October 25, 2011
Incense the tabernacle?
By Father Rocky Hoffman *

By Father Rocky Hoffman *

At a recent Mass I participated in, the altar, priest, crucifix, the offering on the altar and the people were incensed except for the Tabernacle. Every priest I asked gave me a different answer. I find it difficult to believe that the holiest object in the church is not incensed. I would like your answer to this question.

P.S. The Tabernacle is not on the altar.

I find it wonderful that you regard the tabernacle as the “holiest object in the Church.”  I agree with that statement because the tabernacle holds the Most Blessed Sacrament which is, as we are taught, the body and blood, soul and divinity of Jesus Christ, really, truly and substantially present under the appearances of bread and wine.  It does not get any holier than that!  If you diminish the importance of the tabernacle, the faithful are confused, and civilization collapses.

Nevertheless, the General Instruction of the Roman Missal makes no indication that the tabernacle should be incensed during Mass.  At various moments in the Mass, incense is directed to the gifts on the altar, the cross in the sanctuary, the altar, the priest, the concelebrants, the people, and even the book of the Gospels.  The incense symbolizes our prayers being offered to God and as we sing in “We Three Kings” “Incense owns a Deity nigh.”
You mention that the tabernacle is not on the altar, so I imagine it is either on a stand in the back of the sanctuary or in another place near the sanctuary.  When the tabernacle is on the altar used for the extraordinary form of Mass, it would be incensed indirectly when the priest incenses the gifts or the crucifix.
I suppose the reason the tabernacle is not incensed during Mass (when Mass is celebrated on a free standing altar without a tabernacle) is because the focus of our attention during Mass is on the Liturgical action taking place on the altar of sacrifice.  For the same reason, once the Mass has begun, the celebrants and other ministers in procession do not make a genuflection when crossing in front of the tabernacle, but only before and after the Mass are they called to make that genuflection as a sign of respect.  As the General Instruction of the Roman Missal  points out:  “If, however, the tabernacle with the Most Blessed Sacrament is present in the sanctuary, the priest, the deacon, and the other ministers genuflect when they approach the altar and when they depart from it, but not during the celebration of Mass itself. Otherwise all who pass before the Most Blessed Sacrament genuflect, unless they are moving in procession. Ministers carrying the processional cross or candles bow their heads instead of genuflecting.” (General Instruction of the Roman Missal no. 274.)

Rev. Francis J. Hoffman, JCD (Fr. Rocky) is Executive Director of Relevant Radio.  Ordained as a priest for Opus Dei in 1992 by Blessed John Paul II, he holds a doctorate in Canon Law from the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross, an MBA from the University of Notre Dame, and a BA in History from Northwestern University.  His Question and Answer column appears in several Catholic newspapers and magazines across the country.

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