Aroma Therapy – Catholic style

Wake up and smell the incense!

A priest friend sent this to share for your Just Too Cool file.  From Science Daily:

Burning Incense Is Psychoactive: New Class Of Antidepressants Might Be Right Under Our Noses

Religious leaders have contended for millennia that burning incense is good for the soul. Now, biologists have learned that it is good for our brains too. An international team of scientists, including researchers from Johns Hopkins University and the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, describe how burning frankincense (resin from the Boswellia plant) activates poorly understood ion channels in the brain to alleviate anxiety or depression. This suggests that an entirely new class of depression and anxiety drugs might be right under our noses. [Pair that up with a gin martini flavored with borage flowers after Solemn Vespers on Sunday afternoon and you’re set!]
“In spite of information stemming from ancient texts, constituents of Bosweilla had not been investigated for psychoactivity,” said Raphael Mechoulam, one of the research study’s co-authors. “We found that incensole acetate, a Boswellia resin constituent, when tested in mice lowers anxiety and causes antidepressive-like behavior. Apparently, most present day worshipers assume that incense burning has only a symbolic meaning.”
To determine incense’s psychoactive effects, the researchers administered incensole acetate to mice. They found that the compound significantly affected areas in brain areas known to be involved in emotions as well as in nerve circuits that are affected by current anxiety and depression drugs. Specifically, incensole acetate activated a protein called TRPV3, which is present in mammalian brains and also known to play a role in the perception of warmth of the skin. When mice bred without this protein were exposed to incensole acetate, the compound had no effect on their brains.


Read the rest there.

Who knew?


Check out Exodus 30:

1 “You shall make an altar to burn incense upon; of acacia wood shall you make it.  … 7 And Aaron shall burn fragrant incense on it; every morning when he dresses the lamps he shall burn it, 8 and when Aaron sets up the lamps in the evening, he shall burn it, a perpetual incense before the LORD throughout your generations. 9 You shall offer no unholy incense thereon, nor burnt offering, nor cereal offering; and you shall pour no libation thereon. …

When the priest blesses the incense – a sacrifice to be completely destroyed in the offering – for incensing the altar during Mass he says:

May the Lord, by the intercession of blessed Michael the Archangel, who standeth at the right side of the altar of incense, and of all His Elect, vouchsafe to bless + this incense and receive it as an odor of sweetness: through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

And shall we forget Ps 141?  This is recited as the priest incenses the altar during Mass:

Let my prayer, O Lord, be directed as incense in Thy sight: the lifting up of my hands as an evening sacrifice. Set a watch, O Lord, before my mouth, and a door round about my lips. May my heart not incline to evil words, to make excuses for sins.

(RSV) 2 Let my prayer be counted as incense before thee, and the lifting up of my hands as an evening sacrifice! 3 Set a guard over my mouth, O LORD, keep watch over the door of my lips! 4Incline not my heart to any evil, to busy myself with wicked deeds in company with men who work iniquity.


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  1. PhilipNeri says:

    This may open a fragrant can of worms. . .Frankincense essential oil worn as a skin scent is also a possibility.

    Fr. Philip Neri, OP

  2. A fine Monte Cristo Churchill with a Connecticut wrapper has the same neurological effect, especially with a fine single malt, like Macallan 18 year.

  3. Cafea Fruor says:

    Holy smokes! This is great to hear. ;-)

  4. SaintJude6 says:

    I just have to mention this. I have a teenage son with autism, and a few days ago a parent of a small girl with autism (They are not Catholic.) told me that they have been using frankincense oil with their daughter when she is having a difficult time. She finds it very soothing. It made me wonder if the incense might not be part of the reason that my son can sit through an hour and a half or more of a EF Mass.

  5. Monica says:

    My husband and I often burn incense in the evenings, and frankincense is my favorite. I promise I have no personal/financial interest in this when I recommend Fred Soll’s company for purchasing excellent- quality resin incense.
    Still makes me smile to remember our Greek Orthodox friend who stayed with us awhile while he did some house-painting for us. “Smells like Church in here!” he said.

  6. Legisperitus says:

    Cool, just like hyssop. God knows what He’s doing when it comes to the natural world He created.

    Not to digress too much, but I’m reminded of when modern medicine discovered that the levels of agents in the bloodstream promoting blood clotting and pain resistance peak on the eighth day from birth, the very day God commanded circumcision to be performed.

  7. Sid Cundiff in NC says:

    I usually don’t quote the late Aidan Kavanagh, yet he claimed that smell is the only one of the five senses which works just as well when one is asleep as awake, something that florists and manufacturers of air freshners know full well.

    Thanks for Psalm 141. The scholars whom I’m reading say that it was the first Psalm at Vespers in the Patristic church’s Vespers — always with incense. Today it is the first Psalm for First Vespers on Sunday, Week I. Perhaps if we had more of the daily Divine Office this would practice would return.

  8. David Zampino says:

    I love it!

    When people complain to me about incense in church, I remind them that in Holy Writ, only two aromas are mentioned in the hereafter: incense and brimstone! I then politely ask them which they prefer!

  9. acricketchirps says:

    The phrase “Gin Martini” — redundant. The so-called “Vodka Martini” — an abomination.

  10. Luvadoxi says:

    Very cool! Also what Legisperitus said about the 8th day. I also remember hearing about how in the rain forest, poisonous plants have another plant in the vicinity which is its antidote. God know what He’s doing for sure!

    I love the scent of incense. Some perfumes give me a headache but not that one. And I suffer from anxiety. Our church uses incense on Easter and special days, but not often. I understand there is a hypo-allergenic incense, which I think would be a great idea–does anyone know if this one also reduces anxiety?

  11. Luvadoxi says:

    correction: God knows not God know….

