"I hate incense" discussion
  • Same premise as the current "I hate Latin" thread. How do you counter these folks? Are people actually allergic to it, or are they allergic to the word incense? Was there really so much incense at such-and-such a Mass that they could barely breathe?
  • TCJ
    Posts: 974
    There are always two masses a weekend that never have incense and there is the option to sit in the back. If they truly have issues with the incense then they would make the effort to do something about it.
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  • I have a cantor whose cough is absolutely triggered by it, so when she sings for a funeral (we're in front), she has to use her inhaler both before Mass and right before the incense is used.

    (Of course, she's also a cigarette smoker, so ¯\_(ツ)_/¯...)
  • My experience is that 97% of the people who claim allergies are, to be charitable, confused about what an allergy is.
  • davido
    Posts: 889
    We have a kid in the parochial school who pukes in a pew every time we use incense. I doubt it’s a learned behavior…
  • SalieriSalieri
    Posts: 3,177
    As an experiment, which will annoy the liturgically-minded, we once had a Mass with incense where the thurible had no coal, and hence, no smoke: Everyone who coughs when the incense comes out immediately started coughing. While I'm sure that there are some with true sensitivities, I think that for many it's a Pavlovian response. I think that in many ways it depends on the quality of the incense used: the cheap stuff makes me gag if too much of it is used, but the high quality stuff doesn't. Think of it like perfume or eau de cologne: Axe can kill someone from half an Astronomical Unit away; Royal Lyme doesn't.

    Edit: @davido: have you considered exorcism?
  • hilluminar
    Posts: 120
    I have been told by a Maronite Abbot that if pure Frankincense is used, there are no allergic reactions, but it is spendy. It is the fillers that they put into the cheaper stuff that give people a reaction to incense.
  • StimsonInRehabStimsonInRehab
    Posts: 1,919
    @TimTheEnchanter - A singer friend of mine, who is also a smoker, would always tell me that he’s “incensing the Temple of the Holy Ghost”.
  • DavidOLGCDavidOLGC
    Posts: 75
    So far I have not heard a word of complaint about incense at our church - and our pastor uses it often.

    I think he does use a high grade incense, though.
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  • francis
    Posts: 10,697
    Yes… must have the best stuff or you will have problems.
    Thanked by 1DavidOLGC
  • ServiamScores
    Posts: 2,747
    Having one or two masses on the weekend without it is key to being able to use it elsewhere successfully.

    It's also intriguing that people do not balk at it being used at requiem masses.

    Interestingly, I saw that a study was done on the heels of the dreaded "beer virus" and there is apparently a health affect to its use as it actually kills microbes in the air (apparently).

    My guess is that many people who complain still gladly go visit grandma as she smokes in her living room.

    It's also worth observing that this is the most ancient of religious rituals. It's not something pulled out of a hat... we know this goes back all the way to ancient jewish rites—IE THOUSANDS OF YEARS.. Suffice to say, it is a firmly—and legitimately—ensconced tradition worth respecting.

    It is also mentioned in the psalms, so it is indeed SCRIPTURAL as well.
  • We had an unintentional experience, very similar to @Salieri at my previous parish.

    We were in a small country church. With about 350 families, everyone pretty much knows everyone else. It's not like a large parish where a complainer can walk up, air their grievances, and walk away almost anonymously.

    "Mrs. Allergy" walks up to "Father Incense" during the glad-handing after Mass, and starts asking about the use of incense. She then complains that she has a severe allergy to it, and she spent the whole Mass coughing, and rubbing her eyes because of the smoke. She even moved to the back pew when she realized that it was being used.

    I politely joined the conversation (Music Dir), and recommended that she maybe sit near the middle of the church - because the thurible would be at the back before the procession, and around the front for the remainder of Mass. I commented that there isn't a known allergy to pure "frankincense" and that we actually used the pure stuff (small parish, one Mass with incense weekly, pretty easy to afford.) Father and I recommended that she attend one of the other Masses that doesn't have incense, and perhaps consult her allergist.

