Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Latin Mass Serving Role: The Thurifer Version 1.0

Latin Mass Serving Role: The Thurifer

Source unknown. 

Editor's Disclaimer: As always, what is stated here is not the be all and end all for Latin Mass Serving. In addition, priests or parishes may have some slight variations on what they do for the minutia of the actual Mass. This may include a slightly different vestment setup, what is laid out on the altar, order of `building the Chalice, etc. Always consult the priest/parish instructor for that.

Brief Statistics

Plays a Role in What Level Masses? High Mass and Higher Levels. Requiem Mass if more than 2 servers. Also Benediction and Adoration, and Eucharistic Processions.

How Many? One in all higher levels of the Mass, and Eucharistic adoration and benediciton. Possibly two for Eucharistic Processions if there are enough servers

What parts of the Mass? The entrance procession, the incensing of the altar after prayers at the foot of the altar, the offertory, the consecration, the exit procession. Also Eucharistic processions.

Relative time to master the role? Sufficient time to master. This is considered an advanced serving role due to manipulation of the thurible. Also you must know the differences between the High Mass and the Solemn Masses in who to give what to and do. 

Introduction to the Role of the Thurifer

The Thurifer is a more involved role in the sacred liturgy of the Latin Mass. While on occasion a inexperienced server might be thrown into the role if needed (or in urgency), a parish or instructor will NOT put a younger or less experienced server into this role, unless he is mature enough to handle such a role. A younger server might also be unable to wield the thurible effectively due to less arm strength, particularly heavy metal ones. Usually a younger/inexperienced server takes on the roles of cross bearer and/or torch bearer first to learn about the higher levels of the Mass and gain experience. They might, more importantly, be given the boat bearer role in preparation for the role of thurifer, as that role occurs directly alongside of the thurifer's.

In addition (besides increased visual prominence in the liturgy,) the thurifer will bear increased responsibilities for handling, maintaining, and using the metal instrument called the thurible. These smoke-churning instruments, especially beautiful ones, are expensive and somewhat heavy, and so must be handled with care and responsibility. A server carrying out his duties must know when to recharge their coals to produce smoke from incense without disturbing the liturgy, wield it properly, and do all this in a respectful manner befitting of the Latin Mass.

Before one should undertake the thurifer role, you should understand it`s importance in the Catholic faith as well as its symbolism. You should also get an idea what you will need, how to use the thurible, and then doing the role in the higher level Masses.

NOTE: This posting will NOT cover how to be the thurifer in benediction and adorations (e.g First Fridays or those outside the Mass), with exception of tying it to the High/Solemn Masses.

Scriptural Importance
The role of incense and the thurible in the Catholic faith is prevalent in Scripture. References can be found in both the Old Testament and the New Testament.

According to modern Catholic Apologist, Dave Armstrong, there are many general references to incense from the Bible (see http://socrates58.blogspot.ca/2009/02/biblical-evidence-for-candles-incense.html), 161 in all! For the purposes of this instructional post, I will post the most relevant passages below.  

Old Testament
One of the first instances of incense appearing in Scriputre is in God's commands to Moses and Arron, regarding forming an altar as part of the worship space for the tabernacle with the 10 Commandments, to honour Him, after the Exodus from Egypt:

NRSV EXODUS Ch. 30: "You shall make an altar on which to offer incense; you shall make it of acacia wood. It shall be one cubit long, and one cubit wide; it shall be square, and shall be two cubits high; its horns shall be of one piece with it. You shall overlay it with pure gold, its top, and its sides all around and its horns; and you shall make for it a molding of gold all around. And you shall make two golden rings for it; under its molding on two opposite sides of it you shall make them, and they shall hold the poles with which to carry it. You shall make the poles of acacia wood, and overlay them with gold. You shall place it in front of the curtain that is above the ark of the covenant,[a] in front of the mercy seat[b] that is over the covenant,[c] where I will meet with you. Aaron shall offer fragrant incense on it; every morning when he dresses the lamps he shall offer it, and when Aaron sets up the lamps in the evening, he shall offer it, a regular incense offering before the Lord throughout your generations. You shall not offer unholy incense on it, or a burnt offering, or a grain offering; and you shall not pour a drink offering on it. 10 Once a year Aaron shall perform the rite of atonement on its horns. Throughout your generations he shall perform the atonement for it once a year with the blood of the atoning sin offering. It is most holy to the Lord."

We can see here that even from the beginning of formal worship in the history of our faith, starting in Judaism, God himself has allowed for His sacred altar, bearing the tabernacle (with the Commandments OR our New Covenant in Christ in the Blessed Sacrament), to be incensed with holy incense.

I also would like to highlight this passage from Leviticus, the book of the Pentateuch/Torah, whereby many of the orders and laws of worship and conduct for the Jewish people are contained. The particular sacrifice mentioned is an animal, a male cow or steed, a ``bull,`` which is offered up in atonement for sins the person has committed:

NRSV Leviticus 4: 1-7: "The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 2Speak to the people of Israel, saying: When anyone sins unintentionally in any of the Lord’s commandments about things not to be done, and does any one of them: 3 If it is the anointed priest who sins, thus bringing guilt on the people, he shall offer for the sin that he has committed a bull of the herd without blemish as a sin-offering to the Lord. 4He shall bring the bull to the entrance of the tent of meeting before the Lord and lay his hand on the head of the bull; the bull shall be slaughtered before the Lord. 5The anointed priest shall take some of the blood of the bull and bring it into the tent of meeting. 6The priest shall dip his finger in the blood and sprinkle some of the blood seven times before the Lord in front of the curtain of the sanctuary. 7The priest shall put some of the blood on the horns of the altar of fragrant incense that is in the tent of meeting before the Lord; and the rest of the blood of the bull he shall pour out at the base of the altar of burnt-offering, which is at the entrance of the tent of meeting ...."

