Non Solum: When to Use Incense at Mass

Today’s Question: When to Use Incense at Mass

 This question is twofold: 1) At which Masses throughout the year do you use incense? (Let’s set aside special Masses like the funeral Mass); and 2) When during the liturgy do you use incense?  The GIRM allows for the use of incense at Mass during the entrance procession, at the beginning of Mass to incense the altar, at the Gospel procession and proclamation, at the preparation of offerings, and at the showings of the Host and Chalice during the Eucharistic prayer. (What do you think about incense during the Eucharistic prayer?) The concept of progressive solemnity seems a helpful guide in deciding which Masses should use incense and where in the Mass incense should be used. Thus, in most cases you would not use incense; however, during the most solemn days of the year you would use incense profusely throughout the liturgy. In doing this, incense becomes one of many ways in which a liturgy can be made more solemn. What are your thoughts?  What does your parish do, and why? Please comment below.

Moderator’s note: “Non solum” is a feature at Pray Tell for our readership community to discuss practical liturgical issues. The title comes from article 11 of the Vatican II liturgy constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium: “Therefore there is to be vigilance among holy pastors that in liturgical action not only are laws for valid and licit celebration to be observed, but that the faithful should participate knowingly, actively, and fruitfully.” (Ideo sacris pastoribus advigilandum est ut in actione liturgica non solum observentur leges ad validam et licitam celebrationem, sed ut fideles scienter, actuose et fructuose eandem participent.) May the series contribute to good liturgical practice – not only following the law, but especially grasping the spirit of the liturgy!


  1. At which Masses? Every Sunday, at the parish solemn Latin Novus Ordo Mass. The earlier family Mass (in English) doesn’t use it. We use incense in English Masses on solemn occasions, e.g. in all of the Holy Week liturgies and when a bishop or cardinal visits, or during special feasts for the community — these often involve concelebration.

    When in the liturgy? In all the places that Nathan mentioned. At the preparation, the gifts are censed, the altar censed again, and then the celebrant, then the assembly. During the Sanctus and Benedictus the thurifer stands before the altar, facing it, swinging the thurible from side to side. Then, during the Eucharistic prayer, the thurifer kneels before the altar, facing it. Throughout, the celebrating priest is behind the altar, on a somewhat higher level, facing the people. The host and chalice are censed as they are shown to the assembly.

    How much incense? As Nathan neatly puts it: profusely. Lots of smoke.

    The use of incense and the configuration of celebrant, altar and thurifer are pretty much standard in solemn celebrations in this diocese (e.g. at Westminster Cathedral) — this model was used for Pope Benedict’s Mass at the cathedral.

  2. Alas, incense is confined to rare special celebrations at the Cathedral due to the constant complaints of a few. We use it sparingly at funerals and can guarantee an email or phone call complaining within the day … even though we bring it in at the last moment and remove it to outside just as fast. The emails even come from people who were not present but heard we used it and now will not be able to attend this upcoming weekend (Not lying!) as a result.

    I also point out that we have at least two parishioners who react violently to the presence of pine or cedar – one will break out in hives as you watch her. Many have extreme breathing issues when in the presence of flowers, of which I am one.

    Interesting that those who complain about, and have successfully stopped, the incense do not see the allergic reactions to other elements in the church’s decorum as valid. That would take away from “their traditions.” Perhaps we need plants to give of visible smoke?

    Yes, I am venting a touch … but as soon as the new pastor yielded and tried to accommodate, it has become an avalanche of requests in all areas … not just incense. We now have requests not to wear perfume or hair spray when you come to church … and still there are the flowers and the cedar.

    To me it means a lot when the “smell of prayer” is overrun by Febrezze and Windex: when we stand stationary on the altar and sing two or more verses in the time the incensing would have taken place. We then talk about how to add solemnity.

    Perhaps we should add “Sanitized for your protection” to the sign board.

    Sigh …

    1. @Don Donaldson – comment #2:
      Amen. I used to live in Washington DC and have attended mass always at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception where incense is used all the time. I find it very troubling that most or maybe all masses in Atlanta don’t use incense and I am in search of a parish that does.

      There is something special about it and I am afraid the Catholic Church is in pander mode in competition with pentescostal churches where music is played and I am SICK of the bad emulation by the Catholic Church.

      I am in TOTAL agreement with you Don and you can email me anytime at Thanks and God Bless You.

    2. I am one of those people who get violently ill when in the presence of incense. I cannot breathe, develop hives and a blinding headache. Have tried standing outside church to attend Mass but the only place I can see the altar from outside is where the thurible is placed when not in use.
      So….. in order not to bother other mass goers, I now do not attend Mass any longer. I was actually lectured by a nun, the parish administrator, that I was a distraction to others when I tried to “tough it out” by staying in the church during Mass.
      It is sad and I truly miss attending Mass, but there are a number of other churches where I go to feed my soul.
      To all the critics who feel that some people react to incense like Pavlov’s dogs, please understand that there are those of us who REALLY do suffer.

