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Still, smells have the power to elicit memories and stimulate emotions, and so the quest to find a way to effectively combine smells with media will go on. It makes sense, too, since we experience a fuller immersion and engagement in the media the more – and the greater the number of – our senses are involved. The media already engages us visually and auditorially. You can read about how Disney is experimenting with letting you transmit a secret message simply by touching someone’s ear here. Others have been testing out devices that make you feel like you’re interacting with objects in virtual space via a tactile glove. The opportunities for manufacturing are enormous, but so are the possibilities for the home consumer. Imagine being able to literally touch your files and folders, or the new methods of kinesthetic learning made possible, or the reality of manipulating and building 3D virtual objects and then simply printing them out on your already-available 3D printer. With smell in the works, what’s next? Taste?
Some of you might already be thinking of the Star Trek holodeck as the summit of such sensorial media experiences, but there’s another very ancient – and ever new – experience as close as the nearest Catholic Church: the Mass. You see the Crucifix before you, the Tabernacle, and the Communion of Saints (the cloud of witnesses; Hebrews 12:1) in the form of statues, pictures and stained glass windows. You hear about the “smells and bells” of the liturgy. They’re not just there for nothing; the sweet fragrance of incense is mentioned myriad times in Scripture, and at the altar, it rises before God with our prayers (Revelations 8:4). The bells peal at different points in the liturgy: the epiclesis – the invocation when the priest extends his hands over the chalice right before the Consecration – and when the he raises the Host and the Chalice containing Our Lord’s blood (at some Masses the servers would ring the bell when the priest drinks from the Chalice as well). The bells have historical significance when the Mass was in Latin and the priest faced the tabernacle (and spoke the words quietly so much so that microphones, if they existed then, would not have been helpful). In those circumstances, the bells had a practical purpose in signaling to the congregation the critical moments about to take place: Pay Attention! Pay Attention! Even our Catholic calisthen
ics – all that standing, sitting, kneeling, bowing, genuflecting, prostrating – means something. Our body too, in all its varied postures, give praise to Our Heavenly Father, who is so worthy of our love and takes delight in His children. Sight, sound, smell, touch! And of course, there’s taste, really, the most important in the sense that we see and taste and eat the source and summit of our faith, Our Lord Jesus Christ Himself (John 6:53)!
The Catholic Church had the whole media sensory thing down pat for centuries. Modern media? Bleh… not even close. God knows us and our senses – he made us after all. So the next time you’re at Mass, consider how you’re directing the gift of all your senses to rightly loving our God. Have a very Blessed Christmas season!
Dr. Eugene Gan is faculty associate of the Veritas Center and Professor of Interactive Media, Communications, and Fine Art at Franciscan University of Steubenville in the United States. His book, Infinite Bandwidth: Encountering Christ in the Media is grounded in Scripture and magisterial documents, and is a handbook and practical guide for understanding and engaging media in meaningful and healthy ways in daily life.