Smell the lilies and more

By Linda Zahorik | For The Compass | March 23, 2016

Imagine the women on that first Easter morning. They entered an empty tomb. It was heavy with the scent of dank subterranean rock. There was just a hint of scent still lingering from the spices they used for burial of Jesus’ body.

Now imagine walking into your parish church this Easter Sunday morning. Your sense of smell will most likely be filled with the scent of Easter lilies. We have come a long way from that first Easter morning.

One of the most beautiful things about Catholic worship, particularly when it’s done well, is that it’s a full-body experience. We sing, we listen, we watch, we kneel, sit, stand, we taste the Blessed Sacrament and we smell. As you sit in your church inhaling the heady scent of the Easter lilies, reflect upon what other things you smell in your church throughout the year.

Notice that the scent of burning candles is always present. There is a special aroma that comes from fine beeswax candles as they burn at the altar. In other areas of the church, you may notice the hot, smokey smell of lesser grades of wax burning in the sanctuary lamp and the votive candles.

No scent fills the church quicker than that of burning incense. This scent invokes within us a sense of the divine, a reverence and honor for that which is holy. Most parishes purchase special incense blends that are made specifically for use in church, and they contain a richer, many-leveled layers of scent. You do not have that same experience with household incense that is available at many stores.

The holy oil called sacred chrism also carries a beautiful scent. This past Tuesday at the cathedral, during the Chrism Mass, Bishop Ricken blessed the holy oils that we will use at our parishes this coming year. He added oil of balsam to the chrism, which gives chrism its woody, pine-like fragrance. The only opportunity we have to really smell the sacred chrism is if we are standing near someone as they are baptized or confirmed. The sacred chrism is also used during the sacrament of ordination.

Lastly, and perhaps the most pronounced of all, is the scent carried by the people. We are fortunate, that as our church has evolved, the collection has become one that relies on currency or checks. If we were still in the Middle Ages, the person sitting next to you might have a gunny sack containing their offering for the church. Coming from the sack, you might pick up the scent of freshly harvested apples or vegetables still coated in dirt or even a live piglet or chicken.

When we gather to worship, our noses can quickly pick up that we who are the body of Christ carry upon ourselves the scent of perfume, after shave, stale smoke or cooking odors. There can also be that very human smell of a child needing to be changed or an adult who may be in need of a shower. So take time on this great day of Easter to smell the lilies. Let their scent remind you of the sanctity of this Easter Sunday. Be grateful for the gift of our senses and their power to draw us up into the worship of God.

Zahorik is pastoral associate at Most Blessed Sacrament Parish, Oshkosh.

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