    Then came the kicker - of which I was unaware. As we were wrapping up the conversation, "Father Incense" let slip that the charcoal hadn't been lit before Mass, and so although we had all the ceremony, there was actually no incense burning!
  • CatholicZ09
    Posts: 271
    There was a couple at my parish that would always start hacking as soon as they saw the thurible; meanwhile, they always came in smelling like a pack of menthols.

    I will say that the blend my parish is using now stinks. I think Christmas was the last day we used it, and it smelled like cat pee. Yuck. I need to find out what the blend is at our Cathedral because it smells heavenly. I’m guessing it’s more expensive, but I’d definitely donate to smell something nice.
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  • a_f_hawkins
    Posts: 3,386
    I think there is a useful discussion on types of incense somewhere on the forum, but I have not yet found it. There is this https://forum.musicasacra.com/forum/discussion/10409/incense-allergy/p1
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  • CharlesW
    Posts: 11,943
    There is a synthetic incense out there that is much cheaper than the real stuff. It smells like burning tires and I have known some singers who choked up when it was used. Buy good incense - it isn't cheap - and the reactions disappear. I recently saw a "smokeless" incense at an Orthodox church which seemed to have a vapor rather than smoke.
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  • ServiamScores
    Posts: 2,747
    One of the funnest days I’ve ever had at work was the day a former pastor texted me that he had obtained a whole slew of incense samples from various vendors, and he was going to go into the rectory’s back yard and light them all one by one to test and rate them; would I like to join? YES SIR! So we just shot the breeze for 90 minutes and burned a bunch of incense until we found the 3 we liked best.

    I agree about ordering the good stuff though. Orthodox suppliers often have higher quality stuff, and there are a few (Roman) monasteries that supply it as well. It is indeed expensive, but we also have to remember that we are supposed to offer the best to God, and ultimately you don’t use all that much per mass anyway.
  • francis
    Posts: 10,697
    Oh, the things that church musicians do.
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  • ServiamScores
    Posts: 2,747
    Seriously: one of my to 10 best work days lol.
    Thanked by 1tomjaw
  • Richard MixRichard Mix
    Posts: 2,771
    I commented that there isn't a known allergy to pure "frankincense"
    There's indeed inconclusive evidence of contact allegies to Frankicense oil, but that's not the only ingredient of smoke. Last year I and some other singers were wondering why we suddenly found ourselves coughing during the first half of Mass. It turned out that a thurible was being kept in readiness outside the church, yards from our window.
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  • Speaking from personal experience, I don’t hate incense, but certain blends make it difficult to breathe. The florals and the ones with a perfumed soapy smell are the worst. Pure frankincense is the best.
    Thanked by 2tomjaw hilluminar
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 11,943
    One can always have bad experiences with smoke. One year, the ushers brought the new fire into the church and placed it in the center aisle. It smoked up the church and nearly did all of us in. The next year at Easter Vigil, those same idiots set the mulch in the flower beds on fire. The pastor decided they couldn't be trusted with fire so we went to lighted vigil lights in the vestibule the next year. One of our assistant pastors was quite proud of himself for obtaining a box of incense left over from a diocesan celebration. It was cheap, synthetic frankincense and smelled like burning rubber. One cantor stopped singing because her throat was so irritated. We had to charitably ask him not to use that incense again. Good incense has generally worked well and so far, no one has reacted to it. Yeah, it costs more but it is worth it.
  • StimsonInRehabStimsonInRehab
    Posts: 1,919
    Which of the expensive brands of incense does everyone recommend?
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 11,943
    Rather than brands, I tend to look at sources like Jordanville, Holy Cross Monastery, orthodoxincense.com and such. They and others tend to have good incense. The best stuff comes from monasteries.
    Thanked by 1tomjaw
  • kenstb
    Posts: 369
    I have heard this before. The issue seems to be the kind of incense being used. The cheap stuff will make anyone cough. Good incense doesn't seem to irritate anyone.
  • Chaswjd
    Posts: 259
    The snarky response to “I hate incense” is “You better hope you don’t get to heaven. According to scriptures, heaven is full of it.”
  • francis
    Posts: 10,697
    hell will be full of it too... the cheap stuff..