The Altar Linens

Each week, before the service begins, the altar is dressed in appropriate linens.  For most of the history of the church, the altar was made of marble.  To protect this fragile but beautiful material, the altar guild would cover the top of the altar with a Cerecloth.

A Cerecloth was a piece of waxed linen that was made to fit exactly on the top of the altar to protect the fair linen from the dampness of the stone and the wooden altar from wet spills.  It was a practical cloth and was not seen by the congregation.  Depending on the circumstances, many churches today use a piece of plastic cut to the appropriate size.

On top of the cerecloth when the Frontal.  It is the cloth that reflects the color of the season and can be anything from a tiny drape over the front of the altar to a large cloth that completely covers both front and back of the altar.  Many frontals are made of very expensive materials and are heavily decorated.  Ours are made of color appropriate pieces that reflect the season.  Since we not yet in a permanent home with its corresponding altar, our frontals are hand made and can be replaced, if necessary.  Each week they give a clue to where we stand in the church year.  For the next several months, we will mostly use green.  [Note that the frontal and the chasuble are matching, as is the veil over the chalice].  Green is the color of growth and the time of the year when the Gospel readings are usually focused on the teachings and parable of Jesus.

Over the frontal, you find the Fair Linen.  This piece, as the name implies, should be a piece of very nice white cloth.  It goes over the top of the altar and may hang down the sides.  Some fair linen is embroidered with five crosses, reminiscent of the five wounds of Christ.  Again, ours has been hand made by a member of the congregation to fit the needs of this particular altar.

In the center of the altar and closest to the celebrant, you will see a lovely square piece that is embroidered with an appropriate symbol, i.e. a lamb triumphant, a cross, or something that points to Jesus.  This cloth is called the Corporal.   It protects the fair linen from any spills and catches any particle of the bread that might fall on it.  The word comes from the Latin “corpus” meaning “body.”  Each week the body [wafers] and blood [wine in the chalice] are placed on top of this linen.

The Alter Vessels

Have you ever wondered about what was on the altar when the service starts?  You can see a cloth covering something in the center.  What is it?

Underneath all is the chalice that will be used at the consecration of the elements.  Ours is golden plated and very simple.  Many chalices are quite ornate and are solid gold or silver, intricately carved and may even containing precious jewels.  The chalice [or cup] is meant to remind us of the one used by Jesus at the Passover Supper that we now call The Last Supper.  It was here that He instructed His apostles to do this in memory of Him.  Thus we obey Him when we celebrate communion together.  

On top of the chalice is a folded square of cloth called the purificator It is used, as you might suppose, to keep the chalice clean after someone takes a sip from it.  You will notice that both the deacon and LEM [Lay Eucharistic Minister] each have one and that they carefully wipe the lip of the chalice after each person drinks from it.

The paten [a small, shallow gold plate] rests on top of the  purificator.  It holds the large wafer used by the celebrant during the consecration of the elements.   It is used to catch any fragments that might fall during the fraction [breaking] of the bread.  It is also held up with the chalice when the celebrant announces “The gifts of God for the people of God.”

Resting on top of the paten is the pall.  It is a stiff, square of cloth that is meant to protect the elements from dust or flies [more of a problem in earlier centuries].  Embroidered on the pall is usually a cross or some other symbol for Jesus.  In Anglican churches a pall [this time a very large rectangle of material that has a cross on it] also covers the coffin during the funeral service.  Only the pall covers the coffin since we all enter the presence of God through the cross of Jesus.  We can do or bring nothing to our salvation and the pall on the casket points to the Savior.

Finally, the chalice veil covers all.  Its color always matches the color of the church year.

For God and Country

 “I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone-- for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.  This is good, and pleases God our Savior,  who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.  For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all men--the testimony given in its proper time."  ~1 Timothy 2:1-6

During the Prayers of the People, we regularly pray for those in authority over us, including the President, Vice President and leaders of Congress and the Supreme Court.  We do this because we are asking that God be the ultimate guide for our country and that “we, the people” may live in harmony with and obedience  to the plans that He desires for our nation.  If all nations on earth submitted themselves fully and wholly to God’s plan, then true peace on earth would occur.

We live in the nation that is called the greatest on the earth, and we enjoy spectacular freedoms and opportunities that are undreamed of by most of the earth’s inhabitants.  Our freedom is not “free” and thus we pray for those from our midst who serve in the military:  Kaelan Clay, Peyton Denton, and Nathan White.  These men need our prayers and appreciate our support.

We have also been called the most generous nation in the world because we have freely shared with those in need.  Scripture tells us that the “religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”  James 1:27

On this 236th birthday of our nation, let’s recommit to praying for godly leaders for our country and committing ourselves to pray and care for those less fortunate.  One of the ways that Christ the King fulfills this command is through giving away half of every dollar committed to the general fund of the church.  Let’s vow together to pray for those who have gone in our place to the far corners of the world to bring the freeing light of the Gospel to those who live in darkness.

The Colors of the Church Year

Most of us have seen a “Wordless Book” or a “Wordless Bead bracelet” that uses colors to teach the message of salvation.  The colors help even young children who cannot read to understand the message of the Gospel.  In the same fashion, we use the colors of the church year to help us “sense” and remember the important events in the life of Christ.  It was God Himself who first designated certain colors be used when He gave explicit instructions to Moses about the construction of the Tabernacle.  [see for instance Exodus 26:1; 36:8]

White is used for the major feasts related to the Lord Jesus and His Father.  You will see white, the symbol of purity, joy and truth often paired with gold, the color of royalty.   White is also used for many  feasts of saints who are not martyrs.

Red, like fire, reminds of us the coming of the Holy Spirit and is prominently used at Pentecost and ordinations when the call of the Holy Spirit is recognized and affirmed.  Likewise, a blood red symbolizes the sacrificed life of a martyr and calls us to remember the sacrifice of Jesus and His shed blood on our behalf.

Green brings to mind those seasons when crops are planted and mature.  Green has always been associated with new life and growth and it is used during the non-festival or ordinary time after Epiphany and between Trinity Sunday and the end of the church year.

Purple is also a royal color but in the church year it calls us to repentance.  It is considered mostly a penitential color and is always used in Lent when we “repent in sackcloth and ashes” that we might be born again with Christ on the Day of Resurrection.   It is also seen in Advent, but there it carries more of a quiet sense of expectation and preparation that we might be spiritually prepared for the feast of Christmas.  Some churches have chosen to use a dark blue for Advent in order to distinguish it from the color of Lent.   Purple is also used for healing services.

Black represents deep sorrow and may be used for Good Friday and for the dead but these days white is often used for Christian funerals to celebrate the new life in heaven for the deceased.