Incense smells like opulence, like an ancient perfume only made for royals. This distinct smell has become synonymous with some rites of mass (since the 13th century) and has been referred to in the Old and New Testaments of the Bible.
Here are five interesting facts about incense that you should know:
- It was used in religious rites of the ancient world to keep demons away.
- The Jews regarded incense as an item of thanksgiving to be offered up along with oil and animals:
“and his offering was one silver plate whose weight was a hundred and thirty shekels, one silver basin of seventy shekels, according to the shekel of the sanctuary, both of them, full of fine flour mixed with oil for a cereal offering; one golden dish of ten shekels full of incense; one young bull, one ram, one male lamb a year old, for a burnt offering;” (Numbers 7: 13-15).
- It was used as a purification agent of the Tabernacle, ensuring that it was sacred enough to be a place of worship (Exodus 30: 1;10). Frankincense, one of the components used to make incense, actually has disinfectant and antiseptic properties!
- It provides solemnity; the smoke is seen to be raised up to the heavens along with the prayers of the faithful. This is expressed in Psalm 141:2 which says:
“Let my prayers be counted as incense before thee, and the lifting up of my hands as an evening sacrifice!”.
- Some people refer to incense as Holy Smoke!
At mass, it may be used during the entrance procession; at the start of mass for the altar; procession and gospel proclamation; at offering time to incense the altar priests and people; and at the elevation of the consecrated host and chalice. Incense is used on Sundays, Holy days of Obligation and funeral masses when the casket is present. It is also used during the dedication of new churches, cemeteries, church bells and the consecration of holy oils.
Using incense adds to the solemn nature of mass and represents a link between earth and heaven. As it was used as a purification agent in the Old Testament, what better way to recall the tradition of making all things Holy in the presence of God? Remember these facts when next you are at mass and bask in the sanctity of the moment as you offer up your prayers to our Lord.