engaging all the senses during liturgy, a new look at incense…

engaging all the senses during liturgy, a new look at incense… January 9, 2012

… The use of incense in mass is more than pomp and meaningless ritual, as you may already be aware. Let your prayers rise up the smoke to the Heavens. Incense is also more than something that just smells nice and serves the more practical purpose of masking the stench of unwashed peasantry – as some claim. It apparently can also alleviate symptoms of depression and anxiety.

“An international team of scientists, including researchers from Johns Hopkins University and the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, describe how burning frankincense (resin from the Boswellia plant) activates poorly understood ion channels in the brain to alleviate anxiety or depression. This suggests that an entirely new class of depression and anxiety drugs might be right under our noses.” Full story from Science Daily here.

Is this why reformed masses that are liturgically lax leave so many feeling blah? One of my favorite things about liturgy is leaving church with the smell of incense still clinging in my hair. Also, you rarely smell incense outside of mass so the scent automatically becomes associated with church. Even a burnt match reminds me of votive candles and I smile a bit. The association with church is so strong.

Scent is powerful. Women can smell a cologne and recall to mind an old boyfriend decades later. Fresh cut grass smells like summer. Incense smells like Heaven and if you’re lucky enough you can smell Heaven every time you step into church. Who wouldn’t be spiritually uplifted and instantly happier by the scent?

So if your church doesn’t use incense during mass perhaps now is the time to make the case for it’s use to your priest.

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  • Barb

    The song leader at our 8 a.m. mass yesterday choked up when the insense was lit behind him and he could no longer sing.  I spent several moments of  prayer time fumbling for tissues and waiting for the big sneeze.  The mother of my daughter-in-law is unable to attend mass when insense has been recently used or is being used due to severe respiratory disease.  She and her husband had to leave her son’s confirmation ceremony to rush to the hospital when the insense smoke reached the back corner of the balcony where she was seated.  Just say “no” to insense!

    • So potentially hundreds or thousands of Catholics should be deprived of their heritage because a few of us are sensitive? (I say this as the parent of a child with asthma.)

      Say “Yes” to incense!

      Crescat: Fr Z has a post up today about incense: Light One Up – Incense, Thuribles, and You.

  • James

    A lot of issues with incense can be dealt away with if better charcoal is used. Most parishes use self-light charcoal that is soaked in lighter fluid. Butane fumes trigger bad reactions in many people. By using plain charcoal (it is much harder to light, but the extra effort should be worth it) you eliminate the carcinogenic fumes, and most people will have no issues with incense.

  • The obligatory Santiago de Compostela botafumeiro video.

  • Michael

    To add to James’s comments:
    I suffer from allergies, and incense usually drives me up the wall with headaches as well as a long list of other symptoms. HOWEVER, I have found at I can stand its use if a) it is a GOOD incense (a delicate rather than one of the harsher, cheaper varieties commonly bought in parishes) and b) it is used sparingly (as apposed to trying to fumigate the congregation). I think if care is exercised in HOW it is used rather than WHETHER it is used, most of us sufferers could tolerate it. (Also, does your parish have a choir loft or a cry room with proper ventilation so we suffers could isolate ourselves from over exposure?

  • Incense alleviates anxiety/depression? Excellent!  and Gregorian chant cures disease & reduces your need for sleep: 
    http://tobtoday.com/2011/06/29/good-vibrations-the-benefits-of-gregorian-chant-to-the-body/  It’s so cool to be Catholic.

  • Anonymous

    Pregnancy and incense are not friendly, but hey, bring it on. I love the practice even if it chokes me.

  • Anonymous

    ooo beybi wctube