From a reader:
Is it permissible to put a sheet of plastic on the epistle side of
the altar at the TLM in order to catch wine and water spills?
There has been some disagreement about this in our Latin Mass community. References would be helpful, either from you or from your readers.
Wellllll…. I guess so.
The basic principle is that nothing which isn’t blessed and used directly for liturgical purposes shouldn’t be on the altar. We could debate if a plastic sheet is used for a liturgical purpose or a laundry purpose.
When a priest says Mass on his own, he will sometimes set the lavabo dish and cruets on the altar. The lavabo dish is designed to catch the water when the priest’s fingers are purified.
Sooooo…. I guess so. I can understand why that would be a desire. I do my own linens for my chapel. I can also understand why a plastic sheet would be placed under candelabra for Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament. Getting wax out of altar cloths isn’t easy. Keeping candles trimmed and having the correct sized followers for the candles helps. Also, don’t move them right away after they have been extinguished.
That said, I hate the plastic sheets and think they are tacky, but it seems to me that there might be a bit of wiggle room here, depending on the cadre available for preparation of altar linens. These sheets do have a practical function. So does a bookstand, and it is on the altar. The stricture about not placing profane things on the altar seems to aim more at things like glasses cases, watches, etc.
We return, therefore, to the practical point of having a good sacristy team which could also work on altar linens. And I will remind everyone of the great booklet by Angelus Press for altar linens.
Perhaps readers can chime in with references and observations.