You know how when you walk into a familiar place, and the smell of that place hits you, it just brings back all kinds of memories? When I walk into a Target, I can still smell the cleaning solution and my many years working there come flooding back. The smell of a favorite restaurant or food makes me salivate, or even just the thought of that smell! I think it's amazing how tied to memory smell is.
Incense is that memorable smell for the Church. When I smell the sweet smell of incense, I remember my first years as a Catholic, and my first exposure to incense - Christmas midnight masses and Easter vigils especially.
Incense symbolizes our prayers which, "enkindled in the heart by the fire of God's love and exhaling the odour of Christ," ascend to Heaven, as the Catholic Encyclopedia tells us.
Here are some scripture passages that mention incense and aromas. The Revelation verse in particular gives a beautiful picture of how Catholics view incense, as rising alongside the prayers of the saints.
On entering the house they saw the child with Mary his mother. They prostrated themselves and did him homage. Then they opened their treasures and offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. (Matt 2:11)
Then, when the whole assembly of the people was praying outside at the hour of the incense offering, the angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right of the altar of incense. (Luke 1:10-11)
For we are the aroma of Christ for God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to the latter an odor of death that leads to death, to the former an odor of life that leads to life. (2 Cor 2:15-16)
Another angel came and stood at the altar, holding a gold censer. He was given a great quantity of incense to offer, along with the prayers of all the holy ones, on the gold altar that was before the throne. The smoke of the incense along with the prayers of the holy ones went up before God from the hand of the angel. (Rev 8:3-4)
Unfortunately, I can't post a smell! So instead, I'll post a lovely visual of incense rising in Notre Dame de Paris.
*photo from National Geographic