Liturgical Linens

February 07, 2011

Liturgical linens are cloths use to cover or purify the liturgical vessels used during Eucharistic celebrations. Other cloths such us the altar cloth, credence table cloth and finger towels are also included in this category.

Purificator (or Mundatory or Purificatory)
This is a rectangular white piece of absorbent linen or hemp used for cleaning or purifying the chalice, the paten, the ciboria and other ancillary vessels for the Precious Body and Blood of Christ after Communion. It can also be used to wipe the fingers and mouth of the celebrant. It is spread over the cup of the chalice at the beginning and end of Mass. 

They are cleansed first in a sacrarium (a special sink, usually in a sacristy, leading directly to the earth, for disposal of water used in washing altar linens, chalices, etc.) before washing it the ordinary way with detergent soap. They are neatly ironed afterwards.

A square white linen cloth which is spread out by the priest in the middle of the Altar. It is washed, bleached, and ironed and folded into three equal parts, both in its length and in its width, i.e. the anterior part is folded over the middle; then the posterior part is turned down over the anterior part; after this the part at the priest's right is folded over the middle, and finally the part at the priest's left is folded over these. The corporal is placed in the burse in such a manner that the edge of the last fold is towards the opening of the burse.

They contain the crumbs of the consecrated hosts that may accidentally fell during the mass. Several corporals are sometimes used especially in masses when there are many concelebrants. They are cleansed first (like the purificator) in a sacrarium before ordinary washing and ironing.

A stiff square piece of linen, sometimes decorated with a Cross or other embroidery, used to cover the Chalice to cover the chalice at Mass in order to protect the Precious Blood from insects or other foreign objects and impurities. 

Another type of pall is the cloth used to cover coffins at Requiem Masses.

Chalice Veil and Burse
Chalice Veil 
This is the cloth which covers the chalice until the Offertory, and again after the Communion. It also is made of the same material and color as the vestments. 

A 10-inch square container to hold the Corporal when not it use. The burse covers the chalice before the Mass, with the opening of the burse facing toward the priest. It is made of the same material and color as the vestments.  

The leather pouch used to hold the pyx is also called a burse.

Finger Towels or Lavabo Towels
These may be made of any material (preferably linen) and are used during washing of hands and also after Communion. It should be adequate in size and absorbent for drying the priests' hands. Neither the color nor the material of the lavabo towel is prescribed.

Baptismal Towel

The dimensions of the baptismal towel are that of the lavabo towel. However, it is embroidered with a shell and not a cross. The shell is used as the symbol of water in a baptism. Baptismal towels are often given to the parents as keepsakes.

Altar Cloths
Altar cloths are custom-made linens that cover the main altar and are embroidered with five crosses, one in each corner of the mensa and a centered embroidery. The five crosses on the fair linen are meant to depict the five wounds of Christ. A fair linen usually includes a drop, which is completely at the discretion of the altar guild. Drops on a fair linen vary enormously, but a short drop ( 4" or less ) on a fair linen is discouraged, as the drop is not sufficient to hang properly. Longer drops on fair linens are encouraged, as they are visually more pleasing. Fair linens often include a lace trim on the drop. Fair linens should be stored rolled when not in use. The fair linen represents the shroud in which Jesus was wrapped for burial.

Just as the altar is a sign for us of Christ the living stone, altar cloths are used "out of reverence for the celebration of the memorial of the Lord and the banquet that gives us his body and" By their beauty and form they add to the dignity of the altar in much the same way that vestments solemnly ornament the priests and sacred ministers. Such cloths also serve a practical purpose, however, in absorbing whatever may be spilled of the Precious Blood or other sacramental elements. Thus the material of altar cloths should be absorbent and easily laundered.

While there may be several altar cloths in the form of drapings or even frontals, their shape, size, and decoration should be in keeping with the design of the altar. Unless the altar cloths have been stained with the Precious Blood, it is not necessary that they be cleaned in the sacrarium. Care should be taken, however, that proper cleaning methods are used to preserve the beauty and life of the altar cloth. It is appropriate for those who care for sacred vessels, cloths and other instrumenta of the liturgy to accompany their work with prayer.

Credence Linens

Credence linens are custom-made linens that cover the credence table, which holds the bread and wine before consecration. The credence table is used at the offertory. Credence linens are embroidered with one center cross.

Photo Credits: Liturgical Linens by Lynn Smith

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