Critics of the Church today often cite the idea that the Church is too centered on pomp and ceremony.  While it is true that ritual is one of the focal points of the life of the church, there is more to ritual than meets the eye.  Take the picture on the right for instance.  This is called a censer and the smoke rising out of it is burning incense. Sound familiar?  The idea of smoke rising to heaven is an echo of the practices recorded in the first temple in  Jerusalem where censers burned day and night.  It is also a description  of the  heavenly Jerusalem as described in the book of Revelations. The ritual practices of the Church are not random occurrences that were dreamed up by some church officials who wanted "more pomp" and/or "more circumstance". The rituals  are all echos and/or connections to things that have been practiced and honored since before Jesus time and even before he ministered here on earth.  It is this connectedness that forms the "big picture" for the  Church and its eternal ministry for the world in generasl and the human race in particular.
Whether you are Catholic or not, to experience well done liturgy is to be a participant in an ancient form of beauty. The service in the attached pictures is the Easter Vigil and is the holiest of the year. At the Vigil we begin in the dark and a brazier is lit in the Church. New fire is introduced, the readings for the night are nine in number and recall our history in time, beginning with Creation, through the Exodus and culminating with the Resurrection. Baptismal vows are renewed and all the newest members of the church are welcomed in wearing white, the color of resurrection.  The beauty of this night is almost unspeakable.  There is something in the Ritual that is oddly comforting and uniting to each other as believers in common, as well as the tangibility of being an integral part of something as big as  the world, as old as time and as intimate as a close personal  relationship with God Himself!  That's who we are as Catholics.
Incarnation of the Senses

Sanctuary velvet black.

Rising flame, hot!

Reflected faces, glow.

Priestly voice rings out.

Multiplying tongues of fire.

Sound of bells, sharp!

Splashing water, cool.

Smell of myrrh, warm.

Sweet angelic cacophony.

Full lumens blinding beauty.

Voice of teaching stabs.

Touch of peace heals.

Taste of body and blood.

Body, soul, mind, us, Him, one.

Long night becomes morn.

He is risen of our midst, so am I again!

Vigil  2009 - Kathryn Cunningham

The Vigiil begins as the Celebrant enters from the back of the  church.  In procession  he sings the "Exultet" which talks about this "night of nights" and Jesus' triumph over death!The Vigil continues as  a brazier in the church is lit with the New Fire.  The flame is passed  until everone in the congregation possesses this Easter Fire.The Easter Candle enters at the head of the procession.  This candle was carved with a cross by the celebrant and lit with the new fire.  During the year it will only be lit for basptisms, weddings and funnerals.  All of these are occations of "new life".The censer is a liturgucal symbol as old as the first temple in Jerusalem.The "Canons Regular" are young priests who have the job of attending the Cardinal and  performing liturgical duties.Incense envelopes the people and accompanies our prayers to heaven.The Word of God is holy and as such is reverenced before being read.  On this "night of nights" the readings number nine.  They trace our history from Genesis up to the Resurrection.The curved crook or crosier that the Cardinal carries is as symbol of his role as the shepherd of his people.  It too is an ancient symbol.At a Mass where the Cardinal is the chief celebrant servers wear a "humeril veil" that is embroidered with the crest of the Current Cardinal.  The Pope also chooses a crest as a symbol of authority once he is elected. As  part of the Vigil the congregation participates in the "sprinkling rite".  The celebrant processes the entire church blessing all with Holy Water.  This is an act of solidarity with the newly baptized who have just entered into the church as well as a renewal of one's own baptismal vows. The newly baptized and newly confirmed are welcomed into the community in a white garment.  This garment signifies resurrection and new life. As preparation for communion the altar is incensed. Cardinals  always wear the red "zuchetto" or skull cap.  Red is the color of martyrdom in the Church.  Cardinals wear read to symbolize that they are willing to die for the sake of Christ. The vessels are prepared for communion.Kneeling is as reverential sign. In the pre-modern world.  Kneeling signified submission.  Here, the altar servers kneel before the presence of God.
Another angel, who had a golden censer, came and stood at the altar.  A large quantity of incense was given to him to offer with the prayers of all the saints on the golden altar. ... and so from the angel's hand the smoke of the incense went up in the presence of God and with the prayers of the saints.  Rev. 8:3-4

Holy Trivia:
In ancient times, incense was considered so valuable in the world that it was traded like money.