Incensing the Easter Candle

Author: Father Edward McNamara, LC


Incensing the Easter Candle

By Father Edward McNamara, LC

ROME, 14 April 2015 (ZENIT)
Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy and dean of theology at the Regina Apostolorum university.

Q: During Easter season, is it correct to incense both the paschal candle and the cross during Mass? — F.O., Ado-Ekiti, Nigeria

A: If incense is used at Mass the cross should always be incensed during all seasons of the year. As specified in No. 87.d of the Ceremonial of Bishops (CB), this is done at the entrance procession and at the presentation of gifts.

The incensing of the Easter candle is prescribed only during the Easter vigil before the singing of the Exsultet. In this case the deacon first incenses the Book of the Exsultet with three double swings, as if it were the Book of the Gospels. He then goes to the Easter candle and walks around it while incensing it with three double swings.

The liturgical books make little further mention of incensing the Easter candle. However, CB 88 permits the use of incense for any procession of some solemnity, and No. 95 allows for the incensing of relics and images exposed for public veneration at the entrance procession.

Thus, since the Easter candle is the primary symbol of the Risen Christ during this season, I think that, whenever incense is used for the entrance procession, it follows reasonably that it could be incensed with three double swings as during the vigil. However, this would always be something optional and not obligatory.

The liturgical books, however, would seem to exclude that this gesture should be repeated during the presentation of gifts. CB 95 is quite clear that images and relics are incensed only at the beginning of the celebration, and only the gifts and cross are mentioned.

Likewise, in the detailed norms for the solemn celebration of the Easter Vigil in the extraordinary form, the candle is incensed only at the Exsultet and is definitely not included in other moments in which incense is used, especially during lauds, which in this form is united to the solemn Mass of the Vigil, albeit in an abbreviated form. There do not appear to be any other moments in the extraordinary form in which the Easter candle as such is incensed.

However, even before the Second Vatican Council some authors recommended the custom of decorating the baptistery during the Easter octave and to incense the font after Mass, vespers or Eucharistic adoration. This custom could also be followed in the ordinary form.

* * *

Follow-up: Incensing the Easter Candle [4-28-2015]

In the wake of our April 14 column a reader from the Democratic Republic of Congo asked for some more specifications regarding incensing. He writes: "Would you like to share a bit of light on incensing? What does "three double swings" mean? For instance, when incensing the Book of Gospels, the celebrant, the assembly? Is this three times three, or is a back-and-forth movement considered as one swing?"

In reply, we repeat in part what we first wrote in a June 6, 2006, column.

In order to clarify the subject of incensing, the Ceremonial of Bishops adds several footnotes taken from the 1886 edition of the ceremonial regarding the manner of approaching the bishop. It recommends placing three spoonfuls of incense into the thurible, and describes the manner of holding the thurible. For example, footnote 75 states:

"The one incensing holds the top of the censer chain in the left hand, the bottom near the censer in the right hand, so that the censer can be swung back and forth easily. The one incensing should take care to carry out this function with grave and graceful mien, not moving head or body while swinging the censer, holding the left hand with the top of the chains near the chest and moving the right arm back and forth with a measured beat."

To these official documents we would add the indications offered by Monsignor Peter Elliott in his excellent Ceremonies of the Modern Roman Rite:

"216. The grace and skill of using the thurible depends first of all on how the chains are held when incensing a person or thing. Each person should work out what is most convenient by practice, but an easy method may be proposed. (a) Take the disc and the upper part of the chains in the left hand, letting it rest against the breast. With the right hand, let the chains pass between the index and middle finger. Secure them by the thumb, so that the swinging bowl of the thurible may be directed and controlled easily. (b) With the right hand, bring the bowl in front of the breast. Then raise the right hand to eye level (lower when censing an altar) and move the bowl backwards and forwards towards the person or object, swinging it steadily and smoothly without haste by manipulating the chain. (c) Having completed the required number of swings, lower the bowl once more. Then bring it to your side or return it to the thurifer or deacon.

"217. There are two kinds of swing or 'ductus.' To make a double swing, the thurible is swung twice at the person or object to be incensed, and then lowered. To make a single swing, it is swung once and then lowered, except when incensing the altar, when these single swings are made continuously as the celebrant walks around it.

"218. The customary rules governing these different forms of incensation are as follow: (a) three double swings are made to incense the Blessed Sacrament, a relic of the Cross, images of Our Lord set up for veneration, the gifts on the altar, the altar cross, the Book of the Gospels, the Easter candle, the celebrant (bishop or priest), a representative of the civil authority officially present at a celebration, the choir, the people and the body of a deceased person; (b) two double swings are made to incense relics or images of Our Lady and the saints set up for veneration. The altar is incensed by single swings. In procession, the thurifer swings the thurible at full length from his right hand. In his left hand he carries the boat against his breast, but his left hand rests flat on the breast if there is a boat bearer.

"219. It is not necessary to let the bowl strike the chains. When incensing a person or the gifts on the altar, the chains should be held about 20 cm. (8 inches) from the bowl; about 30 cm. (12 inches) when incensing the altar and cross. Before and after an incensation, a profound bow is made to the person who is being incensed. While bowing before and after incensing a person, the thurifer lets go of the thurible with the right hand, which is placed on the breast.

"220. In placing incense in the thurible, the amount used ought to be governed by such factors as the size of the church. However, the sign of incense rising is achieved only if the grain or powder is evenly arranged on burning coals. Striking or breaking the coals with the spoon does nothing but dislodge the grains and swinging a thurible which does not produce smoke is ridiculous."

This article has been selected from the ZENIT Daily Dispatch
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