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Category Archives: Liturgical Linens

Altar Linens – Linens used during the Eucharist

The Altar Cloth or Fair Linen

– used during the Eucharist – is a cloth of fine linen that covers the top of the altar and hangs down at each end. It is placed over the cerecloth. It is embroidered only in white, with a cross in each corner and one in the centre, representing the five wounds of Christ, in His hands, His feet, and His side.

The Burse

– from the Greek “byrsa” meaning, “a bag”. The burse is the folding case made from two squares of rigid material covered in cloth. The burse is placed on top of the chalice, paten and veil, and serves to hold a corporal and/or an extra purificator. The Burse and Veil should be in the color of the Season.

The Cerecloth

– from the Latin “cerum”, wax – is a waxed cloth which was put directly on the altar (in the case of a stone altar) to protect the Fair Linen for being soiled by the stone. Usually, the cerecloth was left on the altar even when the Eucharist was not being celebrated.

The Corporal

– from the Latin “corpus”, meaning “body”, because it is used to catch any pieces of the consecrated Host (regarded as Christ’s Body) which might fall from the paten during the Eucharist. It is also symbolic of the Lord’s grave cloths. The corporal should be a piece of linen, about 12 to 18 inches square, with a cross in the center of the front edge. It is laid on top of the altar cloth at Communion, and the chalice is placed in its center. It should be folded and ironed inside-out, so that when it has been used at the Eucharist it can be folded up with the right side inwards, to hold any fragments of the Host.

The Credence Cloth

is the cloth that is placed on the credence table.

The Lavabo Towel

is a piece of white material, usually about 12 inches by 8 inches which is used to dry the celebrant’s hands after the ablutions. A Lavabo Towel is folded and ironed in thirds parallel to the long side, then folded and ironed in half again. It is usually embroidered with a cross in the center of one short edge, to distinguish it from a Baptismal Towel, which has the same dimensions and is folded in the same manner, but which has a shell embroidered at the edge.

The Pall

is the stiff cover, about 6 inches square, made of a rigid center (glass, Plexiglas, cardboard) covered with white material, sometimes with a cross or other symbol embroidered in the center. The pall is put over the Paten on the Chalice when preparing the Altar for Communion. It is then covered by the Veil.

The Purificator

– from the Latin “purus” (pure) and “facare” (to make). The purificator should be a piece of white linen, about 8 to 12 inches square (or three times the width of the chalice), with a small cross in the center. It is folded and ironed into thirds, right side out, to give a square with the cross in the center. When preparing the altar for Communion, a purificator is opened half-way and put over the chalice so that its sides hang down either side. The paten, with a Priest’s Host, is then placed on the purificator, and the pall is placed A spare purificator should also be put in the burse. Purificators are used to clean the chalice, by wiping the rim of the chalice with the purificator.

The Veil

– from the Latin “vela” : a curtain or sail. The veil is the large cloth square used to cover the Chalice, Paten and Pall at the Eucharist. The Burse and Veil are often part of a matching set, with the “lectern falls” or “pulpit fall”, in the color of the Season.

When setting up the Altar for Communion, the Altar Cloth is placed on the Altar, and the Corporal is opened and placed in the center back of the Altar.
The Chalice is placed in the center of the Corporal, and a Purificator is opened half-way and draped over the Chalice.
The Paten is put on top of the Purificator, and a Priest’s Host placed on the Paten.
The Paten and Host are covered with the Pall, which is then covered with the Veil.
The Burse, containing a spare Purificator, is placed over the Veiled Chalice.

Washing Linens

  1. Linens need to be washed as soon as possible after use, so that wine and other stains do not become permanent. It is a good idea to rinse them in cold water in the Sacristy even before taking them home to wash.
  2. Wine stains should be removed by soaking in COLD water (hot will make them set in the material) with salt or vinegar or an efferdent tablet or stain remover
  3. After the wine stains have been removed, linens should be washed by hand in hot water with a small amount of detergent, then rinsed until all detergent is gone.
  4. After rinsing clean, the linens may be laid flat on a clean linen towel which is then folded over them and pressed to remove excess water. They are then ready for ironing (damp).
  5. The purificator may be starched. All others should be left unstarched.

Ironing Linens

  • Press the damp linens upside down to raise the embroidery.
  • Fair linen (large altar cloth) : after ironing, wrap around a covered mailing tube to minimize creases.
  • Corporal (square cloth about 18″ x 18″) : may be starched so that it is stiff and smooth, especially on the upper surface. The corporal is folded in thirds, with the “right side” folded to the inside as follows:
    1. Turn the corporal over so that it is right side up.
    2. Fold the two sides in by thirds
    3. Fold the top down by a third, and the bottom up be a third, so that the back of the cross is visible.
  • Purificator (square cloth, about 12″ x 12″) :
    • With the purificator wrong side up, fold in thirds, and in thirds again (as for Corporals, but with the front of the cross visible.
  • Lavabo (and Baptismal) Towel (rectangular cloth, about 12″ x 18″) :
    1. With the towel wrong side down, fold in thirds lengthwise.
    2. Fold in two. The front of the cross should be visible.

Old Linens : When linens have become old and worn or damaged, they should be burned, and the ashes buried in the ground near the Church.

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