Catholic incense and Byzantine music
  • JamJam
    Posts: 636
    I visited a Byzantine Catholic church today, and the moment I walked in, it smelled Catholic. Is there some kind of standardized incense formula in Catholicism? Orthodoxy has it's own smells which I am used to; they differ from parish to parish but sometimes are the same. Catholicism has a smell all of its own. A smell which I can instantly recognize no matter where I am, it seems.

    Also, we were singing out of the official USA Byzantine Catholic liturgy book. I'm not really a fan of the music, actually. :/ Is that because the cantor was an old man who can't read music, or is the music kinda--how do I describe it--? CharlesW, what do you think?
  • That is interesting.

    Growing up, I thought that the Roman Catholic Church abandoned incense because it smelled like smoke (at least, the varieties I was exposed to as a child seemed to differ little from smoke). When one of the staff members at my first and last full-time church music job introduced me to an Ethiopian Orthodox* variety, I was impressed and wondered why the Latin Church didn't use more fragrant incense.

    As far as the music goes, I have no opinion whatsoever.

    *I think it was Orthodox, anyway. It definitely couldn't have been Catholic. Or could it have been? Memory is kind of cloudy (pun not intended) here, and of course my ignorance is on full display. (Which is why I post my ignorance—I want to learn…)
  • Perhaps the smoke that Aristotle smelled was that of some variety of cheap incense consisting largely of fine shavings of aromatic woods, such as cedar, mixed with a relatively small amount of scented gum or frankincense. One can, indeed, know merely by the odourous residue of burnt fragrance whether one is in a Catholic, Orthodox, or Anglican church. The best incenses, pure frankincense being the finest, are had from a variety of monastic (particularly, Benedictine) houses.
  • G
    Posts: 1,387
    "the official USA Byzantine Catholic liturgy book"

    Is that, for the pew books, or rather chair books, because they never seem to have pews, the bright cadet blue paperback, almost as wide as it is tall?

    I haven't been to an Eastern Liturgy in about ten years, but i remember the chant (in English,) being almost identical from parish to parish, and although exotic to my ears, easy to pick up.

    (Save the Liturgy, Save the World)
  • GavinGavin
    Posts: 2,799
    The best incense is from Mt. Aros, so I've been told, so it does have a distinctive "Orthodox" scent, as most Roman parishes would never dare to spend that much on incense.
  • JamJam
    Posts: 636
    "the bright cadet blue paperback, almost as wide as it is tall?"

    It was actually green and hardcover, but it was a square. The sound might have been more exotic if people had been singing parts, perhaps. It said in the book it was Ruthianian chant? Or maybe just some variety of Carpatho-Russian.
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 10,005
    The chant in the teal book is based on 1906 Bokšaj chant. The material in that book was chiefly compiled by Professor J. Michael Thompson who was with the Byzantine seminary in Pittsburgh at the time. Some like it, some don't, even within the Ruthenian church. It's much simpler than Russian chant and originated in a more remote region. I think it is probably more closely related to what the Ukrainians are singing than to the Russian church chants.

    I don't know what it is about some of the "Roman Rite" incense that is so smoky and acrid, but it must all be ordered from the same place. It is wretched and sets off almost everyone's allergies. I hate the stuff. At the RC church where I work, the priests have been switching to Orthodox incense. It is made of aromatic gums and resins coated with a bit of talc to keep it from sticking together. There's a little smoke along with the fragance, but it is high-quality stuff that is well tolerated by most of the congregation.
  • mjballoumjballou
    Posts: 986
    I have heard frightening things done with that "green book." One liturgy in Orlando consisted of a competition between the cantor and the priest as to who could sing louder and flatter. (I think it was a tie in the end.) I would have fled, but I had failed to hang on to my aisle position (blasted pews).

    Terrible shock to someone who had been convinced of the Petrine claims while Russian Orthodox. Fortunately, in New York City, I was able to go to St. Michael's Russian Catholic Church; in San Francisco, Our Lady of Fatima. Other experiences have been less melodious.

    My complaint about Latin Rite incense use is the tame style. The Orthodox clergy, at least some of them, seemed to be retired yo-yo champions and perfectly willing to risk clocking the occasional parishioner in their circuits around the church. Nothing so splendid in the West.
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 10,005
    Pews? What are these pews you refer to? Must be new-calendarist, Sergianist heresy. Is outrage! The local Ukrainian Catholic priest can do many of the old yo-yo tricks with a censer. He's good!

    That green book can be either good or bad depending on the skills of the singers. I have heard it done well, also badly.
    Thanked by 1Jam
  • mjballoumjballou
    Posts: 986
    Pews are an outrage - and most Western Christians don't realize what a recent invention they are.

    Perhaps the CMAA could offer a "censing with elan" workshop for priests at the next colloquium.
  • Heath
    Posts: 822
    Terribly funny, MJ!
  • Steve CollinsSteve Collins
    Posts: 1,003
    Speaking of incense traditions, what about the associated bells? I realized at a recent EF Mass that the bells rang 3 times at each Elevation, along with the the thurifer's 3 swings. It struck me that maybe the bells were simply a removed tradition from the Orthodox thurible having bells mounted on the chains. Does anyone have have in info, anecdotal or otherwise, on this combined "smoke and bells" tradition?
  • rwprof
    Posts: 25
    Har! Interesting this should come up with pews, as we turn to face the deacon/priest when he is censing the temple, which is fairly difficult to do if you're enclosed by a pew. I never understood why other Orthodox got so bent out of shape when pews came up for discussion until I belonged to a parish without them. Orthodox praxis really isn't possible with them.
  • JamJam
    Posts: 636
    Not to mention pews make prostrations impossible.
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 10,005
    It is quite common for children to sit on the floor. It's also not unusual to see people moving around reverencing icons or lighting candles. The pews not only make a prostration impossible, they get in the way of a lesser metanie when one bows and touches a hand to the floor. There are always pews around the outer walls for the aged, infirm, or those who can not stand for any length of time. Orthodox and Byzantine Catholic worship is a whole-body experience.
  • G
    Posts: 1,387
    It's also not unusual to see people moving around reverencing icons or lighting candles.


    Heaven forbid! Are they not aware of the diktats, er. dictates of active participation wherein everyone must share identical posture, and be focused on the exact same word, (preferably one he himself is saying aloud in concert with each one of his fellows,) at the same moment?

    MJ, I believe I have been to the same church -- its liturgy suffers from its proximity to the Rodent Kingdom. It is the only Eastern Rite parish where I have ever seen people come to Divine Liturgy inappropriately clad.

    (Save the Liturgy, Save the World)
  • mjballoumjballou
    Posts: 986
    Is not pews by the wall! Is benches! Minimum age requirement for bench: 90, exception for nursing mothers of twins only. Children on floor under the choir stands.
    Thanked by 1Jam