In the Mass of the Catholic Faith, the sacrifice is not a bull, but the Lord himself at Calvary, in which in the unbloody sacrifice of the Mass we re-experience His passion, death, and resurrection. It was in that Sacrifice on Calvary where he shed his blood did He do so for our sins.

Here, clearly in the Old Testament passage, one can see the intermingling of the sacrifice of the unblemished bull and the altar of incense. This is also present in our Holy Mass at the levels of the Missa Cantata, Solemnis, or the less common Pontifical Mass (involving a bishop).

One more reference with regards to incense is the following from Psalm 141, which demonstrates the correlation or prayer and incense:
NRSV Psalms 141:1-2: ``1 I call upon you, O Lord; come quickly to me; give ear to my voice when I call to you. 2 Let my prayer be counted as incense before you, and the lifting up of my hands as an evening sacrifice....``

There are many more references in the Old Testament with incense. One can find a list in this posting on the site of Catholic apologist Dave Armstrong, in this posting here.

New Testament
The tradition of incense in Jewish Worship around the time of Christ continues, as seen in Luke's Gospel:

Luke 1:9-10 according to the custom of the priesthood, it fell to him by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense. And the whole multitude of the people were praying outside at the hour of incense.

Further on in St. Paul's Letter to Ephesians, we see the correlation of the fragrance of incense connected to Christ's sacrifice on the Cross:

Ephesians 5:2 And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

Most importantly, the Mass IS scriptural, and highly owes itself Scripturally to the Book of Revelation, where incense is featured prominently:

Revelation 5:8 And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and with golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints;

Revelation 8:3-4 And another angel came and stood at the altar with a golden censer; and he was given much incense to mingle with the prayers of all the saints upon the golden altar before the throne; and the smoke of the incense rose with the prayers of the saints from the hand of the angel before God.

Historical (Liturgical) Importance (Msgr. Pope, C. The Incensation of the Altar)

In terms of our Catholic Faith, history-wize, the Scripture passages above show that even in Jewish worship, incense was used for their rituals.

Incense became a part in early Church history with wealthier families and was also part of burial traditions, however it was not widespread in its use, likely because the Church did not want that which pagans were using, to be common place. In other words, for the faithful to be confused that b/c the pagans did it, the Church is OK to do it.

In the 4th century, with the decline of paganism, incense became more common place in the liturgy as being part of processions. The 9th century AD saw incense as part of the beginning of the liturgy of the Mass, and
in 11th century, the incensing of the altar occurred. In the Middle Ages, this is when incense became introduced to other parts of the Mass, as well as what was incensed (including relics, oblations). Once the Tridentine Liturgy was promulgated (by Pope Pius V in 1570), then the current structure we see in today's Latin Mass of when to incense was formalized:
  1. The initial incensation of the Altar
  2. The Gospel, prior to its reading
  3. After the offering of the cruets at the Altar for the oblations/Offertory, the incensation of the oblations (gifts), the altar, the cross, the sacred ministers, the inferior ministers (servers), and the laity
  4. The incensation at the elevation of the Body and Blood of Christ at Consecration (Transubstantiation).
When it comes specifically to point three above, the history of incensing oblations comes from another rite`s liturgy, the Carolingian liturgy, which was present around the 8th to 9th century AD, associated with Charlemagne (see http://www.qantara-med.org/qantara4/public/show_document.php?do_id=1308&lang=en) for the regions of Europe under the Carolingian empire where this liturgy would have been used.). It took a couple of centuries for the tradition of incense in the liturgy from this rite to become incorporated into the Roman (Latin) rite of the liturgy, in 11th century AD. (Msgr. Pope, C. The Incensation of the Gifts)

Symbolism of Incense and Relation to your Role
One of the most prominent, and important symbolisms of the incense, is that it represents the prayers of the people, both clergy and laity, going up to the Lord. This is visualized in the smoke burnt from the incense that floats above us during the Mass. Having read the history section, this symbolism makes sense with Scripture, as in the passage from Psalm 141, above, and is specifically mentioned as co-inciding with prayer as in Revelation 8:3-4. 

As a server, this also makes sense as well. Do not forget, as the altar server, YOU represent the laity. YOU give the responses on behalf of the laity present, and YOU represent their assistance to the priests/clergy at Mass. So when you are incensing the altar, that also includes the prayers of the laity going up to the Saints and the Lord on Heaven's High.

Another symbolism of the thurible with incense, is that in its purpose, it gives Glory to God and sacred persons and things. (109-110, Learning to Serve A Guide for Altar Boys)

Toolkit for the Thurifer

Items Needed for the Role

The Bare Necessities Every Parish Should Have
In order to carry out the role of the thurifer in any parish/Mass, the sacristy should be stocked with the following items, or you will need to acquire these items to bring with you to the parish holding the Mass:
  • The thurible itself! Every parish usually has one of those, unless they have not done ANYTHING higher than a regular, everyday, Novus Ordo Mass. However, if the thurible and boat set is too "modern" for the Latin Mass or a "single-chain`` one, you might want to take your more traditional/ornate one or "triple-chain" thurible with you to the Mass site.
     "Traditional"/Triple Chain                      Top view of Traditional Thurible
                                                          "Modern"/Single Chain
  • A "lampstand" for the thurible (so it doesn't burn down the church.). It may contain a little shelf you can put the boat on also. See above with both thurible types. 

  • The incense boat. Examples below:
               ``Traditional`` Incense Boat                                 ``Simple``/Modern Boat

  • Actual Church incense, not those sticks or store-bought ones. Here's some below, a common brand in my Archdiocese called "Three Kings":

  • Charcoal discs or actual heated coals (Most parishes use the pre-made and treated discs).

  • A lighter OR a combination of matches and a small candle to be lit (to light the charcoal discs)
Bendable Bic Lumiere(TM) lighter
Candle to light charcoal discs
  • Tongs, to hold the lit charcoal discs:

These materials are enough to carry out the role of the thurifer for any Mass at any parish or site.

