The use of incense in worship goes back to the times of the Old Testament and was common in the Middle East and would have been well known to Jesus. Incense, symbolising Jesus’ Divinity, was one of the gifts of the Wise Men in Bethlehem and it was when he went to the temple to burn incense that Zecheriah encountered the angel who foretold the birth of his son, John the Baptist.
Incense is made from solidified tree resin with other sweet smelling substances, usually ground up so that it burns better. Its use represents prayer – the Book of Psalms describes prayer rising before the Lord like incense, sacrifice and reverence for people and things. Think of the things that are incensed during the Mass: the altar (representing Jesus Christ), the priest (celebrating the Mass in the person of Jesus), the gifts f bread and wine, the newly consecrated Body and Blood of Jesus, the processional cross and, during Easter, the Paschal Candle (again representing the Resurrected Jesus). Five grains of incense, representing the five wounds on Christ’s body, are inserted into the Paschal Candle at the start of the Easter Vigil on Holy Saturday night.
When you are asked to carry the boat during Mass always – except during the Gospel – stay close to the thurifer and be ready to hand the boat to Deacon Michael or to the Master of Ceremonies when asked – and to take it back after Father Paul has put incense into the thurible. When you do this always hold it by the ‘spoon end’ so that the person you are giving it to can take the handle easily. Make sure that there is enough incense in the boat. There is no need to fill it to the top – about half full is enough.
You can hold the boat in one hand or in both but if you hold it only in one remember to keep your free hand flat across your chest.