The History of Communion Linens
The use of communion cloths dates back to the early centuries of the church. By the fourth century, every Christian knew that during the celebration of Holy Communion, the altar was to be covered with a white linen cloth. Symbolically, the cloths represent the members of Christ, that is, the purity and the devotion of God’s Faithful. “For the fine linens are the justification of the saints.” The Corporal or Altar linen further signified the linen in which the body of Christ was wrapped when He was laid in the tomb.
The linen traditionally required for service at Holy Communion include an Altar fair linen cloth, a Corporal, Chalice Veil, Pall, Purificator, Lavabo Towel, and a Credence table cloth. Many of the clergy prefer their altar linens worked entirely in white embroidery; where color is not objected to, red, blue, green, gold, or gray, either singularly or in combination with white embroidery, may produce very beautiful results.
The Use of Altar Linens
The Altar Fair Linen Cloth is the most used cloth for the altar. Made of mid-weight linen and sized to fit the altar top exactly with a suggested drop of at least 18” or halfway to the floor. Embroidery: Four 2”- 2½” crosses are embroidered at each corner. One 3”- 4” cross or sacred monogram is used in the center.
The Corporal serves as the place setting for the communion elements. A mid-weight linen is traditionally used and must be spacious enough to hold the sacramental elements during the communion service. Embroidery: A 2”- 3" motif is embroidered at the bottom front of the corporal, never in the center of the cloth.
Credence Table Cloth
The Credence Cloth is used for holding the sacramental elements before and after communion celebration. The credence table is dressed with a simple cloth of white linen to match the altar cloth. Made of mid-weight linen sized to fit the table top with a drop of at least 6". Embroidery: A single 2" - 2½" embroidered motif in the center is most appropriate.
The Chalice Veil is used to vest the chalice prior to the communion service. The chalice veil also serves as a post communion veil, covering all the sacramental elements. Embroidery: Traditionally a 2"- 3" cross or motif is embroidered at the center of the veil.
The Pall is made of mid-weight linen, permanently mounted on plexiglass for easy laundering. The pall is placed over the chalice and is used in conjunction with the chalice veil. Embroidery: A 3"- 5" motif is suggested for the top part of the pall.
The Lavabo Towel is presented for the celebrant’s use. Folded in thirds, it is basically a finger towel used at the lavabo during the communion service. Embroidery: A 1½" cross is traditionally embroidered at the center bottom of the hem.
The Purificator is used for cleaning the communion cup. It is folded in three layers so that when placed on the chalice beneath the paten, its width is about three inches. Embroidery: A 1" cross is embroidered in the center.