Friday, October 06, 2006

Altar Linens

Picture courtesy of St. Bede

Fr. Finegan posted on the care of altar linens.

Father wrote:

Washing altar linens
I had a request from DilexitPrior for information on washing altar linens. I thought it was worth a post because of the good links that people often give in the comment box. I don't consider myself an expert so if you have further advice or any useful links, please do chip in.

For purificators and corporals, the precaution is taken of washing them first in water and then pouring the water into the sacrarium or into the earth. The reason is that if there should be any particles of the sacred host or drops of the precious blood on either, they are not just poured into the sewer. It would be sufficient to put the items into a bowl of water for a while before squeezing them out and disposing of the water. Then they can be washed in the usual way either by hand or in a washing machine. (The finger towels can just be washed in the normal way.)

Well, today before Mass I was reading from 201 Inspirational Stories of the Eucharist by Sr. Patricia Proctor, OSC. Most of the stories in the book are very interesting as you can imagine. However, one story in particular caught my eye.

It was a story about an intern working on her certification as a lab tech. She tells that as she did her rotations in each department, distilled water was found on the countertops. Apparently, distilled water caused the red blood cells to burst so that the stain broke up quickly.

After her internship was over, she was called to enter the convent and she was soon assigned to the laundry. During the course of her duties, she was responsible for the laundry of the sisters, the sacristy, kitchen as well as other parts of the monastery.

Of course, the sacristy linens, which are the corporal, the purificators, the finger towel, the alb as well as the altar linen itself, were washed separately from the rest because they come in contact with the Consecrated Host and the Precious Blood. As Fr. Finegan explains, there are certain ways of cleaning them.

She explained how she carefully looked for what appeared to be wine stains on the linens, . However, she did not treat the stains like you would treat wine stains. Instead, she used distilled water on those stains.

Well, those stains responded quite well to the distilled water she used to treat those particular stains. After all, after the Consecration, that is exactly what the wine becomes...the Precious Blood of our Lord.

The story is entitled: Faith and Science Do Mix and it was written by Sister Coleen Byrne, OSC.


Tracy said...

That is quite the story!

I wonder if they noticed that the corporal is upside down? It is supposed to be the crease down so that the priest can fold up any little particles of Jesus he might have missed and "catch" it just in case. As it is, one can't esily fold the corporal in order to ensure the "Jesus package".

I am a little neurotic, can you tel!? LOL

EC Gefroh said...

Yes, I believe you are right. I had a hard time searching for altar linens today. This was the best I could find.

Tracy said...

LOL Esther, I didn't mean it like that, I am just a wee bit OCD- I didn't mean to have it come across as critical of you. Sorry if you felt that way.

Besides, you weren't the photographer...

God Bless-

EC Gefroh said...

Oh Tracy, I know you didn't mean it like that nor did I take it like that. I actually did have a hard time and I could kick myself for not noticing because what you wrote was very important. :-)
God bless you too.

Miki Odendahl said...

jxJust an fyi--since it bugs me when people don't know what they're doing, especially as pertains to the Altar:

1. It's not a "finger towel" but a "manuterge" or "manuterga."

2. When you press a corporal, fold it like a book; start with the cross at the top and facing the board; fold the left to the center and press; fold the righ to the center and press; fold the bottom to the necter and press; fold the top third down and press--your cross should be centered and facing you.

3. And never, ever bleach linens or put them in the dryer--both ruin the linen fibers. Just as I was taught in the convent, I wash linens by hand in cold water with borax and some ivory soap, use fresh onion and lemon juice for stains, ice for wax sets, and put wet linens in the freezer until they are ironed.

If you need new linens, I not only make them, I also teach a three day women's retreat and can teach you to make your own--history, meaning, embroidery, care, etc.

In His Grace, miki

Anonymous said...

We have a group of boy scouts working on their Ad Altare Dei religious emblem. One of the requirements is to make an item used at Mass. We have decided to make corporals and purificators.
Do any of you know a website for instructions?
Thanks in advance.

EC Gefroh said...

Thank you Miki!

Anne: I found two sites that may be helpful. To purchase a book on making altar linens.
I also found an online pdf document for making altar linens.
Hope this helps. You could also email Miki for suggestions.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Esther! I will check those out.

Anonymous said...

Wonderful! Exactly what I needed. T
Thank you again, Esther.
God bless you.

EC Gefroh said...

You are welcome Anne!
God bless,

KathyW said...

I am a lay person entrusted to washing our church’s linens. I have been cleaning them for over 10 years. What was not mentioned about the washing was that the linens must first be purified in water for a minimum of 2 hours. The water is then discarded as mentioned. I wash the linens in a washing machine on gentle or a hand-wash cycle and rinse twice. I use Woolite laundry soap and powered Clorox 2 which has gotten out most stains. After the final rinse I iron the linens while still wet and lay them on a drying rack to dry. Once they are dried I iron them a second time and fold them. The second ironing leaves them very crisp. I have never needed to use starch, but keep a spray bottle of water in the event I need to iron out a crease. God’s blessing be upon you, KathyW

EC Gefroh said...

Thank you Kathy! I will pass this on to the ladies at our parish.

Anonymous said...


I make the altar linens for liturgical worship and have done so for nine years. Among my many clients are some very large Latin Rite parishes including St Thomas Moore in Chicago. I am currently working on a large order for St Mary's in Augusta GA. I work exclusively in 100% linen, I do not use blends or synthetics.
You can view all of my linens at

Anonymous said...


I know it is tempting to use clorox on lines in order to get them white but don't forget linen is a plant and bleach will eventually damage linen turning it grey. It is better to steep small linens such as purificators and lavabo towels in hot water that has been boiled with a few lemons. this natural treatment will help prolong the life of your linens and eventually save you money.
Lynn Smith

EC Gefroh said...

Thanks Lynn. I will keep you in mind should anyone ask and I do get emails asking.

Elizabeth said...

As far as I know, the finger towel referred to in a previous post is actually a "lavabo" towel, from the Latin word "lavabo" future tense, first person singular, translating to "I shall wash." All those years of Latin and the efforts of the Sisters of St. Joseph were not wasted!

EC Gefroh said...

Interesting. Thank you Elizabeth.