Q: A practical liturgical question: When incensing the altar/gifts during the Preparation of Gifts at Mass, is it permissible to make the sign of the cross over the gifts with thurible or to do the circular swings (clockwise twice, then counter-clockwise)? I’m guessing that was done in the old rite, but didn’t know if there was a clear instruction for the manner in which the gifts are incensed. I always figured three swings of two, center, left, right, but not the circles over the gifts or the cross. I’m asking because a couple presiders in our community have seemed to be getting more creative lately (that or they are just testing our patience!) Whatever you can offer would be helpful, thanks.
A: Regarding incensation during the preparation of the gifts, the instructions are in GIRM 277, which concludes this way: “The priest incenses the offerings with three swings of the thurible or by making the sign of the cross over the offerings with the thurible before going on to incense the cross and the altar.” There is no longer any mention of the preconciliar rubrics for circling the gifts with the censer.
In my opinion, when the rubrics change this dramatically, they mean that the previous rules are to be set aside. If the Vatican intended to make circling the gifts with the censer an option, it would have said so in this paragraph. I know that many priests, bishops and popes have done the circular swings, but they are no longer in force. As I argue in Ars Celebrandi, when a priest does less, he puts more emphasis on the actions he does perform. The simplification of the incense rubrics in GIRM 277 brings sobriety and purpose to these actions.