Extras if present (or can be purchased/obtained elsewhere)
Additional extras, most referenced here in this informative post by Romanitas Press (with Pictures from their article):
  • A tin for wastage charcoal
A little more formal or if you have some coin ...

... but a coffee tin works just as well! 

                              Coil Type            

Plate type

Doing the Role: Using the Thurible

Moving with/Carrying the Thurible

There are specific rules with regard to moving around and/or carrying the thurible. 

In terms of carrying the thurible, it is treated as a one-handed object. 
  • Whatever hand is not occupied by the thurible lays flat across the chest, fingers together, palm spread open. 
  • The other hand is fimly grasped around the top part of the chain(s) of the thurible. 
  • In certain parts of the liturgy (e.g. processions), you may gently swing the thurible back and forth to increase oxygen flow to the thurible and keep the coals heated (fire needs air to keep going). 
  • If you are kneeling, or in a spot where you will be immediately using the thurible, the hand grasping the chain will be moved down about mid-way to a spot you can incense with the thurible, while the hand that was flat on your chest, grips the top part of the chain(s), and holds that portion close to your chest. 
  • When moving long distances, you will grasp the top part of the chain(s), below the ring/top part and keep the other hand on the chest as described above
  • When moving shorter distances, you may choose to hold the thurible in the manner with which you do while kneeling/immediately before using the thurible.

The Act of Incensing
This will always be a two person job, for the fact that while you carry the thurible, you cannot load incense into it at the same time. However, there is still a certain way you open the thurible, close it, and use the thurible.


  • After bowing and/or getting to the spot where you will incense someone/something, you must open the thurible. You will either pull the "pull-chain" to open the top part of the "complex" thurible, or the top knob of the dome of the "simple" type, to open the thurible. 
  • Once you have pulled the chain/top to open the bowl portion, 
    • On a "complex" thurible, take the pull chain, and put it in the hand gripping the other chains, so that you can keep the thurible open.
    • On a "simple" thurible, you simply keep the long chain close to you, and keep the top dome suspended upward, to keep the bowl open.  
  • Then of course, you let the priest, deacon, or subdeacon. put incense from your boat into the thurible.
Using the Thurible to Incense

  • When you are to use the thurible, you will hold the top of the chain close to your chest with your weaker hand. 
  • You are to assume a grip with your other hand of the chain between your thumb and index fingers. The other three fingers lean against the chain.Your dominant hand should be just before, to about a 1/3 of the way down the chain of the thurible. 
  • To extend the thurible outward, you do not use your whole arm as if to throw an object. You use your three fingers to "flick" the chain connecting to the main part outward. The thurible can come back and hit the upper part of the chain before your hand, as it should be taught. 

  • You cannot just throw out coals into the garbage bag, particularly after usage! They could melt the bag, light the refuse up, and then your parish burns down!
  • It would be best if you have the waste tin/coffee tin to dispose of old coals. 
  • You should cool off the charcoal with water after usage, but DO NOT flush it down the sink!
  • Once cooled by water, put the remnants into the wastage tin. THEN, These can then be thrown into the garbage bag, or outside. 
  • Ensure that the thurible gets cleaned of grime and such every once in a while. You might need your priests or sacristans' assistance to do this. If you are gutsy, you can try this yourself, and perhaps use a metal cleaner/polish (e.g. Good ol' Brasso) to clean the thurible and keep it shining. 

The Role of Thurifer in the High/Solemn Mass

Before the Mass Begins

You should be at the sacristy in good time before the Mass. Preferably a 1/2 hour. You will need more time vs. other serving roles. Do not put your surplice on until the thurible is set up. Coal dust wouldn't be nice on your white surplice.

Once you don your cassock, you should ensure you have all the supplies mentioned above in the vicinity for the Mass and for preparation.

Now, heed the advice below with the corresponding picture:

Make sure that you put the charcoal in the firepot (bowl, right side above) AND that said firepot is in the Thurible. If the thurible has no separate firepot, place tin foil around the well to not damage the inside quicker. These things are not cheap to replace!

So your "bowl" is in the thurible, OR a tin foil "bowl" covers the main part. First, start to heat one-two coals or coal discs using the tongs, your lighting instrument (lighter/candle). If you have pre-treated discs, your coals will be ready for usage when they start to turn red and you hear little crackling sounds, like if you heard bacon or something fried/greasy being cooked in a pan. If you have real coals these are to be remaining on the heating device till ready to use.

Once ready, you may place the coals into the thurible. Now you must allow the coals to "breathe", that is, to feed them air/oxygen so they become increasingly hot and able to burn incense grains. You can do this by:

  • Simple and safe method: Leave the thurible open a bit, and rock it back and forth at your side, like a pendulum
  • More Risky: Only for the daring and experienced: Whirl the CLOSED thurible around in a circle, like a windmill quickly. Make sure this is done in a large, open area with nothing (including other servers) around you and nothing flammable within reach. 
Now, once your thurible is 'charged' to accept incense that can be burned, ensure to leave it on its stand till you must hold it, or place it on a metal/stone surface. DO NOT leave it on carpet or other mark-able surfaces, lest a church sacristan or priest gets angry at you and they prevent you from doing the Latin Mass in a parish again! Go put on your surplice. 

Reclaim your thurible before the procession. Put in incense if required before your entrance procession takes place, and hold it in your left hand, with the right hand on your chest (or if no boat bearer is present, you might need to hold the incense with it). 

If, however, you are processing on a Sunday or Holy Day when the Aspereges rite will take place, you do NOT wield the thurible, as you, the thurifer, will be holding the aspensorum with aspergillum (the holy water bucket and sprinkler). In this case leave the thurible ready to go on its stand or place. 

The Mass of the Catechumens

Entrance Procession

How you are to process, and where, and what you carry, depends on the Asperges or not. You might also have a companion in serving in your masses in the role of the boat bearer. So he will be mentioned here too in the context of your role as thurifer.

