Smells, Bells, and Other Holy Traditions



Why is it that so many outside the Church seem so spiteful regarding our Catholic, Sacramental faith. As a convert to our particular Catholic faith paradigm, from an evangelical form of Christianity I often think I understand. From my personal experience, I was merely parroting the teachings I received within the various churches that I’ve attended in my past. My particular sentiments were formed by fairly consistent teachings about Catholic idolatry and reliance upon traditions rather than the Bible. I came to Catholicism reluctantly, and definitely not due to any animosity towards my formation attained in any former Christian church. What I eventually came to understand was that the imprecatory teachings I’d received in the past weren’t true at all. However, this is an all true phenomena. Even among so-called, educated people who simply soak in what they’ve been fed by folks in charge of their formation, without looking below the surface.


One of the objections I and many others had back in my spiritual youth were the traditional smells, bells, and trappings of the Catholic Church. Why in the world did they consider those to be necessary? Weren’t the rote and repetitive prayers they recited simply useless ramblings? Well, today’s writing is actually prompted by a well educated friend who is attempting to save me from the errors of Catholicism — stating that the smells, bells, and traditions we hold dear are useless, and all we need to rely on is scripture and the Holy Spirit.


Smells, bells, and religious trappings; what’s the importance of these elements within the Catholic Church? Are we simply following the “traditions of men”? Those following the wisdom of this world would have you believe so. Are these traditions we follow still relevant today? If so, to what extent? Are we “saved” by incense or other liturgical actions? Are the vestments utilized by our clergy a necessity or a pharisaical vanity? To be clear, there are many who glam onto religious trappings that are far from the truth. Oftentimes prideful men adorn themselves with the trappings of antiquity, but remain far afield from the sacramental, ancient faith. As I’ve taught consistently for many years, it is imperative that we seek out churches, bishops and pastors who are striving to maintain and teach the Authentic Faith.


Our traditions of the Church often get criticized by those on the outside looking in. Many actually take offense, believing that all such traditions are forbidden in scripture. Others who object come from a place of hurt and pain they received under the guise of spiritual authority, and they transfer that emotional defense system into rage against all things “Catholic.” I get it. Pain and anger are powerful motivators.


No, my sisters and brothers, Jesus didn’t condemn all traditions. He did however, rebuke the Pharisees for enforcing man-made, self-serving and overbearing traditions. The Apostle Paul made it abundantly clear that it is important that we pass along what we’ve learned, whether written, or by word of mouth. The early church was founded on both oral teachings, passed on from generation to generation, as well as collecting and reproducing by hand and preaching from the texts we’ve come to know as the Bible.


Even in apostolic times there were ravenous wolves among the flock, perverting the teachings, both written and spoken. The Apostle Paul makes ample observations of such — warning us to be careful of whom we follow. From the beginning of creation, Satan has been telling us the lie that God didn’t really mean what he said. From the fall of Adam and Eve in the garden to the heresies of the post apostolic era, down to this very day there are still people more willing to believe the lie, than the TRUTH handed down to us from above.


The Early Church had more than its fair share of what we’ve cone to call “Protestants” — men who came up with their own “Holy Spirit” inspired ideas of how the faithful should believe. Recognizing error, the Fathers of the Church gathered in council to prayerfully consider if these new teachings were valid. Take a moment and search online for “Christian Heresies.” They are numerous. It was the early Church that codified the basic tenets of our faith in juxtaposition to the abundance of heresies of that age, starting with the First Ecumenical Council at Nicaea in 325ad. From this Council we have the first unified statement of Christian faith, defining our trinitarian faith, and especially defining the unique nature of Jesus as being both fully human and fully divine — in opposition to the erroneous teachings of Arius. There are numerous other examples of how we we are indebted to the Holy Spirit driven consensus of the early church.


How in the world did the Church survive prior to the to the printing press which began to make our holy writings available to all? Do you ever find it sad how many divisions have emerged over the millennia over the interpretation of scripture? Is it the “Holy Spirit” or the evil spirit that is behind these novel ideas? Has anything really changed? “Vanity of vanities…”


No, it’s not the “smells and bells” or the other trappings of the historic Church that we find our salvation. In our day, these are merely spiritual aids which help facilitate our spiritual focus on the mysteries of faith, and thus helping to prepare our hearts to recognize and receive the transcendent grace and divine mercy, with which the Church has been graced to be a caretaker of. The Free gift of salvation, in a very real sense is based upon attaining an Authentic Faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. It is not to be found in the false teachings of new age syncretism, in old school Gnosticism, the teachings of Mohammed, or the Buddha. The fullness of the Christian faith, we believe is found in the consistent teachings of the ancient church. In that, we believe that Jesus is the “Sola Sola.” Catholics firmly believe that in a very real sense that our there is a very real and intimate connection between Christ and His Church (the people of God) to be found in the sacraments administered via our Bishops, Priests, and Deacons. The pinnacle of these encounters, we believe, is found in the Sacrament of the Eucharist.


Not to be necessarily tooting our own horn, but we reject new innovations which politically correct activists are attempting to force on the Church, just as vociferously as we do the novelties that have crept into the Roman Catholic Church since the Great Schism. The goal of our jurisdiction isn’t to claim any sort of exclusivity, as the “one, true Church,” but to strive to follow Christ in Spirit and Truth, to the best of our God given ability.


My friends, many evils have been perpetrated in the Name of God over the millennia, within numerous faith paradigms. This is a tragedy with eternal consequences for those perpetrators. My prayer is that you may be able to look beyond your hurt and pain, and harken back to the source of our ONE, TRUE, FAITH, which is that Christ has died, Christ has risen, and Christ will come again. Trust in Him alone, not in my writings, or those of other individual men. Christ is the solid rock on which I stand, all other ground is sinking sand. I firmly believe that the consistent teachings of the primitive Church have such a Spirit-filled foundation. The Catholic Church in America also rejects man made traditions promulgated as dogma upon which supposedly hangs our very salvation. Some of my Christian critics still don’t grasp the nuances between ours and the Roman Catholic Church.


We all have choices to make in life. No other choice we make is as consequential to us as is our own individual recognition of our personal sinfulness and understanding that we need to become reconciled with our Creator, and savior, Jesus Christ. Additionally, it is imperative that we as a particular people of faith learn what it truly means to become a person who is committed to “Doing the Will of the Father.”


Peace, prayers and blessings +++

++Michael

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