ASK FATHER: Use of Eastern censer by Romans

From a reader:

Would it be an abuse to use an eastern thurible in the Roman Rite even if the bells are removed? Sometimes it seems more efficient to use especially in Eucharistic processions.

I don’t know that it would be an abuse… except perhaps a gentle abuse of our Roman identity.

Easterners have their ways and we have ours.

For those who don’t know, the Eastern thurible has a shorter chain for one handed-use, is often replete with bells.  There is also an abbreviated censor with a handle.  The Roman thurible, with its longer chain, is used with two-hands and in a slower, more deliberate manner.

I don’t see how Easternizing or Byzantinizing our stuff is desirable.   This applies also to new church architecture.

“But Father! But Father!”, some of you are leaping about to squeal, “I like Byzantine things!  It’s so spiritual!  And, besides, Vatican II did away with the Roman Rite.  But you don’t care, ’cause you hate Vatican II!”

It seems to me that there has been a trend toward this.

It makes sense, when you come to think of it, given how we Romans trashed our own perfectly acceptable liturgical heritage and abandoned nearly any trace of the transcendent in our liturgical worship far and wide for decades.  People hunger for that!  In the vacuum we created, Eastern things started to creep in.  It’s understandable.

I have nothing against Eastern liturgical practices!  I think it is great when Eastern Catholics use them.  I deeply appreciate the Divine Liturgy.  We Romans, however, should reclaim and revel in our Romanitas, which is second to none when properly implemented and fostered.   The Roman Rite is not less “spiritual” or “transcendent”, so long as it is allowed truly to be the Roman Rite.

So, Eastern-style thurible… okay.  But I think Roman hands should use the Roman ways.

That said, rather an Eastern censor than one of those things that looks like Sputnik or something that crawled out of a drain pipe.  Or, worse, those pagan bowls with which the usually over-weight and often chiffon-clad dance around.   BRRRRR!

And, if I may add, not everything has to be “efficient”.  Processions are, by their very nature, extravagant.

And since we are on the topic of censers, here is another option:

And something more cthonic is here – especially the groovy music:

UPDATE 29 March:

Someone wrote to remind me of my post

QUAERITUR: An Eastern Subdeacon for a Roman Solemn Mass? A Clerical Bedtime Story.

The use of an censer by an Eastern cleric in the Roman Rite is featured! Don’t miss that one. A classic.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in "How To..." - Practical Notes, ASK FATHER Question Box, Classic Posts, Liturgy Science Theatre 3000 and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. jtz622 says:

    Father, my high school has an Eastern Rite censer that we use during both OF and EF of mass. The reason was that it was donated to our school and Chapel by an Eastern Rite parish. Because we can’t afford a new, or used Roman Rite censer, should we just not use incense? [High school? First, don’t exaggerate. If it all there is, and that is hard to grasp, then use it. Also, while you are in High School it might be best just to read here, unless your parents are checking in on your activity on the web.]

  2. jim123 says:

    Vatican II said (Unitatis Redintegratio), in relation to the Eastern Churches: “All this heritage of spirituality and liturgy, of discipline and theology, in its various traditions, this holy synod declares to belong to the full Catholic and apostolic character of the Church.” In spirit and truth, both thuribles are already ours.

  3. incredulous says:

    Father Z: “It makes sense, when you come to think of it, given how we Romans trashed our own perfectly acceptable liturgical heritage and abandoned nearly any trace of the transcendent in our liturgical worship far and wide for decades. People hunger for that! ”

    Amen. Last night, for the first time EVER, I believe, our parish celebrated the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite (low mass). The celebrant was our beloved visiting Monsignor. For a Friday night, the small chapel was packed to the gills. There were probably 150 or more people present.

    We have a very reverent OF. Seeing the Holy Sacrifice ad orientum with a chasuble/maniple wearing priest, acolytes wearing cassocks and surplices in my own church really struck me that there is a deep deep love for the church in all its Rites. I thank the pastor for his pastoral accommodation of his flock.

  4. Dr. Edward Peters says:

    Well put, Fr. Z. The trashing of Roman practices is sad, but the solution is not the importation of Eastern ways, however Catholic they are ultimately. The solution is the rediscovery of Western observances.


    Fr. Z's Gold Star Award

  5. Tim Ferguson says:

    As someone with great experience incensing the clergy, I have to agree. Eastern liturgical practices (and Eastern sacred art) is full of great beauty and spiritual depth. So are Western liturgical practices, art, and music. While the Church needs to breathe with both lungs and the two traditions (actually, the several traditions) can complement and inform each other, the practices, art, and music are even more beautiful when left to their appropriate and organic setting.

    Let’s truly honor Eastern liturgical practices by fostering them in their proper context. Let’s restore beauty to our liturgical practices (where it’s sadly been abandoned) by digging deep into our own traditions, rather than creating a pastiche of other practices.