Procession 1: No Asperges

For the High and Solemn Masses, if there is No Asperges, you are to process straight up the aisle, genuflect, and go with the Thurible to the credence table.

If you are in a Solemn Procession, the order of procession is as follows:

Figure 1: Order of Procession in High/Solemn Latin Mass with guide from my Religious Notebook #1

Arrow - Direction of the procession train.
BB - Boat Bearer (if present)
Th - Thurifer with censer/thurible
Ac - Acolyte 1 and 2 (arbitrary numbers were jotted in my notebook only. "2nd" acolyte is to the left, "primary/1st" acolyte is to the right of Cb)
Cb - Cross Bearer
Tb - Torch Bearers (in groups of two) 
MC - Master of Ceremonies
SD - Sub deacon
D - Deacon
P - Priest/Celebrant

If you are going solo, you LEAD the procession. That's right, you are at its front! If you are with a BB, he will be to your left, and you are on the right. The cross bearer or crucifer with acolytes at his sides are behind you.

Regardless of the form of the Mass, High or Solemn, you will do a single genuflection (with the boat bearer if present) on one knee upon coming to the center of the altar, before you go up the steps to the sanctuary. You will go to the right of the credence table and stand while the prayers at the foot of the altar take place. Some trainers/MC/priests though, might allow you to hang the thurible on the stand in the sanctuary and permit to kneel with the other servers. Just remember the ``standard`` instruction, is to stand with the thurible to the right of the credence table.

It is also possible, according to The Ceremonies of the Roman Rite Described (112) that the thurifer (herein, Th) may not come out till the end of the Confiteor. (However, this blogging author has never witnessed the Th at Solemn TLMs doing this. Assume being present for the prayers at the foot of the altar is the norm.)

The same is done in the High Mass/Cantata, but the deacon and sub-deacon are not present in the procession for the High Mass.

Procession 2: Asperges is Present (Sundays and Certain Holy Days)

This will change where the Th  goes, as well as what he carries. When there is an Asperges, the Th DOES NOT carry the thurible up in procession with him.

Should there be an Asperges ceremony before the Mass, then the procession is as follows:

a) In a High Mass/Missa Cantata:
2nd Acolyte        Cross Bearer       1st/primary Acolyte
Boat-bearer (hands folded, no boat)
Torch bearers in pairs
[Clergy in Choir Walking in Pairs]
Thurifer (Holds Cope)     Priest in Cope     M.C. (Holds Priest`s Cope and bucket)

Thus, you are to the Priest`s left when you process. As you process, your right hand is holding up the priest`s cope, the other hand is holding the Aspensorum. When one gets to the foot of the altar (Traditional Latin High Mass Illustrated by Pictures, 9; Ceremonial for the Missa Cantata, 16-18):
  • Upon arrival at the foot of the altar, you will release the cope from your hand. 
  • You will kiss the hand of the priest when he takes off his biretta, presenting the hand holding it to you. 
  • When the trio genuflects, the MC will take the holy water bucket from you and place it on the Epistle side of the lowest altar step. 
  • The MC will take care of the biretta and return to his position. 
  • Upon the MC returning, MC and Th kneel on the floor and P begins to intone the Asperges me
  • The MC will give the aspergillum + aspernsorum (holy water bucket + sprinkler) to the priest, and he will then bless himself with the sprinkler, making the Sign of the Cross. 
  • After this, ALONE, P sprinkles the servers about him (you and the MC).
  • You then, with MC, stand and genuflect.  
Once standing, you will always be holding P's cope at his left side while he is sprinkling all those present, in the appropriate order or sequence. Ensure your turns are in sync with P. Don't forget to keep that spare right hand on your chest, palm flat!

If the Gloria Patri is chanted while the Asperges is taking place, P, MC, and Th turn toward the altar and bow. On returning to the altar, the triad genuflects, though ensure as servers, you and the MC genuflect on the floor. P genuflects on the lowest step. Once the final oration of the Asperges is intoned, the triad genuflects, turns, and goes with P to the sedilia. (Traditional Latin High Mass Illustrated by Pictures, 11).

At this point, you are not usually required to help the priest dress for the Mass in his chausable and other liturgical vestments, and will retire to your designated place. That is usually in the hands of the MC and acolytes. However, as always, slight changes might be necessary according to the setup, the instructions of your MC/trainer/priest, and/or the (possibly lesser,) number of hands available. 

b) In a Solemn Mass

The Ceremonies of the Roman Rite Describes this for the Solemn Mass: "... if the celebrant [wears] the cope, then the ministers walk on either side of him, the deacon at his right, the subdeacon at his left, holding the cope. The sacred ministers are covered; those in choir carry their biretta when inside the church." (Ceremonies of the Roman Rite Described, 109). Therefore, according to the description, it would look like this:


Boat-bearer     Thurifer 

2nd Acolyte        Cross Bearer       1st/primary Acolyte

Torch bearers in pairs

[Clergy in Choir Walking in Pairs]


Sub-Deacon (holding cope)    Priest in Cope      Deacon (Holding Cope)


Upon arrival at the foot of the altar, you will be in the following positions before you go with the priest blessing things with holy water:

Once you have reached the altar, at the MCs sign, the MC will take the priest (and the SD and D's) biretta(s). The thurifer will go to the right of the Deacon and genuflect with the clergy. The deacon will then take the aspergillum and dip it in the holy water, and hand it with a kiss to the priest (P)/celebrant. P will intone the Asperges Me, Domine antiphon, and the choir will sing the rest, the first verse of the psalm Miserere, the verses Goria Patri and Sicut erat and repeats the antiphon.

