Home > Roman Catholicism > On the sensible and nonsensical use of incense

On the sensible and nonsensical use of incense

July 29th, 2008
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“Let my prayers rise before you as incense, and the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice” is what we sing in the order of Evening Prayer, and Lutheran Service Book indicates that the use of incense is appropriate. It is a beautiful thing indeed.
But, I’m thinking now that there is sense and nonsense when it comes to the use of incense, after watching this video.

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Categories: Roman Catholicism
  1. B. Preston
    July 29th, 2008 at 13:04 | #1

    Some how I don’t think this particular approach was the traditional practice of the Jews and Christians throughout history. But just maybe archaeology will unearth a giant censer under the Temple mount.

  2. Bill
    July 29th, 2008 at 13:06 | #2

    Ah, the swinging of the Botafumeiro at Santiago de Compostela, one of the most popular pilgrimage sites in Catholicism. Wikipedia cheekily notes: “One irreverent explanation of this custom, which originated more than 700 years ago–although incense has been used in Catholic ritual from the earliest times–is that it assisted in masking the stench emanating from hundreds of unwashed pilgrims.”

  3. Kaleb
    July 29th, 2008 at 14:14 | #3

    It seems to me that there may be a surprisingly accurate, though unscientific, way to measure the appropriateness of how you’re using incense: Just ask yourself whether it would cause people to want to disrupt the Divine Service by taking pictures with a flash.

  4. July 29th, 2008 at 17:19 | #4

    Wow. Somebody is going to get hurt one of these days.
    [[McCain: Yes, you could definitely put an eye out with that thing.]]

  5. July 29th, 2008 at 18:38 | #5

    That is quite weird. Do they give rides on that thing?

  6. Rev. Michael Mohr
    July 29th, 2008 at 21:08 | #6

    Unfortunately, for some, ANY use of incense is nonsensical. I remember one evening back when I was at the Sem preparing for Evening Prayer at the Chapel (I cannot remember if it was the Feast of Epiphany or another feast day, but on most feast days we would use incense for the Tuesday evening service) and another group was holding a music rehearsal shortly before the service. About fifteen minutes before the rehearsal was over, I set out the table with the thurible, but hadn’t lit the coal. As the rehearsal broke up, I was chastised by one coughing and sputtering soprano about how rude it was to have incense because some people (like her) are sensitive to it, and could we please refrain from using it when they had rehearsals because she could hardly make through the last fifteen minutes of the rehearsal. Mind you- no coal, no fire, no incense – just the cold thurible sitting on the table in preparation for a service she wasn’t even planning on attending garnered that response.
    Worship engages all our senses – seeing the symbols of the faith, hearing the Word of our Lord, smelling the incense of the prayers, tasting the bread and wine by which our Lord comes to us in His Body and Blood. (Not much proclamatory touching, but our debossed LSBs do provide us with a little bit of that, even!) I thank God for the chance to use incense in worship while at the Seminary.
    (BTW, I learned the hard way that you do not attempt to extinguish the coal in the thurible while in the sacristy at the Sem. The smoke detector is right above your head! At least the Clayton Fire Department has a sense of humor.)
    [[McCain: You could probably get a pretty large thurifer swinging in the chapel at the sem too, but not this large!]]

  7. July 30th, 2008 at 08:02 | #7

    It would hit the Schlicker organ in the balcony on the back-swing.
    [[McCain: And I'm thinking in some churches, it may take out the praise band in the chancel, which some might unkindly regard as a good thing. Hey, note to the terminally grumpy: lighten up, would you? That goes for the censed and noncensed crowd.]]

  8. wcwirla
    July 30th, 2008 at 09:19 | #8

    Holy smoke! I’m suffering from thurible envy over that one! Talk about “more is better”! Argumentum ad absurdum! I personally enjoy the restrained use of incense at Morning and Evening Prayer as symbolic of our prayers that rise to the throne of grace as a sweet smelling sacrifice through Christ our Lord. Many people also miss the symbolism of worship, since it is a commonplace in religion to offer incense to one’s deity. A Buddhist, casually entering the church for Morning or Evening Prayer would conclude that we worship Jesus as God. “Incense owns a Deity nigh.”
    I too have experience the “empty thurible” syndrome among those who are allergic to liturgy. It’s always amusing to say, “Oh, that. No, it’s empty and I forgot to put it away.” I’m also amused at how the same incense-phobic people fill their homes with scented candles and potpourri.

  9. July 30th, 2008 at 20:58 | #9

    Wow, I definitely have never seen anything like that! Makes me nostalgic for a tire swing or a rope in a hay loft.

  10. July 31st, 2008 at 05:02 | #10

    I remember the incense at the Maronite church in St. Louis about sending me out for fresh air. I was pregnant at the time and sensitive to smells. It wasn’t even that much, no more than in any other service, but it really hit me.
    My Maronite neighbor here in Lebanon would probably be envious as well. Every morning she burns incense to Mary. You have to understand that this woman does NOT believe that less is more. All I can say everytime I open my door at the wrong time is, “{cough, cough}Poor Mary! {cough, cough}”
    And don’t get me started on the people in Kuwait who burn bakour to drive out the jinn. I like the stuff and burn it myself at times, but let’s just say it’s not always just the jinn who are driven out. ;)

  11. July 31st, 2008 at 17:36 | #11

    I could not help but think “The Phantom of the Opera” while watching that.

  12. Karl Gregory
    August 3rd, 2008 at 14:42 | #12

    Suweeeet! I especially liked the catch at the end.

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