The workings of a thurible are quite simple. Each thurible consists of a censer section, chains (typically three or four, although single-chain thuribles also exist), a metal ring around the chains (used to lock the lid of the censer section in place), and usually (although not always) a removable metal crucible in which the burning charcoals are placed. Many thuribles are supplied with a stand, allowing the thurible to be hung safely when still hot, but not in use. Burning charcoal is placed inside the metal censer, either directly into the bowl section, or into a removable crucible if supplied, and incense (of which there are many different varieties) is placed upon the charcoal, where it melts to produce a sweet smelling smoke. This may be done several times during the service as the incense burns quite quickly. Once the incense has been placed on the charcoal the thurible is then closed and used for censing.
The word "thurible" comes from the Old Frenchthurible, which in turn is derived from the Latin term thuribulum. The Latin thuribulum is further formed from the root thus, meaning incense. Thus is an alteration of the Greek word θύος (thuos), which is derived from θύειν (thuein) "to sacrifice".
Due to the ceremonial use of incense, its cultural importance in western Catholicism can be seen e.g. in the introduction of a incense smelling fragrance "Avignon" in 2002. Avignon was created for Comme des Garçons as a part of their incense series by Bertrand Duchaufour. Thus the introduction of incense in Christian worship here and there within various denominations is paralleled by wider cultural interest turning again back from the oriental mysticism also to western use of incense.
The Roman Missal, as revised in 1969, allows the use of incense at any Mass: in the entrance procession; at the beginning of Mass to incense the cross and the altar; at the Gospel procession and proclamation; after the bread and the chalice have been placed upon the altar, to incense the offerings, the cross, and the altar, as well as the priest and the people; at the elevation of the host and the chalice after the consecration.
Three double swings: the Most Blessed Sacrament, a relic of the Holy Cross and images of the Lord exposed for public veneration, the offerings for the sacrifice of the Mass, the altar cross, the Book of the Gospels, the Paschal Candle, the priest, and the people.
Two double swings (and only at the beginning of the celebration, after the incensing of the altar): relics and images of the Saints exposed for public veneration.
A series of single swings: the altar.
The priest may incense the offerings for Mass by tracing a cross over them with the thurible instead of using three swings of the thurible,
Holding the thurible open to enable the priest to put incense in it, after which he blesses it with the sign of the cross without using any formula of words.
Carrying the thurible in procession (gently swinging if needed to keep the charcoal burning).
Presenting the thurible to the priest or deacon when they need to use it.
Incensing (in the absence of a deacon) the priest after the priest has incensed the offering at Mass.
Another server, previously called a boat boy and now more commonly a boat bearer, may carry a boat or container of incense to add as the thurible burns low.
These rules, except for the manner of incensing the offerings at Mass, applied also before 1969. Earlier editions of the Roman Missal prescribe that the offerings be incensed by forming over them with the thurible first three crosses and then three circles, the first two anticlockwise and last clockwise, while also saying a prescribed prayer. They also direct that incensing of the altar be done with single swings at 29 designated points of an altar attached to the rear wall of the sanctuary, and at 22 points of a freestanding altar.
Pre-1969 editions of the Roman Missal did not allow the use of incense at Low Mass.