imageI have received a couple of emails wondering about any connection between a hypothetical tablecloth and the use of linen for altar cloths and various other cloths used for Mass/Eucharist/Communion.

The following list was obtained from various Episcopal Church websites. I know the definitions are similar in the Roman Catholic Church. While these are considered essential in most circumstances – bishops can be very insisting – I have taken communion on a beach by a campfire where the altar was a folding stool, the altar cloth a towel and the elements a loaf of bread and a bottle of sherry. And there are many instances when the hood of a Jeep has been used, not always with a proper linen cloth.

That said, I don’t think the Shroud of Turin was a tablecloth used at the Last Supper.

Here is the list":

  • FAIR LINENS (ALTAR CLOTHS): Fair linens are 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. Fair linens should never be folded but stored rolled when not in use. The fair linen represents the shroud in which Jesus was wrapped for burial.
  • CORPORAL: The corporal is a large square linen usually 18" x 18", and is folded in thirds and placed underneath the chalice. The corporal is used to catch any crumbs or drips from the host during consecration. Corporals are embroidered with one center front cross. The corporal is so named because the word comes from the Latin "corpus," meaning body.
  • PURIFICATOR: The size of purificators are generally 12" x 12" with an embroidered center cross. Purificators are folded in thirds and placed over the chalice and under the paten. These small linens are the most frequently laundered of all the linens in liturgical use. Purificators are used to clean out the chalice and paten after communion. Purificators must be washed  by hand in the Sacristry following a Eucharist.
  • LAVABO TOWEL: The standard size of a lavabo towel is 17" x 11" and is used by the priest to dry his hands before the consecration of the host at the communion service. Lavabo towels are embroidered with a cross on the center front of the towel. The lavabo towel is held by the acolyte during the service. The term "lavabo towel" comes from the Latin root, "lava," meaning to wash.
  • CHALICE TOWEL: The standard size of a chalice towel is 12" x 12" and is used by chalice bearer to wipe the edge of the chalice after communicants drink from the chalice. It is not used for communicants who dunk a wafer into the cup or for those who prefer to have the server dip the wafer and place it on the communicant’s tongue.
  • PALL: Palls are square, usually 7 x 7", and stiffened. Palls are often enlarged to accommodate a wide chalice. Palls are embroidered with a large center cross. Palls are placed over the chalice during communion. The function of the pall is to cover the Eucharistic elements during communion.
  • 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.
  • AMICE: The amice is worn as a neck cloth and is a rectangular linen with long ties, usually 60" in length, and one embroidered cross.  The amice is worn beneath the chasuble to protect the chasuble from any wear next to the skin. The amice is mainly worn in the Roman Catholic and Anglo-Catholic (high) churches.
  • COMMUNION VEILS: Communion veils are normally square and vary in size according to the number of communicants. Communion veils are used to cover all of the elements during the liturgy. Communion veils are removed before consecration.