GIRM 276: When To Use Incense

We’ve sped at a breakneck pace through the GIRM the past few days. Let’s slow down and take it easy for a bit. Sections 273 through 287 cover “Some General Norms for
All Forms of Mass.” Yesterday we looked at bodily gestures. Today and tomorrow, we’ll ponder the use of incense.

276. Thurification or incensation is an expression of reverence and of prayer, as is signified in Sacred Scripture (cf. Ps 141 [140]:2; Rev 8:3).

Incense may be used optionally in any form of Mass:

  • a) during the Entrance Procession;
  • b) at the beginning of Mass, to incense the cross and the altar;
  • c) at the procession before the Gospel and the proclamation of the
    Gospel itself;
  • d) after the bread and the chalice have been placed on the altar, to incense the offerings, the cross, and the altar, as well as the Priest and the people;
  • e) at the elevation of the host and the chalice after the Consecration.

Every liturgist knows these five moments, even if we also know the parishioners who object to the use of incense for physical reasons. It’s a scientific and medical curiosity that human beings seem more afflicted with ailments of the respiratory system these days, and are affected adversely by the use of incense in churches. My only suggestion is to avoid the use of charcoal. Some incense vendors tout their product is hypoallergenic. And they may well be right. The bigger problem, in my view, is the charcoal used to burn the incense.

My suggestion is dispense with the charcoal. Use a culinary torch, maybe like this one, and a small piece of heat-resistant ceramic. Torch the ceramic–it’s got to be more dignified than wrestling with a small piece of charcoal. Then use the hypo-allergenic incense and see what that does for people.


About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in the Pacific Northwest, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
This entry was posted in GIRM, post-conciliar liturgy documents. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to GIRM 276: When To Use Incense

  1. FrMichael says:

    Hey, like your idea about the ceramic, will give it a try!

  2. Katherine says:

    I like the ceramic idea too, but have some questions. How long would it have to be heated (reheated?) to provide enough heat for say, incensing the gifts, altar, celebrants, and congregation? How big a piece of ceramic?

    Any accounts of people doing this?

  3. Joseph says:

    could you use incense at the recessional part of Mass?

  4. Fr. Aaron Orear says:

    Joseph – I have no idea how “correct” this is, but my training was that incense is only used to exit when a bishop (and it may have been the diocesan) is the celebrant. It has been years since I swung smoke (a drawback of ordination) and I never bothered to follow up on that bit of training, but that was what I was taught.

  5. Deacon Jim Kelly says:

    How many swings of the thurifer when incensing 1. the crucifix 2. the coffin 3. the priest 4. the book of gospels 5. the congregation. 6. other objects and or persons. Any other information in this regard – 1 set of 2 swings, 2 sets of 3 swings, 3 sets of 2 swings, etc??

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