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Add Some “Smells and Bells” to Your Family Prayer



Kids, especially young kids, really connect with the tangible “smells and bells” of Catholic prayer. Why not try some of them out in your family prayer time? Here are a few simple things you can do.


This article is adapted from the book 77 Ways to Pray with Your Kids


The Catholic liturgy is sometimes said to be one of “smells and bells,” a reference to the use of incense, candles, scented oil, altar bells (sanctus bells), elaborate vestments, and other elements that engage the senses.

Why do Catholics have all these “smells and bells”? The Catechism offers this simple answer: “As a being at once body and spirit, man expresses and perceives spiritual realities through physical signs and symbols. As a social being, man needs signs and symbols to communicate with others, through language, gestures, and actions. The same holds true for his relationship with God” (1146).

Kids, especially young kids, really connect with these tangible signs and symbols of prayer. Why not try some of them out in your family prayer time? Here are a few simple things you can do.

Candles. Make and use prayer candles to set aside your time of prayer, and to indicate different liturgical seasons.

Bells. Use a hand-held bell or other appropriate musical instruments to call children to prayer.

Incense. During special times of prayer, consider burning incense. The use of incense to accompany prayer dates to ancient times (Psalm 141:2 refers to it), symbolizing sanctification, purification, and the prayers of the faithful rising to heaven. Myrrh resin (the type of incense burned in churches) can be purchased from Catholic supply retailers.

Holy water. A reminder of our baptism into Christ, holy water can be incorporated into your prayers and blessings.

Tablecloth or banner. Use colored cloth to make a tablecloth or banner for your Home Oratory, and change them as appropriate for each liturgical feast or season.

Other symbols. Use other sacred or symbolic objects, as appropriate: icons, crucifixes, flowers, and so on. See Display Holy Images and Sacred Objects in Your Home for more ideas.


Learn More

Catechism 1145–1152

Follow Jerry Windley-Daoust:

Publisher, Gracewatch Media

Jerry Windley-Daoust is a writer, editor, and father of five. He writes essays and stories at Windhovering and is the show-runner for Gracewatch Media, a small Catholic publisher. You can follow his latest publishing projects at gracewatch.org.

3 Responses

  1. moglie_del_john@yahoo.com'
    | Reply

    Where do you get nice smelling incense, and how do you burn it?

    • Jerry Windley-Daoust
      | Reply

      Vieve, any Catholic church goods supply store will be able to provide you with incense — and give you instructions about how to burn it.

  2. deboraas@zoho.com'
    | Reply

    My husband loves the smell of incense. Just this past year he purchased a small thurible and some incense. We use it on special holy days and feast days and on Sundays. My boys love it!

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