I had an interesting conversation with a lovely lady earlier this week. She expressed concern that in her parish the new pastor was not using the linen lavabo towels she had made but white toweling ‘facecloths’ instead. Hmm… hmm… and hmm again!!

Here’s what the General Instruction of the Roman Missal says, scroll down to paragraph 304 if you choose to link to the document. It’s on the Vatican website:

“Out of reverence for the celebration of the memorial of the Lord and for the banquet in which the Body and Blood of the Lord are offered on an altar where this memorial is celebrated, there should be at least one white cloth, its shape, size, and decoration in keeping with the altar’s design. When, in the dioceses of the United States of America, other cloths are used in addition to the altar cloth, then those cloths may be of other colors possessing Christian honorific or festive significance according to longstanding local usage, provided that the uppermost cloth covering the mensa (i.e., the altar cloth itself) is always white in color.”

It’s not very particular is it? It only says white cloth, no mention of sizes or type of fabric. No mention of number of cloths. It doesn’t seem to say anything about the small linens. But I’m no liturgical expert and I may be missing something.
Feel free to let me know if I am!

Anyway, what’s going on with this sparsity of information?
I think there’s wisdom here.
Are all churches the same? All sanctuaries, altars, vessels…? You get my drift. Perhaps more to the point, does every parish have a splendid and large team of people to do the not inconsiderable work of looking after the linens? Hmm…

Ideally every parish does have enough people to look after the linens. Lots of skilled sacristans. I happen to think that the linens should actually be linen, for a variety of reasons I won’t get into right now, but I’ve also been around long enough to know that sometimes there is only one poor person looking after all the laundry needs of a parish. That is a lot of laundry.

I suspect that this well intentioned lady with whom I had the conversation was rightly aware that the linens should be linen. She was also, I think, maybe just the teeniest bit peeved that the linen lavabo towels she had made were not being used, and I get that; it hurts a bit if you have put time and effort into something and someone seems to not want it. But perhaps it is uncharitable of me to think her peeved, and it is not for me to say really, is it?

But back to the main point. What I think is really going on is that the pastor is aware that the laundry load is onerous, maybe there IS only one poor soul doing it all. I think he is lightening the load by allowing that the finger towels (which are not placed upon the altar) are now an easier thing to care for since toweling facecloths do not have to be pressed. In making this allowance he is not going against GIRM or doing anything wrong. I think this priest is doing his best to care for Jesus Christ upon the altar and for his sister (or brother) in Christ who is doing the laundry. He is being a good shepherd.

So let us not judge. And maybe offer to help out!
To be a good sacristan is more than being a good housekeeper but good housekeeping skills are the starting point. It’s an important job.

A linen finger towel!!!

Thanks for reading!

4 thoughts on “GIRM 304

    1. Thanks for your comment. I’m not sure I agree with you though. I think the problem is more one of a lack of manpower (or womanpower!) in the sacristy…


  1. Our new PP prefers a towelling Lavabo cloth. I’ll have to ask the wife to buy some very good quality white towelling face cloths and then cut them down and maybe embroider a small cross on them .


    1. Yes, if that is what he prefers for the lavabo towels. Sometimes you can find toweling yardage at fabric stores so that may be a little less work than cutting down ready made towels although, as you say, quality is important.
      No cross on lavabo towels as far as I’m aware… at least in the Roman Catholic tradition. I’m not sure about other denominations…


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