Smells also have a great way of bringing a person into a particular state of mind. Certain smells attract, others repulse, some excite while others calm. Humans and animals have used scents to communicate for hundreds of thousands of years. Think of how dogs and cats rub up against their owners to both leave their scent and to gain their owner’s scent. Aroma therapy has a huge influence on millions of people around the world, reducing anxiety and giving energy. Churches also recognize that scents can be powerful tools to transport people into prayer. When we enter into a space that smells of incense, we consciously or subconsciously are moved into a mental place conducive to prayer.
Is incense good for everyone? Well… we recognize that some people are more sensitive to certain smells than others. Some people also have breathing problems like asthma which are stressed by things like smoke. Therefore as a parish we have done several things to allow for a better environment for these people. Firstly, we use good incense that is hypo-allergenic. Cheap incense does indeed negatively affect us all not only those with sensitive lungs and noses. Secondly we use incense sparingly (not huge spoon full onto hot coals, but rather one little rock at a time). Thirdly we have one Liturgy each day which does not use incense at all. Those who have respiratory issues are encouraged to take advantage of this. (There is no incense used at the 5pm Sunday Liturgy.)
Should we remove incense from our worship because some have difficulty with it. Probably not. Incense does much spiritual good for the church and is pleasing to God (as we understand in scripture). But we can work with people so that their needs are taken care of, reducing or eliminating the negatives while increasing the positives gained.