From a reader:
I am writing to ask you about the proper provision for incense at Holy Mass. Can you or your readers recommend a way to ensure a plentiful supply of incense smoke from a thurible at Mass, and to avoid the “invisible smoke” effect? I am of the belief that one cannot have too much incense! Thank you!
Some of you long-time readers may remember the “Wake Up And Smell The Incense” post from 2007. Click HERE.
Apart from our interest in liturgical decorum, with the cost of incense going up, this is a real concern. We want good smoke and we want to avoid waste.
First, make sure your coals are hot enough. That means starting them ahead so that they have enough time to get nice and hot. If you light those little self-lighting cake thingies just before Mass is about to start, you run the risk of melting the resin of the incense rather than burning it. No smoke and wasteful.
You can speed the process by blowing, of course, or using a hair-drier (which is noisy) or, if the chain is strong and the person mature and competent doing the windmill thing with the thurible. Fun with an element of danger. What could go wrong?
(By the way, thurible, comes from Latin thus, thuris or tus, turis, “incense”.)
Second, coals need oxygen. When the thurible is not in use, keep the cover open, up. Let the coals get air. That also keeps the cover cool so Father doesn’t fry his hand. When a thurifer is standing, holding the censer suspended, he should swing is gently, like a pendulum to keep air moving on the coals.
Third, before putting incense on the coals in the thurible, use the spoon to tap off some of the ash built up around the hot core of the coal. Then put in your incense.
Fourth, when using the censer, move it adequately with broad enough gestures that you move the smoke from out the cover.
Fifth, whoever is in charge of the sacristy and the thurifer himself has to keep an eye on the coals. If they are exhausted, or will be soon, do something! Add more or change it out in adequate time so that they will be hot enough when needed. Think ahead! The MC or sacristan may need to remind a thurifer in the case of special occasions, as when there is a procession at the end of Mass or if there is a funeral, etc.
Sixth: Depending on the composition of the incense, it could be a good idea to have a mortal and pestle or a small electric coffee grinder in the sacristy to bust up the big chunks that won’t easily burn.
I am sure some experienced priests and servers will have other smokey tips.
Anecdote: At my church in Italy where I was rector, I occasionally got coals from a bakery with a wood oven on the edge of the piazza. Real wood coals, charcoal! When I put the incense on those… PHOPF!… it went up immediately. There was no waste and they stayed hot and useful.
And then there’s this:
Okay, just one more.