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The Sacred Tradition of Using Incense

150709_saintsThe use of incense is a sacred tradition that is part of the catholic traditions throughout the world. As we all realize, other non-Christian traditions use this in sacred rites and prayer settings. As part of the catholic faith traditions, we are encouraged to use all of our senses: sight, hearing touch taste and smell. We know from science that smell is our most powerful sense, triggering memories, thoughts of elation, a sense that seems to have a direct connection to the spirit.

The influence of the Reformation and the Protestant Movement caused us to lose some of these aspects of spiritual expression. Over the years many places of Anglican/Episcopalian Life have reintroduced what was lost (I think when we threw out the bath water in this case we lost the baby!).

For us, incense is rooted in Sacred Scripture (Rev. 8:3-4; Ps. 141:2; Matt. 2:11). The Book of Common Prayer makes provision for the use of the incense (pages 61; 155; 143). Some parishes use it during the Sunday Eucharist each week at the principle celebration. In the Eastern Traditions it is used extensively in many aspects of public liturgical celebration. The rising of the incense during a service is a visual and well as an olfactory celebration of the senses, it rises as our prayers are carried to God.

Over the years jokes have been bantered about “smells and bells” (coming as a criticism from those of the “low church” tradition: “the smell makes me sick or triggers my allergy;” “if they use that stuff I’ll pull my pledge” – that’s the old standby phrase for a lot of things!

I for one am in favor of the use of incense on Holy Days and great celebrations or funeral and memorial services. But, as in all things, moderation is the key word. Should we use this prayer-help at St. Dunstan’s? My view is we are NOT Protestants, we are part of the Catholic Traditions – so why not! Will we? It is not my call or decision to make, I raise this question to help us understand our true place in historical Christianity and to get an understanding of what is rightfully ours.

See you next week –
bro. John, O.C.P.

One Comment

  1. Alice Brislawn says:

    Dear Brother john,
    I was happy to read your take on using inscense. I hope St. Dunstan’s will incorporate it in services. For about 2 years I attended a small church calling itself anglo-catholic and the tranquil odor of that inscense still reminds me of the peace and prayer we shared. It certainly has a power for me to walk into a sanctuary which used it, and instantly feel “at home”. It may indeed carry our prayers aloft; it certainly strengthens my resolve.

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