What does incense symbolize?

Incense is an aromatic substance obtained from the resin of certain trees that, when burned on coal, produces a sweet aroma. Incense and the smoke it creates signify purification and sanctification.

The smoke symbolizes the prayers of the faithful lifted up to God. The psalmist prays: “Let my prayer be counted as incense before you, and the lifting up of my hands as an evening sacrifice”(Psalm 141).

Incense also creates an atmosphere of heaven. The book of Revelation describes the celestial worship as follows: “Another angel with a golden censer came and stood at the altar; he was given a great quantity of incense to offer with the prayers of all the saints on the golden altar that is before the throne. And the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, rose before God from the hand of the angel”(Rev. 8:3-4).

The use of incense adds a sense of solemnity and mystery to the mass. The visual image of smoke and smell remind us of the transcendence of the Mass, which unites heaven to earth and allows us to enter into the presence of God.

Response given by P. Dominic Feehan, SHM