DeeDee wrote:

Hi, guys —

During the Mass for Mary, the priest came up to the casket with some great smelling incense in this pretty silver thingy. He kept flipping it around the casket as he walked completely around it.

  • What was that all about?

It really had me lost, but it sure smelled great.


  { What was that silver thing the priest used around the casket that had that great smell? }

Mike replied:

Hi, DeeDee —

Thanks for the question.

These definitions and explanations may clear up the confusion you have.

Catholic Encyclopedia


As its name implies, a censer is an instrument having to do with incense and, particularly in ecclesiastical parlance, its use in the Divine Liturgy.

The shape and make of a censer is as varied as the purpose or culture for and in which it is used. Among the chief purposes of incense, and thus of a censer, is that of sacred worship.

In the Judeo-Christian Tradition, incense has always played an important role
(cf. Exodus 30:1-8; 37:25-29) . The liturgical censer or thurible, then, is a metal receptacle (usually bronze or brass, and sometimes silver- or gold-plated), in which burning charcoal or wood is placed and over which is poured the incense to be burned. To this receptacle are attached chains which enable the cover to be lifted from the bowl part of the censer and which also enable the thurifer and those others who use it to carry and swing it for the incensation of the Blessed Sacrament, the altar, the sacred ministers or the congregation (cf. Exodus 27:3; Numbers 16:6-7;
Luke 1:9-11; Revelation 8:3) . (Cf. Thurible.)

Reverend Peter M.J. Stravinskas, Ph.D., S.T.L. Our Sunday Visitor's Catholic Encyclopedia.
Copyright © 1994, Our Sunday Visitor.


Granulated or powdered aromatic resin, obtained from various plants and trees in Eastern or tropical countries. When sprinkled on glowing coals in a vessel called a censer (also known as a thurible), the incense becomes a fragrant cloud of smoke and so is used to symbolize prayer rising to God [ My comment: the prayers of the faithful during Holy Mass. ] (Psalms 141:2, Revelation 8:3-5) and to honor sacred persons and things in the context of liturgical worship. In the Eastern Church, more so than in the Latin Church (where the symbolism is largely taken over by holy water), incense is seen also as an agent of ritual purification of persons and places.

The use of incense comes into the Church both from pagan worship (hence the Church's apparent misgivings concerning it during the first centuries) and, as abundant references to incense in the Old Testament would seem to indicate, from Judaism as well.

While the use of incense is normative for all celebrations of the Eucharist in the Eastern Church, and for the daily Offices as well, its use in the Latin Church is associated with celebrations of greater solemnity. In fact, the pre-Vatican II (Tridentine) rite restricted the use of incense to High Mass and surrounded its use with many prayer formulae which served to explain its symbolism.

The Vatican II rite eliminates the prayer formulae, preferring to let the symbolism speak for itself, but extends the use of incense to any Mass. The General Instruction of the Roman Missal lists a number of occasions during the Mass when the use of incense is appropriate:

  • during the entrance procession and upon arrival in the sanctuary to honor the altar after kissing it and before greeting the assembly;
  • during the Gospel procession and to honor the Book of Gospels after greeting the people and announcing the evangelist;
  • at the Preparation of the Gifts, to honor the altar, the gifts, the ministers and the assembly;
  • at the elevations which follow the consecration, to honor the Body and Blood of Christ now present;
  • and, finally, to add solemnity to the recessional.

Incense may also be used during the celebration of Morning and Evening Prayer during the chanting of the Gospel Canticles (the Benedictus or Canticle of Zechariah at Morning Prayer, and the Magnificat or Canticle of Mary at Evening Prayer). The altar, ministers and assembly are incensed at these times. Some modern adaptations of Evening Prayer imitate the medieval “cathedral”-style celebrations and Eastern usage by fixing the “incense psalm” (Psalms 141) at the beginning of the evening psalmody, during which incense is burned in a censer or even in a stationary brazier placed before the altar.

The Latin Church also uses incense (again, more sparingly than the Eastern Church) in some of her other liturgical rites. The Rite for the Dedication of a Church, for instance, specifies that incense is to be burned in a brazier placed on the altar after the anointing with chrism, and from this brazier, coal is placed in a censer for the incensation of the church building, walls and assembly.

Incense is likewise prescribed for use at the rite of commendation and farewell which concludes the Funeral Mass. Usually during the chanting of the “song of farewell,” the celebrant honors the remains of the deceased (the body which had been the temple of the Holy Spirit during life) with fragrant incense.

Incense is also commonly used during processions. Indeed, the Ceremonial of Bishops always places the thurifer (censer-bearer) with smoking incense at the head of the procession just before the processional cross, unless the Blessed Sacrament is being borne in procession, in which case the thurifer (or two thurifers) would be directly before the Blessed Sacrament. Finally, incense is used whenever exposition with Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament takes place.

Reverend Peter M.J. Stravinskas, Ph.D., S.T.L. Our Sunday Visitor's Catholic Encyclopedia.
Copyright © 1994, Our Sunday Visitor.

Hope this helps,

Mike Humphrey

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