thurifer n : an acolyte who carries a thurible
EtymologyOriginated 1850–55 from New Latin t(h)ūrifer (incense-bearing), equivalent to t(h)ūr- (incense) + -i- + -fer (bearing).
- American Heritage 2000
- WordNet 2003
A thurible is a metal censer suspended from chains, in which incense is burned during worship services. It is used in the Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Anglican, Episcopal, Old Catholic, and some Lutheran churches, as well as in Christian and non-Christian Gnostic Catholic Churches and in the practice of magick. In Catholic, Episcopal, and Anglican churches, the altar server who carries the thurible is called the thurifer.
The workings of a thurible are quite simple. Burning charcoal is inside the metal censer. Incense, sometimes of many different varieties, is placed upon the charcoal. This may be done several times during the service as the incense burns quite quickly. Once the incense has been placed on the charcoal the thurible is then closed and used for censing.
The word "thurible" comes from the Old French thurible, which in turn is derived from the Latin term "thuribulum". The Latin word thuribulum has the root "thur", meaning incense. The Latin "thur"is an alteration of the Greek word "thuos", which is derived from the term "thein", meaning to sacrifice.
Eastern Orthodox and Eastern Catholic usage
The Eastern Orthodox Church and Eastern Catholic Churches makes frequent use of incense, not only at the Divine Liturgy (Eucharist), but also at Vespers, Matins and a number of other occasional services (see Euchologion). During funeral services and memorial services (Panikhida), the censer is swung almost continuously.
Incense is understood as symbolizing the sanctifying grace of the Holy Spirit and the prayers of the Saints rising to heaven.
Incense in offered by the priest or deacon during the services. The censer (Greek: Θυμιατο 'Thymiato'; Church Slavonic: Кадилница 'kadilnitsa') used is often gold plated (combining in itself at the offering of incense the three gifts of the Biblical Magi: gold, frankincense, and myrrh). The censer will usually have three chains (for the Holy Trinity), and in the Greek practice twelve bells will be attached to the chains (their ringing symbolizes the teaching of the twelve Apostles). When censing, the priest or deacon holds the censer with only one hand (the right hand) allowing it to swing freely. He will make the Sign of the Cross with the censer by making two vertical swings and a third horizontal swing (the three swings together symbolizing the Holy Trinity).
When the temple (church building) is censed, the priest or deacon will move in a sunwise (clockwise) direction, moving to his right as he censes in order the Holy Table (altar), sanctuary, Iconostasis, walls of the temple, clergy and faithful. There are two types of censing: a Greater Censing (which encompasses the entire temple and all of the people therein), and a Lesser Censing (which, depending upon the liturgical context, consists of censing only a portion of the temple and the people).
During some censings, especially the Greater Censing, the clergyman who is performing the censing will often carry a candle in his left hand. During Bright Week (the week which begins on Easter Sunday) the priest and the deacon will carry special Paschal candles at every censing, even the Lesser Censing. While carrying the Paschal candles, the priest or deacon will greet the members of the congregation with the Paschal greeting while censing them. Simple tapers are carried while censing during funerals and memorial services.
During the Eastern Roman Empire (Byzantine Empire) the emperor used to be permitted to offer incense on the Feast of the Nativity (no doubt as a memorial of the gifts of the Magi), but was permitted to perform no other priestly function.
If no priest is available, incense may be offered by a reader or senior layman, but with a hand censer which has no chains on it, but rather a handle (it often has bells as well, suspended from the handle or around the rim). The hand censer is also used in some monasteries even when a priest is present for certain censings which are done by a monastic other than a vested priest or deacon.
During Holy Week it is customary in some places for even the priest and deacon to use the hand censer for all of the censings, as a sign of humility and mourning at the Passion of Christ.
The faithful will often burn incense, using a hand censer, in the home during Morning and Evening Prayers, and it is not unusual for the head of the household to bless the Holy Icons and all of the members of the household with a hand censer.
Roman Catholic use
After the altar has been censed at the Preparation of the Gifts, the priest celebrant may be censed, followed by concelebrants and other ministers of the altar, followed by the lay faithful.
Despite the wider use of incense provided for in the revised Roman Missal at Mass, incense is sometimes not used as frequently in parochial settings as before the liturgical revisions of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council.