As P intones the words from the Ritus Servandus or a card held by D and SD, P sprinkles the altar 3x (middle, Gospel, Epistle or C, L, R). P signs himself with the holy water, then the D, then the SD. D will get back the aspergillum, who will give it back to you. You will then go with the other servers to face the choir on the side of greater dignity (usually, gospel side). D will once again take the aspergillum from you to give to P.

When P is ready to sprinkle the congregation, you will be at the right of the Deacon. Either P will sprinkle the congregation from the entrance to the sanctuary, and you will not follow D, or P will desire to go down the church and return by the centre aisle to sprinkle the congregation. If the latter, you follow the Deacon with the aspensorum so that they can refill the water supply of the aspergillum. This is done until P is finished sprinkling the congregation. Once the sprinkling is done, the Th will place the items at the credence table and proceed to prepare the thurible for the first incense portion of the Mass.

The Mass of the Canons

Prayers at the Foot of the Altar

Th simply stands near the credence table with the thurible ready in his left hand. Should there be no Asperges, it's also possible Th (and bb) will be in a kneeling position with the other servers. They may say the responses at the F.O.A. if they are allowed to and can hear where the priest and MC are during that point. 

Thurifer Role 1: Incensation of the Altar (During Kyrie)
This is the first part of the Th's duties in the Mass. When clergy present in the Mass ascend the predella steps to get to the altar, he is to get up and proceed to (or to move to) the credence table and get the boat, and/or just, the thurible if there is a boat bearer present. He is to hold the thurible in his left hand. After getting the items, the Th waits at the side of the altar, in plano with the BB if present. 

1) In a Missa Cantata
P will come towards the side, and if present, the BB hands over the boat to the MC, the MC ensuring P kisses the spoon inside of it. Should there not be a BB present, the MC will fill his role and you, Th, hands over the boat to the MC. You, as Th, will open the thurible carefully, and then suspend it so that the bowl portion is around the height of the waist of the priest. This way, P is not straining awkwardly to putting incense inside.  

Th will then carefully close the thurible after the Priest`s blessing. Now blessed, you MUST remember to carry the thurible with your right hand. BB if present, MC, and Th bow once the thurible is closed. BB will then retreat to his spot. After, the thurible is handed over to the MC with your right hand, and you are to then go around P and be at his left when he incenses the altar. You will then be holding the priest's chausable as he incenses and move with him right, then center, then left, then center. When P genuflects (usually when crossing the center in front of the tabernacle,), you will genuflect with P and MC. 

Once finished, MC takes back the thurible and you proceed with him down the predella to the side. You then do a moderate bow together and MC will incense P. Moderate bow again. MC hands you back the Th, and you go back to your spots.

2) In a Missa Solemnis
The D will come towards the side, and the BB/Th hands over the boat. Th will then need to open the thurible and present it to P at waist height for easy insertion of the incense grains into the thurible. After the grains are placed inside and P blessed the incense, the thurible is handed over to D (with the right hand now that it`s blessed). If there is no BB, the MC will give Th back the boat, and while the incensing takes place, Th can go and place the boat back on the credence table/censer stand.

If the MC does not remove the missal from altar to allow P to incense it, then Th might have to remove the missal on the epistle side until that side is finished being incensed. (Ceremonies ... , 112). Once the altar is finished being incensed, then he is to come to D`s right. D will incense P. D and Th bow in unison to P after incensing him. Then Th will take the thurible from D with his right hand. You may then retreat to the sacristy and add fresh heated charcoal to the thurible at this point if you choose, though you might not need to. Otherwise, place the thurible on the stand, and the boat on the stand or the credence table. Th then returns back to his seat and sits, stands, and kneels with the other servers at the appropriate time until the Gradual/Alleluia.

Thurifer Role 2: The Gospel
After the Epistle, the Gradual and/or Allelulia are sung by the choir. Once the celebrant has finished reading the gradual (or at the beginning/a designated spot in the Gradual), then Th goes back to get his thurible and the boat if there is no BB. Once again, as like the beginning of Mass, the Th is to wait in plano with BB, at the side of the altar. 

1) In a Missa Cantata (Traditional Latin High Mass Illustrated by Pictures. 27-31; Ceremonial for the Missa Cantata, 38-44)

After the Epistle is changed, P chants the propers, and might also read the Alleluia Tract (septuagesima to Good Friday) or Alleluia II, if Easter season. During this time, you (and your BB if present), retrieve the items needed for incensing. You will wait (with BB) at the side of the predella. After all this, P will move to the center of the altar and the MC will be near you (or near the BB).

You will then repeat the procedure as the first time when P incensed the altar, with one exception. To remind you, BB gives the MC the boat, you open the censer for the grains to be put in, and when finished you bow with MC and BB to P. The exception in this case is you will NOT give the censer to the MC. BB will put away the boat on the credence, or the MC quickly if not present. 

While you are standing at the side of the predella and then doing the incensation preparation, the acolytes will come to the center below the predella, come to the center in front of the tabernacle, genuflect, and go and get their candles. They then return to the center of the sancutary and create a space in the middle for you as Th.

Th will now go to the spot in between the acolytes after stepping away from the predella. MC will get the missal, and do a shorter "V" pattern transfer, but not without stopping in front of you, behind P, where all the servers genuflect at once. Here's the Formation:

Figure 2: Positions in the Missa Cantata including Thurifer in Preparation for the Gospel.

MC then completes the missal transfer while you with the acolytes transfer to the Gospel side of the altar, but the "long way" around, not the short way/V like the MC. You should end up like this:

Figure 3: Positions after Missal transfer of main servers.

Once all servers are in place, the MC walks down the steps of the Altar on the Gospel side and comes to the Th. Bow to the MC, and Th gives MC the thurible. MC will then take the censer to the right of P for the incensation of the Gospel.

Once the gospel is being read, the MC will give you back the thurible, though you might wait a bit longer if MC must bow to the altar cross at the Holy Name of Jesus in the first lines of the Gospel. Once MC gets to you as Th, bow to each other, take the Th in your right hand (it is blessed after all,) and remain in place with the acolytes until the end of the Gospel.

