Why Do Catholics Burn Incense? (Explained)

Burning incense dates back to ancient times as a symbol of sanctification and purification, as well as a means of connecting the faithful with God through the visual representation of prayer.

The use of incense in Catholic worship can be traced through both the Old and New Testaments, showing its continued importance in the liturgy. As you explore this fascinating aspect of Catholicism, you’ll discover how the scent and smoke of incense enhance the worship experience, fostering a sense of reverence and drawing you closer to the divine.

So, the next time you attend a Mass that features the use of incense, take a moment to contemplate its deeper meaning and let it enrich your connection with your faith.

History of Incense Use in the Catholics

The history of incense usage in religious practices goes back thousands of years, and as a Catholic, you might be curious about its origins and purpose. Dating back to ancient Egypt, where it was used in religious ceremonies and offerings.

It was considered a gift worthy of gods and was believed to drive away evil spirits.

Moving forward in time, the use of incense is found throughout the Old Testament as an integral part of worship in the Temple of Jerusalem. For example, in Exodus 30:34-38, God gives specific instructions to create a special incense blend to be used in the Tabernacle.

This ritual was considered an essential aspect of worship, symbolizing prayers rising to God.

In the context of Judaism, incense played a significant role in the First and Second Temples. The high priest would burn incense on the golden altar inside the Holy of Holies as part of the Day of Atonement ritual (Leviticus 16:12-13).

It’s important for you to note that the burning of incense represented holiness, prayers, and the presence of God.

When Christianity emerged, it carried on this tradition from Judaism and integrated incense into its liturgical practices. Early Christians saw incense as a way to honor and revere the divine, while also symbolizing the prayers of the faithful rising to heaven.

This connection between the physical and spiritual realms has persisted throughout the centuries and remains an essential element of Catholic worship.

Now that you have a better understanding of the history of incense used in religious practices, you can appreciate its significance and the symbolism it carries during Catholic Mass and other liturgical services.

The burning of incense is more than just a pleasant aroma; it’s a tangible representation of our prayers and devotion ascending toward God.

What is the significance of incense in Catholics?

In Catholic liturgies, incense symbolizes sanctification and purification. The smoke from burning incense represents the prayers of the faithful, as they rise to God like the smoke from the censer.

This imagery is inspired by the Bible, specifically Psalm 141:2, which states, “Let my prayer be incense before you; my uplifted hands an evening offering.” As you participate in Catholic worship, the presence of incense can serve as a beautiful reminder of your prayers ascending to the divine.

Why is Incense Used During Mass?

During Mass, using incense further enriches the ceremony and adds a sense of solemnity and mystery. For example, during funeral Masses, the priest may incense the coffin to honor the deceased’s body, which became a temple of the Holy Spirit at Baptism, while also signifying the prayers for the deceased rising to God.

What is The Meaning of Incense of Worship?

The use of incense in Catholic worship is meant to remind you of heaven and the divine origin of Christian liturgy.

When you see incense burning in your church, it signifies the connection between heaven and earth, reinforcing the idea that your worship of God is a sacred and holy act.

Incense also reminds you to pray and invites the Holy Spirit to work within you, making you more holy. The heavenly scent of incense encourages you to focus on your prayers and worship, allowing your thoughts and intentions to rise to God along with the fragrant smoke.

This beautiful tradition helps you feel more spiritually connected, enhancing your relationship with God and fellow believers during Mass and other church services.

Incense in Catholic Liturgy

Types of Masses and Ceremonies

In the Catholic Church, incense is used in various types of Masses and ceremonies. You might have noticed priests and altar servers swinging censers during important events such as the celebration of the Eucharist, entrance procession, funerals, and even during Baptism. The incense serves as a symbol of the theological truths in these moments, adding a touch of solemnity and mystery to heighten the spiritual experience.

Key Moments in Catholic Mass

During the Catholic Mass, there are several key moments when incense is used:

Entrance Procession: As you witness the entrance procession, the use of incense helps to signify the presence of the sacred and prepares your heart for the celebration to follow.

Proclamation of the Gospel: Incensing the Book of the Gospels emphasizes the centrality and importance of the Word of God. It helps to remind you that the words you are about to hear are divine and transformative.

Offertory: At the Offertory, the priest will use incense to bless the gifts of bread and wine. This signifies their transformation, as they will soon become the Body and Blood of Christ during the consecration.

