In response to questions from sacristans and altar guilds about the proper name and care of liturgical linens, this is a review of the sacred linens used in the celebration of the Mass.
The term linen refers to any vestments or cloth accessories used in church. The fabrics used should be chosen because of the quality of design, texture, and color (#95 of Environment and Art in Catholic Worship by the USCCB Committee on the Liturgy).
Altar cloth—This is the tablecloth that covers the altar. It is usually white but may be of a color related to the liturgical season or occasion.
Corporal—A white linen cloth spread on the altar at the beginning of the Liturgy of the Eucharist on which the chalice, the paten(s), and ciboria are placed. The corporal is traditionally folded inward in thirds horizontally and vertically so that any fragments of host may remain enclosed in it. Use of a corporal is required. The corporal is not to be left on the altar, but is to be taken to and taken from the altar at the appropriate times.
Pall—This is a stiff square white cover that is placed over the paten when it is on the chalice and over the chalice during Mass to protect its contents. Usually the pall consists of a fabric pocket into which a piece of cardboard or plastic is inserted. Use of a pall is optional.
Purificator—This is a cloth used to cleanse the chalice during the Liturgy of the Eucharist. Traditionally, it is a white cloth folded twice lengthwise. The purificator is placed over the chalice beneath the paten.
Hand towel—This is a small towel use by the priest to dry his hands during the lavabo at the Preparation of the Gifts. No specific fabric is prescribed. The hand towel is set up with the cruets and the bowl.
Care of Sacred Linens
To preserve the dignified appearance of all liturgical linens, especially purificators, they should be laundered frequently and kept in good repair. It is customary that purificators and corporals be rinsed out in the sacrarium before being laundered.
Dianne Rachal is the diocesan Director of the Office of Worship.