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Burning of Incense; Scriptural or not?


In Roman Catholic tradition burning of incense is symbolic and this common practice often attracts criticism from non-Catholics. As Catholics it is our duty to explain issues and answer questions concerning our catholic practice. Hence, when we are confronted with questions concerning the use of incense, we should be able to give reasonable and convincing answers which are backed up with Holy Scriptures. In Christianity, burning of incense is not compulsory.

In the Catholic Church, burning incense is an expression of prayer. Incense symbolizes sanctification and it is used for purification. Its aroma symbolizes special offering, something pleasing and acceptable to God Almighty.

Incense was severally used in the scriptures. The areas where it was used are as follows;

  • (Ex.30:1-10) the lord instructed Moses to build a golden alter for the burning of incense.
  • (Ex 30:34-37) Yahweh then told Moses, Take sweet spices, stacte, onycha, galbanum, sweet spices and pure frankincense in equal parts, and compound and incense, such a blend as the perfumer, make salted pure and holy. You will grind some of this up very fine and put it in front of the Testimony in the tent of meeting, where I shall meet you. You will regard it as especially holy. Then in verse 37 He further told Moses not to make any similar composition for his own use.
  • Psalm 141:2 says “let my prayer rise before you like incense oh! Lord”. Hence burning incense is a prayer in action.
  • (Malachi1:11) from the farthest west, my name is honored among the nations and everywhere a sacrifice is offered to my name and a pure offering too, since my name is honored among nations.
  • (Rev.8:3-4) another angel came and stood with the golden censer and he was given much incense to mingle with the prayers of all the saints upon the golden alter before the throne and the smoke of incense rose with the prayers of the saints from the hand of the angel before God.

Brethren, with these scriptural references, we should be able to offer explanations to those who question the use of incense by the Catholic Church.





  1. Patrick Gannon Reply

    “Its aroma symbolizes special offering, something pleasing and acceptable to God Almighty.” Bible God likes the smell of incense and burnt meat! Question: How does a being outside of time and space even experience “aroma.”

    The problem with your Exodus sources is that the Exodus didn’t happen – certainly not as described in the bible.

    1. Michael W Reply

      Hey Patrick ‘Troll” Gannon. You seem don’t believe in the Bible. This is a biblical defense just to let you know. And Catholicism is based on it. God is omnipresence right? He is present everywhere. He can see and smell everything. Anyways, it seems that you think God is a person who created the Universe, and just left it to be.

      1. Patrick Gannon Reply

        Michael W, trolls don’t generally participate in discussions and debates – they start fights and then sit back and watch for their amusement. I always participate, and almost always respond to any comments sent my way. Calling me a troll doesn’t change the credibility of the issues I raise, but I do understand the human need to attack others who raise difficult questions people don’t actually want to think about. All you have to do is not read my posts if they offend you – just remember it is the person who is offended that “owns” that emotion and must decide what to do with it. They can rant and rave, or they can try to defend their position, or they can sit and stew, but it’s their call.

        No, I don’t “believe in the Bible.” What does that mean, anyway? Who gets to decide what believing in the bible means? We only “believe” things we don’t know. If we knew them, there would be no need to believe in them. Catholics disagree with evangelicals for example; do they “believe” in the bible the same way? Of course not. Who gets to decide which is right? Given that we have absolutely no originals, no evidence for much of the bible, and lots of evidence that much of it is incorrect including the core foundational components: (creation myth, global flood, Exodus migration, conquest of Canaan, etc.). No I do not “think” the bible is the inspired word of any divine being, but I’m willing to be proven wrong with evidence.

        You didn’t answer my question. The article is about incense. The author attempts to show that using incense is OK in Catholicism – but the real question is: Who cares? How can God even smell it? The author is careful, he speaks of the aroma as being symbolic, but the bible says otherwise as it frequently speaks of Bible God delighting in the aroma of burnt meat and fat – look it up for yourself. Since Bible God does not manifest in our physical matter reality – otherwise we’d have objective, empirical evidence that He exists – then how does He smell anything? I’m told God is outside time and space. Without space, how does aroma propagate?

        “Smell, like taste, is a chemical sense detected by sensory cells called chemoreceptors. When an odorant stimulates the chemoreceptors in the nose that detect smell, they pass on electrical impulses to the brain. The brain then interprets patterns in electrical activity as specific odors and olfactory sensation becomes perception — something we can recognize as smell.” Now tell me, how does Bible God who has no sensory cells, given that He is outside space and time, “smell” incense or burning fat?

