Wake up and smell the incense

Here is a find from American Papist:

Report: Does incense make you high?
Of course not, but that doesn’t prevent scientists from issuing research papers with titles such as this (I’m not making this up): "Incensole Acetate, an Incense Component, Elicits Psychoactivity by Activating TRPV3 Channels in the Brain."

MSN’s Health & Fitness gives us the popular treatment:

… Frankincense—the incense traditionally burned in religious ceremonies—can act on the brain to lower anxiety and diminish depression.

Researchers from Johns Hopkins University and Hebrew University administered incensole acetate, a component of frankincense, to lab mice and learned that it lit up areas of their little mouse brains that control emotion, including nerve circuits affecting anxiety and depression.  [Imagine what it does to the brains of progressivists…. or maybe not.]

Of course, as soon as the author strays from the science his commentary gets fairly useless very quickly.

I wonder, however, if these sorts of findings could be used as backdoor argument to convince liberal parishes and liturgy commissions to allow incense back into the celebration of Mass? Hmm….

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in SESSIUNCULA. Bookmark the permalink.


  1. TNCath says:

    Okay, so we now know why we enjoy the “smells.” What about the “bells”? In the GIRM, I seem to remember a line that goes something like this: “Ordinarily a bell should be rung at the consecration so as to elicit joy and elation.” You think someone might do a study on this as well?

  2. Mac McLernon says:

    “Imagine what it does to the brains of progressivists….”

    You have to find their brains first.

  3. TA1275 says:

    Well, at the Cathedral in Cincinnati on New Years, we had a dancing lady with a bowl of incense. That is probably more of what the progressives have in mind when you say incense.

  4. Tina in Ashburn says:

    “Potheads flocking to High Masses…”.

  5. Melody says:

    This is like those studies proving that many “old wives” tales are true. The virtue of traditions are that they have been well tested by time. People learned to do what works. I have always found frankincense to be very calming, which aids in prayer and contemplation. It’s sad that everything today has to be modern and scientific.

    This may amuse you: http://archives.cnn.com/2000/HEALTH/diet.fitness/10/17/chicken.soup.reut/

  6. Interesting…..perhaps this article would convince our auxiliary bishop to use incense for his Winter Solstice Mass instead of tobacco…….but I doubt it. Burning tobacco as incense probably fits better from a cultural aspect with the Eagle feather smudgings that they also do at this Mass.

  7. LCB says:

    “control emotion…”

    Emotions shouldn’t be controlled, they should be acted on without any recourse to reason! No wonder progressive are opposed to incense!

  8. Braadwijk says:

    Why go to Holland? I should just go back to Mass instead. :)

  9. Jim says:

    Interesting. This scientist should conduct his experiments at a Byzantine rite parish, as we use vastly more frankincense than any Roman rite parish I know of.

  10. LCB says:

    Jim, I fixed it for you:

    The scientist should conduct his experiments at a Byzantine rite parish, as we use vastly more frankincense than any Roman Catholic Diocese I know of.

  11. Mark says:

    The progressivists I know and have seen in action LOVE using incense, but it’s always carried in a ceramic bowl by a female who prances up and down the aisles and around the sanctuary in a form-fitting dance costume.

  12. Aelric says:

    I think I can hear the lyrics from Cheech & Chong’s “Up in Smoke.”

  13. JML says:

    I don’t know about euphoria, but incense does clear the sinuses!!!

  14. DebSTS says:

    Progressivists, I believe, would be more inclined to convince the public that incense, due to its “carbon emissions”, contributes to “global warming.” But perhaps if they think they can get high, they would find a way to breathe it to soothe their anxiety while they watch planet Earth burn up.

  15. m.a. says:

    I don’t like the smell of incense. It didn’t bother me when I was a child but now anything that has a high perfume/incense or smokey/tobacco level bothers my sinuses terribly. I am glad we use it only on special occasions.

  16. Tina in Ashburn says:

    Now we know why they call it “High” Mass?

  17. Agnes says:

    Incense in moderation!

    (I have a brother-in-law who faints dead away at the slightest whiff…)

  18. John says:

    Our former priest used incense at 2 or 3 Masses a month. Our current priest is “allergic” to it so no more incense. Also no live flowers in the sanctuary as they give him a headache. Just a bunch of fake flowers. But his homilies are maybe 10 times better so I suppose it works out. (The fake flowers go along with the recorded klavino music.)


  19. Ioannes Andreades says:

    FYI, incense can cause asthma attacks, with can be lethal. If you use it, make sure your altar servers particularly don’t have asthma. I have to admit that as using incense regularly will exclude people unncessarily, I question the frequent use of it.

  20. Exactly how many deaths have occurred in the last 100 years through the inhilation of liturgical incense?

    Ok – let’s just say before 1968.

    Just curious…

    Fr. Deacon Daniel

  21. Geoffrey says:

    My parish uses incense about three times a year… Christmas, Holy Thursday, and the Easter Vigil. Of course, it’s almost always in some sort of bowl. I am curious if this makes it more or less “dangerous”?

