A guide to Solemn High Mass. Part III: Thurifer

A thurifer is a lesser Ritualist functionary, ranking below the Master of Ceremonies but above the torchbearers and the people that serve sherry at receptions. The thurifer’s function is to wield a censer which he uses to spew forth noxious clouds of incense when he feels that this is appropriate, which is often.

Prospective thurifers go through an extended process of training in which they are taught the correct technique for the use of the thurible and gradually desensitized to human suffering. The well-trained thurifer will stand with deadpan facial expression and impeccable posture, keeping the thurible under his complete control at all times, even if the person he is censing has collapsed on the floor and seems to have stopped breathing. Because the thurifer’s vestments conceal a self-contained oxygen supply, it is not uncommon for the thurifer to be the only person in the sanctuary still conscious at the end of a particularly complicated censing maneuver, at the conclusion of which the thurifer may open a window or call for an ambulance after reverencing the altar.

Thuribles are heavy. If the thurifer’s arms become tired, he is permitted to pass the thurible to the priest, who will use it to cense objects in the altar area. He must save his energy for the Offertory, at which point a Ritualist congregation expects to see a particularly impressive demonstration of thurible technique. In a typical Ritualist Offertory, the thurifer will cense the clergy in order of seniority, followed by the servers in reverse alphabetical order by last name, followed by the pieces of sacred artwork in ascending order by assessed market value, and finally the congregation. If there are a particularly large number of statues in the sanctuary, or if an archbishop wanders into the service unexpectedly, the censing can last for a substantial length of time, filling the church with toxic gas.


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