by Fr. C. Daniels
Q. Why are the people incensed at Holy Mass?
To answer this question, let us first look at the symbolism of incense. Burning incense is a solemn expression or sign of an interior sacrifice and prayer acceptable to God. The smoke signifies sacrifice, it's rising prayer, and it's odour God's acceptance. As smoke shows a burning and consuming, so it signifies the soul that dies unto itself, a true sacrifice of self-renunciation. The smoke that rises from such a sacrifice cannot but be pleasing to God, and is therefore, a beautiful prayer. "Let my prayer be directed as incense in Thy sight, O Lord," says the Psalmist. Even naturally, a sweet odour is pleasing to the senses. Thus does it carry a signification of God's pleasure or acceptance.
From these three signs it is clear that incense is offered to God alone. Why then are people incensed? People are only incensed at Holy Mass. In no other sacramental (excepting the offices of Lauds and Vespers - and that for it's own reason) action does this take place. Holy Mass is the holiest of institutions, and so it stands to reason that it is the very cause of all holiness. People at Mass are sanctified by their very presence at such an august rite. Holiness, however, belongs to God alone, in fact, is part of God's life and love. It stands to reason that a soul in the state of Mortal sin, a soul who is thus devoid of God's life, who is present at Holy Mass, stands out like a sore ulcer. The Church in her history has always taken great care as to who may partake and who may not. Public and Notorious sinners were always barred from partaking.
Now then, the Church in her liturgical actions, presupposes souls in the state of grace partaking in this greatest of sacrifices. To be, however, in the state of Grace, means to participate in the very life and love of God. We simply conclude, therefore, that the Church wishes to honour God in the soul of the just by incensing her.
If we are talking about public acts of non-Catholic worship, a Catholic is never allowed to partake. In fact such an act would be gravely sinful. Secondly, whatever may happen, one is never allowed to put one's soul in the least danger of loosing or even tarnishing the faith. If therefore, we are speaking of private acts of prayer, for example in a private home, one would not be allowed to do so if it constitutes a danger of perversion to the faith. Neither may one do any act of scandal. If such a private prayer would cause scandal, it too would not be permitted.
What do you mean by scandal?
Scandal is given when one demonstrates by ones words or actions anything contrary to the truth which leads others to sin. If one was to pray with a Protestant privately, but it would be interpreted as a sign of approval (of the Protestant act), it would then be scandalous. If it was interpreted to be some renunciation of one's faith, it too would be scandalous.
Tell me plainly, in practice ...
A Catholic cannot partake of any Non-Catholic service. He may be present when true charity requires it, for example at weddings and funerals. Even then, he may never partake actively. Praying and singing with them would be partaking actively. It is a serious sin.
If we are at someone's home, may we pray a blessing before meals with them?
Yes, under the condition that the prayers used (and or the acts) are Catholic in themselves, the Our Father, for example, and that there is no scandal given as I explained above.
But what if they want to hold hands?
Do not do so. Although the act is not intrinsically evil, it is of Protestant signification.
Should I make the sign of the Cross?
Yes, yes, a thousand times yes!
If the household is Hindu, Moslem or the likes?
You cannot partake of any such "prayers." They are idolatrous!
But the Pope does!?
You cannot, in no circumstances, follow his bad example in this.