  6. The next time we’re tempted to import Eastern practices and furnishings, maybe we should ask ourselves if we’re also prepared to import the stricter Eastern observance of Lent.

  7. Siculum says:

    Hahaha, I was so glad to see the Butafumiero make its appearance here on Fr. Z today — and with the Holy Father too! I didn’t know he’d been there. I’d first seen “the smoke belcher” on Fr. John Hollowell’s blog, from when he and his dad were over there visiting the church as well. Fr. Hollowell describes how his dad, a high school physics teacher, was just thrilled. I can imagine.

    They say that when the thurible reaches full speed, it is moving at some 45 miles an hour through the church. The long history of the hanging mechanism for the thurible is fascinating as well.

    It’s fun to watch Msgr. Marini’s eyes go back and forth a little bit as he prays the thing doesn’t swing the wrong way and hit the Pope, who seem to try to appear to take it in his stride. I think he was pretty impressed, too.

    I know a couple devout, orthodox Fr.Z-fan Catholics who have been frequenting the Byzantine Rite. One has actually completely stopped going to not only the Roman OF but also a very lovely EF in his area, said a very holy priest, and instead has joined and brought his family to the local (er, regional) Byzantine parish. He now remarks that he is going to watch the Latin Church at a distance, but made it clear he’s leaving us in God’s hands and isn’t going to worry himself anymore. It made me very sad, actually. We needed him and his young family in the *Roman* Catholic Church. Has anyone else had similar experiences? In a way, this sort of thing reminds me of a very devout-but-SSPX family I know who openly describes themselves as not being part of the “mainstream Church.” I know the Byzantine Church is loyal to the Holy Father, and I dearly love our brothers and sisters who make the other lung breathe, but….

    I myself can’t imagine wholesale leaving the *Roman* Catholic Church, no matter what happens. It’s in my blood. Hence, my username. At least this guy who switched to Byzantine wasn’t Italian. But he is Irish. St. Patrick was of the *Latin* Church and *Roman* Empire. Ahem…

    In case Christ’s words to St. Peter, later the Bishop of *Rome* aren’t enough to convince, I also consider the fact that God was innately so clever He sent His Son at a time in man’s earthly history when there was a large, [loosely] unified network, the *Roman* Empire, in which the Faith could be more easily spread than at any time in the centuries before or after.

    Yes, we do definitely need to re-enhance our Traditional Latin practices as we implement the Springtime in the Church, as others have said above.

  8. Siculum says:

    Oops: OF and EF said *by* a very holy priest…. my error up there changes the whole meaning

  9. Hello Father. I can chime in here because, interestingly enough, I have seen this firsthand. I was asked to serve for the Extraordinary Form for Christmas in 2012 at a parish in Scarborough, ON. The parish received a generous donation of a second thurible from an EF parishoner. However, unknown to him until it was inspected, it turned out to be an Eastern Rite thurible. It obviously cost the parishioner a decent chunk of change to acquire and donate this thurible to the parish, and it would be an insult to his good deed NOT to use it. Therefore, the thurifer was de-belled to be used for Christmas Mass. It is not the parish’s primary thurible, but it will still be used on certain occasions. In this case, keeping the traditions for the “home team as it were”, for a practical and social/charitable reason, was put aside in order to use the thurible and honour the generous parishioner’s donation. You can see it as part of my write up for this mass here:

  10. Matthew Gaul says:

    Dear Siculum – Glory Be To Jesus Christ! I am, like your friend, also a born Roman-Riter happily practicing in Eastern Catholic Churches. For ten years now, in fact.

    You reference the Empire. If by “Roman” you draw on the Empire, then in many ways the Byzantine churches are *more* Late-Antique Roman Imperial today than the Latin Church. Indeed the neologism “Byzantine Empire” simply means “Eastern Roman Empire.” So your friend still has much romanitas to enjoy. :-)

    Also not specifically to Siculum, but more generally – both the city and the empire were Latin and Greek, and where to draw the line is not clear cut, nor do I think that liturgical aesthetics need be uniformitarian on either side of the fence. They never have been. The papal tiara, for example, descended from Eastern head wear. I recently read that Romanian Greek Catholic churches will sometimes have Stations of the Cross, and it is considered proper (as they are generally not in Greek Rite temples).

    Someone told me of a small town in rural Canada where all the western churches, Catholic and Protestant, had Eastern-style domes, because 100 years ago the only architect in the area was Orthodox, and wasn’t trained to do spires and such. While this may be a traveler’s tale, the idea of this kind of “accidental” regional variation is delightful.

    Of course aesthetic appropriateness will differ between Latins in Poland, Spain, Boston, Malta, Africa, and so on. The question is, what is organically and locally proper?

