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.