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 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 "thuein", meaning to sacrifice.
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:
A thurifer may be helped by another server carrying a boat or container for fresh incense to add as the thurible burns low. Such a server is commonly called a boat boy.
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).
The use of the thurible in the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite is dictated by the liturgical legislation in force in 1962 and this is found in the appropriate liturgical texts of that period.
The use of the thurible in the Extraordinary Form, therefore, is not affected by subsequent liturgical legislation, including legislation (e.g., the General Instruction of the Roman Missal) regarding the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite (a reform of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council).
Consequently, while the use of the thurible bears many similarities to its use in the Ordinary Form there remain significant differences, for example, regarding the incensation of the altar, and these are contained in the rubrics of the legislation regulating the Extraordinary Form.
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:
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):
This same pattern is followed when censing the altar at the offertory, with the following prequel:
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.
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.