Vestments, Candles and IncenseWhy do priests wear special clothing? Why do I feel worshipful when they light the candles, and why use incense? When one worships in a church that stresses liturgy and sacrament, the symbols have an important meaning which we need to understand.
The priest's robes and other special clothing are called "vestments." Throughout history people have worn special clothing for formal and public ceremonies. Did you wear a robe when you graduated? Vestments have two main purposes. First, they are uniforms that explain the role of the person within the worship drama, and second, they underline the solemn importance of our religious feelings during the moment of worship. They say to us, "I am not Jane or Joseph, the person you see every day. I am the Gospel reader, and the important thing to notice is the Gospel, not me."
There are several associations we make to the lighting and carrying of candles. The candle-led procession indicates that a solemn service of worship has begun or has ended. Jesus is called "the light of the world" by John in his gospel. And we associate light with enlightenment; darkness with confusion and ignorance. Psychologically, we know how a flame can focus our full attention.
The use of incense has roots in Judaism as well as in other Mediterranean cultures. It was used to show honor to the bishop, and was an offering to God when spread about the altar. Today we think of it as making holy to God the thing that is censed. Every gesture in the service will have a meaning for us if we enter into it and become active in participating in worship.
Our Patient Merciful God
The Bible and the Gospel speak of God's great mercy for us ...
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“Enter his gates with
thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him
and praise his name.