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Frankincense resin, along with myrrh resin, are important to Christianity due to their inclusion in the Holy Bible, where the Three Wise Men gave gifts of frankincense, myrrh, and gold to baby Jesus. This led to traditional churches making use of the resins during their religious services. Nowadays, many people reminisce about the frankincense burned in Catholic churches during their youth. The bright, musky aroma of frankincense permeating from censers (thuribles) which are held by the practitioners seem to produce a strong memory in the minds of parishioners.

People who used to attend such ceremonies may wish to replicate their olfactory experience and may wonder what ingredients were burned during their fond memories of church, so we created this article to help point you in the right direction.

Catholic Incense Ingredients

While incense is a traditional component of Catholic practice, it’s worth noting that due to the rising cost of quality frankincense, many churches do not use the material anymore. It is now common for churches to use a wider variety of resin incense and we are going to list the most common ones below.


Frankincense resin is probably the most common resin burned during Catholic religious ceremonies, although it also often combined with myrrh.

In the Middle East during ancient times, you were probably most likely to encounter boswellia sacra, from regions such as Oman and Somalia. This type of frankincense has the aroma of a citrus-musk and smells less earthy than many of its counterparts.

However, in modern times, many churches are burning whatever boswellia resin they can find for an affordable price.


When myrrh resin is burned during religious ceremonies, it is often burned alongside frankincense.

Myrrh typically has a resinous apricot-like scent, but the fragrance profile can differ a bit depending on where the myrrh was harvested, as well as growing conditions.

A traditional region to obtain quality myrrh resin would be Yemen.


Due to the rising cost of quality frankincense and myrrh, many churches have began burning cheaper alternatives such as copal resin.

Copal resin was traditionally burned by the indigenous people of South America and was often burned alongside palo santo during ceremonies and social gatherings.

Some varieties of copal were also harvested and used in Asian countries, such as Indonesia.

Copal resin has a very different smell than frankincense or myrrh and it holds no religious correlation to Christianity. Although it does smell very nice, it’s typically only burned by churches who cannot afford quality frankincense resin.

Blended & Scented Resin or Fragrance Granules

It’s also not uncommon to find churches which burn other resins, such as blended or scented fragrance granules.

Ask Your Church

If you’re interested in exactly what kind of incense your church is using, it’s best to ask them directly.

When Incense is Used During Catholic Mass

The incense can be burned at several points during mass.

Typical timings include:

  • During the entrance procession.
  • At the beginning of mass.
  • To incense the altar.
  • At the procession and proclamation of the Gospel.
  • During the offertory.
  • At the elevation after the consecration.