A vessel for holding glowing coals on which incense is strewn for the sake of producing a fragrant smoke. It is known also as a thurible, from the Latin word for censer, thuribulum.
When incense was introduced into the Christian liturgy in the 4th century, the censer was of the same form as that commonly used in pagan worship, i.e., a small metal pot hanging from three relatively short chains, which were joined at the top in a metal ring. This type of censer without a cover is represented in several mosaics and paintings from the 5th and later centuries. In the early Middle Ages, however, a perforated metal cover was often placed over the pot to prevent the coals from falling out when the censer was swung. A fourth chain was then added to facilitate the raising of the cover when incense was put on the coals. All the chains could then be made longer. This soon became the prevalent form throughout Christendom.
Both the pot and its cover were often plated with gold or silver and adorned with symbolic figures or with elaborate architectural designs representing small castles, churches, arcades, etc.
The auxiliary cup (with a flat base or a foot) for holding the incense to be used in the censer was originally of hemispherical form and called in Latin by such words as pyxis, busta, capsella, and acerra. From the 12th century on this was often made in an oblong or boatlike shape and therefore is known in Latin as navis or navicula; hence the English word "boat" for the incense holder.
Bibliography: a. weckwerth, Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, ed. j. hofer and k. rahner, 10 v. (2d, new ed. Freiburg 1957–65) 8:1012–13. h. leclercq, Dictionnaire d'archéologie chrétienne et de liturgie, ed. f. cabrol, h. leclercq, and h. i. marrou, 15 v. (Paris 1907–53) 5.1:21–33. r. lesage, Catholicisme. Hier, aujourd'hui et demain, ed. g. jacquemet (Paris 1947–) 4:109. p. morrisroe, The Catholic Encyclopedia, ed. c. g. herbermann et al., 16 v. (New York 1907–14; suppl. 1922) 3:519.
[j. j. mcgarraghy/eds.]