By Archbishop Michael Jackels
Sometimes at the beginning of Holy Mass, the priest will walk around the altar while swinging a little covered pot on a chain that is putting out a fragrant-smelling smoke.
The pot is called a thurible, which has red-hot charcoals in it. The smoke is produced when incense, made from the sap of aromatic trees, is spooned onto the coals.
Incense is used to purify or sanctify whatever is being incensed. It is also a sign of reverence. And in the Bible, incense is also described as a symbol of our prayers rising to God in heaven.
In addition to the altar, incense is used as a sign of reverence to the gospel book, the bread and wine placed on the altar, and the priest and people in the congregation.
With regard to the use of liturgical signs, like burning incense or sprinkling holy water, the sign should be substantial enough to be seen, heard, smelled, tasted, or touched by the congregation. Otherwise, it might not fulfill its purpose as a symbol, and so end up powerless to lift up minds and hearts.