      1. If truly allergic to incense, are there no medications available to alleviate symptoms? There are medications for other allergies. My husband and a son must use an inhaler for allergies triggerd by things like plants and smoke. Another son uses a tablet. All have no objections to incense being used. They just take the necessary medications when needed.

        I personally like to see full liturgies with all the bells and whistles (and incense). Which brings up the issue of those who object to bells . . . but I digress.

      2. Veronica, I’m right there with you! Last week I was exposed to incense during the processional. Since they didn’t saturate the church I was able to stay, but later left when they used it a second time. IDK how I didn’t burst into bronchial spasms (which is normally immediate, once I’ve been exposed)!
        I’m actually working on getting a complete list of “which” weeks incense will be used at my church. I’ve been in contact with their Secretary/Office Admin on it. I’ve spoken with her to explain that “if” I see incense I’ll just leave next time. But I’d prefer to attend, so a list would be helpful.

    3. Perfumes, hair sprays, etc., have chemical stabilizers which are often troublesome for people with allergies. These can include acetone, ethanol, benzaldehyde, formaldehyde, limonene, methylene chloride, camphor, ethyl acetate, linalool and benzyl alcohol along with phthalates and synthetic musks which can be dangerous to health. I am not aware of flowers with these chemicals, which may explain the lack of complaints re: the flowers and cedar used at church.

  3. We use incense sparingly on “High Holy Days,” usually only at the beginning of mass, due to the fact that our church is small. It is almost impossible to “escape” by sitting to one side or to the rear. The cry room does offer some safety for those who do not enjoy the experience.

    Two stories: A Byzantine priest friend followed a non-user (!) at a parish in New Jersey. From Day One, a few attendees at the daily Divine Liturgy would cough disapprovingly throughout the liturgy. One day my friend began the liturgy as usual, thurible in hand, and the usual phlegmy coughs started up. He stopped, walked to the front of the sanctuary, and turned the thurible upside down revealing that there was nothing in it. “I never want to hear those coughs again,” said he.

    And in seminary we were instructed, “If you can still see the altar after you have used the incense, you haven’t used enough.”

  4. Nathan’s list of when to incense can be used seems complete. However, I do have a question about why we incense at the “showing” of the host and the cup. Theologically, we hold that the entire Eucharistic Prayer is consecratory…is incensing and even “showing” the host and the cup after the words of institution confusing our present theology? Just another point of discussion I’d be interested in addressing.

      1. @Jeffery BeBeau – comment #16:
        I’ve seen the incensation of the host and cup at the doxology in a number of churches celebrating the Novus Ordo and in a few Anglo-Catholic parishes.

  5. We try for progressive solemnity in all aspects of the liturgy, and have developed a specific cycle of how incense is used, as well as aromas. We use incense from orthodox monasteries because they really know what they’re doing with incense, and we find we get fewer complaints. Here’s the plan:

    Advent: Incense at the entrance, beginning at the back of church with the wreath as it is lit and raised into the rafters of our English Gothic style church and ending with the altar at the end of the procession. Spice based incense.

    Christmas: Incense at the entrance (beginning with the crèche at the back of church during the Christmas Proclamation on Christmas itself), gospel, preparation. Evergreen based incense.

    Lent: Incense at the entrance (a slow procession that stops three times, echoing the entrance of the cross at Good Friday and the paschal candle at the vigil). Myrrh.

    Easter: Incense at the entrance, gospel, preparation. Floral based incense.

    Ordinary Time Solemnities: Incense at the entrance. Incense different than the others, currently sandalwood.

    I’ve never used incense during the Eucharistic Prayer, although I experienced it once at Notre Dame in Paris and it made for a beautiful scene with the light beams slanting through the stained glass. It seems to me, though, to place a little too much emphasis on the words of institution apart from the epiclesis and anamnesis.

    Over all, when a parishioner makes the unsolicited comment that they get it now that each season looks sounds and smells different from the other, I like to think that the incense (and all the other elements) are doing their job.

  6. Only at the three Christmas masses, for the Maundy Thursday Procession, and At the Easter Vigil.
    Though it was used at the 50th anniversary of our building a couple of months ago.
    I guess we are pretty low church Catholics ….. not much by way of statues etc either. And we have said Morning Prayer before weekday Masses rather than the rosary, to allude to another thread.

  7. We use incense at two of our 4 Sunday Masses, at 9:30 and 12:10 pm every week. And these Masses are completely sung also. The only progressive solemnity we have is fancier vestments and use of incense at the elevations which is our manner of showing the Precious Body and Blood of Christ. Otherwise incense is used at the beginning, Gospel, Offertory.

  8. Our practice seems to have shifted from year to year, but last year we used incense on Christmas and Epiphany, On a Lenten Sunday when the bishop came to do confirmation, Holy Thursday and the Easter Vigil, all the Sundays of Easter (including Pentecost), Trinity Sunday, and Corpus Christi. We also used it on a Sunday when a religious sister who is a parishioner was celebrating her 50th jubilee. At these Masses we tend to only use it at the Entrance and at the preparation of the gifts and we always cense the congregation at the latter. On Christmas and Easter we also use incense at the Gospel (I guess that’s a bit of progressive solemnity — I’d be inclined to use it all the time at the Gospel, so that we’re honoring the word as much as the altar/gifts). During Lent we burn incense in a brazier during the prayer of the faithful.

