Most orthodox Catholic churches in the United States and elsewhere burn traditional incense resins in censers, as it holds spiritual significance in the Catholic faith. It is often thought that the smoke from the incense symbolizes the prayers of the Catholic practitioners rising upwards, towards the heavens.
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Roman Catholic Incense
The most common ingredient used is frankincense, although this may change from church to church. Many churches use frankincense, myrrh, a frankincense and myrrh blend, or even copal resin. There are some other ingredients they sometimes add as well, if they so choose to.
Although frankincense resin can come from quite a few different related trees, it is believed that the traditional frankincense, the one given to baby Jesus by The Three Wise Men, was Boswellia Sacra, which is harvested mostly in Oman.
In addition to it’s spiritual significance, frankincense also helped eliminate the odors coming from all of the people who attended their gathering. This was more important in older times, when people were not able to bath as often.
Myrrh is another resin which was given to baby Jesus by The Three Wise Men in the Holy Bible. There are a few different varieties of Myrrh, but they typically smell quite similar. It has a sweet, resinous smell.
The Use of Incense During Mass
An officiant of the church may use the incense at several different points during Catholic Mass, such as during the entrance procession, the beginning of mass, scenting the altar itself, proclamation of the Gospel, at the offertory, etc. The incense is thought to be both purifying, as well as symbolic.
This article was updated on 07/31/2020.