After, Th with acolytes go back to their places at the center as before the Gospel, and will genuflect with the P and MC (now at P's left side). You then retreat with the servers back to the credence area/epistle side, put the thurible back on the stand, and then take your seat.

2) In a Missa Solemnis

When P and D approach, once again Th is to open his thurible so incense can be placed in, after he or BB has given the boat to D. Th will once again hand over the thurible to D after this, and place the boat back on the credence table/stand if no BB is present. But, he must return to the side of the altar again, because he must reclaim his thurible for the Gospel.

Once the thurible is back into your hands, you will then get into position to depart for the Gospel. As Th, you will be on the left side, behind the SD, with the MC to your right when he appears. The Acolytes are behind you, and the clergy in front. This is what the Solemn Mass formation looks like, before departure:

Figure 4: Solemn High Mass positions for Gospel. (How to Serve ..., 77). Th is behind the subdeacon (1 stripe) in this diagram. 

You will then all turn inward, and proceed to the left side of the body of the Church, past the altar rails (if applicable), and will then stop at the Gospel spot at the left side of the deacon. 

Figure 5: Solemn High Mass positions at Reading of Gospel. 

Once there, the Deacon will incense the Gospel. You hand the thurible behind the deacon's back to the MC, who will hand it to the deacon. D incenses the gospel, and then you receive the thurible back from the MC behind D's back. After the Gospel is finished, you will turn around with the Deacon, and remain with him while the MC, acolytes, and subdeacon go back to their places. You will hand the Th to the deacon so that D will incense P on the altar. Both of you do a slight bow before and after incensing. You get the thurible back, then go with D back to your spots, genuflecting in the center of the altar. Th then goes back to his spot at the epistle side and returns the thurible to its stand, or the sacristy.

Sub-Role: Recharge Coals at The Homily
While you as Th do not play a role in the homily per se, you will be performing duties as thurifer, that is, to recharge your thurible with fresh heated coals for the next round of incensing.

While there is no hard and fast rule about when to do this, you should definitely NOT wait till the last minute, as appealing as a Latin Mass homily is. Usually, servers will either do this immediately after D incenses P (which will grant you the benefit of hearing most of the homily), or 1/3 to 1/2 way through the homily. 

In short, you put 1-2 new coals in the thurible, after heating them up, feed them oxygen, refill your boat with incense grains if needed, and then place the newly charged thurible on its stand. After you may return to your spot in the sanctuary.

Thurifer Role 3: The Offertory/Rallying the Torchbearers (Traditional Latin High Mass Illustrated by Pictures. 37-45; Ceremonial for the Missa Cantata, 38-44)

Before you are required, the acolytes will present to the Priest the water and the wine. At this time, while the acolytes present the gifts to P, you (and your BB if present,) will gather your items needed for incensing: thurible and boat. Make sure you hold the thurible in your left hand at this point (consider the incense unblessed again), and the boat in your right if there is no BB.

Once you have your items, you will line up behind the acolytes for your role at this part of the Mass, with MC to the right, and BB beside him in the center (or just the MC to your right if no BB is present). You will be to the left of the boat bearer/MC. Pay attention to your MC as he might cue you as to when to get your items. Once the Ac's are done with their gifts, you, (your BB) and the MC, will ascend to the side to do the third incensing in the Mass.

You and the MC (and BB) should ideally come to the side at the Veni Sanctificator prayer, though your MC may also cue you. Either the crucifer or an acolyte will move the Missal for you to allow incensing to occur.

1) In a Missa Cantata 
The MC takes the boat like before from the BB if present, or you give it to the MC with your right hand. You and the MC with P do the same procedure as in the preparation for the Gospel to have incense put into the thurible, and you hand over the thurible after to the MC. If present, BB will bow with you once the thurible is closed, and he retreats with the boat back to the credence table.

You as Th go now to the left of P as he incenses things at the offertory. While P incenses, you hold the edges of P's chausable. You will follow him where P goes, genuflecting as usual if you cross the center/tabernacle. Once P is finished, and P incenses the MC, MC will take the thurible and you go with him down the predella steps to the side. You both bow, and then MC will incense P. After, you turn toward the MC, bow with the head, and receive the thurible from him, where after you head bow and go to the foot of the altar.

At the center of the foot of the altar, both of you genuflect, and MC goes to the Gospel side where the Missal is now placed. He turns right and faced you, you both head bow to one another, and then you incense the MC with 1x double swing. Head bow to the MC (and he to you) after incensing. You then will begin to incense the other altar servers, and finally, the laity in a specific order (see below after 2) In a Missa Solemnis ...). You will always do a medium (shoulder) bow before and after incensing the person(s) and they, likewise also bow before and after.

2) In a Missa Solemnis
Like the Missa Cantata, you will line up (with the BB if present) behind the Ac's. Once they are finished, and possibly at your MC's cue, you will approach the altar with your thurible and the boat (possibly in BB's hands). If there's a boat bearer, he gives the boat to the deacon, else you must give it to D. The usual method of incensation occurs as before. If when the thurible is loaded there is a BB, he will take the boat back to the credence after you and Th bow with D after the preparation part. Else you will have to return the boat quickly and return to D's side.

Be warned, you might have to remove the missal while P incenses the altar. If you do not, you will stand at the epistle side and wait for P to complete incensing the altar. If you do move the missal, you go around the front of the altar steps, genuflect passing the center, and  then get to the Gospel side of the altar where the Missal is. Remove the Missal before P gets to your side, and wait at the side at the predella steps. Place it back after P moves away.

Regardless whether you move the missal or not, and place it back, you will then go to the left side of D when he is getting the thurible back from P. After incensing SD, D returns the thurible to you. Like with the Cantata, you will always do a medium (shoulder) bow before and after incensing the person(s) and they, likewise also bow before and after. You will then incense, in the same manner, with other clergy, and then servers, in the order as listed below.