    We have one Sunday Mass (in addition to a Saturday Mass with no music), so on the Sundays we use incense people don’t have a choice to avoid the incense. If we did have two Sunday Masses, I might be inclined to push for incense all the time at one of them.

  9. When and how is incense used in your experience to incense the congregation? Does anyone extend the ‘traditional Roman style’ after the gifts at the ‘Offertory’ (simply bowing to and then incensing from the sanctuary area) to processing the length of the aisles, for example? Is incensing the congregation also done at other times during the Mass? The Byzantine usage certainly ‘incorporates the assembly’ into the celebration several times by this means.

    1. @Philip Sandstrom – comment #10:
      In one parish I once attended the celebrant incensed the entire congregation by walking down the center aisle. He did this at the first incensation of the altar and then again at the offertory. I’ve noticed this is done in some Anglican churches too.

      My present parish uses little incense. The pastor restricts it to the most solemn occasions such as Easter, Epiphany, Pentecost,and Christmas. Most of the year, the hanging lamps in the sanctuary and the vigil lights are filled with a liquid scent of roses or myrrh. It’s added to the olive oil or melting beeswax. I think this may be a custom among the Byzantines.

      We use pure beeswax candles which serve to give off a very strong honey scent. One never hears anyone coughing whether incense or these scented lamps and candles are used.

    2. Censing the faithful from a fixed position at the head of the aisle with three swings on the long chain seems best. No need to walk down the aisle; the goal isn’t to give each person some incense.

  10. This isn’t at Mass, but….
    At an All Souls Liturgy of the Word for a prayer group (near but not on All Souls Day) we had a brazier set up in front of the altar.
    A lady woud go to the pulpit and read the first series of names of the deceased. SHe’d then go place some grains on incense in the brazier while a decade of the rosary would be prayed. This happened 5 times (incorporating rosary with prayaing for dead) I was so pleased the people ‘caught’ the symbolism of the rising smoke– our prayers for the dead rising to the Father.

  11. Nothing wrong with incense, even to this progressive. I think it should be used at every Mass.
    I like it because it is found in scripture and Jesus was familiar with incense when he went into the Temple. I think if more Catholics knew it was in a number of places in scripture they would be more accepting.

    At St. Jude’s Cathedral it was used at our “parish Mass” to incense the gifts on the altar then the altar, priest then the assembly from the sanctuary. It is a prelude to the upcoming Eucharistic Prayer. Incensing at this time seems to best fit w/ Psalm 141 (prayer, lifting up of hands, sacrifice).

    Incense used at the beginning of mass to incense the altar doesn’t tie in much with prayer and I think I agree w/ Fr. Gluc that incensing during the elevation is a bit much and confuses the theology a bit.

    Regardless of when it is used it should be used more often.

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

  12. My objections to incense has nothing to do with the “progressive” “conservative” “traditionalist” divide. I have allergies to incense. So much so that I have been unable to attend the triduum in many years as I have been unable to find a parish and/or priest willing to offer any kind of accommodation in the matter. At Christmas I often have to excuse myself during those parts of mass when it is used.

    I don’t ask that it go unused entirely, just that it be used only at the altar where I can sit far enough back to have only minimal exposure but it seems that is asking too much and I don’t understand why.

    1. @Norman Borelli – comment #13:
      Norman, you have my sympathy, allergies and sensitivities can be very disabling and can cause anaphyaxis for some.

      Of course every accommodation should be made for those with sensitivities to incense. It is unfortunate that your parish priest doesn’t help, he should, He sounds like a “real gem”.

      I will tailor my comment about incense being used at “every” Mass. If there are complaints then there should be Masses that do not have incense used. It should be clearly noted in the bulletin for those with sensitivities. There are some places that advertise “hypoallergenic” incense but some who are sensitive still react to it so that is not a solution. More expensive incense is better, some cheaper varieties use plastic granules which is very allergenic to some. Also, the censer should remain in the sanctuary (as was done at St. Jude) and a little goes a long way, don’t need enough smoke to set off alarms. Also sitting in the back as you do helps.

      I don’t think you’re “asking too much” and what you ask for is very very reasonable. Good luck!

      1. @Dale Rodrigue – comment #15:

        Thanks for your reply, Dale. I can see that my original post may have conveyed that this priest was totally unwilling to accommodate my allergies. He has been willing to in the past but I often get the sense when I request such it is srot of like having to pull teeth and that I just end up being some sort of killjoy. He’s a wonderful priest and a superb pastor. He just seems to have a real blind spot in this manner and all of us have those somewhere.

        I do get some dismissive comments from parishioners who can’t seem to grasp the notion of a Catholic being allergic to incense as if having one somehow makes one less authentically Catholic. With all of that I just find it easier and less stressful — physically and psychologically — to avoid the triduum (at least Holy Thursday and the Easter Vigil) than deal with the effects of the incense of the feeling that I’m putting a damper on some people’s fun by hoping for a more limited use of it.