  11. Hank Igitur says:

    The Eastern thurible sounds okay so long as you only let the Judas bell ring

  12. KylieP says:

    I totally want to send that video of Benedict with the gigantic thurible to my pastor. “Can we do this? Pretty please?!?”
    *Brings up at parish meeting* “Can we have a gigantic thurible to hang from the ceiling?”

  13. John Nolan says:

    In the early 16th century the botafumeiro slipped its chain and hurtled out of the window, in the presence of Catherine of Aragon, no less. Do any other churches in Christendom have mega-censers? In the Dominican rite the thurible is not swung, but moved up and down, which doesn’t do much for smoke production. Some Anglicans go to the other extreme and swing it 360 degrees. If I’d done that in my youth I would have got a clip round the ear from the MC.

  14. mburn16 says:

    “In the early 16th century the botafumeiro slipped its chain and hurtled out of the window, in the presence of Catherine of Aragon, no less”

    I was going to say this…perhaps things would be a lot less fractious in the Christian world if she had taken it as an ill-omen and turned right back around and went home.

  15. Munda cor meum ac labia mea says:

    Can. 214 The Christian faithful have the right to worship God according to the prescripts of their own rite approved by the legitimate pastors of the Church and to follow their own form of spiritual life so long as it is consonant with the doctrine of the Church.

  16. In reference to the music, or whatever that was, in the second video, I am so confused by the multiple things going on? The guitar and fiddle, then the chanting, (separate key), then the little double reed band. What on earth? Being a bassoonist, I never thought I would see one in church. Now, I am wishing I hadn’t…Between that and the gigantic thurible — so much going on!

  17. Volanges says:

    I want to do The Walk even if it’s only to witness that at the end. Convincing my husband that it would be a great holiday is proving to be more difficult than I had anticipated.

  18. Alice says:

    You do know that there is a Byzantine Catholic Church in Italy, right? It’s called the Italo-Albanian Catholic Church. It’s not very big, but it does exist and it has for centuries, so it’s actually possible to be an Italian Byzantine Catholic. I don’t think there’s a Byzantine Catholic church of Ireland yet, but I’ve met so many Byzantine Catholics with Irish last names that sometimes I wonder. :)

    I’m actually surprised that thuribles with bells aren’t a Latin thing because I’ve seen them used quite a bit. Perhaps they were purchased when all things Eastern were the rage.

  19. Confitemini Domino says:

    Catholic Physics Competition:
    Take a stopwatch and watch the first video.
    Find out by a simple calculation: How long are the ropes of the Botafumeiro?

    Hint: You can solve the problem just by watching the eyes of Msgr. Marini …

  20. Wiktor says:

    With its 9 second period, the length of the pendulum is approximately 21 meters.

  21. Unwilling says:

    botafumeiro … What a lot of fun! Whee!
    God must roar with laughter at this.
    The humanness! The humanness! The love!

    I am just re-reading Thérèse’s, Story of a Soul.

  22. padredana says:

    As on who uses incense at my parish every Sunday I offer the following suggestions for those who want more (such as noise and ritual) from their use of the thurible. 1) make sure you let the chains hit the thurible…this adds noise to the use of thurible that isn’t as loud or jangly as the bells. 2) learn how to incense the altar (whether it is against the wall or freestanding) according to the EF rubrics, and then do it that way it in the NO. I have found that it adds order and beauty instead of just randomly swinging the thurible in a haphazard fashion.

    Oh, and it always helps to wear a maniple, because, well, a maniple makes everything better.

  23. Nan says:

    I’m from the other end of the spectrum; canonically Eastern but raised in the Latin rite as my dad had no idea that he was from a different rite. When you complain about using Eastern things, remember the abuse that the Byzantine Rite took in the US at the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th century; not only was the Rite suppressed with Abp. Ireland’s refusal to recognize the priest, but the priest took his flock to Orthodoxy, later going into the pay of the Czar (Nicholas II who later provided new icons for the now Saint’s original parish after a fire), ultimately bringing 300,000 souls to orthodoxy by returning parishes to the Orthodox Communion, thus decimating the Greek Catholic population in the US.

    Once the rite was authorized, and new churches sprang up, they were westernized in many ways, with a prohibition on married priests (Eastern Catholics, like Orthodox ordain married men to the diaconate and they may long be deacons before ordination to priesthood), their buildings decorated with stained glass windows and kneelers, omission of onion domes and in many cases iconostases. Only in the last 20-30 years have they seriously gone back to their roots, omitting the westernizations.

    As someone mentioned above, their fast is more strict and they basically become vegans for 40 days. They also fast during our season of Advent. And many omit meat from their diets on Wed. and Fri. throughout the year.

    If you have a Ruthenian or Ukrainian parish near you, they may offer the Holy Anointing on Wed. during holy week. It’s one of my favorite services; Father recommends first going to confession, which is offered in the corner of the Iconostasis and is face to stole; you stand out in front of everyone, covered by Fr’s stole, which is more substantial than a latin rite stole. They think it’s beneficial for everyone to be anointed once a year.

