SAFETY: Safety is of paramount importance in dealing with hot, live coals. Matches and used coals must be disposed of in the water-filled bucket only. The fire extinguisher and water bottle must be available before the coals are lighted. Never leave lighted coals unattended. The thurible may only be lighted in the smoke sacristy and used in the church. Wait in the smoke sacristy before Mass to avoid setting off the fire alarm in the back hall. When the MC gives the signal, walk briskly from the smoke sacristy to the processional door.
The thurible is hot! Use tongs to handle the coals and never touch the thurible or cover with your hands. If it jams, it is usually possible to open it by gently tapping it against the pavement. The celebrant will wait for you to open the cover.
How to light coals: Have ready a firepot of appropriate size for the thurible being used. If the firepot does not fit the thurible properly, it could flip inside the thurible. Turn on the Propane torch. Using the tongs, hold the coals, one at a time, in the flame. Be prepared: the coals are laced with gunpowder and will flash like Fourth of July sparklers. Some sparks may land on your hands; do not jump or drop the coals. It is not necessary to hold the coal in the flame until it turns gray. Once the coal stops sparking, it may be placed in the firepot. Once all the coals are lighted and placed in the firepot, pick up the firepot with the tongs and place it in the bottom of the thurible, making sure it fits snugly and does not prevent the lid from closing properly.
Keeping clean: Thurifer is a messy job. Expect to get charcoal dust on your hands. It is a good idea to remove your cotta while lighting coals or cleaning the pot. Keep wet paper towels available to clean hands; check face in mirror before entering – angels with dirty faces are not edifying.
To clean the pot: Dump the used coals in the water bucket first. Scrape any incense still adhering to the pot into the bucket. For stubborn clinging remnants, do not invert the firepot over the flame. Instead place firepot directly over the flame. The incense will burn up, so when the flames stop, the thurifer can simply brush out the ashes into the bucket.
Which thurible to use? Choose a thurible based upon your ability to comfortably handle its weight, but remember that the deacon and celebrant will also be using it and may not be able to handle the heavier thuribles. It is permissible to use one thurible for the entrance or Solemn Procession and another for the Mass. The heavier thuribles work great for doubles, but are really tough for “360’s” during a solemn procession! During a Te Deum, Maundy Thursday and Corpus Christi, the two thurifers should choose thuribles with chains of equal length. If there are two thurifers used during a solemn procession, they are not together so symmetry is not necessary.
How to hold a thurible: The thurible is held by the chains, just under the disk. The hand holding the thurible should be carried at shoulder height. The thurible is swung by moving the wrist with a twisting motion.
Left and right hands: Before incense is laid on and blessed, the thurible is held in the left hand, with the right hand, holding the boat, resting on the breast. Once incense is laid on and blessed, the thurible is held in the right hand with the left on the breast. When TH is not in possession of the thurible, e.g., when the altar or Gospel book is being censed, TH holds the boat with both hands at the base of the breastbone, or if there is a boat bearer or at the Offertory when the boat has been placed at the credence, TH joins hands at the breast in the manner of others at the altar. At no point should the hands be allowed to dangle at the sides.
How many coals? SEE CHART IN INCENSE CLOSET IN THE SMOKE SACRISTY.
How to genuflect while carrying a thurible: Drape the thurible chains over the arm not holding it. Put the right knee down and keep the spine vertical! We are not football players in the huddle and leaning forward while genuflecting – especially while holding a hot thurible – is downright dangerous.
How to swing a thurible: While walking in procession, swing the thurible at the full length of the chains. While standing still (e.g., during the Gospel), let the thurible swing gently. While kneeling during the Canon of the Mass, hold the thurible by the chains under the disk with your left hand, place your right hand about halfway down the chains and gently swing the thurible. Do not rest the thurible on the altar steps at any time. The constant gentle swinging keeps air moving over the coals and prevents them from smothering.
How much swing? “360’s”, the full circle swings, are appropriate ONLY for Solemn Processions on Feast Days. They are not used at any other time during the Mass. (See Appendix for more on 360’s.) During the entrance procession, the Gospel procession, and the Offertory procession, the swing should be no more than a gentle back-and-forth motion of the wrist. Centrifugal force will do the rest. However, when leading the Torches to the back of the Church for the Offertory procession you should not swing the thurible AT ALL. (The idea is that you’re “invisible”.)