Consecration: The use of incense during the consecration emphasizes the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. It symbolizes the offering of our prayers rising to heaven, and the sanctification of the altar as the place where Christ becomes truly present.

Benediction: Incense is also used during Benediction as a sign of reverence and adoration for the Blessed Sacrament. It is an expression of our love and deep trust in the presence of Christ.

In addition to these moments, incense is used during funerals to represent our prayers for the deceased person and to remind us of the holiness of their body as a temple of the Holy Spirit.

Taking part in a Mass or ceremony with the use of incense can provide you with a powerful connection to the sacred and a deeper understanding of the spiritual significance of these moments. Embrace the experience and let the aroma carry your prayers to heaven.

Different Types of Incense Used in Catholic Tradition

Catholic tradition often uses various types of incense during religious ceremonies. In this section, you’ll learn about two significant incense used in Catholic rituals: Frankincense and Myrrh.


Frankincense, also known as olibanum, is a resin obtained from the Boswellia tree. It has been widely used in various religious traditions throughout history. In Catholic ceremonies, frankincense symbolizes the prayers of the people rising to heaven, as the smoke rises from the burning incense. Its sweet, warm aroma also represents the divine presence and helps create a sacred atmosphere during worship. When you attend a Catholic Mass or other rites, you may notice the use of frankincense, reflecting its important role in the tradition.


Myrrh is another important incense used in Catholic rituals. It is derived from the Commiphora myrrha tree found in Africa and the Arabian Peninsula. Like frankincense, myrrh has a rich history of use in various religious traditions. In the context of Catholicism, myrrh symbolizes sacrifice and the suffering of Christ. You might recall the story of the Magi bringing gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh to the baby Jesus, emphasizing the significance of these incense even at the very beginning of the Christian faith.

By incorporating these two deeply meaningful incense into their worship, the Catholic Church continues a rich and long-standing tradition that connects its believers with the sacred and enhances the overall experience of the rites.

What’s the Difference Between Myrrh and Frankincense Incense?

Myrrh originates from the Commiphora tree, while frankincense comes from the Boswellia tree. Both are derived from the tree’s sap, which hardens into a resin when exposed to air. You’ll find that these resins are quite valuable, particularly due to their various uses in religious, medicinal, and perfumery practices. Essential oils extracted from these resins can be analyzed using gas chromatography.

As for their scents, frankincense is characterized by a warm, sweet, and slightly citrus aroma. In contrast, myrrh bears a more earthy and bitter scent, with a hint of spiciness.

When it comes to their uses in religious ceremonies, frankincense is often burned as an incense, symbolizing prayers rising to heaven, while myrrh is typically used for anointing and purification purposes, reflecting Christ’s suffering and humanity.

Finally, it’s worth mentioning that myrrh and frankincense have traditional applications in ancient medicine. Myrrh was commonly used for its pain-relieving and wound-healing properties, as well as a component in various salves and ointments.

On the other hand, frankincense boasts anti-inflammatory and antiseptic qualities, offering potential health benefits such as treating skin issues and easing respiratory difficulties.

In conclusion, both myrrh and frankincense deliver unique scents and symbolism, making them essential components of religious ceremonies. Understanding their differences allows you to better appreciate their roles and significance in your Catholic faith.

How to Use Frankincense and Myrrh Incense

To begin using frankincense and myrrh incense in your home or sacred space, you’ll need a few essential items. These include a burner or censer, charcoal tablets, and of course, the incense itself. You can find frankincense and myrrh in resin, powder, or pre-made incense sticks form.

First, prepare your space by ensuring it is well-ventilated to allow the incense smoke to disperse. Next, place your burner or censer on a heat-resistant surface to protect your furniture. If you’re using a charcoal incense burner, ignite a charcoal tablet and wait for it to heat up until it turns grey or white.

Make sure to handle the charcoal with tongs or gloves, as it can get extremely hot.

Once the charcoal is ready, carefully place a small amount of frankincense and myrrh resin, powder, or pre-made incense onto the tablet. The heat will cause the incense to release its aromatic smoke, filling your space with its distinctive scent. Remember to use a modest amount initially, and you can always add more later if desired.

Keep an eye on your incense burner or censer to ensure it doesn’t become too hot or present a fire hazard. It’s also good practice to check in from time to time to make sure your incense is burning correctly. Once the incense has finished burning, be sure to give your burner time to cool down before cleaning it.

