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disclaimer: this node details the duties of the thurifer in the Episcopal Church only. Most other Protestant churches (and a good proportion of Episcopalian churches) are too low church to use incense, and I know far too little about Roman Catholic liturgy to node them.

The thurifer is the person during a church service who is in charge of swinging that metal bowl on a very large chain that is filled with incense. Anyone who enjoys mocking Christianity should have a fun with this aspect of the service. Filling the church with a lot of smoke is kind of weird, some might say vaguely Rastafarian (in fact, as many have reminded me, the smoke symbolizes the congregation's prayers being carried to heaven). But this is intended to be an edifying and factual node, so down to business.

The container for the incense is called the thurible. It is the duty of the thurifer to manage the thurible during the service, bring it to and take it from the priest or deacon, and swing it during the Eucharistic Prayer. Most thurifers use a long sweep coupled with a short jerk to swing the thurible; I have known some who swing it in a complete circle or even a figure eight. The boat-boy or girl (I am dead serious, that is what they are called) walks next to the thurifer, carrying the incense refills in a vessel called the boat. Thus, another of the thurifer's duties is to manage the boat-child, and make sure they don't light the priest's chasuble on fire again. The third of the thurifer's duties is to accompany the priest or deacon and instruct them how to use the incense when they need to; for example, after the deacon sings or reads the Gospel, in many churches he or she swings the thurible at each side of the congregation.

I wish that I could conclude this node with a list of some famous thurifers throughout the ages, or perhaps a brief history of how the position of the thurifer came to be, but all I can do is note that incense has been central to Christianity from the very beginning, when two of the Three Magi gave Jesus frankincense and myrrh. I will just end by encouraging you, the next time you happen to be in the presence of a thurifer, to note the skill and elegance with which they practice their art.



Having noticed the vim with which religion is discussed here on e2, I would just like to state for the record that I am of undecided religious orientation and the only reason I am so well-versed in the minutiae of the Episcopal Church is that my father happens to be a priest. Since my childhood of falling asleep during Midnight Mass, I have found the pomp and circumstance of Christianity far more interesting than its beliefs.

thanks to leodv for some gentle corrections.

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