Fair Linens (Altar Cloths)
Fair linens cover the main altar and were traditionally embroidered with five crosses, one in each corner of the mensa (the altar slab or stone) 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.
The fair linen (altar cloth) represents the shroud in which Jesus was wrapped for burial.
Frontals are decorative drops attached to the front of the altar which generally measure from the top of the mensa to the floor, but can be of any varying length depending on the purpose, liturgical season, and style of altar. Frontals are also usually the same width as the altar.
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 patten after communion and to collect any spilled sacred species.
Purificators are washed preferably by hand in the Sacristry following the service and the water poured directly into the ground; not into the sewer system.
The corporal is a large square linen folded in thirds and then thirds again, and used to catch any and all sacred species including crumbs from the host and wine from the chalice. It is the first item placed during the celebration of the Eucharist, under both the chalice and paten.
The corporal is so named because the word comes from the Latin “corpus,” meaning body.
Palls are square and stiffened with plexiglass for ease of laundering. 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 so nothing falls into them once consecrated.
Chalice veils are normally square and vary in size according to the size of the chalice and are used to cover and protect the chalice. Chalice veils are removed before consecration and restored after the chalice has been cleaned.
The Rev. Father Kenneth Nelan is the pastor of the Sacred Wandering Pastoral Center in Milwaukee Wisconsin. He is also the celebrant of the Sunday Mass broadcast on Facebook.