Frankincense, along with myrrh, 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.
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.
Catholic Incense Ingredients
Unfortunately, due to the rising cost of quality frankincense, many churches do not use the material anymore. If they do, it is common for them to use cheaper varieties of frankincense, myrrh, or even other resins altogether.
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.
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 usually burned alongside frankincense.
A very traditional region to obtain quality myrrh resin would be Yemen.
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.
Copal and Other Resins
Due to the rising cost of quality frankincense, 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 some Asian countries such as Indonesia.
Copal resin has a very different smell and 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.
Sometimes they may burn other resins, such as blends or scented fragrance granules. If you’re interested in exactly what your church is burning, 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.