How to lay on incense: Approach the Celebrant with the thurible in your left hand and give the boat to the Deacon with the right. With the right hand, raise the ring over the cover and raise the cover. Take the chains above the lid in your right hand and hold the thurible at a convenient height for the Celebrant. After the Celebrant lays on incense and blesses it, close the lid of the thurible and shift it to the right hand.
If more incense needs to be laid on at a time when the Celebrant is not at hand, e.g., during the Canon of the Mass, the MC or another server may lay on additional incense. No further blessing is needed.
How to cense someone: Always begin with a slight bow, which the person(s) being censed return. After the censing, bow again to acknowledge conclusion of the action. (See chart below.) All incensations except the censing of the people at the Offertory are done with the chain at half-length, the top of the chains held in the left hand and the right hand holding the chains slightly above the lid at the level of the breast. Groups (e.g., 3 or more servers in a group, the choir, the congregation, etc.) are censed center-left-right, one swing in each direction.
INCENSATIONS BY ORDER:
Celebrant: Three doubles (censed by Deacon)
Deacon: Two doubles (by Thurifer)
Subdeacon: One double (by Thurifer)
MC: One double (by Thurifer)
AAs: One double each, but bows as a group
Choir clergy: Two doubles each, in order of seniority
Choir singers, lay CMs, Verger: Three singles, center-left-right, each group
The People: Three singles, center-left-right, thurible at full length
Attire: The thurifer wears black cassock and cotta. If preferred, the thurifer may wear a “winged” cotta – actually an organist’s cotta with partially detached sleeves for ease of movement.
(See Appendix for changes to Entrance when there is a Procession.)
TH leads the procession and sets the pace, which should be stately but not glacial.
ALL enter in procession, and without reverencing (no bows), take their places at altar steps in the following order.
A TH SD CEL D MC A
MC cues ALL to genuflect at conclusion of Hymn. While SMs ascend altar steps to footpace, MC, TH and AA proceed single file to credence. TH stands at bottom step and waits for CEL to turn toward the Epistle Horn to signal his readiness for the thurible, which should be almost immediately. TH ascends steps and hands off to CEL, turns and goes down steps to sedilia. On certain occasions the Introit censing may be displaced to the Kyrie or Gloria. In this situation, TH waits at sedilia until CEL is ready to cense.
After censing the altar, CEL hands off to D, who descends steps with SD and censes CEL. After censing the CEL, D turns and hands off thurible to TH, who takes it in the right hand, goes to center, genuflects, and departs.
THE LITURGY OF THE WORD:
TH should pay attention to the length of the Kyrie, Gloria, Lessons, and Gradual and time lighting of the coals accordingly.
THE GOSPEL PROCESSION:
At conclusion of NT lesson, MC cues ALL to rise and signals TH to enter. AA take up candles and meet TH, carrying thurible in left hand and boat in right hand at breast, at gate as he/she enters from smoke sacristy. MC cues genuflection. AA split to stand in front of the horns of the Altar while TH goes to CEL to have incense laid on. SD moves book and takes place to Gospel-side A’s right, leaving space for TH.
CEL lays on incense and blesses it. TH moves thurible to right hand and goes to place in lineup between Gospel-side A and SD.
MC cues ALL to genuflect and turn. MC leads off, followed by AA, TH, SD and D in that order.
TH takes place in center aisle near Gospel-side A, facing A. Deacon chants introduction to Gospel and takes thurible from TH, censes Gospel Book and returns thurible to TH, who steps back a pace or two and stands holding thurible, letting it swing naturally (almost not at all), facing the Book during the chanting of the Gospel.
At conclusion of Gospel, SD takes book and proceeds up aisle. MC follows. AA follow MC. TH follows AA. D follows TH.
MC, AA, TH, and D return to lineup at altar steps, but closer to each other since SD is not part of this lineup. MC cues genuflection. TH retires to Smoke Sacristy by exiting above the rail through the gap nearest the smoke sacristy wall, and all others proceed single file back to their places at sedilia/credence.