For all incensing purposes, you will NOT have to incense the priest, priests in choir (or bishops present), or the subdeacon, as these are done by D with the thurible, or the MC in a Cantata. You will have to follow either the MC or D at his left though in the process, until it's your time to incense people.

For both Missa Cantata and Missa Solemnis (MS), AS THURIFER, Whom to incense and in what order:
1. MSThe Deacon - Two double swings, after D has returned near P and turned around to face you.
2. Both - The MC - One double swing
* 3. Both - The Acolytes - One double swing
* 4. Both  Other "essential" servers - One double swing, first Gospel side, then Epistle Side (e.g. Torchbearers).
* 5. Both  Servers "in choir" who are "not essential" - One double swing, first Gospel side, then Epistle Side (e.g. Torchbearers).
6. Both -  The Laity - One set of single swings, the center, the left/epistle side, then the right/Gospel side 

* If there are groups of servers together in the sanctuary, the thurifer can incense in an alternate way, where he: [makes] only one common bow of the head before and after, to each group of servers. If he incenses them collectively, it will be with three simple swings (toward the centre, to his left, to his right, p.50) (The Ceremonies of the Roman Rite Described, 114). This is the same as when he incenses the laity.

Once you have finished incensing the laity, the torchbearers should then gather towards you (they may need to be cued), with odd numbered individuals on your right (1, 3, 5), and even numbered individuals on your left (2, 4, 6), coming out from the center to the farthest point away from you, like so:

Figure 6: Lineup of torchbearers and thurifer at Offertory post-incensing, to get torches [Edited to add Th in diagram] (Serving at Missa Cantata (The Torchbearers at Missa Cantata) [http://arthurcrumly.blogspot.ca/2010/07/serving-at-missa-cantata-torchbearers.html]

Note that this diagram has the left Tb as 1, though usually, the right is given preference in certain things with the Latin Mass. The numbering system can be arbitrary which side gets it, though usually the right side in serving is "First" (e.g. 2-server low mass. acolytes ....)

Once the Tbs are assembled around you in a straight line, then everyone is to make a single genuflection, both Tbs and Th. You might want to add a signal, such as using your left hand to firmly, but not brashly, beat your chest, to get everyone to bow at the same time. Another option might be to assign the first torchbearer this signalling responsibility, but having him clap with both hands which everyone should be able to hear.

In essence, Tb1 can be the "head torchbearer" (and as an opinion of this author, it could be a sub-rank or promotion for a server whose done the Mass a couple of times, but is not ready to be advanced further in rank.) This signal, however, AS ALWAYS WITH S.U.D., is not the final word, and should be up to your priest/MC/trainer. The signalling is an extra aid for the purposes of synchronization, and is NOT in the rubrics.

After the genuflection, if there are any priests in choir, you will do a moderate bow to them, to the side of greater dignity (e.g. If a mass has a bishop not at his "throne"/monsignor sitting in choir on the Epistle side, and an ordinary priest on the Gospel side, you bow first to the epistle, then the Gospel, sides). Th then leads the torchbearers in pairs, to the sacristy (or in some cases, the nave) to where their torches are stored. Your job is now the following:

  • To ensure that the coals are still sufficient enough to burn incense in the thurible
  • That enough smoke is burning still from the thurible. 
  • To use new heated coals and/or replenish the incense in the thurible if it's "dead." (BB might help you with re-supplies if you have one)
  • To assist the torchbearers with lighting their torches. Some might be small children, or they don't know how to light the torches. In addition, you only have a limited time, and ALL 6-8 must be lit. 
  • To ensure that in time for the ringing of the Sanctus bells, the Tbs are ready, lined up, with torches in hand, to leave on YOUR cue outside their place. BB does not have to line up with you and the torches and can go back to his place in the sanctuary after assisting. 

Thurifer Role 4: The Sanctus - Consecration of the Gifts
Once you have lined up the torches in pairs and are ready (with BB), you then pay attention, waiting for the Sanctus bells to ring. It will be a triplet, three rings (ding-ling x 3). When you hear this, that is your cue, to lead the servers with you out to the foot of the altar.

You will line up like before you went into the sacristy/nave, with you in the center,  and the torches surrounding you. Th and the torches all genuflect together (you can have a signal in place again if need be,) and will bow to the epistle and gospel side choirs first if there are other clergy in them (though in order of rank, Gospel might be first with a higher ranking clergy/prelate). Otherwise, after the genuflection, Th will go to the lowest step of the predella on the epistle side. By the time everyone is kneeling, your formation should look something like this:

Figure 7: Lineup of torchbearers and thurifer (Th) at Offertory post-Sanctus, (Serving at Missa Cantata (The Torchbearers at Missa Cantata) [http://arthurcrumly.blogspot.ca/2010/07/serving-at-missa-cantata-torchbearers.html]

Missing from the picture is the BB, who, if present, kneels beside you with boat in hand to put in incense before the consecration of the Sacred Species. If there is no BB present, then the MC or an Acolyte will be the one to put the incense in.

Whether in the High Mass or Solemn Mass, the time to put the incense in is the Hanc Igitur. Here P puts his hands out flat over the Chalice, and an acolyte (Ac1 usually) will ring the bell once. Th and BB (or just Th, with MC/Acolyte helping out), will stand up in place, and incense will be put into the thurible. After, Th and BB immediately kneels again.

When each of the Sacred Species is elevated, you will swing the thurible three times, doing a double swing (6 swings total!). Before and after, you bow with P (a simple ring will occur at these bowing moments). Once your incensing of the Species is finished, you do a single genuflection , and then return the thurible to its stand/the sacristy, and return to your spot near the credence or choir pews.

While this has not happened with me, there might be no communion in a Mass. If this does happen, you go to the center of the altar, the Tbs get up, and all do a single genuflection, and leave.