        I do not think God is a “person” who created the universe and just left it to be (and why did you capitalize “Universe” – as though it was an equivalent to God?). A “person” could not create the universe based on our current scientific knowledge – but who knows, maybe black holes are the parents to new universes and maybe one day a human will create a black hole and thus create a new universe. I’m not holding my breath for that to happen, though. The God you speak of however, is the God of many of the founders of America. People like Thomas Jefferson were deists rather than theists – that is they thought a God may have created the universe, but then left it to develop on its own. If this is the way that happened, it makes a lot more sense than a God that intervenes in our physical matter reality without leaving any trace of Himself that might confirm He actually exists. Personally, I think we’ll come up with a scientific explanation for how the universe started, and God will lose another paragraph from His job description.

  2. Mervyn N Fernando Reply

    Am a theist and am quite comfortable n happy about my belief n position. Science is basically knowledge. Experience cannot be fully fathomed nor explained by any hard science or human scieces. one can neither prove or disprove philosohically the existence of God. That itself cannot rule out the existence of God. This God can never be captured by any formulations of Philosophy or Theology. None of our human formulas or formulations can capture the reality of That Wholy Other or the Divine.
    Now the Divine does not require the Universe nor anything in the Universe For His/ Her existence. God has no gender for that matter. But we have to use anthropomoceric language as we speak of God.
    Anyway I do believe in a personal God Who does not need me for his sake, but I do need him for truly meaningful n fuller life. To express my affection and connectedness to him I do use human gestures and signs and symbols of piety, devotion and respect, althoughGod doesnt require any of these. This is where we use flowers, fruits, other materials and incense. This is part of human complexity and different levels of functioning and experience. Who can dictate terms to people’s expressions and experiences.

    1. Patrick Gannon Reply

      If one can “neither prove or disprove philosophically the existence of God,” then why does God even matter? If He does not manifest in our physical matter reality, then He doesn’t matter – whether He exists or not. However Christians believe He does manifest in our reality, that He is a personal god who intervenes in our lives. These are scientific claims for which there seems to be no objective, empirical evidence – otherwise we wouldn’t still be debating it.
      I’m trying to understand the psychology of the believer. Your brain knows that there is no evidence for gods or afterlives – you’ve said as much in your post. Yet you insist that you believe in a personal god that may or may not exist. You tell your brain to ignore what it knows (that there is no evidence) and to accept your belief (my god exists anyway) and act upon it. How can this internal conflict that is created in the brain be healthy for us? We’re lying to ourselves. While the effects on each individual may be slight, the effects on our society, if not causal, show at least, an interesting correlation in my view.
      If Bible God does not need all the things you mentioned, why do some people need to try to give these things (to a being they can’t prove even exists), when that effort might be better spent giving those things to fellow human beings?

  3. Lorry Davis Reply

    WOW, Patrick! I will definitely be Praying for you.

  4. Lorry Davis Reply

    Always wanting us to prove He did, prove to us He DIDN’T!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    1. Patrick Gannon Reply

      Lorry, it doesn’t work that way. The person making the claim is the one who must defend it. There is no objective, empirical evidence for God, so in claiming He exists, the burden of proof is on you. If a scientist claims that there is a small teapot orbiting the sun, just inside the orbit of Mercury that is too small for us to see with our telescopes, do we just accept that claim, or is the scientist who makes the claim required to provide evidence for it, if he wants to be taken seriously? This is the “Russell’s Teapot” dilemma:
      ““If I were to suggest that between the Earth and Mars there is a china teapot revolving about the sun in an elliptical orbit, nobody would be able to disprove my assertion provided I were careful to add that the teapot is too small to be revealed even by our most powerful telescopes. But if I were to go on to say that, since my assertion cannot be disproved, it is an intolerable presumption on the part of human reason to doubt it, I should rightly be thought to be talking nonsense. If, however, the existence of such a teapot were affirmed in ancient books, taught as the sacred truth every Sunday, and instilled into the minds of children at school, hesitation to believe in its existence would become a mark of eccentricity and entitle the doubter to the attentions of the psychiatrist in an enlightened age or of the Inquisitor in an earlier time.”

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