        As for Dan McKernan’s comment:

        “It strikes me that with the liturgical reform the usage of incense should only increase not decrease as we no longer limit its use to high Mass. Using incense rarely only reinforces some peoples’ discomfort with it because it becomes foreign to their liturgical experience. That almost guarantees complaints from them on those occasions when it is required, e.g. Holy Thursday & funerals. ”

        All I can say about this is that an increase in the use of incense is NOT the answer for those of us with allergies. To have to deal with it on its occasional use is hard enough and using it more often will not help with that. Incense is allowed. It is never required. I appreciate the fondness many Catholics have for its use. I just don’t understand why so few have an appreciation for my problems with it.

    2. Norman, I am sorry but you simply cannot be allergic to all forms of incense, maybe one or two. They are made of widely different vegetal resins, to be allergic to them all would mean you are allergic to most plants, which is absurd. If it happens, just ask the priest to switch to a different make. Tjis being said, the usual Roman Catholic frankincense is such a hodgepodge that you’re probably bound to react to one or two substances burned. Our parish (Church of England) even uses hypoallergenic charcoal.

      1. @Lorenzo Fernandez-Vicente – comment #19:
        I wonder how many of the complaints are actually triggered by the use of cheap incense – maybe with artificial scents?

        Given the number of parishes that have replaced votive candles with electric lights, can anyone suggest a comparable replacement for incense?

      2. @Lorenzo Fernandez-Vicente – comment #19:
        I might add that there is a censer I’ve seen advertised which operates with coils ignited by a battery. There’s no need for charcoal and the incense is much more pleasant, as it is free of carbon. Which may be a greater irritant than the odor of the incense itself.

        Our parish started using these charcoal-free braziers on either side of the monstrance for perpetual adoration and for the Liturgy of the Hours.

      3. @Lorenzo Fernandez-Vicente:
        I am allergic to incense. Smoke contains Chromium which I am highly allergic to. So it is not only the incense. My oxygen level went down to 56 when the guy carrying the incense walked only about 2 feet in front of me. This was at the Easter Vigil where it starts outside.
        A few years ago I was highly allergic to all grasses, Oak, Ash, Maple, Pecan trees (all nuts not just pecan trees) When a person is allergic to a nut producing tree, they are also allergic to the fruit it bears, the hulls and the residue of the decaying hulls.
        The ash on the end of a match after a match is lit is also an allergen.
        Add to that every person in the church holding a lit candle can be an allergen. That uses oxygen in the air.
        Think this too: a person on oxygen in a hospital room is not allowed live plants in their room because plants use up oxygen in the room.
        It would be nice to know in advance when incense is going to be used. Our church does not announce it. We are a small church but growing and are in the planning stage for a big church, not just bigger but a very large building.
        I prefer to stay away when incense is going to be used. Why? I don;t want to experience an anaphylactic reaction which could cause death. As it is I have COPD and am using only one third of my lung power. Surely I am not alone. There are people in church that are on oxygen therapy 24/7.

      4. Yes, it is possible to be sensitive (allergic) to all forms of incense. I underwent allergy testing and was found to be allergic to 32 of the 40 substances tested for.
        There are so many particulates in incense and the smoke that also cause asthma or trigger allergic reactions.
        I find your and some of the other authors to have a less than sympathetic attitude.
        20 people in my parish have left for other churches/denominations because our pastor has said “I don’t care about your problems, we are using incense. The more the better”
        I agree that incense adds an air of mystery, etc. but with the knowledge we have now about allergens and their danger, it might be time to rethink some of these old traditions from a time when medical knowledge was very limited

  13. Yesterday at the papal ordination of two archbishops at St. Peter’s, as Pope Francis incensed the altar at the Introit, he went down to the two soon to be ordained and incensed them individually and the went back to the altar to complete its incensation.

  14. Our parish priests use incense at the appointed times mentioned by Nathan in the post above at all our Masses on every liturgical solemnity and during the entire Christmas and Easter seasons. The servers do use it during the canon and at the elevations when the bells are rung.
    It strikes me that with the liturgical reform the usage of incense should only increase not decrease as we no longer limit its use to high Mass. Using incense rarely only reinforces some peoples’ discomfort with it because it becomes foreign to their liturgical experience. That almost guarantees complaints from them on those occasions when it is required, e.g. Holy Thursday & funerals. Rare usage also makes it difficult to keep servers trained in how to carry out the ceremonies.

  15. I do not find the comments that make fun of people who are physically uncomfortable with incense to be very charitable or appropriate for this forum. As a singer, I have an absolute love / hate relationship with incense. I love it for all the reasons everyone here has listed; and I have a real physical problem with it, particularly if I need to sing during the liturgy.

    Perhaps we need to face the very real possibility that, now that we understand and are more sensitive to the very real dangers of various kinds of smoke, the Church collectively might eventually decide that this precious tradition is no longer appropriate. I think there is a strong argument to be made here. (This comment will probably shock some of my friend!)

