Candles, Incense, and Symbolism for Prayer in the Bible

Candles, Incense, and Symbolism for Prayer in the Bible February 16, 2009
 Candles

(2-16-09)

***

Incense (i.e., a thing that burns and produce smoke and fragrances, which is similar to a candle, complete with the metaphorical smelling of the offering by God), as an image of prayer, is an explicit biblical motif:

Genesis 8:20-21 (RSV) Then Noah built an altar to the LORD, and took of every clean animal and of every clean bird, and offered burnt offerings on the altar. And when the LORD smelled the pleasing odor, the LORD said in his heart, “I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth; neither will I ever again destroy every living creature as I have done.

Leviticus 2:9 And the priest shall take from the cereal offering its memorial portion and burn this on the altar, an offering by fire, a pleasing odor to the LORD.

Leviticus 6:15, 21 And one shall take from it a handful of the fine flour of the cereal offering with its oil and all the frankincense which is on the cereal offering, and burn this as its memorial portion on the altar, a pleasing odor to the LORD. . . . It shall be made with oil on a griddle; you shall bring it well mixed, in baked pieces like a cereal offering, and offer it for a pleasing odor to the LORD.

Psalm 141:2
Let my prayer be counted as incense before thee, and the lifting up of my hands as an evening sacrifice!

Luke 1:9-10
according to the custom of the priesthood, it fell to him by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense. And the whole multitude of the people were praying outside at the hour of incense.

Revelation 5:8 And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and with golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints;

Revelation 8:3-4 And another angel came and stood at the altar with a golden censer; and he was given much incense to mingle with the prayers of all the saints upon the golden altar before the throne; and the smoke of the incense rose with the prayers of the saints from the hand of the angel before God.

See also, 161 references in the (RSV) Bible (Part One / Part Two) to incense in general, as symbolic of an offering to the Lord; and 52 biblical references to “(pleasing) odor”; and “fragrant” / “fragrance” (37 instances).

The Bible even uses the symbolism of fragrance for the gospel, Jesus’ redemptive sacrifice on the cross, and charitable giving:

2 Corinthians 2:14 But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumph, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere.

Ephesians 5:2 And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

Philippians 4:18 I have received full payment, and more; I am filled, having received from Epaphrodi’tus the gifts you sent, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God.

Some people may think this is “old-fashioned,” but the Bible never goes out of fashion, and to the extent that the Catholic Church follows its guidelines and examples, she can’t go wrong. The Bible is inherently sacramental (physical means of grace). It’s everywhere. It can’t be avoided. The incarnation itself is sacramental (God becoming man and taking on a material body in order to save us). And the Catholic Church abides by this biblical worldview.

Presently, with regard to candles and incense, I mean “sacramental” in the very widest sense, which would be use of physical things for spiritual purposes. A candle in a Catholic church is indirectly a sacramental insofar as it entails a physical action that can be a blessing in some sense to the person who lights one. And they would have been blessed by a priest. So they are sacramentals, as opposed to sacraments.

A burning thing that represents prayer or some other sort of offering to God is biblically explicit and analogous in large part to candles. The prayers of the saints in the two passages in Revelation are not metaphorical at all. I think this is a fairly strong argument by analogy; but many people don’t understand analogical argument. Many Protestants demand explicit proof in the Bible for everything when this is not necessary. The logic of the argument runs as follows:

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  • "But Protestants rarely reason in this fashion. It's foreign to them, and so to the Protestant mind it often seems like desperation or special pleading."

    Stop railing on Protestants so much! You've interacted with ignorant people who have a spirit of religious peity on them. I come from a Protestant tradition and burn Frankincense and Myrhh incense every day when I pray! Why? Well the scent comes from Exodus 30, the sacred incense and also from the gifts to the Holy Baby Yeshua upon his birth by the Maggai. If a Protestant gives you guff for burning incense, consider them Biblically illiterate, but don't put that on all of us! C'mon now! I came to your site for another perspective and am pleased at your scholarship in general. But I would never make such broad and accusatory statements against those who aren't part of my denomination. Anyway I enjoyed myself here nevertheless. May God continue to bless you;) Amen.

  • "But Protestants rarely reason in this fashion. It's foreign to them, and so to the Protestant mind it often seems like desperation or special pleading."

    Stop railing on Protestants so much! You've interacted with ignorant people who have a spirit of religious peity on them. I come from a Protestant tradition and burn Frankincense and Myrhh incense every day when I pray! Why? Well the scent comes from Exodus 30, the sacred incense and also from the gifts to the Holy Baby Yeshua upon his birth by the Maggai. If a Protestant gives you guff for burning incense, consider them Biblically illiterate, but don't put that on all of us! C'mon now! I came to your site for another perspective and am pleased at your scholarship in general. But I would never make such broad and accusatory statements against those who aren't part of my denomination. Anyway I enjoyed myself here nevertheless. May God continue to bless you;) Amen.

  • "But Protestants rarely reason in this fashion. It's foreign to them, and so to the Protestant mind it often seems like desperation or special pleading."

    Stop railing on Protestants so much! You've interacted with ignorant people who have a spirit of religious peity on them. I come from a Protestant tradition and burn Frankincense and Myrhh incense every day when I pray! Why? Well the scent comes from Exodus 30, the sacred incense and also from the gifts to the Holy Baby Yeshua upon his birth by the Maggai. If a Protestant gives you guff for burning incense, consider them Biblically illiterate, but don't put that on all of us! C'mon now! I came to your site for another perspective and am pleased at your scholarship in general. But I would never make such broad and accusatory statements against those who aren't part of my denomination. Anyway I enjoyed myself here nevertheless. May God continue to bless you;) Amen.

