QUAERITUR: priest switches from incense censer to a bowl

From a reader:

Our pastor has stopped using the traditional censer at
Solemn Masses (of which he has very few –only the highest of feasts)
in favor of using a free-standing incense bowl that he places in front
of the altar of sacrifice. The celebrant adds incense to the bowl at
the beginning of Mass and again when he is returning to the altar
after accepting the Offertory Gifts, and the incense burns
continuously thereafter. To me, this seems like something in a pagan
ritual. Is this liturgically correct?


What’s next?  A bong?

The shape of the censer, or thurible, is not prescribed.

On the other hand, over the centuries we have figured out the best ways to do things efficiently with out setting fire to any one… though in the matter of certain doctrinal errors and liturgical abuses I am open to discussing that  one again… or dumping the coals on the floor.

Just remind the priest that when people see that and smile, they aren’t smiling with him, they are smiling at him.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. Charles E Flynn says:

    The first time I ever served as an altar boy, I was required to serve at Benediction without any training. As I swung the thurible, the top moved up, and a small piece of burning coal flew out and landed on the carpet of the sanctuary. I put out the small fire with my shoe, and a patch the size of a quarter was sewn in.

    The priest who trained the altar boys, who was not the one who required me to serve at Benediction with no training, decided that altar boys would practice with the thurible in the parking lot before ever using it in the sanctuary.

  2. Philangelus says:

    For six years I was at a parish where, at Ash Wednesday, the priest would put a bunch of last year’s palms into a giant bowl and set fire to them. I can assure you that even in a parish populated with college students, it kept everyone’s attention riveted to the front.

    Perhaps that “not burning things down” memo needs to be more widely distributed.

    (BTW, the ashes would be distributed while they were still warm. Nice idea. Scary implementation.)

  3. FrCharles says:

    @Philangelus In the monastery I lived in until recently, that smell of burning palms from the courtyard was always the first taste of Lent. I’ll miss it where I am now.

    The brazier method, as described by the reader, has the advantage of making it possible for a celebrant to have incense at Mass without the assistance of a server. Of course it begs the question of why there is no one to serve at a Mass celebrated with enough solemnity to suggest incense.

    The bowl business, as indicated in the picture, sometimes provides an occasion for other troubles.

  4. Joe in Canada says:

    While the shape of the thurible is not prescribed, the actions are, to some extent. It is not possible “to incense” something with a bowl, except by the ‘waving it about” method indicated in the photograph.

    When I was much younger an Anglican friend of mine pointed out that bowls are also useful for goat entrails…. If PETA keeps us from that, perhaps for that reason alone God will not destroy it.

  5. irishgirl says:

    There was an incense bowl in the chapel of St. Edward the Confessor when the Holy Father and Archbishop Williams prayed there.
    When I think of incense bowls, the photo posted on this entry comes to mind. Not good…
    What’s wrong with using a thurible?

  6. EXCHIEF says:

    When will some (far too many) Priests figure out that the liturgy is not about them or their “creativity”? Too many celebrants seem to think they have to do somethng different to keep people coming to Mass. In fact a reverent TLM which puts the focus where it should be is far more effective than anything the Priest can dream up.

  7. mike cliffson says:

    Throw the man a life belt!
    Find out his favourite food and drink, provide it, then
    Show him a video of the Pope in Santiago, attached to a clerical supplier’s chit for a quarter-size botafumeiro and a year’s supply of incense as an Epiphany present.
    Female Religious are supposed to be married to Christ, (Fr Z will presumably redink and blast the following if Ive got it wrong) , not exactly an equivalent, nor primarily, but I understand a priest is married to the church, meaning viceversa his parish is supposed to have wifely functions, including basic physchology about weaning away from weird foibles. Such as bowl-thurifers.
    BTW we don’t care for our priests , do we? We don’t kiss their hands anymore, we don’t pray for them unless they annoy us, we don’t feed them ,make sure their casual clothes are presentable…..
    Its all in the puffict housewife of wisdom: will OUR Pastor show up the rest at the gate?

  8. Fr. Basil says:

    I have been told there is a Syriac use of a stationary altar of incense, but it’s to the north of the thisiatirion, not before it.

    In the Byzantine tradition, Holy Week prefers not the swinging thurible, but rather a bowl mounted on a handle, such as is used in the homes of pious laymen in their prayer corners.

  9. TJerome says:

    The photo looks like a scene from a Hercules movie from the 1950s: Very tacky!

  10. Henry Edwards says:

    How does the altar boy incense the Host or Chalice when it is elevated? Pick up the incense bowl and set it down three times?

    The photo looks like a scene from a Hercules movie from the 1950s: Very tacky!

    Actually, it’s a scene from LA apparently with an eminent prelate standing on the stage in the background. Even tackier?

  11. Seraphic Spouse says:

    I recently wrote an article about liturgical incense. It turns out that although the Jews have used incense since about 1500 BC, Christians began using incense only in the 3rd century. Such early Christians as Tertullian disliked it as “too pagan.” However, it was certainly used by the 380s in the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre and became more and more popular by the fourth and fifth centuries. Meanwhile, the thurible as we know it did not develop until the 9th century. All that said, burning incense in front of the altar continuously from the Offertory to the Dismissal does sound innovative and decidedly odd.

  12. Seraphic Spouse says:

    Sorry. that should be “only in the 4th century”–as in “Constantine.”

  13. Tom in NY says:

    Cf. Apocalypsis Ioannis 8:5: ” Et accepit angelus turibulum et implevit illud de igne altaris et misit in terram; et facta sunt tonitrua et voces et fulgura et terraemotus.”
    Praenotanda cautio.

    Salutationes omnibus.

  14. Seraphic Spouse says:

    Whoops, sorry. Wrong thread. Feel free to erase it, Father Z.