SERMON, CREED, PRAYERS, CONFESSION, PEACE:
In most situations TH will not have to fire up coals until conclusion of sermon. (See Appendix for seasonal variations.) It is permissible to sit at the back of the church and listen to the sermon. TH should remember to light TT’s candles while lighting coals for Offertory.
During the Peace, TT enter smoke sacristy and take up their torches. At the conclusion of the Peace greeting, MC cues TH to enter. TH, carrying thurible in left hand and boat in right, leads TT out from smoke sacristy, single file. TH steps into gate while TT take their places at altar rail. At MC’s cue, TH and TT genuflect.
TT remain in place while TH comes to CEL to have incense laid on and blessed as at the Gospel. TH moves thurible with blessed incense to right hand, goes back to gate. Again MC cues TH and TT to genuflect. TH leads TT through Choir and down south aisle to baptistery, where all wait until Offertory procession is ready. TH begins Offertory procession at the conclusion of the Anthem. The MC will have ensured that the procession is ready to begin and cue the SMs to go to center to receive the gifts.
TH leads Offertory procession, followed by TT. Upon arriving at altar rail, TH goes all the way to the opening at the right-side end of the rail. After receipt of the gifts, MC cues TH, TT, and Processors to genuflect. Processors depart via smoke sacristy while TH steps through opening and moves to bottom of altar steps near the sedilia. MC stands at TH’s left while CEL blesses gifts.
After gifts are blessed and vessels prepared, CEL turns toward Epistle Horn. Accompanied by MC, TH ascends steps and hands off thurible to CEL, then turns and descends to sedilia. MC passes behind SMs and takes book down Gospel-side steps for censing.
CEL censes altar and hands off to D, who descends steps with SD and censes CEL with three doubles, then hands off thurible to TH. TH waits until D and SD return to their places at center of steps. When D faces TH, TH bows and censes D with two doubles, then bows and moves up-stage. SD faces TH and they bow. TH censes SD with one double. They bow and TH moves to center, faces MC on left. They bow and TH censes MC with one double, then bows and faces AA at credence. They bow and TH censes each A with one double, then bows.
TH then genuflects, rises, turns and descends to Choir floor.
Any clergy in choir are censed individually in order of seniority, two doubles for each cleric regardless of order. If the Rector is in choir he is always censed first. If clergy are sitting on both sides of the choir, cense the most senior cleric first, then any other clergy on the same side, then turn, turning toward the altar and pausing to bow slightly in acknowledgment, and cense clergy on the other side.
After all clergy in choir are censed, everyone else in the choir – singers, lay choir ministers, Crucifer, Verger – is censed as a group, center-left-right. If choir and others are sitting on both sides, turn toward the altar, pausing to acknowledge it with a bow, and cense persons on the other side, center-left-right.
After censing everyone in choir, TH proceeds to top of choir steps, bows to congregation, and censes them center-left-right with the chains at full length, then bows again, turns and proceeds to altar rail, genuflects at gate, comes into altar rail and takes place at cushion between MC and innermost A.
CANON OF THE MASS:
After Sanctus and Benedictus, MC cues ALL to kneel.
During the genuflections and elevation of the Elements, TH censes each Element with three doubles, more or less in concert with the genuflection-elevation-genuflection. (The solemn theological reason for this is visual harmony.) The censing should begin when CEL begins to rise after the first genuflection.
The final incensation occurs as the Elements are elevated during the concluding Doxology in the Eucharistic prayer.
At the Agnus Dei, MC cues ALL to rise. TH retrieves boat and goes to center. MC cues TH and TT to genuflect. They genuflect and TH turns and departs to smoke sacristy, followed by TT single-file.
TH dumps coals, wipes off hands if necessary, then comes out to altar rail to receive Communion. After receiving Communion, TH may take an unoccupied seat in the rear of the Choir.
POSTCOMMUNION PRAYER, RECESSIONAL, AND CLEANUP:
After the Postcommunion Prayer, Blessing, and Dismissal, MC cues ALL to rise.
After hymn play-through, MC cues genuflection. In departing procession, TH follows Verger and precedes lay and/or clergy CMs. BEWARE OF GALLOPING PRIESTS!
