There is something social and sociable about the “smells and bells” traditions of our Catholic faith. Incense is one of the examples of incarnational piety that yield positive visceral experiences of blessing and bonding in our liturgies—engagement on the personal and community levels. Here’s an additional commentary on the use of incense, posted by EWTN.
Frankincense represents the priesthood, the priestly act of offering up sacrifice, and honor—a sweet-smelling gift unto the Lord. Myrrh, an oil used for embalming, foreshadows the death of Christ; in the Eastern Churches, it is mixed in with oil during the consecration of the sacred Chrism. Gold is literally a gift fit for a king. Jesus Christ is indeed Priest, Prophet, and King.
Fr. Dwight Longenecker’s book, Mystery of the Magi, provides extensive research explaining the Bible’s story of the Magi who paid homage to the young Jesus as Priest, Prophet and King.
There is a photo of a silver reliquary case containing what tradition tells us are the gifts of the Magi (the gold, frankincense, and myrrh presented to the newborn Jesus). The relics were on display in 2014. A shrine containing relics of the Magi themselves has long been treasured in the Cologne Cathedral.
Gold, frankincense, and myrrh as gifts to the Lord appeal to the five senses but also engage our minds and our hearts, which are parts of our bodies, too. These expand our appreciation of incarnational piety and give us much to ponder, Bill pointed out.
The Christmas song “We Three Kings” includes a reference to King and God and Sacrifice. These tie into the trio of roles of priest, prophet, and king which Jesus Christ personified and to which we all are called as Christians.