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Catholic Dictionary




Aromatic gum or resin in the form of powder or grains that give off a fragrant smoke when they are burned. When blessed it is a symbolic sacramental. Its burning signifies zeal or fervor; its fragrance, virtue; its rising smoke, human prayer ascending to God. It is used at Mass, for the Gospel book, the altar, the people, the ministers, and the bread and wine; before consecration; at benediction of the Blessed Sacrament; during processions; and at absolutions of the dead. When it is to be used, it is carried in a metal cup-shaped container and burned in a thurible or censer. Five large grains of it are placed in the Paschal candle at the Easter Vigil to symbolize the Five Wounds of the Risen Savior. In some countries it is placed in a stationary censer to burn slowly before the Blessed Sacrament, either exposed or reserved on the altar. (Etym. Latin incensum, incense; literally, something burned; from incendere, to kindle.)