  16. Remember the Botafumerio at the Santiago de Compostela Cathedral in Spain. This is a large censor that is swung by rope the whole length of the church over the heads of the congregation. Apparently it helped with the smell of unwashed pilgrims in the 11th century and the idea stuck. Go to YouTube and search Bofafumerio if you haven’t seen this before, it’s great fun.

    1. The Botafumeiro is a circus act. Might as well install a giant spinning holy-water sprinkler on the ceiling as well, to distort that part of the rite too. I’m obviously not a fan of such things.

  17. Lorenzo Fernandez-Vicente : Norman, I am sorry but you simply cannot be allergic to all forms of incense, maybe one or two.

    Well, I’m sorry, but I am in a better position to understand my reaction to incense than you are. Medical terms aside, officially allergy or not, what I know is that anytime I am exposed to incense I begin to cough (often strenuously) my eyes water up, etc. This happens regardless of the parish I am in and not every parish uses the same type on incense. I do my best to cope with the notion that incense is important to some people but it is difficult getting the sense that few of those seem willing to extend to me a similar courtesy.

    I will thank Jim Waldo for his comments in #21.

    I will also say that they massive censor at the Santiago de Compostela referred to by Scott Puff in #22 is also featured in the Martin Sheen movie “The Way.” Just seeing it in the movie theater almost made me cough! 🙂 Yikes!

  18. While I appreciate the presence of incense like a lot of other things about the local Orthodox parish, greater use of incense is way down on my list of things that I think we should imitate, long after sung Eucharistic prayer, sung Creed, sung Our Father, longer services, etc. I would not be disappointed if we never got to having more incense.

    My favorite parish has for this, as for many other things, a rather elegant solution. Outside of Holy Week they rarely use incense except for the opening hymn of all the Sundays in Advent and Lent. It is clearly THE sign that we are in a penitential season of prayer and purification. The “hymn” is always a responsorial hymn, e.g. “Come Lord Jesus.” that can go on and on. The priest after incensing the altar goes around through the congregation and incenses everybody and everything much as with the opening incensing before Byzantine liturgies. (In fact some people in the parish who are familiar with the Byzantine custom, bow and cross themselves appropriately as he passes).

    The air conditioning system of the church allows the incense to dissipate rather quickly. There is a glass wall between the nave and narthex that allows anyone who needs to leave the nave to go there and continue to see and hear well everything in main church. I don’t think the priest goes out into the narthex for the incensing.

    The principle of “progressive solemnity” has a BIG problem. There Is evidence that weekend attendance patterns in liturgical churches are heavily influenced by the notion that some days and seasons are more important than others, and that because of this the average attendance in liturgical churches is substantially less than in similar churches without a liturgical year where they try to make every Lord’s Day important. Remember the Lord’s Day existed long before the elaboration of the liturgical year.

    Progressive solemnity easily conveys the notion that Christmas and Easter are most important days along with their associated seasons. People behave accordingly. So liturgical churches are in danger of becoming first seasonsal churches, then Christmas and Easter churches as we can see in the behavior pattens of people.

    Celebrating different Lord’s Days differently is a good idea, the aliturgical churches have many special Lord’s Day celebrations but they celebrate them with the same solemnity, e.g. the choir is always there even through the summers although it may sing different hymns.

  19. HOT off the press, just came across this on the internet”

    “Sacramento, CA––A new ban on thurible smoke will take effect in all California churches beginning in 2014 State officials are now confirming. The ban, which comes decades after a 1995 ruling that banned all smoking in enclosed workplaces in California, is set to take effect in all Catholic churches across the state.

    ALSO, stranger than truth, an “e-Thurible” has been developed!

    “The new e-Thuribles have a small button near the handle which turns on an atomizer located inside the thurible, and burns what smells like incense, but is in all actuality just vapor. E-Thurible manufacturer ‘N Sense says they are in the process of creating different thurible flavors including Cherry Slurpee, and Bubblegum Mint.”
    I found this online at: (I’m not a Daily Kos reader, I just found it online.)

    Well my PTB friends, I guess we can have our holy smoke and breathe easy too!

  20. Great humor, even more so these quotes from a related link:

    “As new parents, my wife Betty and I are extremely concerned about second-hand incense,” California resident Kevin Hardy told EOTT. “In fact, we’ve even heard how bad third-hand incense is for children, and we won’t even allow our priest friend to hold our child if he’s said Mass using incense.

    Cherry Slurpee, and Bubblegum Mint would go great with pop music and polyester at clown Masses.

  21. What is the value of using incense, anyway? As a mark of reverence, respect? Specifically, where in incense lies its symbolic value? The rising smoke? The aroma? Both? For the benefit of those who are allergic, could one or both of those properties (the smoke or aroma) be eliminated and still retain its “sign value”? Is there something else that could replace incense but retain incense’s sign value?