  22. Jayna says:

    My parish uses on the major holidays and every Friday for Benediction. Sometimes it can be a bit much in the chapel (there are only three rows of pews in it, I don’t think you quite need three heaping spoonfuls, Father!), but I’ll deal with it if they’ll actually lower themselves to use it.

    I asked the liturgist why it wasn’t used more often, as I recalled it being used every Sunday at the church I grew up in and in the church I attended while I was living in England last year. She told me that people complained about the smell. Our church seats about 500 people, so I’m not entirely sure how much incense it would take to truly cause a problem in a space that large. I am sure, however, that I don’t think it’s possible it would all fit in the censer.

  23. Aaron Russell says:

    Careful Father, You will have the greenies after you. And the new policy would
    be a carbon tax on emissions.

    Australians… another reasons why Kevin Rudd has to go!

  24. Amy says:

    Great replies Mac and Tina!

    Actually, I do believe I would \\\”get high\\\” if given the opportunity to attend a Mass licit enough to use incense! Yes indeed, euphoria would be my state of being. Alas…

  25. DCS says:

    Can’t type…. coming down…..

  26. Alessandro says:

    We (at St. Anthony Basilica Padua Italy) use incese daily at 5 pm mass, during the NO missa cantata, and twice on sundays (11 am and 5 pm): our novices are very fond of it, and now, after reading the post, I can understand better why. :-)))

  27. PNP, OP says:

    True story…a priest friend of mine visiting at a “progressive” parish had a male altar server vest in a cassock and surplice and serve as a thurifer using a classically designed censer. The parishioners complained bitterly to the pastor that the incense was making them cough and some had to leave the Mass. About three weeks later the same priest visiting the same parish asked one of the altar girls to dance up the aisle with a ceramic incense bowl. Same incense, same charcoal. The same parishioners thought the whole thing was wonderful. No complaints to the pastor this time. They were allergic, it turns out, to altar boys in cassocks. Fr. Philip, OP

  28. Ioannes Andreades says:

    Fr. Deacon Daniel,

    If you don’t believe me, please consult a pulmonologist who treats asthma patients.

  29. If you don’t believe me, please consult a pulmonologist who treats asthma patients.

    I am no pulmonologist, but — in the case of some one in whom incense causes asthma attacks — even I would advise that he stay away from high Mass with incense, and instead attend a low Mass without it. Preferable to complaining and interfering with the worship of those who do not suffer from asthma or other problems with incense.

  30. LCB says:

    Any readers able to recommend a good source of hypo-allergenic incense?

    Also, I’ve been told that the quick-light coals are often a source of problems. Any incense addicts have advice about coals?

  31. PG says:

    I have asthma and incense doesn’t bother me. I’m not saying that it doesn’t cause problems for some asthmatics, but it is far from a universal trigger. My parish uses incense during the last two masses every Sunday. It is never used at the earlier masses. (This information is published in the bulletin.)

    I’ve heard that higher quality (i.e. more expensive) incense causes less problems. I don’t know if this is true. Our former pastor used the high quality stuff. I think our current pastor is using the cheaper stuff. It’s not causing me any problems, it just doesn’t smell as nice.

  32. Not Getting Creaky Just Yet says:

    While visiting Our Lady’s Maronite Catholic Church in Austin, Texas, I asked Father why I didn’t get the sneezes and such when he lit off the incense. He said that the unfortunate effects are the result of buying the el-cheapo brands of incense to burn–he buys the good stuff and there are no problems. But! When he says Mass for the Byzantine Rite community there, they buy the cheap stuff and all the sneezes and coughing starts right up. As the man uses incense a lot, I’m inclined to believe his evaluation of the cause of difficulty. :-)


  33. Larry says:

    I am not saying the “Church Liberals” are identical with the so called “flower children” BUT if they are… I think we will find not just thuribles but maybe bowls on incense burning throughout the church building, maybe piped into the ventilation system. Finding the building will be no problem no matter how strange the design, just follow your nose. If this leads to a certain mellowing of their normal angst it will be very interesting. Once the fact that this is so effective no doubt the liberals in congress will want to cross the line and allow a teeney tiny bit of religion into their hallowed halls. Imagine a mellow congress! Of course there is the possibility of DEA involvement so be prepared for a raid if the billows get ot billowy in your parish!

  34. Emilio III says:

    I also have asthma, but incense has bothered me only once, so I suspect the quality of the incense (or charcoal) is relevant. In any case, if it bothers me, that’s my problem not the parish’s. If it’s bad enough I’ll try another Mass.

    That lady’s perfume is far more obnoxious. Should I ask her to move, or to stop wearing it?

  35. Of course, if it bothers you, you can sit in the back of the Church close to the doors and exit if things get to thick or if it becomes difficult to breathe.

    Our Byzantine mission is in a smaller space, so we are careful only to place one small piece of incense on the coal.The goal is not to smoke folks out like bees! Incense, after all, signifies our prayers and the sweet fragrance of the Holy Spirit present in the midst of the congregation. There are some who go to excess, and that is a problem. Even within a Byzantine service there is a place for moderation!

    In ICXC,

    Fr. Deacon Daniel

  36. Dove says:

    Our pastor reported yesterday that someone had stolen the incense out of the Paschal candle.

Comments are closed.