The Textiles of the Altar, Its Vessels and the Sanctuary - Part 1 of 2

Detail of Burse and Chalice Veil (via Sacra Domus Aurea)
Browsing some of the articles in the 1932 edition of Liturgical Arts Quarterly, I came across "The Textile Appurtenances of the Altar" by William J. Lallou and William R. Tablot which is focused on the traditional legislation around the various textiles that accompany the altar, its vessels and the sanctuary more generally. Given that we are in a period of recovery, it seemed to me that some of these considerations would be of interest to parish priests, sacristans and vestment designers.

The article includes a fair number of considerations so I have decided to break it into two parts. We begin with their consideration of altar linens and the coverings of the liturgical vessels.

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The Coverings of the Altar
The first covering of the table of the altar is the cere-cloth or chrismale, a cloth of waxed linen entirely covering the mensa. This covering is prescribed in the Pontificale Romanum, but as its object is to protect the linen cloths above it from the effects of the unctions and the burning of the wax crosses during the ceremony of consecration, some authors, for example Fortescue, consider this cloth of obligation only directly after the consecration of the altar. However it is wise to use a cere-cloth, as it protects the linens from any dampness in the stone mensa, and it also protects the mensa from stains.

The rubrics of the Missal contain the following prescription as to the covering of the altar table: "The altar is to be covered by three clean cloths... blessed by the Bishop or by another possessed of special faculty. The uppermost of the three is to be rectangular and of such length that it will reach to the floor on either side, while the others may be shorter, or one cloth may be folded in two to give the two layers of linen required." Explanatory legislation by the Congregation of Sacred Rites provides that the three cloths must be made of linen or hemp and not of other material, even though it be more precious...

Linen suitable for altar cloths is easy to procure. It should be fairly heavy and not too fine a weave. If bought at a department store or other purely commercial establishment, care should be taken that the material is pure linen and that it is not too heavily sized. The upper cloth should be of pure white linen, but the two lower cloths may be of natural color. The cloths should be finished with plain hems and not with hemstitching.

Other Altar Linens

The most important of all the altar linens is the corporal, as upon it rests the Sacred Host. The corporal is a square piece of linen, the size of which will vary according to the depth of the altar table, though fifteen to eighteen inches may be regarded as a standard dimension. There is no prescription requiring the embroidering of any cross on the corporal, but it is customary to place an extremely simple cross either in the centre of the front field or, preferably, in the centre of the cloth itself. The corporal should be folded symmetrically so as to form nine practically equal squares when opened on the altar.

The Pall is a square of stiffened linen, which consists of several thicknesses of linen sewn together to give the solidity required by the use to which the pall is put. The size of the pall should be slightly greater than the diameter of the paten; six inches is a fair average. The material of the pall must be, like that of the corporal, the purest white linen. Here again there is no rubrical requirement for the embroidering of a cross or other emblem. Such ornamentation is, however, permissible, especially in view of the fact that that it is even allowed to have the upper surface of the pall made of silk and ornamented at will, provided the under surface be of plain linen. The Congregation of Sacred Rites forbids the use of black for the upper layer of the pall and the embroidering of any mortuary symbols upon it...

The Purificator, which should measure about twelve by twenty inches, is also to be made of pure white linen and here again there is no provision that it be in any way embroidered, though rubricists generally allow a small cross in the centre as a mark of distinction from the other linens...

The Chalice Veil and the Burse
Chalice Veil and Burse (via Watts and Co. of London)
The Chalice Veil is a rectangular piece of material, usually of silk, varying in color with the vestments prescribed for the day. It is usually, though not necessarily, of the same material as the vestments worn by the priest. The original idea seems to have been that the veil should completely envelop the chalice on all sides; hence the Roman custom of folding the anterior position over the burse while carrying the chalice to and from the altar. More generally the veil is constructed so as to conceal entirely only the front portion of the chalice, leaving sufficient space in the back to facilitate handling the chalice at the nodus, while the celebrant is bringing it to the altar. No ornamentation is prescribed for the chalice veil, though the custom has introduced the placing of a cross or other sacred emblem on the front portion. Care should be taken that the veil be not made of such stiff material that it is difficult to drape it over the chalice or fold it on the altar at the offertory.

The Burse is an envelope, about nine inches square, which contain the folded corporal to be used during the Mass. It is made of the same material as the chalice veil and is lined with pure white linen that it may adequately protect the corporal. Here again custom has sanctioned the embroidering of a cross or other suitable emblem on the front of the burse...

Veils for the Ciborium and the Ostensorium

The Roman Ritual prescribes that when actually containing the Sacred Species, the ciborium be covered with a white silk veil, which should be ornamented "quantum res feret." Neither the conopaeum about the tabernacle nor the veil which is often hung inside the tabernacle door may be considered a substitute for the silk covering of the ciborium. The rubrics do not determine the form of this veil, which should, however, be of sufficient size to cover the greater part of the ciborium... the Congregation of Sacred Rites directs that the ostensorium be veiled in white when it stands on the credence table or on the altar, before exposition of the Blessed Sacrament, or immediately after Benediction....
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In the second installment, we will continue with their article which includes their commentary on tabernacle veils, antependia, sanctuary carpeting and more.

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