  22. I am not allergic to incense nor do I have a breathing difficulty like COPD, but these conditions are not rare in large assemblies of worshippers. I find that there is nothing about the use of incense that is more important than being considerate of such people. I use incense lightly near the end of the funeral rite. I use it on Holy Thursday and at the Easter Vigil. Sometimes I use it on Christmas and Epiphany. I’ve never had a single parishioner in 40 years ask if we could use incense more often. I have to say folks that I think this is a “litnick” thing, a personal preference of some priests and self-styled liturgists. I rather identify the frequent use of incense and the practice of ringing bells as a ROTR kind of interest. Incense was originated to cover the stench of animal sacrifices in the temple. Later some people saw in it a metaphor for rising prayer. Mass can be beautiful, solemn, reverent, and effective without incense. Such a Mass is certainly not less Catholic.

    1. @Fr. Jack Feehily – comment #29:
      Thanks for some common sense statements. Always love the way we take a *practical* ritual; then elevate it to some type of theological or spiritual nirvana (rising prayer) that arrives at the conclusion that incense is better than no incense; that incense means that the mass is *higher*/greater/etc.
      Really wonder how many current catholics even understand the history, reasons, and why/wherefores of using incense?
      JR – understand your point about every Sunday but, OTOH, do think that *progressive* intent (thus, use at major feasts or seasons; certain sacrament moments) makes sense.

      1. @Bill deHaas – comment #31:
        Whatever the original purpose of incense in the Temple, the association of incense with prayers rising up to God is at least as old as Psalm 141… so we’re talking about, say, 2500 years. I would think this should suffice to tilt the burden of proof toward those who would abandon the practice of using incense.

        I find it ironic that the decision to use a symbol that was nearly universally employed until 40 years ago is dismissed as a “personal preference” of “litnik” clergy. If you take the whole sweep of liturgical history, both Jewish and Christian, into account, not to mention the ritual practices of the great religious traditions of the world, it seems to me that those who are imposing “personal preference” are those who forego the use of incense almost entirely.

      2. @Fritz Bauerschmidt – comment #32:
        Sorry, Deacon – you missed my point; never said to *abandon* the practice…merely was referring to some of the typical justifications that appear to go to the other extreme. You seem to always read into what I say – guess that is a form of bullying?

        Allow me to expand – all for use of incense – note what I said to JR in terms of *progressive* – sure doesn’t sound like *abandonment*.
        My original thought was to compare some of the *theological or liturgical embellishments* that you often see for various rubrics or even various practices e.g. think of some of the homilies and expositions by various bishops/curial officials during the year of the priest…..the focus on celibacy; priesthood as the bridegroom; some of the skewed thinking around celibacy’s meaning and use of images such as church as bride and priest as the husband, etc.
        All for the *original purpose* – but my thoughts go beyond the European use of incense – yes, this has spread to other continents and cultures but can’t say that in my time in mission lands I have seen much use of incense in mission parishes, way stations, etc. That is where my comments were coming from. Sorry – your second paragraph is just an opinion and personal judgment – universally employed – really – you don’t get out much, do you? Personal preference – where did I say that? *litnik* – love it? Actually, would suggest that litnik might apply to those who use incense as if the community knows why? (40 years, to use your timeperiod, is a long time and parish communities change, lose history, awareness of various rubrics and their meanings. To just use and presume? (that is what I am questionnning) All for the great traditions and liturgical history – but, your ritual practices are pretty much limited to the European/Western world? And yes, Eastern religions do use incense – you did not mention that. How about asking questions before you leap to judgments – especially putting words in my mouth

  23. By practice, my parish uses it at Christmas and during Holy Week, but rarely any other times.

    By preference, we’d never use it, or nearly never. The choir is immediately adjacent to the altar, and the air circulation brings everything right through us. It frequently makes me sneeze. Not once or twice, but repeatedly. I find this bad for my enunciation, and I can’t sneeze on key very well at all. Neither, I have noticed, can any of the singers around me. It also makes it hard to follow our director. None of this seems to actually enhance the mass any.

    Much depends on how much incense, of course – a little bit is fine, but we’ve had a couple of priests who were deep into the “more is much better” way of thinking.

  24. Fr. Jack Feehily : I am not allergic to incense nor do I have a breathing difficulty like COPD, but these conditions are not rare in large assemblies of worshippers. I find that there is nothing about the use of incense that is more important than being considerate of such people.

    Thank you Fr. Feehily.

  25. Fr, Jack, I don’t think the derogatory term litnik can be used for progressives who don’t mind more incense, maybe if we wanted to eliminate incense then litnik might be an appropriate expression. Just saying.
    I think we all can have our cake and eat it too. As I commented earlier in regards to Norman’s allergies, there are common sense ways to increase the use of incense without killing off parishoners who have medical conditions. We can be reasonable about this.

  26. We use incense at all the points indicated in the General Instruction for Mass on Sundays and Solemnities, and also for Sunday Evening Prayer (entrance procession and Magnificat). There are occasional exceptions to this, such as on some (but not all) “desert (retreat) days”.

    We’re a Seminary not a parish, but I thought readers might be interested to know what our practice of other Eucharistic Communities might be.

