When I was in College, each of us were given tasks for the sake of the whole community. So someone, for example, was the infirmarian, another the catering rep, one was the sacristan, another a librarian. I, well I was given one and two thirds of a job.
I shared the responsibility of stocking and running the bar with two others, and I was the linener! The latter didn’t really fit into my skill set as, each week, I’d take to the ironing board to iron the linen needed at Mass. And so, these days, I have a particular gratitude for those who wash and iron the linen we use!
Our linen includes several items. And so, just for you, as you go about your own daily and domestic tasks, here’s our laundry list, or perhaps more apt, let’s have a litany of linen! You can sing it if you like!
O, Altar Cloth, adorning the altar with beauty. Be clean for us!
Lavabo Towel, used by the priest to wipe his hands after he has washed them. Be clean for us!
O, Purificator, used to ‘purify’ or cleanse, the chalice during and after use. Be clean for us!
O, Pall, a firm square of linen to cover the chalice – and keep out unwanted flying things! Be clean for us!
We need to talk about the Corporal! Some years ago, a former Bishop of Monmouth wrote to all his clergy reminding them (perhaps, for some, explaining to them for the first time) how to use the Corporal, dismayed as he was by what he witnessed in some churches.
The corporal is a large square of material folded four times, and so then unfolded onto the altar, and onto which are placed the bread and wine for the Eucharist.
In one sense, it’s like a small tablecloth on top of a tablecloth. Its purpose is found in its name. ‘Corporal’ means ‘of or pertaining to the body”.
After Communion, and any remains of the sacrament consumed, the cloth is carefully folded again. The reason for its careful folding, rather than whipping it up from the altar – as though performing a magic trick – is so that any tiny crumbs, sometimes as small as dust, of the sacrament of Christ’s body is not scattered everywhere but is reverently retained.
Sometimes, if the number of communicants has been slightly miscalculated, some clergy may break one small host into much smaller pieces so that more people can receive the sacrament.
On these occasions, individuals are not robbed of their allotted amount! We could keep breaking a small piece into hundreds of pieces so that they may even be difficult to see but each crumb would still be the Sacrament of Christ’s body in all its fullness – just as if we shattered a mirror, each tiny piece would still be a mirror, and would still contain a reflection.
So, from a simple piece of linen, from sharing our laundry list with you, we are reminded of the sacredness of the meal in which we share, the holiness of the food of the Eucharist, the great Mystery of Christ’s loving presence.