Vesture. It means an item of clothing; garment; attire. That’s what linen cloths are for the Chalice.
They have been in use since about the 4th century. Every Christian knew that’s just what you do. Later it became a law with the official proclamation made by Boniface III in the 7th century. By the ninth century it was custom to use three altar cloths.
Lets look at these cloths. First, the Purificator. In Latin it’s purificatorium and in a more anciently use form it’s emunctorium. It’s a rectangular shaped napkin that is folded three times lengthwise and then draped over the chalice. This white linen cloth is a very sacred cloth and is used to clean the inside of the chalice. On the purificator rests on the paten, a flat like plate which holds the large host. This host is what will be consecrated during Holy Mass. This paten is covered with a square piece of starched linen. This brings me to the second cloth, the Pall or palla. This is a stiffened square card that usually has a cross embroidered on it that’s made out of white linen. It’s purpose is to keep the dust and insects from falling onto the Holy elements. The chalice and paten are also under a veil. Its a silk fabric in nature and matches the color of the vestments. As the priest is going to the altar, he is carrying these items under this veil. The priest carefully places these objects over the altar stone. He does so with great gentleness. He arranges the veil so that everything looks nice. Our third piece of cloth is the corporal. This is a large square piece of linen which when it’s unfolded shows nine squares and a cross embroidered on it near the front edge. The corporal is carried in a burse. The burse is a hard square folder that sits on top of what the priest carries when going to the altar. The burse is also covered with the same material as the vestments. Before Mass begins, the priest opens the corporal and places on it everything he has been carrying. After consecrating the Sacred Host, the priest places it upon the corporal. The chalice also rests upon it.
The reason the three cloths are used is because IF by chance a drop of the blood of Jesus should spill then it would fall on the corporal. This way the precious blood would be absorbed by the altar cloths before it reached the altar stone. No one is allowed to wash the corporal except a priest or a Reverend Mr., one who is about to become a priest, God willing. No one is to touch the corporal until the priest has first washed it. After this someone else may complete the washing and iron the corporal.
To learn more about Chalice Linens – their significance, listen to Learning about the Roman Liturgy today, January 28th, 2016, with Louis Tofari on Magnificat Radio at www.magnificatmedia.com at 10am, 1pm, 6:30pm, and 10pm, CST, USA. Click LISTEN LIVE. To purchase books and materials mentioned on Learning about the Roman Liturgy with Louis Tofari visit this link: Romanitas Press
Take a listen to: Monteverdi – Mass for 4 voices, SV 190