After concluding prayer in baptistry, TH may collect vestments from clergy. TH then returns to smoke sacristy to finish cleaning the thurible.
APPENDIX: Processions, etc.
Solemn Processions are acts of worship on days of special celebration and thus, they call for acts of special – but safe – exuberance.
When there is a procession, the opening entrance is the short way via the North Door. Incense is not laid on before Mass.
TH leads procession across transept, turns and ascends steps, and goes to the right of center, approximately in front of the Epistle-side horn of the altar. After the MC and SMs are in place, MC cues genuflection. ALL genuflect. D steps back to allow TH to approach CEL to have incense laid on.
TH has incense laid on and goes to choir floor behind A CR A. D turns to bid procession, then turns back to face altar. During the hymn play-though, swing the thurible side-to-side to aerate coals. MC cues ALL to genuflect as hymn play-through concludes. As CEL turns to face people, TH and A CR A turn to face people and TH may begin the procession with a 360 if there is sufficient space between TH and A CR A. If A CR A are too close, do not do a 360.
TH does 360’s three times at evenly spaced intervals while proceeding west down the center aisle. More than three 360’s are ostentatious (and run counter to our Trinitarian passion for threes), and will tire the TH for the rest of the procession. 360’s are never done at the rear of the church or in the side aisles for safety reasons. Three 360’s may be done while crossing the front of the church. When TH begins east up the main aisle, TH may do 360’s continuously, changing directions with each swing. Keep tension on the chains and keep the thurible high enough to avoid striking the floor. Do not do 360’s on the steps or in the choir. Be alert for small children or unwary adults who may step out of their pews during the procession. Safety is more important than show.
Upon return, ALL go to normal opening lineup at altar steps. ALL genuflect at MC’s cue and go to their places.
In many cases, since the Procession takes the place of an Introit, the opening censing will take place during the Gloria. However, if the Processional hymn is lengthy, the CEL may decide to cense immediately upon returning to the altar after the Procession. The Thurifer should be prepared for either situation.
THE LITANY IN PROCESSION
While this is a Procession, it is not a festal occasion but rather a penitential exercise. The entrance is the same as above with the following exception: after having incense laid on, TH proceeds to his/her place west of A CR A and kneels for the start of the Litany. TH rises and turns when SMs rise.
The procession itself is slower than a festal procession. 360’s are not done at any time. Swing should be minimal. See additional notes under “The Litany in Procession.”
If there is a boat bearer – usually a child – the boat bearer always stands in front and slightly to the left of TH, who may place the left hand on the boat bearer’s right shoulder. The boat bearer may wait in the smoke sacristy with TH, or may be seated on a stool next to the TTs when not needed.
CHANGES IN THE LITURGY
During Advent, Lent, Holy Week, and on other occasions such as a Baptism or Solemn Procession, the particular rite of the day may involve the omission of one or more of the following after the Gospel: Sermon, Creed, Prayers, Confession, Peace. On these occasions, the Thurifer will have to time lighting of the coals for the Offertory according to the length of those portions of the service which are not omitted. For example, when the Mass begins with the Litany in Procession, the Sermon and Creed are immediately followed by the Peace. Therefore, the thurifer will have to light coals during the Sermon.
SPECIAL PROCEDURES IN THE PRESENCE OF A BISHOP
If a bishop is celebrant, procedures follow custom. If the bishop is presiding at the throne, TH goes to the bishop to lay on. Hand the boat to the chaplain as you would to the Deacon. If the bishop is seated, TH genuflects on the left knee and raises thurible to an appropriate height; remain genuflecting until incense is laid on and blessed.
When the altar is censed, the Deacon will cense CEL, then go to center to cense the bishop with three doubles. D will then hand the thurible to TH who censes everyone else in the customary order. If the chaplain is in Holy Orders, cense the chaplain before censing the MC; if the chaplain is a lay person, cense the chaplain after censing the MC.
If there is a second bishop in choir, cense that prelate after censing everyone above the altar rail and before the rest of the choir clergy.
Other occasional peculiarities in the Thurifer position are detailed in the Liturgical Notes for the services involved.