Is the Tridentine Mass Bad for Your Health?

Only if you use too much incense.  More specifically, from the sounds of this new study, only if, after returning home from Mass, you are in the practice of incensing your apartment "all day."  See the article on the newly discovered link between incense and cancer here.  Hat tip to Thomas J. Reese, S.J., for this one.

James Martin, SJ

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
9 years 1 month ago
That is an Othrodox (Byzantine) censer -- not Tridentine. (Please note the twelve bells located on three chains.) In contrast, modern-day thuribles --created in the spirit of Vatican 2-- have the esthetics of a flower pot on a chain. Much better for active participation, I would guess.
9 years 1 month ago
Hat tip to Thomas Reese, S.J.? Better to tip your hat to Rosalie Bertelle and those who have tried to educate people on how the government of the U.S. of A. (and the former Soviet Union) have the responsibility for having spread cancer inducing radiation over the globe by testing nuclear weapons, etc. Haven't these governments now a responsibility for providing health care for those many millions affected the past 50 years and those millions still to be affected? If Thomas Reese (or James Martin) is avoiding the Tridentine Mass we would hope it arises out of more substantial reasons than fear of a whiff of incense. You guys need to re-read the story of the American Jesuit martyrs like Isaac Jogues, S.J. who virtually lived in a swirl of campfire smoke in a bark cabin for months at a time. Died October 18, 1646 of a tomahawk blow. Some of those S.J. guys apparently took a vow to not avoid death if it seemed it could occur. You might try that if you find yourself near to having to attend a Tridentine Mass.
9 years 1 month ago
Chemicals in the class of compounds that chemists call "aromatic" - for the lovely scents many of them exhibit - are often carcinogenic. Incense is chock full of such molecules... There's a flip side to everything. To quote Gerard Manley Hopkins SJ in Pied Beauty: "With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim" and perhaps with beauty - risk?
9 years ago
First, the title of the posting should be simply ''Possible connection between too much incensing and cancer'' - in its present form it is misleading as far as the content of it goes. Second, the use of incense is not an exclusive privilege of the ''Tridentine Mass'' and is not equivalent with it. I have prepared incense for liturgical celebrations in various settings, and none of them was ''Tridentine'', but rather post-Vatican II gatherings. I recall also progressive charismatic meetings where incense was very much loved and used as symbol of adoration and offering. Not to speak of the oriental Orthodox Churches that like the use of it without having to do with the Council of Trento. The use of incense not even restricted to Christianity - other religious groups use it and some enjoy it for secular reasons. Third, probably the posting was intended to be humorous - I hope that our Orthodox brethen will not take an offense in it! Fourth, regarding the carcinogen effect of frankincense it might be so, but probably one needs to take huge amounts of it to have that effect. I don't know of statistics of thousand killed by incense poisoning - while radiation caused and still causes many deaths and not too much is done about eliminating it (like John mentioned the case of nuclear testing in his comment above). Fifth, there are numerous other possibly cancer-causing chemical sources in our ambient - like x-rays, plastics, sodas, maybe the cell-phones etc., but we continue to use them. Probably the ink used in newspapers and magazines and the paper itself has carcinogen properties - and it does not prevent us from getting America, for example! So, the possible cancer-causing effect of overdoing the incensing is not a good reason in itself to avoid ''Tridentine'' Masses - one should find other arguments (not knowing a word of Latin, for example, which is maybe enough to cause the quiet extinction of the enthusiasm for these without fighting for or againts it).
9 years ago
Finally a correction to Fr. Martin's comment: the book of Francis Talbot, S.J. bears the title ''Saint among the Savages'' (written 1935 and published in San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2002). ''Savages'' was not a pejorative term at that time. Another good book to read about the Jesuit martyrs is Francois Roustang, S.J., ''Jesuit Missionaries to North America'' ( written in 1961 and published in San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2006). This volume contains numerous original writings of the martyrs.
9 years ago
The cavalier sarcasm of some comments here is instructive. If solid research indicates a genuine risk of cancer, well, so what, appears to be the attitude. It is not only the risk of cancer, but also the impact of incense on those with COPD or other respiratory and cardiac problems. As an asthmatic on daily corticosteroids, the particulate matter in incense poses a definite risk --- no matter what is said about newer incense products. Rescue inhaler in hand, I am used to leaving Holy Thursday services and other occasions when incense is released into the air. It’s become almost a joke in my family. Uh oh, here it comes. How can I get out of here? Somehow those with thurible in hand always come my way, certain to spew swirls of smoke in my direction. There is nothing like an inability to breathe to concentrate one’s mind away from the liturgy at hand, to an urgent prayer like, “let me get sufficient air, Lord.” I do thank Tom Reese for finding the article, and hope someday that consideration will be given to the burden of incense on many. A little consideration, please.
9 years ago
two sides:>1=31035
9 years ago
I have a story that might help understand the emotions. An old man - a very old 88 years old - was to go on a long trip with his family. His car, being new, was chosen for the trip and being it was his car he insisted he be the first driver to get out of town. So sat the whole family gripping their seats as the old man in turn leaned forward and gripped the steering wheel with both hands. Knuckles white and 20 feet behind a slow truck at 55 mph while semi trucks passed in the left lane at 75 mph. After 10 minutes of this the son said to the father - ''Dad, you've done the hard part getting to the freeway, let me give you a break. They drove on for a long time with the father silent as the others chatted. Finally, the old man burst out in anger, ''You think you know everything''.
9 years ago
Oh please. There is a huge difference in being exposed to small doses of incense occasionally in a large open space such as a church and inhaling it 24/7 in a small enclosed space. I've gotten worse chemical exposure on a plane sitting next to a man with too much anti-perspiran on. (Or worse, no anti-perspirant.) Note to Carolyn - for many asmatics, corticosteroids may be far more dangerous than the occasional whiff of incenese.
9 years 1 month ago
Dear Mr. Stangle, Thanks for your comment. Ironically, just last week I visited the Jesuit Martyrs' Shrine in Auriesville, New York, near the spots where Sts. Isaac Jogues, Rene Goupil and Jean La Lande were martyred. There at the Shrine you can even descend into the ravine where Isaac searched for the body of his friend Rene, a story that he detailed in the Jesuit 'Relations.' For others who would like to learn about the North American martyrs you might read 'Jean de Brebeuf,' by Joseph Donnelly, S.J., or 'Saint Among the Hurons,' by Francis X. Talbot, S.J., both excellent resources on the lives of the Jesuit martyrs.
9 years 1 month ago
Did you see the research showing that stained glass windows are good for you? In principal, I suppose, it could scavenge the incense from the air. (See
9 years ago
What the research does not say is whether incense is addictive -- whether, indeed, the departure from the body of benzene and polyaromatic hydrocarbons produces withdrawal symptoms. If so, it might account for the tetchiness and crabbiness of some trad Catholics I know. I think we should be told.

