Friday, March 27, 2009


Continuing our atmospheric ponderings today we turn to smoke. There is good smoke (holy smokes) and bad smoke which the Surgeon General has pointed out is not good for us.

Good smoke, as we have mentioned before, can be in the form of incense. That which we use at Mass has two symbolic meanings. The first is that of purification. It covers over other scents and seems to purify the air – at least for those who like the smell (and I do) – and because of the nature of the smoke which rises to the heavens it symbolizes our prayers. “Let my prayers rise up before you like incense O Lord.” So imagine the incensation of the coffin at a funeral: the connections are just wonderful – purifying the body which we respect as sacred as it once had the dignity of a human person and we pray that the soul of the person whose image is still with us to be accepted into heaven.

Then there is good white smoke which comes out of the chimney at the Vatican during the election of a pope that lets the world know “Habemus papam! We have a pope!” The rest of the time the smoke is black letting us know that we still await news of the next visible head of the Church.

Smoke can also have a sinister meaning. It suggests vanity and over attachment of the things of this world which may – well – vanish like smoke. God’s wrath is often accompanied by smoke. Think of how smoke stings the eyes and disturbs the other senses such as when you were a small child feeling the ire of an angry adult. “O God, why have you cast us off forever? Why does your anger smoke against the sheep of Your pasture?”


Anonymous said...

Great post!
you forgot 'smokescreens' however.

MJ said...

I like the smell of incense too. Well, except when my son swings the thurible in my face and asphyxiates me!