Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Smells and Bells and Stuff Like That

OK America, I know you've seen 'em. And I think it's time we talked about this.

They're all the rage in churches these days. According to Abbott Church Supplies, they're "authentic, safe, and convenient." And they cost about $2890 for a set of 40. They're electric candles. That's right. ELECTRIC CANDLES.

A few years ago, someone felt that we should no longer waste time and money on real candles in our churches because they discovered that candles...

1. burn down, and then you have to buy more
2. require expensive matches
3. make fire, which, as helpful as it's been for humanity in the last ten millennia, is downright dangerous

This is the 21st century. You want to light a candle and offer up a prayer? Plug it in! Flick the little switch to symbolize your aspirations before the altar. It's that simple! No fuss, no muss! (Just add a prayer that there's not a power outage, because "poof" there goes your intentions).

Now it may seem that I have my "cranky pants" on about this issue. I know. But mostly, I'm befuddled. Who encouraged Electric Candle Inventor Guy by buying his product!? Now any pastor of a church reading this who has a handy set of votive techno candles is probably upset with me right now. Yes, I know. Real candles do occasionally cause fires. Insurance is pricey. But uh... I think in our effort to be "safe" and "secure" we're missing out on a real sacramental moment. Ponder this from the Catechism:

"As a being at once body and spirit, man expresses and perceives spiritual realities through physical signs and symbols."
(CCC, n. 1146).

Remember the old days (for me this was the glorious 1970's and 80's) walking into a church and getting smacked in the nose with the warm, beeswaxy smell of the Holy? And if you were lucky enough to have a church that had adoration from time to time, the sweet smell of incense still hung in the air like a veil to the Holy of Holies. I realized I was on holy ground. The very air was different. This wasn't my house, this was God's House, and He was happy to have me over. The flickering candles and the incense and the cool water in a marble basin and the wood varnish of those ancient pews and the scent of Murphy's Oil and the sunlight streaming through the stained glass all spoke a word. All whispered words that lifted my mind to the Word, that pointed my heart to the Other Who had descended into our midst. It was He Who took on the physical sign of a body, of flesh and blood.

Walking into a church today that has electric candles always gives me the creeps. It feels like that cold, clean, antispetic feeling of a hospital:
sterile, neat, boring...

I say bring on the danger of real candles! Give us the real with all of the risk involved!
That's all I have to say about that... Next time I'll share MY brilliant idea to reinstate the sacramental experience:

The "Scratch and Sniff" Bible! Think of the possibilities!!
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