Most of the time, you will have communion. As per usual, there will be a time when all the servers will gather at the front of the predella steps for communion. There are two possible spots I have encountered/marked in my notes where the torches will switch their position on the altar or steps, in order to make way for servers who will be lining up for communion.

1) After the ``Nobis quoque peccatoribus`` prayer (of which those exact words are said aloud), the priest will uncover the chalice and make 5 signs of the cross. After, he says ``Per omnia saecula saeculorim`` which you will reply, ``Amen.`` OR

2) After the priest consumes the Sacred Eucharist, and then says the "Sanguis Domini nostri ..." prayer and consumes the Precious Blood. This is the most commonly agreed upon time for servers to form the communion line, in most serving guides

At this point, whatever it is, the other servers will get up to line for communion. Where you line up will depend on what your MC/instructor suggests, though usually you will be paired, as always with BB. Your Formation should look something like this:

Figure 8: Lineup of torchbearers and thurifer (Th) at Offertory for Communion, (Serving at Missa Cantata (The Torchbearers at Missa Cantata) [http://arthurcrumly.blogspot.ca/2010/07/serving-at-missa-cantata-torchbearers.html]

You will say the (2nd) Confiteor with the other servers and also the "Domine non sum dignus." Memorize these two prayers since you will not have the benefit of the missal/prayer card/Ordo in front of you. Receive your communion on the tongue, and retreat. 

Should there be no additional processions or benediction in the Mass, the Th's role is essentially complete. All that is left is for him to lead the exit procession. 

Sub-Note: If Acolytes are ``Substitute`` Torchbearers to replace some, or the lack thereof (Ceremonies of the Roman Rite ..., 115)

Now, there might be an occasion where due to a shortage of servers, the acolytes will take the place of regular torchbearers at communion as ``substitutes.`` If this does happen, Th has additional roles. He will:
  • Take the humeral veil from the Subdeacon at the words dimitte nobis in the Lord`s Prayer (Our Father/Pater Noster)
  • After receiving pax from the MC or the person next to him at the Sign of Peace, he takes the chalice veil round to the Gospel side of the altar, then bring cruets to the altar for ablutions, takes them back afterwards to the credence and goes back to his place. 

Benediction/Procession for High/Solemn Mass Feasts (E.g. Corpus Christi, Christ the King)
Should there be a procession that occurs after, or just before the dismissal of the Mass, the Th will have additional roles and positions in the Mass as part of benediction/Eucharistic procession. Ideally two thurifers should be used, however one is suitable.

There will be an additional "refill" as it were, whereby at communion, Th will prepare his thurible (with help if needed from BB), to be ready and primed for the procession. If a BB is present, he refills the boat. Otherwise, Th does so. In addition, your BB might be recruited to hold an umbrellino, which is basically a fancy umbrella that goes overhead the Blessed Sacrament carried in the Monstrace by P.

When there is a Benediction with procession, there is no dismissal "Ite Missa Est", but instead "Benedicamus Domino," and no final Gospel or blessing after the Missal is closed.

Personally,  I have not had much experience with processions, and was not Th for them, so I can't comment much on them. However, I will leave you with a good source for the combined benediction/procession instructions from the Romanitas Press Website, here:


When I was part of a procession last time, I was Boatbearer, and thus got to carry the umbrellino. From my first religious notebook/serving notebook, this was a diagram I jotted down of our formation, just before we left the altar:

 Figure 9: Lineup of inferior ministers and priest for Benediction/Eucharistic Procession from Christ the King Mass 2012 with St. Patrick's Gregorian Choir

So ends the posting on the Thurifer. Hopefully there will be more additions to this post in future. This was a major undertaking, being a major position, and in addition I found that not only did I have to do the basics, but how to do it for both High and Solemn Masses, increasing my time. 

Thurifer is a more senior, and enjoyable position for a server, having to deal with fire and a heavy metal object that spews smoke. However, it is not an easy one, requiring practice with the instrument, and some reasonable experience with the Latin Mass. 

Completed June 17, 2014.

Works Cited
Britt, Dom. Matthew. How to Serve in Simple, Solemn, and Pontifical Functions. 3rd ed. Tan Books and Publishers: U.S.A. 2008.

Carmody, Father Charles J. Learning to Serve A Guide for Altar Boys. Roman Catholic Books: Fort Collins, CO, U.S.A. 1961.

Crumly, A. Serving at Missa Cantata (The Torchbearers at Missa Cantata). The Blog of Arthur Crumly. Retrieved 13 June 2014 <http://arthurcrumly.blogspot.ca/2010/07/serving-at-missa-cantata-torchbearers.html>.

Fortescue, A., O'Connell, J.B., and Reid, A. The Ceremonies of the Roman Rite Described. Fifteenth Edition. Burn & Oates: London, U.K. 2009.

Haynes, Scott A. Ceremonial for the Missa Cantata Pirest-Master of Ceremonies-Altar Boys. Biretta Books: Chicago, Illinois, U.S.A. 2009.

Haynes, Scott A. Traditional Latin High Mass Illustrated by Pictures. Biretta Books: Chicago, Illinois, U.S.A. 2009.

Pope, C. The Mass in Slow Motion - The Incensing of the Altar. The Archdiocese of Washington. Online. Created April 25, 2013. [http://blog.adw.org/2009/04/the-mass-in-slow-motion-the-incensing-of-the-altar/]. Retrieved 23 Oct 2013.

Pope, C. The Mass in Slow Motion - The Incensing of the Gifts. The Archdiocese of Washington. Online. Created August 1, 2013. [http://blog.adw.org/2009/08/the-mass-in-slow-motion-the-incensation-of-the-gifts/]. Retrieved 23 Oct 2013.

Tofari, J. The Electric Burner: A Thurifer's Best Friend. Romanitas Press. Online. [http://www.romanitaspress.com/articles/electric_burner.htm]. Retrieved June 17, 2014. 

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