When incorporating frankincense and myrrh incense into your routine, remember that moderation is key. Using incense too frequently can cause respiratory issues, so it’s advisable to enjoy this ancient practice in moderation. By following these steps and taking necessary precautions, you can create a serene and sacred atmosphere in your space while engaging in a meaningful and age-old tradition.

How Was Frankincense Used in Ancient Times?

In ancient times, frankincense played a significant role in various aspects of life. One of its primary uses was in religious ceremonies and rituals. For example, it was an essential ingredient in the sacred incense blend that God instructed the Israelites to use in the most holy place in the Tabernacle Learn Religions. Moreover, frankincense was highly valued by ancient civilizations, such as the Egyptians and Romans, for its aromatic qualities and medicinal properties Britannica.

Aside from its religious significance, frankincense was also used for medicinal purposes. It was an essential component of folk and Eastern medicine, where it was believed to have various health benefits.

Back in those days, it would have been a common ingredient in remedies for ailments such as digestive problems, respiratory issues, and skin conditions Britannica.

In summary, the use of frankincense in ancient times was deeply rooted in religious practices and health remedies.

What Does the Bible Say About Frankincense?

Frankincense is mentioned several times in the Bible, often in connection with religious rituals and worship.

In the Old Testament, it played a significant role in the Jewish tradition. In Exodus 30:34, God instructed Moses to create a special incense blend that included frankincense for use in the Tabernacle, where the Israelites worshiped.

In the New Testament, the gift of frankincense was given to baby Jesus by one of the Magi, showing its importance in spiritual practices of that time. The gifts of the Magi – gold, frankincense, and myrrh – symbolized Christ’s roles as king, priest, and Savior, respectively (Matthew 2:11).

Frankincense, then, has a long-standing biblical history tied to worship and reverence. Catholics have adopted this ancient practice, and continue to use incense in their liturgy today, as a means of showing respect and creating an atmosphere of holiness during their worship services.

So when you encounter the use of incense in Catholic worship, remember its biblical roots and symbolism as an offering to God, connecting you to the centuries-old tradition of honoring the divine through the burning of fragrant resins such as frankincense.

Role of Incense in Prayer and Intercession

Prayers of the Saints

When you attend a Catholic Mass, you may notice the use of incense during the service. Its fragrance and smoke are intended to represent your prayers rising to heaven, accompanied by the prayers of the saints. As a believer, you can feel comforted in the knowledge that your prayers are being lifted up and supported by those who have gone before you in the faith.


In addition to the prayers of the saints, the burning of incense during a Catholic service represents the presence of angels. The wafting smoke and enticing aroma evoke a sense of the otherworldly, reminding you that angels are always present to assist and protect you in your spiritual journey.

This symbolism helps to foster a deeper connection to the divine and increases your faith in the spiritual realm around us.


The use of incense in Catholic worship is also rooted in the concept of purification.

In ancient times, it was believed that burning incense helped to cleanse and purify sacred spaces, making them worthy places for worshiping God. Today, the act of burning incense during a Mass symbolizes the purification of your soul, as it helps to remove sin and any obstacles that may be hindering your relationship with God.

The ritual act of burning incense thus acts as a tangible reminder of the transformative power of prayer and the importance of maintaining a clean heart and mind in your spiritual life.

What Does the Bible Say About Burning Incense?

In the Bible, incense holds a significant place as a symbol of prayer and worship.

For example, in Psalm 141:2, it states, “Let my prayer be counted as incense before you, and the lifting up of my hands as an evening sacrifice.” Here, you see a connection between incense and prayer.

Further evidence for the use of incense in worship can be found in the Book of Revelation. In Revelation 8:3-4, it describes an angel offering “…golden censer, and much incense was given to him, so that he might add it to the prayers of all the saints on the golden altar which was before the throne.

And the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, went up before God out of the angel’s hand.”

Going back to the time of Moses, incense was considered an essential part of worship.

In the book of Exodus, detailed instructions are given for creating incense and using it during worship, illustrating its importance in religious rituals.

Finally, in the Gospel, incense appears in the narrative surrounding Jesus’ birth. The wise men or Magi brought gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh to the baby Jesus, with frankincense being a precious type of incense used for worship.

By understanding these scriptural references, you can see how incense is deeply rooted in Christian tradition and has played a significant role in prayer and worship throughout history.

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