  15. Elly says:

    Ha, I was thinking about that picture before I even scrolled down to see it!

  16. Central Valley says:

    Of course when we are talking about abuses or “inovations”, the pictures of the three days of darkness in Los Angeles always appear…LOL

  17. “Custom is the best interpreter of law.” It seems there is a basic misunderstanding of how the law works with respect to sacred worship. Even in the Traditional Roman Rite, it is not always a case of black and white. But to the degree that it is, there is little left to the imagination. And even in the reformed liturgy, there is sufficient instruction in the appropriate Ceremonials, to suggest that the use of incense is best suited to a thurible, as opposed to a brazier. Notice that the latter is almost always used when carried by a skinny girl wearing tights and a flimsy robe.

    Exit question: is it really the Almighty to whom the incense is paying tribute?

  18. Brad says:

    Irishgirl: “What’s wrong with using a thurible?”: liberalism is a mental disorder, so we can’t really comprehend what makes people do kooky stuff other than their own pride. It’s all about pride. We think we are too good to just do something as prescribed.

  19. WaywardSailor says:

    I can’t quite figure out why, but this story reminds me of a lector about thirty years ago who stumbled during one of the readings at Mass, Genesis 15:17. Instead of saying “smoking brazier” he came out with “smoking brassiere”. More than a few sets of shoulders heaved up and down trying (in some cases not very successfully) to stifle laughter.

  20. Gail F says:

    We have a thurible once a year. The other few times incense is used, we have a person wearing an alb waft it around in a ceramic bowl. Usually it’s a woman; on Christmas Eve it was a man. No one ever actually censes anything with it, the carriers just walk around the altar with it and then put it away. My and I always refer to it as our pagan priestess. I would be GLAD to have a bowl in a fixed spot, it would be an improvement! (Yes, I have discussed this with the pastor.)

  21. edm says:

    There are nine Roman Catholic parishes in my town. Not one uses incense at Mass other than at a funeral (not even Christmas or Holy Week/Easter). In some surrounding communities I have seen the bowl method used. It tends to be in parishes with sixtysomething-year-old priests wearing polyester ungirdled “albs” and six-inch wide woven stoles of no recognizable liturgical color either worn without a chasuble or over it. The incense bowl always seems to be part of that type setting.

  22. jravago says:

    The first time I saw the priest at a parish do that I was shocked. It was at a funeral where they pastor along with the 8 out of the 9 priests basically canonized the deceased woman during the homily. I thought the incensing was part of a Wiccan ritual…it was truly disturbing.

  23. rakesvines says:

    Just how much lattitude do the priests have in being creative with the liturgy? There must be guidelines against using bedpans to burn incense or whatever they’re burning and smoking there.

  24. Brad says:

    Terrible shame when the church militant cavalierly assumes a soul who recently joined the church suffering is not in need of prayers. Homily canonizations, even passing comments made by people privately that so and so is in heaven, are simply pablum and a feast for the devil. If we truly care for the soul, we would assume she needs our help and err on the side of caution.

  25. avecrux says:

    What’s next? A bong?”

    You brought a smile to my face, Father. Thank you for using humor to expose how OFF it is to trifle with the worship of God.

  26. Elizabeth D says:

    SeraphicSpouse’s post is the most interesting one, even in the wrong thread.

  27. becket1 says:

    Is this a Druid or a Roman Catholic Priest?. Is the LA Liturgical Conference about Druidism or Catholicism!!?.

  28. Mom2301 says:

    This picture reminds me of a mass where the woman holding the bowl of unconsecrated hosts came dancing wildly down the aisle. It was like some sideshow act. She looked thouroughly pleased with herself while doing this. Pride indeed. On another note, not burning things down or causing smoke inhalation are always things to consider. On one inclimate Holy Saturday an old Weber grill was brought into the sanctuary for the opening Rites. It was quite a whle before the cacophony of coughs ended.

  29. catholicmidwest says:

    Violating rules, goofing off, being lazy or just aberrant for the hell of it is NOT CREATIVITY.

    [I know this. I have patents. Creativity is something else entirely.]

  30. catholicmidwest says:

    Incidentally, among my children were 2 red-heads. The things people say to redheads! “Where did you get that red hair?” “Was your mailman red-headed, by any chance?” “Carrot-top!” And I think nearly every single person, with that gleam in their eye, was apparently convinced that they were being highly original and unique when they said these stupid completely predictable things. Over and over and over, ad nauseum. This is not creativity. It’s just stereotypical BS, and some of it in pretty bad taste when said to a little kid.

    Much of the so-called “creativity” I see in the church is like this. It’s not creativity at all. Real creativity brings people to Christ in new and novel ways like St. Teresa of Avila did–using what’s known in ingenious & well-thought-out ways to further the cause of Christ. That was real creativity! Creativity is hard-won. Quite a few saints were legitimately creative in their faith, along with all the rest of the things that make a saint! [I’m thinking of St. John Neumann, the great bishop of Philadelphia now. ;) ]

  31. maynardus says:

    Given Pope Benedict’s recent visit to Santiago de Compostela and his very apparent approval of the (mighty) Botafumiero, one might readily conclude that this pastor is moving in the wrong direction, contra the Pope’s liturgical example. More incense, less nonsense!

  32. brassplayer says:

    Turns out I’m allergic to incense, so keep it as far away from me as possible, please.

    I was playing trumpet at our Christmas Midnight Mass last year. Because the service is held in an historical building with limited space (one of the California Missions), the musicians were placed right in front of the Sanctuary. The incense was lit pretty much right on top of me, which gave me a total coughing fit. Luckily, I always carry water when I’m playing or singing. So the precious liquid, as well as a few prayers, helped me get through that nasal barrage.

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