    By contrast, Feasts have the entrance procession with cross and candles and usually more of the liturgy is sung.

  27. Incense is used lavishly at all six weekend Masses and throughout the liturgical year in our parish community of 12,000+ members. Our parish, a basilica and co-cathedral, seats 1,200. Incense is used in the following ways:

    *Entrance procession. The thurifer leads the procession with thurible swinging from side to side. In addition, an acolyte holds aloft a smoking bowl of incense in front of a reader who is holding aloft the Book of the Gospels. No incensation of altar and cross at this time.

    *Gospel. The thurifer incenses the Book of the Gospels as it is held aloft at the altar by the priest-celebrant; the celebrant then processes with the Book of the Gospels to the ambo, which is about six stair steps off the ground. At the same time the thurifer, flanked by torch bearers, processes down the sanctuary steps and through the gates of the Communion railing to a place in the aisle directly in front of and below the ambo. The thurible is continuously swung from side to side throughout the proclamation the Gospel.

    *Preparation of Gifts. An acolyte bearing a smoking pot of incense leads the procession of gifts of bread and wine and money to the sanctuary. The priest-celebrant incenses the gifts, altar and cross, and then walks to the edge of the sanctuary steps to incense the people in the pews, first on one side and then the other. Back at the altar, he hands the thurible to the thurifer, who then incenses the celebrant.

    Additional notes that may be of interest:
    – A different fragrance is used for each season of the liturgical year.
    – Adult men and women serve as thurifer.
    – Older youths sometimes carry the pots of incense.
    – Some (if not all) incense is made by Cistercian monks (I don’t know which monastery).
    – In my four or so years worshipping here, I haven’t heard any complaints about the use of incense, nor do I recall any public comments (bulletin, announcement) about scent/smoke sensitivity. Given increased awareness about this issue, I imagine there have been complaints. Me? I love it.

  28. We are in transition between a Pastor who is a liturgist to a Pastor who is a cannon lawyer. Aside from Funerals, the use of incense was mainly during Holy Week, but used with a very profound solemnity. I will certainly miss the way that the former pastor invited us to rise and be incensed as part of the incensing of the altar during the offertory.
    This year, in fact today, incense made an appearance for the Feast of the Epiphany. It was used in the Entrance Procession with a somewhat awkward incensing of I’m not sure what. But I was glad to see that incense was used again at the offertory after the bread and wine were brought to the altar–so that the incense didn’t appear gimmicky as a reference to the gifts of the Magi.
    However, the priest and the assembly were not part of the incensing, just the altar. And I wondered to myself, especially after hearing a homily about following a star to find the Light of the World and to leave gifts but be the ones to go out and be Christ’s Light, that NOT incensing the people of God was a missed opportunity to bridge the Feast, the Homily, and the incense with the Eucharist/Body of Christ.

  29. When I was very young, I knew a priest (I wish I could remember his name) who was allergic to incense. The story I heard about him goes that this was discovered when he was still in seminary, and actually medically documented. (Rare for the time, I knew him in the 1970s/early ’80s, so that would have put him in seminary very likely in the ’50s or ’60s.) Someone in authority sat him down and told him that nobody would think less of him for deciding to give up pursuing the priesthood in view of the fact that this qualified as a valid medical reason. He decided that he still wanted to be a priest. They ordained him, and he was assigned to a small, progressive parish church which went in for such liturgical innovations as home-baked hosts and eucharist-in-the-round. (Try it sometime, you’ll have an insight into how the apostles felt!) He was given a dispensation from Rome to celebrate masses without incense. When you think about it, being a priest is a very public role, and his situation made it clear that there are certain hazards from that role. He was in this church with small-group masses because as it turned out he also was allergic to such things as aftershave and perfume, etc. and in this parish setup when people went to his masses they could be told not to use those things beforehand.

  30. The last time our church used incense when I was present, I was miserable for days — Itchy, swelled, watering eyes, constant sneezing and coughing. sinus congestion and intense sinus pain. I had to stuff my nose with cotton to prevent it from dripping on everything I tried to do and I was barely able to function. My Ear, Nose, & Throat specialist said my reaction will get even worse each time I’m exposed to incense. We have a small church and have only one Mass each weekend, so it’s not possible to have an incense-free mass. It breaks my heart that I can’t attend Mass on some of the most important feasts of the year, but I have no choice. My husband brings up a very good point. If someone comes to church and lights up a cigarette, cigar, or pipe, he would certainly be asked to leave or, at least, be made to put out the offending item. People can’t smoke in most public buildings now, but the churches that use incense are exempt from such rules. It’s a sad thing, to say the least. There are a lot of peoople with breathing problems, such as asthma, lung cancer, COPD, etc. who don’t complain. They just avoid going to church. That doesn’t say much for the people who insist on the Holy Smoke, no matter how it harms some of the parishioners.

    1. Thank you. Cigarette smoke clings to people’s clothing, to curtains, to furniture etc. So does incense. If it is used at the 9 am mass and not at that 11:30 mass it makes no difference because the smoke is still there clinging to everything.

