You Don't Say John E. McIntyre writes about language, usage, journalism & arbitrarily chosen subjects.

In a word: thurifer

The Baltimore Sun

Each week The Sun's John McIntyre presents a relatively obscure but evocative word with which you may not be familiar, another brick to add to the wall of your vocabulary. This week's word:


In just a few days I will be serving as thurifer at the Great Vigil of Easter in my parish.

Thurifer (pronounced THUR-uh-fer) is from the Latin thuribulum, thus, “frankincense,” plus fero, “to carry.” The thurifer is the person who carries the thurible.

Thank you for dropping by, and come again next week.

Oh, all right, all right, the thurible (pronounced THUR-uh-bl) is a censer, a metal pot suspended from a chain or chains in which charcoal is ignited to produce the fragrant smoke of burning incense spooned on top of the coals.

The liturgical use of incense is one of the many elements Christianity cribbed from the surrounding pagan culture. Burning incense in a thurible was carried before Roman civic officials as they processed through the streets. The function of incense in the liturgy, Professor Marion Hatchett says, is “honorific, fumigatory, and festive.”

Example: James Carroll, writing in The Atlantic in April 1996 of officiating at his first Mass: “A line of altar boys entered from the sacristy in the rear, ambling into the center aisle, leading a procession of a dozen priests wearing stoles and albs, a pair of candle bearers, a thurifer, the surpliced master of ceremonies, and, last of all, the ordained priest come to celebrate his first mass and preach his first anointed sermon.

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