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Titular question seems to say it all. And not sure how I could expand any further.

But does this have any name? What is the origin or significance of it? Christian traditions having incense to burn is a new thing to me. I always thought it was only a Hindu and Buddhist practice.

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  • Likely frankincense. Sep 24, 2023 at 17:11
  • @DerÜbermensch Yes, that's a common one. We use a blend of frankincense with other aromatics.
    – Geremia
    Sep 25, 2023 at 4:12

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Not trying to be funny, but the incense-like fragrance is incense.

It is used in the Catholic liturgy at a few moments. Typically the altar is incensed at the beginning of the Mass, the Evangelical (book with the readings from the Gospel) is incensed before reading the Gospel, the priest, deacon, acolytes and the people are incensed before the Eucharist. The priest incenses the bread and wine/body and blood of Christ during Eucharist. And in between the incense keeps burning.

So yes, you should be able to smell it.

The significance is mainly that this way the people and objects that are incensed are kind of blessed. The incense is also said to carry our prayers to heaven, but that is not to be taken all to literal.

There is also a very practical side to it: people are supposed to be sober (no eating or drinking before) when attending Mass, which doesn’t always help the smell of your breath. In a full church, some incense can help to suppress the smell of the people.

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Frankincense is the hardened resin obtained from the Boswellia tree. This incense formed an integral part of the ingredients used in worship. In the Bible, we find the first mention of it in Exodus 30:34 where Moses is asked by the Lord to take sweet spices and frankincense for use in the worship. We find mention of it all through Leviticus, Numbers, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Song of Solomon. One important mention is in Matthew 2:11 where the Magi offer frankincense with gold and myrrh to baby Jesus. The last book of the Bible, namely Revelation, also makes a mention of the spice at 18:13. Apart from giving out a pleasing smell, frankincense also is known to kill certain types of bacteria and fungi. Besides Catholic churches, Orthodox churches also use frankincense in worship, as well as for the blessing of homes, during burial services, etc. By the way, the incense used by Hindus and Buddhists during their worship is Gum Benzoin which smells somewhat similar to frankincense.

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