  31. Thanks to Laura Brose and Father. FEEHILY! I READ MOST OF THE COMMENTS AND MARVELED at the smugness of several who commented! Perhaps we have lost our ability to be sensitive to others? Many people have respiratory problems today that possibly are caused by our environment. I have asthma. Incense sends me to urgent care. A point to make is that churches today are closed up and airconditioned. Some churches are small, like the one I go to. Father. Feehily said the incense is optional! Thank You! MS BROSE TALKED ABOUT THE PLIGHT of people with respiratory problems! Cannot a Catholic Church be concerned enough to give the problem consideration?

  32. I have qualms incensing the veiled crucifix during Holy Week since veiling calls us to meditate more on Christ and the paschal event and incensing the covered crucifix tends to point the people again to the veiled image. Expert comments on this matter would be appreciated

  33. I would love enjoying the different incense fir different seasons. I like the symbolism. However I just walked out of mass as I wasn’t thinking that yes there is incense used during Pentecost. I am allergic to all that I have experienced, I am allergic to smoke, I am allergic to all grasses and many trees. I am allergic to artificial scents some perfumes etc. I am fine with beeswax and soy candles. Perhaps there is an available incense that I could enjoy. In the meantime unless I am required at a mass, and sometimes even then I have had to exit for a time, I have to avoid it. It’s sad to miss out on these special worship times yet for my health I must. Thank you.

  34. I like incense a lot. I am than Altar Boy at Sacred Heart Parish in Lewistown Pennsylvania. We use incense just about every feast days like Solemnities. Like on feast of Epiphany, Palm Sunday, Easter Sunday, Feast of Divine Mercy Sunday, Ascension Thursday, Feast of Pentecost, Feast of Holy Trinity, Feast of Corpus Christi, Feast of Assumption of Mary, Feast of All Saints Day, Feast of Christ the King, Feast of Immaculate Conception, Christmas, Feast of Holy Family, and feast of Mary Mother of God (New Years). Then we also do incense on Every Sunday during the Easter Season (including Pentecost). We have adoration all day long only on 1st Friday of the month then end at the end of the day like at 7 p.m. we have holy hour with benediction of the blessed sacrament and we also have incense. Every year mid October we have 40 hour adoration. We have incense Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday. So we do incense for the whole entire mass at the 11 a.m. Mass when 40 Hour Devotion begins. Then Sunday Night at 7 p.m. we have a service with bendiction of the Blessed sacrament so we also have incense. Then Monday Night during 40 Hour Devotion at 7 p.m. we have Mass we also have incense, and Tuesday night during 40 Hour Devotion at 7 p.m. we have closing ceremony with a lot of guests priest we have incense. So we do a lot of incense at my parish. Anyway 4 years ago people at my parish we complaining to my Pastor Father Bill Weary about incense. The people complain to him about they are allergic to it. Then a parishioner bought my pastor hypoallergenic incense. So we used that incense recipe for about 3 years then Father Weary didn’t like. So he said that we will get a better incense recipe. Ok. I don’t like that incense. Then I mentioned to Father Weary about have you ever heard of Gloria Incense. So he said I have. So then he bought it. He still get complaint from the parishioners about incense. Speaking of people complaining to Fr. Weary about incense. I think people should attend Mass at another parish where they don’t do…

    1. My parish Scared Heart of Jesus, Winchester, VA, has started using incense at almost all Masses. They use it whenever they can during the Mass. By the end of Mass I have a headache from the strong sweet smell. Using it so often make it lose its significance. My church has also started using more Latin in the Mass and is constantly chanting the prayers instead of saying them. I am finding all this backwards movement disturbing. We will lose the young catholics if the backwards movement continues.

      1. What often causes irritation in incense is floral additives. It should be pure frankincense. It used to be clear when incense was required: at prescribed moments in every “solemn” or “sung” Mass (with some exceptions, such as for a Sung Mass Without Incense). Not at all in any “low” Mass. Now it’s less clear. And why do we have to regard the Church as being on a road going forward or backward, other than going toward union with God? We can debate what constitutes forward or backward until the cows come home. Maybe a modern recovery of some lost things in liturgy is evidence of a forward trajectory?

  35. Incense, fragrance, Febreeze, etc., all impact my breathing. My throat closes in and uncontrollable coughing and gasping follow. I’ve had to leave restaurants, movie theaters, and parties b/c of someone’s too-strong cologne, etc. For me, it’s a serious problem; for others, it’s unpleasant. There were enough complaints at my parish – including from the priest who is also allergic – that we use only it only at the 10:30 Mass on special days. Those like me can go to an earlier Mass, which has so far worked out well.

    The ugliness and judgment I have seen in this thread – including the priest with the ’empty’ thurible – are so unlike Christ. The old Mass is not as important as charity, and that seems to be lacking among the traditionalists of my acquaintance. Old Mass or new, it does us no good if we leave Christ out of the equation and treat those who prefer the ‘other’ Mass as enemies, misinformed, less Catholic, etc., etc. God is not Latin, nor is God incense. God is love, or have we forgotten?

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