elements of praxis, which, as Fr Weedon pointed out, are for good order. Incense does not merit grace nor would I ever say that it does. It's use, I think, is apparent and time tested and true. But too many in Lutheran congregations think that their own preferences are the standard by which praxis should be employed. If that's not hubris, I don't know what is.

William Tighe said...

See *The Shape of the Liturgy* by Dom Gregory Dix, p. 430 -- paragraph 1 and footnote 1. Dr. Thomas Green has had a numerous progeny.

William Weedon said...

Dr. Tighe,

ROTFLOL!!! Amen!!!

-C said...

Interesting discussion, this. Bits and pieces of conversations I had with my former Lutheran pastor about the use of incense at worship...they don't use it at worship though I think he would like to.

When I was still a Lutheran I had a hankering to start a little support group - ALI: "Asthmatic Lutherans for Incense." It would have been a forum through which worshippers who either physically or just psychologically have an aversion to incense can overcome their sensitivities and come to appreciate the benefits of maintaining this ancient practice.

Speaking from experience, I can attest to the fact that one's physical sensitivities are overcomeable and are less important than that which benefits the larger worshipping body.

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The Nut Case said...

From the Papist point of view. We rarley break out the smoke. I guess it's not in keeping with the reductionistic interpretation of Vatican II. Shame on us. I do know a WELS Pastor who has introduced it in his Parish.

How about his bloody heat Pr. Weedon? Can't wait for October.

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Father Hollywood said...

I certainly don't advocate pastors heavy-handing incense or any other practice onto their flocks, but neither do I believe he is simply a feather being blown about by the winds of the voters assembly.

A colleague of mine in the ministry recently had the experience of one of his congregations voting to only commune once a month. Imagine the nerve! They voted to deny everyone in the congregation, the pastor and his family included, the Holy Sacrament three weeks out of every month.

So, who exactly is the "steward of the mysteries"?

Furthermore, since this action of the voters directly contradicts the Augsburg Confession and its Apology (Art. XXIV), is the pastor obliged to obey them?

The word "pastor" is Latin for "shepherd." The problem with American polity (which is, incidentally, a minority view among world Lutherans and certainly a minority view among the church catholic of every time and place) is that it turns the sheep into the shepherds and turns the shepherds into hirelings.

This fits in well with the American republican model of government, but not so well with the divine plan of creation - which is hierarchical.

God established a hierarchy with humans below Him but above the other creatures. And within humanity, fathers are the hierarchs of the family, with the wife in submission to him, and children in submission to both parents. This "submission" thing is antithetical to American egalitarianism and democracy - which is why feminism has become the normative model for family and social life in our culture.

I can't think of a single example of "democracy" occurring in the natural world God created. He gave the church "overseers", "shepherds", "elders" and charged them to "watch over" the flocks. This is not American polity by any stretch.

I doubt that Walther allowed his own children to vote to have ice cream for supper every day!

If we're going to have "pastors" and "flocks" - the flocks need to obey and the shepherds need to rule - not like the heathen in compulsion, but like the Lord, as servants. Nevertheless, in a Quakeristic model where the pastor is only a functionary, he is no pastor at all, but a surrogate.

The American/Waltherian model is based on an egalitarianism that is simply foreign to the Bible.