The burning of incense is an ancient tradition that Christians learned from the Jewish people. Incense was expensive and scarce so burning it was a true sacrifice. 

Incense is burned while offering prayers, when blessing people and objects, and while worshiping God in Catholic liturgical services.

Today, incense is burned in a type of censor called a thurible, a small metal pot hanging on a chain. The incense is stored in a sacred vessel called a boat and transferred to the thurible with a small spoon.

Smelling incense and seeing the smoke grabs our attention. By engaging more of our senses this way, our minds and hearts are more effectively directed toward God.

Making us aware of the incredible mystery right in front of us:

Engaging the senses to enhance the ritual ceremonies of the Church:

And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and with golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints.

Revelation 5: 8

Scripture mentions incense 170 times:

Symbolizing our prayer and God’s presence:

The liturgy of the Word is an integral part of sacramental celebrations. To nourish the faith of believers, the signs which accompany the Word of God should be emphasized: the book of the Word (a lectionary or a book of the Gospels), its veneration (procession, incense, candles), the place of its proclamation (lectern or ambo), its audible and intelligible reading, the minister’s homily which extends its proclamation, and the responses of the assembly (acclamations, meditation psalms, litanies, and profession of faith).

Catechism of the Catholic Church 1154

Incense is reserved for special religious practices:

An expression of reverence and prayer:

“Opening their treasures they offered Him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh.” The gifts that the Magi offered the Messiah symbolized true worship. With gold, they emphasized his Royal Godhead; with incense, they acknowledged Him as the priest of the New Covenant; by offering Him myrrh, they celebrated the prophet who would shed his own blood to reconcile humanity with the Father. My dear young people, you too offer to the Lord the gold of your lives, namely, your freedom to follow Him out of love, responding faithfully to his call; let the incense of your fervent prayer rise up to Him, in praise of his glory; offer Him your myrrh, that is your affection of total gratitude to Him, true Man, who loved us to the point of dying as a criminal on Golgotha.

Pope John Paul II, To the Youth of the World on the Occassion of the 20th World Youth Day, August 6, 2004

The use of incense in the Eastern Catholic Churches is more prominent:

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