The use of incense is an ancient tradition

Published November 1, 2001

Dear editor,

The use of incense in worship is an ancient tradition. It represents many things, among them the biblical and visual idea of prayers ascending to heaven, and the olfactory: the sweet fragrance of holiness, but more than this, it is a continuing link with patterns of worship of past ages.

While we seem (happily) to be beyond the period of unfounded prejudice with regard to incense, we are now faced with the plea for sanitizing the “worship environment.” To my knowledge, every single parish that uses incense at certain services has other services, which are “smoke-free.”

To deprive the entire congregation of the symbolic richness of incense for the needs of a few is over-reaction of the worst sort. It is a matter of courtesy, however, that in parishes where incense is used only occasionally, those services should be noted as being “with incense.” This way, a rational and individual choice can be made without imposing one’s particular needs on the whole parish.

It should be noted that certain types of incense cause much less distress than others. Naturally, these are more expensive.


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