Father Al Lopez began his homily, relating the beginnings of Mass incense. A cable ran from the back to the front of medieval churches and an incense burner the size of a small VW Bug moved along the cable. Jesus was our last sacrifice. The origin of church incense had far humbler origins than sacrifice. Medieval people were hard working people, and, as a result, an odor. Priests used incense to replace this smell with the incense of the Holy Spirit. The smoke would hover over the people, covering their odor just as the Holy Spirit hovers over us, covering our failures.
The first reading at our Cathedral in Reno Nevada was the last chapter before the Ten Words. Moses delivered these Ten Words to a community of ex-slaves, much like our slaves from the Deep-South, travelling through the desert from slavery to freedom.
Traveling through the desert, took 3 months and the trip started on the first month of the year. That day is the vernal equinox, mid-March. Three months later is June, the time we celebrate the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity. Average June temperatures at Sinai range from 113 degrees to 129 degrees. Deuteronomy 4 describes an active volcano. Added to the 113 degrees was volcanic heat and ash. These ex-slaves were hot and dusty, just like the people of medieval Europe and the folk Father Lopez serves.
Horeb, the alternate name of Mt. Sinai, means sword and the map below shows that Mt. Al Harrah/Sinai looks like an ancient sword. Frankincense or Lebanon/white is tree sap from the Eastern Mediterranean, possibly from a cypress tree. We notice how Yom Kippur-ess, and Yom Cypress, appears the same. Yom Kippur is the Day of Atonement. The idea is that the cypress tree covers our failures. Just like the incense of medieval Mass, the Holy Spirit hovers over us, hiding our failures.
“Moses told the people, “Remember, on this day you came out of Egypt/Oppression, out of a house of menial labor… On that day, you will explain to your son, ‘This is through what the Personal Name did for me when I came out of Egypt/Oppression.”
“The Personal Name, our Almighty Judge, made a Social Contract/Brit with us at Horeb; not with our ancestors did the Personal Name cut this Social Contract/Brit, but with us, all of us, alive, here, this day.”
Each generation relives the Exodus experience for the first time, each time; they relive the Passover. “Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she with silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore.”
“This is because of what the Personal Name did for me.” He did it “for me,” personally, “When I came out of Egypt/Oppression.” It was hot and muggy on those ships crossing the Atlantic. Nation comes from the idea of a people born together, of common heritage if not by blood.
Father Al Lopez is a Dominican priest serving with “Food for the Poor.” He related how our parish has a food pantry where our poor can come for food. We have our Reno-Sparks Gospel Mission, and St. Vincent’s Dining Hall. Ray Trevino, Dining Room Manager is a parishioner at our parish, present at the homily.
At Mass, the incense reminds us of Mt. Sinai/Horeb, the heat and the volcanic ash. It reminds us of Jesus’ Passion, and death. The incense reminds us of medieval churches with their heat and dust. It reminds us of slave and immigrant ships, hot and muggy, bringing us to our salvation, in America. It reminds us of the sweatshops of our 19th century, and the slavery of our Deep-South. God saved these people and all of us, alive, here, this day. That incense brings our past into our sensory present in the Eucharist.
Father Lopez related how his programs focus on, “Feed a man a fish and he eats for a day; teach a man how to fish and he eats for a lifetime.” His program provides the seed money for building villages and teaching people how to fish, literally and figuratively.
The Jewish version of the First Commandment begins with an implied verb, “Remember.” “Remember that you were once menial labor in the land of Egypt. The Personal Name, your Almighty Judge, brought you from there.” Remember, “I am the Personal Name, your Almighty Judge, who brought you out of Egypt/Oppression, the house of menial labor.” Remember what it was like to be there and remember your rescue. When we remember, we get that knot in our throats upon seeing others suffer and remember our rescue with a gratitude pushing us forward. The web-address is: