As a strong devotee of good aesthetic in worship I am delighted that incense was used to worship Christ from the first moments of his appearance on earth. The need for wholesome worship is paramount. Upholding a sacred liturgy is not optional but essential to the health of faith here on earth.
Devotion should be the first priority of an authentic Christian life. Our communal worship should be oriented to God not man. There should be space for silence, mystery, majesty and awe; a clear emphasis on the beauty of holiness. It is no coincidence that when God himself gave instruction for building a Temple in the Old Covenent- he demanded the finest materials, the best of what we have, that worship might inspire and lift the human heart. That we might materially witness to its true spiritual value at the heart of the community.
Sad then, that in so many places today, a dumbed down liturgy prevails; one almost entirely focused on human agendas and politics. God can seem squeezed out- an optional extra. This modernist approach leads to lack of mystery and majesty and awe. In the worst cases the sacrament hard to locate amidst furniture that is functional and dreary. An oft banged drum on this blog because I sincerely believe second rate worship lies at the heart of the crisis of supernatural faith today.
How can we discern the living God if no space is being given for majesty and awe, silence, reverence and epiphany? A liturgy stripped to the lowest denominator has leads only to decline. It is no coincidence seminaries and pews emptied as Vatican II was deliberately misconstrued (by political movements) leading many to discard altar rails and sacred images et al. A process of desacralisation. So much damage was caused where the priest, against V2 rubrics understand, turned from facing with us into the great mysterious beyond to create, instead, a circle of people looking inwards at themselves!
The sense of a mysterious realm beyond us- from which irrupts the Word made flesh- quickly evaporated. Soon worship became third rate community entertainment. The incense and sacred music was packed as secular ditties began to dominate. Vestments became ugly and cheap. Sloppy trainers replaced smart shoes. The cost on faith has been tremendous. The magi, in presenting incense to the Lord, call us back to authentic worship. Pray therefore for a reform of the reform; the reintroduction of all that was lost during the harrowing stripping of the altars that devastated worship in the latter half of the 20th Century.
Which is not to suggest you cannot have dignified and beautiful worship at Westward facing altars, you can, but it is to suggest much has been lost which should have been cherished and valued.