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Mission Sunday

In his exhaustive interview with the editor of La Civittá Cattolica, Pope Francis speaks of the fragrance of the good news of Jesus Christ, appealing to the sense of smell to warn that a Church that gets too tied up in its own issues and forgets those of its people can really be on the nose.

At the blessing of the oils on the morning of Holy Thursday at the beginning of the Easter celebrations, the bishop of each diocese consecrates the oil to be used in the celebration of the sacraments of baptism, confirmation, ordination to the priesthood and the sacrament of the sick.

Each year, the bishop of Hong Kong, John Cardinal Tong Hon, speaks of the fragrance of the oil, as a metaphor for the sweetness of the message of Christ.

Indeed, the sacraments are administered using physical signs that appeal to the senses, those of touch, sight and hearing being presented in a highly tangible manner, but the sense of smell is often forgotten.

Although not the sign of any particular sacrament, incense is often used in our liturgies and the words that accompany it emphasise the image of our prayer rising up to heaven, touching the sense of sight.

However, incense also has an aroma, it can involve the sense of smell in prayer—an important dimension not to be overlooked.

This is not just a matter of bells and smells, as indeed many priests, when administering the sacrament of the sick, cover the palm of the hands with the sacred oil, encouraging people to take in the aroma and engage the sense of smell in their prayer.

So often in liturgies the sense of smell, which is indeed an extremely strong one, is forgotten.

However, the Church may be overlooking something that the commercial world has found important and popular.

People looked with curiosity when a company called Excelsis Fine Fragrances put a perfume named Benedictus on the market in 2006. The company was founded when its chief executive, Frederick Hass, obtained a recipe for Pope Pius IX’s cologne and Benedictus sold well enough to justify a follow up with a new one called Francis.

The Christian Post reported that Hass said he is not trying to create the odour of sanctity, but to communicate the down-to-earth and humble personality of Pope Francis in an aroma.

Client feedback and sales records show he has succeeded.

The sense of smell is important in ancient religions. Moses was given a recipe for incense and told to grind it fine and place it at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting to imbue the gathering with the odour of sanctity.

In some rites of the Catholic and Orthodox Churches the making of incense is a lengthy ritual, which can consume most of a priest’s day. Its liturgical function is no less meticulous, ensuring the human nostrils engage the sense in prayer.

In many parishes great efforts are made to present good music, but we also have the taste of the bread on our tongue, the artwork and the grace of the movement of the ministers to stimulate our imagination.


But the good news of Jesus Christ also has the aroma of beauty and Mission Sunday is a reminder that fragrance of the Church’s message can be a compelling invitation to come closer. JiM