QUAERITUR: Putting incense in thurible while seated

From a reader:

Is it permissible for a priest to load a thurible whilst sitting? I
thought I heard only a bishop was allowed to load the thurible sitting and the priest must stand.

I can’t off the top of my head think of a moment in the Extraordinary Form when the priest would load, or charge, the thurible while seated. However, when I was frequently celebrant for “high” Masses at St. Agnes in St. Paul, before the Gospel I would charge the thurible while seated.  I am not sure that that was properly done, since I believe this is an episcopal privilege, but that is what we did.  When I am celebrant I obey the MC.

However, the priest (and deacon) can always load his Beretta when seated, which is a good idea as the smoke clears.

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  1. Pastor in Valle says:

    I’m sure it’s right that, in principle, a priest oughtn’t to put in incense, (nor bless a deacon) while seated.
    However, I’m equally sure that it has been done for at least forty years, and therefore qualifies for the status of immemorial custom, which, I believe enjoys the protection of the law.
    I have always remained seated for both these things, not because I think they are intrinsically right, but because they are What Is Done, and there is no great sacrifice of principle.
    In tradition, there are no precedents (as far as I can recall) for a priest blessing either incense or deacons at the sedilia, standing or sitting. In the Sarum Use solemn Mass, water for the chalice is blessed at the sedilia, and the suggestion appears to be that the celebrant remains seated.
    So, no sweat, I think. Don’t lose any sleep over it.

  2. Very interesting. Live and learn.

    In the traditional Dominican Rite, the censer is stoked while the priest is seated. In our rite, the priest NEVER touches the spoon. That dirty job belongs to the thurifer, who has to know a few tricks about how to handle the boat, the spoon, the censer cover and the chains by himself. He presents the spoon of incense to the priest, who is seated at the sedilla, and says “Benedicite.” The priest blesses the incense in the spoon; then the thurifer puts the incense in the censer, stows away the spoon, closes the boat, and lowers the cover of the censor. This at the Gospel. The same process is used at the Offertory, but, of course, the priest is standing at the altar for that.

    At the Elevation, the thurifer has to just spoon in the unblessed incense himself and hand the censer up to the deacon. We don’t use incense at the beginning of the Mass. And, of course, we don’t carry it up and down the aisle–no Cross in and out either. In fact, I was told by a Roman rubrician of the old school that it is wrong to carry to the Cross in and out of Mass in the Roman Rite — unless the celebrant is a bishop. But I plead ignorance on such things.

  3. Papabile says:

    @Pastor in Valle

    “Immemorial custom”? Nay.

    Three types of custom accrue, 30 year (note: it used to be forty), Centenary, and Immemorial.

    For a custom to be immemorial, it must have been done continuously from a point where no one else can remember it not having been done.

  4. Matt R says:

    This question, and some of the points made already in the comments, seem to be excessively legalistic. I’m sure it’s legislated somewhere that the priest can’t sit to spoon incense into the censer (or that crosses in the processions in the Roman Rite EF are not allowed except for a bishop). But can we please focus on the much larger issues of genuine liturgical abuse? It doesn’t surprise me that Catholics who typically attend the Ordinary Form and are very interested in the EF wind up staying away because of excessive nitpicking. I mean, someone who wasn’t even at the Mass and doesn’t even go to my parish quibbled with our pastor (on New Liturgical Movement) re: the bishop wearing his stole when he sat in choir at the Mass a few weeks ago…apparently he didn’t take it off between preaching and distributing Holy Communion. Tis but one example. I think leaving little things alone is best, for you will surely anger a number of people.

  5. jmgazzoli says:

    Christ did say, though, “He that is faithful in that which is least, is faithful also in that which is greater.” ;)

  6. Random Friar says:

    I’ve seen OPs doing it (in the Ordinary Form), but I can’t recall a diocesan priest every doing so, save for the elderly, who remain seated due to infirmity.

  7. off2 says:

    I am reminded of a televised midnight Papal Mass of Christmas several years ago. The voice over guy declared, in a most solemn tone, “The Holy father is now putting incense in the thurifer.” You can imagine the gales of laughter and inappropriate speculations that ensued.

  8. Phil_NL says:


    Especially when the Holy Father would light the incense, right? Though I suppose that for certain curial officials, occasional thurifer duty in that way wouldn’t go amiss….

  9. The only context in which I have seen this practice during a Mass is when the Celebrant is saying the New Order Mass. By way of lack of knowledge, insufficient review of Rubrics, or fear of upsetting the practice of the place, it may have been carried over to the traditional Mass at some point by some people. Of course, some people might simply think it is just “cooler” to do it this way.

    However, in the traditional Mass, there are not many times when this can be done conveniently for a regular Priest. The new Holy Week (1950’s) directs the incense to be imposed at the sedilia at some point, but this is done standing up. The Celebrant also blesses the Deacon before the Exultet standing, not sitting.

    We can guess that when Priests impose incense sitting down at a Sung/Solemn Mass, they must also keep the Mitre –I mean Biretta– on unless it is handed over to one of the servers. This stil seems unnecessarily inconvenient because in some cases, it might force some of the servers/Ministers to kneel, which might make it unnecessarily uncomfortable.

  10. TheAcolyte says:

    In the (traditional) Roman Rite, a celebrant never imposes incense while seated as this is a pontifical privilege. However, this is not the case in the Dominican Rite, where the celebrant during Solemn Mass imposes incense sitting at the sedila during the Gradual in preparation for the Gospel.

  11. Ben Yanke says:

    Matt R,

    I think most of us agree that we should not be excessively legalistic in our celebration of either form, and we should not let the perfect be the enemy of the good. However, there are some (many?) of us that truely want to know about these sort of things, so that they can be implemented, without being harsh or doing it in a nitpicking way. I wouldn’t go around to other churches nickpicking things as minor as this, that would be wrong, but if I am in a position to correct it and it’s an appropriate time, I probably would.

    Personally, I MC quite a few Masses, and I know that the celebrant would be quite willing to make these changes if I tell him.

    The real point is that these things must be done (the imposition of incence), so we might as well do it right (standing).

  12. Random Friar and TheAcolyte,

    Yes, it is very common for Dominicans to put incense in the censer while seated, it is carry over from the Dominican Rite. I would repeat, however, that in the traditional Dominican Rite the priest NEVER touched the spoon. The thurifer, not the priest, stoked the censer.

  13. Father G says:

    I checked the Ceremonies of the Modern Roman Rite by Bishop Peter J. Elliott and it states in sections 261 and 385 that the celebrant remains seated when the thurible is presented.

  14. mc mike says:

    Our parish priest does it every Sunday in the context of the NO.

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