The responsibilities of a thurifer include:
- Holding the thurible while the priest is blessing the incense inside of it.
- Carrying the thurible in procession (gently swinging if needed to keep the charcoal burning).
- Presenting the thurible to the priest or deacon at different times in the ceremony, (at the Gospel readings and before the Eucharist at Mass)
- At Mass, if no deacon is present, the server censes the priest after the priest censes the gifts.
The manner in which the rite of censing is carried out:
Traditionally and at Papal liturgies-
In the present (USCCB, 2003) General Instruction of the Roman Missal (No. 277)-
"The following are incensed with three swings of the thurible: the Most Blessed Sacrament, a relic of the Holy Cross and images of the Lord exposed for public veneration, the offerings for the sacrifice of the Mass, the altar cross, the Book of the Gospels, the Paschal Candle, the priest, and the people."
"The following are incensed with two swings of the thurible: relics and images of the Saints exposed for public veneration ..."
"The altar is incensed with single swings of the thurible ..."
The GIRM does not specify if swings are single, double, or triple; presumably, they are double or triple (high, high, low).
Thuribles in Anglicanism
In the Anglican Communion, the use of incense is a fairly reliable guide to how 'high' (more Catholic in liturgical style) or how 'low' (more Protestant) a church is. Anglo-Catholic churches may use generous quantities of incense. In recent years, some middle-of-the-road Anglican churches have taken to using incense a few times a year for special occasions.
Traditionally, at High Mass, the following rule is observed when censing, which differs from the common Roman Rite:
- Three sets of triple swings: When censing the Most Blessed Sacrament
- Three sets of double swings: When censing images, relics, and other sacramentals, also when censing the celebrant.
- Two sets of double swings: When censing a Deacon.
- One set of double swings: When censing a Sub-Deacon.
- Three sets of single swings: When censing the congregation
In Anglo-Catholic churches, the Thurible is carried in procession in front of the Crucifer and Acolytes. The Celebrant then censes the altar on which the Eucharist is to be offered, in the following form (at a Nave Altar):
- After venerating the altar, the Priest receives the thurible from the server at the North end of the altar.
- The Priest circles the altar, making small movements in the thurible, in an anti-clockwise direction until s/he reaches the west side of the altar, facing east.
- The Priest then makes three sets of triple swings towards east, then continues around the altar to his/her original position facing west.
This same pattern is followed when censing the altar at the offertory, with the following prequel:
- The Priest makes 6 swings (3+3) over the gifts, making the sign of the cross.
- The Priest then makes 3 circles, two counter-clockwise and one clockwise, over and around the gifts.
At the Gospel, the deacon (or whoever is reading the Gospel) censes following the introduction to the Gospel (ie: Hear the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ according to n... then cense)using three sets of double swings, one set South, one set North, and one set west.
At the elevations of the Blessed Sacrament, during the prayer of consecration, either the deacon, sub-deacon, or other appropriate person (including the thurifer), makes three sets of triple swings, as the parish bell and sanctuary bells are rung.
Should the Regina Coeli (during Easter) or the Angelus be said or sung, then the celebrant or other appropriate person may cense the statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the following form:
- Regina Coeli: Three sets of triple swings during the verse (Joy to thee, O Queen of Heaven, Alleluia...) and then three sets of triple swings during the concluding prayer.
- Angelus: One set of triple swings during each 'Ave Maria', then three sets of triple swings during the prayer; 'Pour forth, we beseech thee, thy grace into our hearts...)
Incense can be used at any celebration of the eucharist throughout the year, but especially in the seasons of Christmas, Epiphany and Easter, Maundy Thursday vigil, Palm Sunday, on the feasts of Pentecost, Trinity Sunday, Ascension, Feasts of saints and martyrs, Corpus Christi, and at the Dedication Festival or Patronal Festival of a church.
- General Instruction of the Roman Missal
thurifer in German: Weihrauchfass
thurifer in Spanish: Incensario
thurifer in French: Encensoir
thurifer in Italian: Turibolo
thurifer in Dutch: Wierookvat
thurifer in Polish: Trybularz
thurifer in Russian: Кадило
thurifer in Slovenian: Kadilnica