277. The Priest, having put incense into the thurible, blesses it with the Sign of the Cross, without saying anything.
Before and after an incensation, a profound bow is made to the person or object that is incensed, except for the altar and the offerings for the Sacrifice of the Mass.
Three swings of the thurible are used to incense: 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.
Two swings of the thurible are used to incense relics and images of the Saints exposed for public veneration; this should be done, however, only at the beginning of the celebration, following the incensation of the altar.
The altar is incensed with single swings of the thurible in this way:
a) if the altar is freestanding with respect to the wall, the Priest incenses walking around it;
b) if the altar is not freestanding, the Priest incenses it while walking first to the right hand side, then to the left.
The cross, if situated on the altar or near it, is incensed by the Priest before he incenses the altar; otherwise, he incenses it when he passes in front of it.
The Priest incenses the offerings with three swings of the thurible or by making the Sign of the Cross over the offerings with the thurible before going on to incense the cross and the altar.
Are these instructions significant? I think so. Is there a problem with a minister making a single error? I think not. These directions certainly permit alternate forms of the thurible, though many long-time liturgy geeks like me appreciate the clanging sound of metal on metal. I have used and can see using a more open holder for burning incense. Whatever objects are used, it’s important for any minister to be well trained and prepared. Especially for those relics and images of two-swings.