We know that senses are important. When Jesus heals, he so often touches our senses: mud on our eyes, hands on our ears, spit on our face. When we worship, we hear his Word, taste his body (and his blood, but I’m not holding my breath on the return of that one), and see his face in the Body of Christ surrounding us. We participate in Jesus with our senses.
But, Liturgy in this modern world has presented us with yet another challenge. For most of us, when seeking the sweet scents of liturgical worship, our noses are no longer beset by beeswax candles, flowering plants or (*gasp*) Three Kings incense.
My Jesus smells like hand sanitizer.
It is understandable and right that, in caring for the common good, we are taking precautions during this continued global pandemic. In fact, when I consider all the past situations in which we did not use sanitizer, I shudder: bank ATM’s, ball pits at children’s play areas of yesteryear, door handles EVERYWHERE. In short, sanitizer is amazing. And, sanitizer at public, communal worship events makes a lot of sense.
And yet, we are beset with an unintended consequence of our enlightened understanding of hygiene, and our own spritzing of antiseptic fluid on our hands before distributing (or receiving) communion. What hits our noses is not the sweet fragrance of the body of Christ—but the hospital grade punch of aloe-infused ethyl alcohol.
This assault on our olfactory senses has repercussions for our taste buds. I don’t know about you, but when I get that sniff of hand sanitizer right before Eucharistic reception, my Jesus pretty much tastes like Purell.
Is there a solution for this modern challenge? I’m not advocating for a ban on sanitizer. But if the ritual matters, if our bodies matter, and if we come to know the living God through the very senses that were blessed by our baptism…maybe there is a third way? Perhaps there is a better “moment” for using hand sanitizer…perhaps there are less, shall we say, “pungent” varieties which are best used in churches?
Or, we could get really crazy and start crafting something like “Three Kings Sanitizer.”
In the meantime, when I go to the altar of our Lord, I will try to remember to at least use one strategy. I won’t hold my nose (rule no. 1: thou shalt not distract the faithful). But, at least I can hold my breath.