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Incense at the "Magnificat" not "Mariolatry."
A Letter to the Very Rev. the Dean of Chester.

By the Rev. C. J. Legeyt, M.A.,
Incumbent of S. Matthias', Stoke Newington.

London: G.J. Palmer, 32, Little Queen Street, 1867.


I am obliged to you for the permission to address a few words to you upon a subject to which you alluded in the discussion upon Church Ceremonial, at the Wolverhampton Congress.

The introduction into that discussion, by Mr. Wharton Marriott, of what he termed "Mariolatry," was defended by you, as not irrelevant to the subject under consideration, but, on the contrary, directly relevant to one point of ritual, namely, the use of Incense at the Magnificat. The natural, and I believe, correct inference from your words would be, that you considered, and desired to remind the Congress, that the observance in question is connected with the cultus of the Blessed Virgin Mary, as exhibited in portions of the present system of the Church of Rome. No speaker who followed you, touched upon the point, and my own turn was already past; I therefore determined briefly to put before you in this form, and to make public, certain facts in regard of this point of ritual, which I think will sufficiently demonstrate that such an interpretation of the practice is erroneous. That it is received by many, I am well aware, and I believe the custom has been condemned by the Bishop of Oxford, on this very ground. The Magnificat being the song of the Blessed Virgin Mary, it is perhaps not an unnatural inference that an especial ritual observance in connection with it, in use in the Roman Church, must have especial reference to what is popularly known as a distinctive tenet of that Communion; but, whatever objections may be adduced against the use of incense, or of any additional ceremonial, at the Magnificat, this, that it is part of the system of the cultus of the Blessed Virgin is one which cannot be maintained by, but, indeed, is directly contrary to, the evidence of facts.

In the first place, such a theory is inconsistent with the significance of the use of incense, in whatsoever manner, in Christian worship; for, although the precise symbolism of its use may slightly differ in its application to different times and circumstances, yet the main, and primary significance is the Divine Mediation of Christ Himself, by the alone virtue of which our worship is acceptable before the Throne of God. ["And another Angel came and stood at the altar, having a golden censer; and there was given unto him much incense, that he should offer it with the prayers of all Saints upon the golden altar which was before the throne."—Revelation viii. 3.] In its application to persons and things, is typified their share in, or connection with, the application of all the benefits of that Mediation. It may, possibly, be urged that such being the significance of the use of incense, its employment in connection with the Magnificat, the Song of the Blessed Virgin Mary, has reference to a special mediatorial office exercised by her; but to such an argument it is sufficient to reply, that no such theory is to be found in the teaching even of the Roman Church, where, if held anywhere at all, it would naturally be discovered. But, although one of their ritual observances, such an interpretation of the use of incense at the Magnificat would at once be repudiated by the members of that Communion.

Secondly, the practice of the Greek Church furnishes a satisfactory refutation of any such theory. The offering of incense forms an important feature in the Vesper Office, but it occurs at the singing of the well-known hymn of St. Athenogenes, "Joyful Light of the Holy Glory," &c., in honour of the Blessed Trinity, and especially, of God the Son. The idea of the observance in both Offices, the Greek and the Roman, is the same, namely, the honour of the great cardinal Doctrine of the Incarnation of our Blessed Lord, and it is therefore ordered at that point which may be regarded as especially the "Gospel Element," in the service, and which has more particular reference to that Doctrine. (See a Tract by the Rev. Dr. Littledale, "Incense," G. J. Palmer, London). In the Western Church, Incense is also prescribed at that which is the Gospel Element of the Office of Lauds, namely the Benedictus, and here, in the third place, is a further argument against the theory of "Mariolatry," for if the use of incense at the Magnificat, the song of the Blessed Virgin, be  Mariolatry," then by sequence, its use at the Benedictus, the song of Zacharias, may be, and in consistency, should be pronounced to be—pardon the word—"Zachariolatry;" indeed, if the objection to this point of ritual is to be set up on this erroneous ground, the best practical refutation in our power, will be the restoration of the rite at Mattins, at the Benedictus, also. In some few churches, indeed, it has already been so restored, but I imagine that the reason for which the practice has rather been resumed at the Evensong alone, is simply this, that, with us, the Mattin Office on Sunday, is usually in immediate connection with the Celebration of the Holy Eucharist, and, therefore, the importance of the especial witness in this office, to the Doctrine of the Incarnation, is of less immediate urgency.

There yet remains, no doubt, the argument, if such it can be called, that even if the theory of the connection between the rite in question and the cultus of the Blessed Virgin, be erroneous and untenable, yet the objection to it will be, that it may be, popularly, so understood. But may not the same objection be taken to the use of the Magnificat, at all, in the worship of the Church? there is, I fear, no doubt, that many persons would prefer not to be reminded constantly by the words of Holy Scripture, "For behold from henceforth, all generations shall call me blessed: for He that is Mighty hath magnified me," and the dislike to the use of the Magnificat at all is no doubt thus felt, and recognised, in certain quarters, where the permissory substitution of the 98th Psalm, "O sing unto the Lord," &c., is adopted as the rule, so that the Magnificat practically disappears from the Vesper office altogether.

And, while combating one erroneous theory concerning this especial use of incense, it may be well to notice a second, equally erroneous, and of frequent occurrence in the arguments of anti-Ritualist objectors, namely, the supposed connection between this rite, and the reservation of the Blessed Sacrament upon the Altar. That this too, is an error, is patent from the fact, that in the Roman Communion, altars where the Blessed Sacrament is not, are yet censed at the Magnificat, although, as may be supposed, the honour is first paid at that altar where the Blessed Sacrament happens then to be, and afterwards at the others, where It is not.

Incense at the Magnificat was used, with great solemnity, at St. Paul's Cathedral, and the ritual of the "function" as there celebrated, is to be found in the fourth volume of the "Church of our Fathers," by Dr. Rock, p. 119. There is at least no evidence against, but on the contrary a strong presumption in favour of, the post-Reformational observance of the rite.

In justice to those who have, among other restorations of ancient Catholic Ritual, revived this usage, it should be recognised, that their object is purely, the honour of our Incarnate Lord, and their view of the desirableness of its restoration is probably expressed in the following passage, occurring in an appendix to a Lecture at Oxford, on Ritual, which I ventured to publish, about twelve months ago:

"At the present time, when the great practical heresy of England is denial or forgetfulness of the Incarnation, this observance is of especial value, and the more so, practically, since so many English Church-people still adhere to the unhappy practice of confining their act of worship on Sunday to attendance at an evening service. When this usage is observed at the Magnificat, some of the sacramental teaching of the Greater Service is brought to them, and if they be taught "rightly to believe the Incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ," they will not long continue mere evening worshippers, but make haste to 'wash their hands in innocency,' and 'go unto the altar of God.'"

Although I may have failed, and, probably, have failed to convert you to the opinion of the desirableness or expediency of the revival of this point of Ritual, yet I trust that I may have adduced sufficient evidence to prove that incense at the Magnificat is not fairly to be charged with the expression, or implication, of erroneous doctrine, or legitimately identified with any especial cultus of the Blessed Virgin Mary, alluded to at Wolverhampton, under that most unpleasant term, which, for that reason only, I have here adopted, "Mariolatry."

I am, Dear Mr. Dean,

Yours respectfully and faithfully,


St. Matthias', Stoke Newington.
All Saints, 1867.

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