  • "But Protestants rarely reason in this fashion. It's foreign to them, and so to the Protestant mind it often seems like desperation or special pleading."

    Stop railing on Protestants so much! You've interacted with ignorant people who have a spirit of religious peity on them. I come from a Protestant tradition and burn Frankincense and Myrhh incense every day when I pray! Why? Well the scent comes from Exodus 30, the sacred incense and also from the gifts to the Holy Baby Yeshua upon his birth by the Maggai. If a Protestant gives you guff for burning incense, consider them Biblically illiterate, but don't put that on all of us! C'mon now! I came to your site for another perspective and am pleased at your scholarship in general. But I would never make such broad and accusatory statements against those who aren't part of my denomination. Anyway I enjoyed myself here nevertheless. May God continue to bless you;) Amen.

  • BTW the more I walk with the Lord the more I see how utterly destructive denominationalism really is. I have worshipped with a local Catholic parish, a COGIC church, grew up Progressive Baptist and worship with non denominational apostolics from time to time. Each service has good things but sometimes there is a lack. Unity is what we need as Christians. I find the tradition of scholarship in the Catholic church to be unparalleled because it is so old. I also find the charisma and worship style of the Black American experience to speak to my heart and soul, the Pentecostals know and emphasize the gifts of the Holy Spirit (oft to the detriment of studying moral and ethical praxis…but they sure know how to throw a pep ralley for Jesus)! What I'm getting at is that each denomination has a fair amount of heretical nonsense that is unBiblical but each denomination also has a beauty and a wonderful relationship with the Lord that others may lack. Ergo I came to your site and have learned some things. Truly any institution set up and run by men is bound to have some errors promulgated throughout no matter how Holy we may deem ourselves.

  • BTW the more I walk with the Lord the more I see how utterly destructive denominationalism really is. I have worshipped with a local Catholic parish, a COGIC church, grew up Progressive Baptist and worship with non denominational apostolics from time to time. Each service has good things but sometimes there is a lack. Unity is what we need as Christians. I find the tradition of scholarship in the Catholic church to be unparalleled because it is so old. I also find the charisma and worship style of the Black American experience to speak to my heart and soul, the Pentecostals know and emphasize the gifts of the Holy Spirit (oft to the detriment of studying moral and ethical praxis…but they sure know how to throw a pep ralley for Jesus)! What I'm getting at is that each denomination has a fair amount of heretical nonsense that is unBiblical but each denomination also has a beauty and a wonderful relationship with the Lord that others may lack. Ergo I came to your site and have learned some things. Truly any institution set up and run by men is bound to have some errors promulgated throughout no matter how Holy we may deem ourselves.

  • BTW the more I walk with the Lord the more I see how utterly destructive denominationalism really is. I have worshipped with a local Catholic parish, a COGIC church, grew up Progressive Baptist and worship with non denominational apostolics from time to time. Each service has good things but sometimes there is a lack. Unity is what we need as Christians. I find the tradition of scholarship in the Catholic church to be unparalleled because it is so old. I also find the charisma and worship style of the Black American experience to speak to my heart and soul, the Pentecostals know and emphasize the gifts of the Holy Spirit (oft to the detriment of studying moral and ethical praxis…but they sure know how to throw a pep ralley for Jesus)! What I'm getting at is that each denomination has a fair amount of heretical nonsense that is unBiblical but each denomination also has a beauty and a wonderful relationship with the Lord that others may lack. Ergo I came to your site and have learned some things. Truly any institution set up and run by men is bound to have some errors promulgated throughout no matter how Holy we may deem ourselves.

  • BTW the more I walk with the Lord the more I see how utterly destructive denominationalism really is. I have worshipped with a local Catholic parish, a COGIC church, grew up Progressive Baptist and worship with non denominational apostolics from time to time. Each service has good things but sometimes there is a lack. Unity is what we need as Christians. I find the tradition of scholarship in the Catholic church to be unparalleled because it is so old. I also find the charisma and worship style of the Black American experience to speak to my heart and soul, the Pentecostals know and emphasize the gifts of the Holy Spirit (oft to the detriment of studying moral and ethical praxis…but they sure know how to throw a pep ralley for Jesus)! What I'm getting at is that each denomination has a fair amount of heretical nonsense that is unBiblical but each denomination also has a beauty and a wonderful relationship with the Lord that others may lack. Ergo I came to your site and have learned some things. Truly any institution set up and run by men is bound to have some errors promulgated throughout no matter how Holy we may deem ourselves.

  • Truly any institution set up and run by men is bound to have some errors promulgated throughout no matter how Holy we may deem ourselves.

    Men will not be perfect no matter what. But God can preserve one Church without doctrinal error if He wants to do so, despite sinful men: just as he preserved an infallible Bible written by entirely sinful men.

    It all goes back to God. We believe in faith that the Catholic Church is infallible in what she teaches her children in terms of faith and morals, because God wanted it so.

  • Truly any institution set up and run by men is bound to have some errors promulgated throughout no matter how Holy we may deem ourselves.

    Men will not be perfect no matter what. But God can preserve one Church without doctrinal error if He wants to do so, despite sinful men: just as he preserved an infallible Bible written by entirely sinful men.

    It all goes back to God. We believe in faith that the Catholic Church is infallible in what she teaches her children in terms of faith and morals, because God wanted it so.

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