As of early this year, I now have asthma. When I went to Holy Thursday Mass at my friend’s Church, the incense was so pungent that I could not join the congregation. Asthma is not allergies; it is a lung problem wherein, when one is around pungent incense, one’s airways close up and clamp down. I could not breathe and I left. This was really sad for me — I cried, in fact — and the symbolic meaning of going alone, out into the night, with no Communion or anything, on HOLY THURSDAY, was not lost on me. Christ is found in the strangest and most alone of experiences! I felt a deep kinship with Him on that night, and in that experience.
Afterward, however, I learned that there is no Catholic Church which does not use incense around here, on Triduum and other special occasions. Some put a notice on their website: “HOLY SMOKE — please be warned: if you are allergic or sensitive, we do use incense at our church.” Well, for someone with asthma, that is the same as saying, “Don’t come, there is no place for you here.” The diocesan office struck me as being particularly cavalier about this, when the person who called me back said, ‘You can go to Mass all year around, except Easter.’ Hello? I don’t think so.
It has not been possible for me to establish a presence at a church, so that then I could ask for one Mass to be incense-free. But even if that were possible, it would not help because, once incense is in the Church building, it is all over for me. So having just one Mass without it would not help.
I love incense, but I hate to think of its use being an obstacle for some people who would otherwise want to attend Mass. This is not the first time I have heard about someone having this kind of problem, and yet I still don’t know what the solution might be. I don’t very know much about incense, though, and wonder if there might be some kinds of incense that would be less irritating to an asthmatic person.
Does anyone have experience or knowledge to share?