Why do Catholic churches smell all the same?

I can be ten feet away from the doors of any Catholic church and all my life they have all had the same distinctive smell. There is nothing bad about the smell at all. In fact it is the most comforting smell that I can think of. It is so universal that I don’t think it has anything to do with certain churches using incense at certain times, although I guess I could be wrong in that. Could it have something to do with the holy water at the entrances? Seriously. I have been to many different churches, some more orthodox than others, and this is the one and only consistant thing I notice. Does anyone else notice this or have an explanation?

I notice that the chapel across the street from my parish’s main church has a beautifully distinct smell. It reminds me of lingering incense, but I could be wrong.

I’ve notice this too, and I’ve been a Catholic all my life. I think it’s the combination of the incense, the scent of the oils, and the flowers, along with candles. I’ve been in one of the oldest churches in the county, an although you do get that musky smell of older churches, there is that distinct smell that you get in all of them.

I tell my kids that Catholic churches smell holy :slight_smile:

Is that older churches? Do you also find this in the modern churches?

I thought about this once and seem to distinguish common factors in old incense probably absorbed by the furnishings as is cigarette smoke, Murphy’s oil soap or furniture polish, a tinge of baby spit up that never seems to be entirely cleanable once it has dried, and the smell of cheap newsprint from missalettes. I do know its true that even a very tradionally built Protestant church does not have this smell, but even a modern Catholic building does.

Most Catholic churches don’t regularly burn incense today, but when we walk into Catholic churches, they do smell the same. They smell very Catholic. The “why” is a very interesting question.

I think the answer is the Eucharist.
There is always a lighted candle in red beside the Blessed Sacrament. But I don’t think that candle smells so strong to make the common smell. There is the holy water fountain at the entrance, but I don’t think the Holy water smells so strong either.

I really believe it is the fragrance of our Lord from the tabernacle that makes the unique smell of all the Catholic churches.


I don’t know - I can’t smell. :shrug: Maybe it’s the votive candles (are they scented?), too?

It is the sense of the presence of God that has drawn many to seek Him after simply entering a Catholic Church. Thomas Merton wrote about this in Seven Story Mountain, as have others.

Yes, and “Your name spoken is a spreading perfume….” (Song of Songs, 1:3)

Funny you mention this - I was just thinking the other day how as a kid I used to think the Holy Water was perfumed because of the scent in the Church. I think, like others have said, it’s a combination of incense and flowers. Every Church I go to has that same scent.

The smoke from the incense is going to penetrate the wood. I was going to say that doesn’t explain the scent in church build from stone. Even then the pews are wood.
In response to an earlier posts, as far as I know votive candles are unscented. The candles used in the church, especially on the altar need to be made from beeswax.
Ours is a Universal Church. Even with the diversity of cultures represented in our worship, we share the essential elements.

I have what I believe to be valid proof that this is 100% correct: After Mass one day I felt something stuck in my tooth. I went to the bathroom to pick it out, and it was a tiny tiny piece of the Eucharist. I put Him on a ripped corner of a paper towel and considered how amazing it is that the Creator of the universe could be caught between my teeth like a piece of lettuce. I can’t remember if I consumed Jesus again or if I let Him dissolve on the piece of paper towel, but disregarding that, I kept the piece and put it in a small box. A few days later I opened the box and breathed in deeply: IT SMELLED EXACTLY LIKE A CATHOLIC CHURCH!!! I can’t wait for Heaven, since it’s BOUND to smell just like that. <3 I don’t know how it happened, but I ended up loosing the piece of paper towel, and a scent that had gradually been growing stonger began to fade, and is now almost gone. I miss keeping the essence of Jesus with me, since it’s so beautiful and comforting. I’m hoping that maybe He’ll humble Himself enough to be stuck in my teeth again.

If it happens again PLEASE do not just stick Our Lord on a bit of paper towel like that. He deserves better than that, and deserves better than to be kept in a random box in your house like a holiday souvenir or something.

He is always to be consumed straight away.

Unless the priest decides to reserve Him in the tabernacle or in a monstrance for adoration, or entrust Him to other ministers trained in the giving of Communion to the housebound.

PS - I don’t really mean the above to single you out in particular, raclav. Just that Canon Law states that anyone who wants to keep the Blessed Sacrament in their home (which is probably what you have done) needs the permission of their local bishop, and it ismnot often granted. So it is something the Church takes very seriously.

Okay, I think we have a huge misunderstanding here (which isn’t your fault at all, it’s mine, since I didn’t explain properly:)

The piece was so small that I can’t remember if it dissolved almost on the spot or if I consumed it, but I’m about 90% sure it was the latter. I WOULD NEVER BRING EVEN THE TINIEST PIECE OF A BLESSED HOST HOME WITH ME. I didn’t want to throw away the section of paper towel since God had touched it, so I kept that in the box, Jesus wasn’t actually there. The reason I put Him on a paper towel in the first place was because I wasn’t even sure it was Jesus in the first place, I thought it might have been part of my previous dinner.

Sorry for the confusion. I should have explained myself a little better. :slight_smile:

If it’s dinner, dislodge and swallow. If it’s the Eucharist, dislodge and swallow. Not hard to understand. Either way, the idea of getting anything out of your mouth and putting it on a piece of paper towel to inspect it is just … revolting.

That paper needs to be properly disposed of. Meaning burned and then buried somewhere where it will not be trodden on. And do not do anything like it again.

They should isolate this fragrance and sell it in bottles. :wink:

My church is modern and it smells like nothing lol