Don't miss the best from America

Sign up for our Newsletter to get the Jesuit perspective on news, faith and culture.

The latest from america

Rohingya refugees wait to receive aid Sept. 21 at a camp in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh. (CNS photo/Cathal McNaughton, Reuters)
This year the Grand Bargain on refugees seems increasingly fragile.
Kevin ClarkeSeptember 22, 2017
Residents mourn on Sept. 20 for the 11 victims killed in a church in Atzala, Mexico, during the Sept. 19 earthquake. A Catholic bishop in Mexico said the situation was extremely serious, and much aid would be needed. (CNS photo/Imelda Medina, Reuters)
The earthquake feels like yet another crisis tearing at our transnational families. The earthquake was a natural disaster, but the many ways American society fails to value the lives of foreigners, of immigrants, of its own citizens, because of their skin color or their Latino heritage is a
Antonio De Loera-BrustSeptember 22, 2017
“It is good to rediscover our history and welcome the diversity of the people in the United States.”
J.D. Long-GarcíaSeptember 22, 2017
These photos were taken August 16, 1920, at St. Elizabeth's Hospital for the Insane. Salmon had been on a hunger strike for 34 days. (National Archives and Records Administration via the website
The courageous witness of 'unarmed prophet' Ben Salmon—precisely one century ago—anticipated a major development in Catholic doctrine on war and peace,.
Barry HudockSeptember 22, 2017