  12. capchoirgirl says:

    We have two Masses with incense and two Masses without every Sunday. How *much* incense gets used is usually a matter of the celebrant’s personal taste! :)

  13. Uxixu says:

    The more the better! Unfortunately very rare at my home OF parish.

    They pile it on when I am fortunately enough to attend the EF.

  14. Pingback: Aroma Therapy – Catholic Style from Fr. Z’s Blog | Simple. Catholic. Living.

  15. Per Signum Crucis says:

    Excellent; that gives me a good excuse to keep ‘smoking’ in the sacristy! As to quantity, we get through three charcoal tablets per Mass so no danger of running out of steam halfway through.

  16. New Sister says:

    another bennie of the chapel veil: they hold very well the scent of incense! We ladies get to carry this “therapy” away in our purse / take little whiffs of it later on. :-)

  17. SaintJude6 says:

    I recently received my grandmother’s daily missal, which was published in 1943. It had been kept in a plastic box for many years, surviving hurricanes and floods. It still smells like incense.

  18. A.D. says:

    R.I.P. my dear (previous) cat. He could immediately tell when I had been to a Christmas or Easter Mass. The scent of the incense sent him into Heavenly ecstasy, somewhat like catnip. Current cat? Couldn’t care less! I suspect she has gone over to the Dark Side via a infamous bus of recent memory.

  19. Venerator Sti Lot says:

    Thank you for this!

    I am always worrying it may be massively attacked as a health hazard (accompanied by lucrative lawsuits)!

    I believe smoking it in a pipe is warned against, however… (though I do know someone who survived that experiment…)

    Have they tried similarly investigating that other ingredient of some incense, myrrh?

  20. Venerator Sti Lot says:

    Luvadoxi said, ” I also remember hearing about how in the rain forest, poisonous plants have another plant in the vicinity which is its antidote.” It is certainly (usually) true of dock to rub on as (partial) remedy for the pain of encountering a stinging nettle in England!

  21. JudicaMe says:

    Those that cough the most in the presence of the Holy Smoke has not gone to confession!

  22. excalibur says:

    Gin Martini

    Oh Father Z! A Martini is made with gin, all else are poseurs. Why, oh why did they ever let the great classic have its name abused, and associated with, vodka? Make a Manhattan with Scotch and it is not called a Manhattan, but a Rob Roy*. I think the beginning of the end of Western Civilization was when they allowed a cocktail made with vodka to be called a Martini. Get your own moniker should have been the resounding response from a civil society.

    *Though some now, cads that they are, refer to it as a Scotch Manhattan. Egads!

  23. jfk03 says:

    The Latin liturgy is quite sparing in its use of incense. By contrast, Byzantines are accustomed to multiple censings during Matin, Divine Liturgy and Great Vespers. Plus, we have jingle bells on our censers. By the way, Psalm 141 (140 according to LXX numbering) is always chanted at Great Vespers on Saturday evening. “May my prayer arise in your sight as incense and may the lifting up of my hands be an evening sacrifice.”

  24. Elizium23 says:

    Symbolic only? LOL. What people don’t realize is the three steps: plenty of things in the liturgy start out with a prosaic purpose, and then symbolic meaning is gradually layered upon them, and then the practical purpose is lost to the sands of time. I’m going to ignore the fourth step which is when “reform” abolishes all those things because they now appear useless and redundant. The fifth step, “reform of the reform” revives them and then sets about educating people about their importance so they are never, ever lost again.

    Viz. the maniple.

  25. StWinefride says:

    Frankinscence also has anti-aging properties – great in skincare :). The article says: This suggests that an entirely new class of depression and anxiety drugs might be right under our noses.

    Nature and the home are full of remedies – the scent of flowers, the smell of cooking – onions, garlic, vegetables, roast chicken etc. So many things to lift one’s spirit. In one of England’s loveliest country houses, Montacute House, now owned by the National Trust, there is an inscription in Latin on one of the Library windows – it was engraved in 1770 by the then owner, Edward Phelips V, and the last couple of lines were something that stood out for me when I first read them a couple of decades ago when far away from the Church. In Latin, then English (translated by one of the Montacute House volunteers). Picture of window here:

    Felix cui mentis Vis & Divinior Ardor
    Intima Naturae pandere sacra dedit
    Qui potuit Causas Scrutari & foedera rerum
    Qui Newtone tuis gressibus ire Comes
    Felix ille etiam curas qui novit Agrestes
    Qui novit varias quas habet Hortus Opes
    & quaenam arboribus novit natura Creandis
    Quo potior Surgat Singula quaeque Solo
    & quae felici limo atque uligine Stagni
    & quae saxosis gaudeat herba lugis
    Quaeque reformidat Boreae penetrabile Frigus
    Quaeque inter Scythicas frondeat usque Nives
    Nec tenuem incuses nec Dedignare Laborem
    Hic etiam Curam Maximus Auctor Habet
    Non illum Caeli tantum inter Lumina quaeras
    Est etiam in Minimis quo fateare Deum.

    Happy is the man who has a sharp mind and a spiritual passion
    To reveal the innermost secrets of Nature,
    Who can grasp the causes and relationships of things,
    Who can walk in the footsteps of Newton.
    Yet happy too is the man who cares for his fields,
    And who knows the many riches of his garden,
    Who has learned how to graft trees,
    So that each may thrive in its soil,
    Who knows which grow best in the rich mud
    And ooze of the bog, and which flourish on the stony ridges,
    Which shun the biting cold of the North wind
    And which come into leaf up among the snows of Scythia.
    Do not scorn or despise this humble toil;
    For it is the concern of the Great Creator Himself.
    Do not seek Him only amid the stars in the sky;
    For it is in the small things of life that you may find God.

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