In Praise of Holy Smoke  

Posted by Joe Rawls

A very useful liturgical resource is the Smells and Bells site maintained by Roman Catholic scholar Matthew D Herrera.  It contains a comprehensive article outlining the ways in which incense may be used in Christian worship as well as its scriptural and theological justification.  The article contains some good quotes by Monsignor Romano Guardini which I reproduce below.  As an added treat, I could not resist including a video of extreme censing, the famous botafumeiro in Spain's cathedral of Santiago de Compostela.


The offering of incense is a generous and beautiful rite.  The bright grains of incense are laid upon the red-hot charcoal, the censer is swung, and the fragrant smoke rises in clouds.  In the rhythm and the sweetness there is a musical quality; and like music also is the entire lack of practical utility:  it is a prodigal waste of precious material.  It is a pouring out of unwithholding love...

The offering of incense is like Mary's anointing of Jesus at Bethany.  It is as free and objectless as beauty.  It burns and is consumed like love that lasts through death.  And the arid soul still takes his stand and asks the same question:  What is the good of it?

It is the offering of a sweet savour which Scripture itself tells us is the prayers of the Saints.  Incense is the symbol of prayer.  Like pure prayer it has in view no object of its own; it asks nothing for itself.  It rises like the Gloria at the end of a psalm. in adoration and thanksgiving to God for his great glory.


This entry was posted on Sunday, February 12, 2012 at Sunday, February 12, 2012 . You can follow any responses to this entry through the comments feed .



The botafumeiro is very pleasing unto the Lord. Or, at least, I like to think it is.

February 12, 2012 at 4:58 AM

Very nice. It makes me almost want to go to mass.

February 17, 2012 at 8:59 AM

What a waste of time and money and effort on superstition.

March 3, 2012 at 6:28 AM

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