  24. Sonshine135 says:

    Father Z, this is the most thurible post I have ever read on your blog!

  25. Moro says:

    Siculum – Stop thinking that this friend of yours needs to be in the Roman Rite, that’s not your call. I don’t mean to be blunt, but you need to desire what is best for his spiritual welfare, which may mean going to mass elsewhere and even changing rites. The Church has a procedure in place for those who wish to change Rites. It’s not easy, but it is possible. Ultimately it is done for the good of souls.

    I’m fortunate enough to live in a diocese with multiple EF masses on Sunday. But to be honest some of these parishes have problems. One has a pastor that loves the smells and bells a bit too much. He uses a Byzantine censer, about 12 torch bearers, and many other things that are not the norm for a Missa Cantata. Now I’m not a liturgist nor a reader of souls, but I can’t help but think that based on what I’ve seen it’s become more about pagentry and smell and bells rather than solemn worship of God. Another has no resident priest for the EF, lay people in the parish pick a TLM friendly priest who comes in says mass and hears confession and that’s it. Not too far off from Deacon Sandy’s parish model. And pretty much every TLM I go to has people nitpicking over liturgical minutiae to the point that it can cause division. These situations can be a bit much. I love the TLM, but once in a while I go to a Byzantine mass where it’s just a normal, decent, reverent mass where people are genuinely interested in Christ. They ask about symbolism, tradition, etc. and not about liturgical abuse. There’s no politics, no over the top gimmicks, just a Catholic mass. No parish is perfect, but some are definitely better than others. Perhaps that’s what your friend sees in his new parish. Either way, pray for him that he might grow in holiness.

  26. KateD says:

    I’d hate to walk into that mass late…..ejection by huge flying botafumeiro…..

  27. It seems to have always been a “problem” that people feel “obligated” to use something a generous and kind donor donated in order not to offend them, even when it is not correct. I am not sure about the new Ceremonial of Bishops, but the traditional one, had a section that dealt with how to use the Thurible (and I believed it even described what it should look like and how it should be carried, etc.). I would say that bells and a short chain were not part of the description. The same may be true of the incense to be used at Mass (pure frankincense vs. the myriad options in the East).

    Fr. Abel Nainfa, in his famous book “Costume of Prelates of the Catholic Church,” had to mention that one of the reasons for his decision to write that book was the fact that Priests/Prelates wore things that had been badly made because it reflected, not the ordinances of the Church, but the taste and wishes of the donors (and I believe that he specified “sisters and older ladies” as being the donors).

    In these days, when it is easy to “google” things (even books), it should not be difficult for a generous donor to do research before making a donation in order to make sure that what he/she is donating will be what is needed and what is allowed/preferred. It would make the donation more valuable.

    @ Moro: It is a typical stereotype of some Catholics to be unaware of the “nit-picking” that goes on in Eastern churches (Uniates or Orthodox), and to criticize only the type of nit-picking that goes on in “traditional” circles. There is no denying that it happens at traditional Masses (mainly due to the fact that lay people from all different walks of like and cultures are involved, and Priests tend to be ‘guests’), but we would never split and separate because Fr. So-and-so’s beard is not long enough, or because People-so-and-so make the sing of the Cross in a different way, or because Group-so-and-so abstains from meat on Saturday, etc.

    Looking at how many different Eastern groups have become “independent,” “autocephalus,” etc., should give us an idea of how “normal, decent, reverent” some of them can be.

  28. Moro says:

    @Latinmass1983 – I am aware there are some controversies in Eastern parishes. I am simply stating that I have not found that to be the case where I’ve gone. The web is full of debates over latinizations, etc. I must say, I generally loath parish life, there is either a lot of dissent and obvious liturgical abuse or whining by otherwise orthodox parishioners, not always but more often than not. We live in a toxic anti-Catholic world and I go to mass to be recharged and when I try and engage in substantive fellowship, a lot of complainers seem to take the limelight.

    The Byzantine Mission I’ve encountered is arguably one of the healthiest parishes I’ve been to anywhere. It has its challenges, but it’s a better most parishes that offer the TLM – at least in my diocese. And if someone goes to such a parish for spiritual nourishment – let’s not stop them. In fact, they may be trying to get away from people who have such rigid views of who belongs in what rite.

  29. Pingback: Searching for Clarity in Vocational Discernment -

  30. UPDATE:

    Someone wrote to remind me of my post

    QUAERITUR: An Eastern Subdeacon for a Roman Solemn Mass? A Clerical Bedtime Story.

    The use of an censer by an Eastern cleric in the Roman Rite is featured! Don’t miss that one. A classic.

Comments are closed.