FOLLOW-UP: Impious women and the care of altar linens

A while back I posted an ASK FATHER Question Box query about the rising of used altar linens by a priest before the linens are sent to be laundered.  It is a good question, because it touches on our sense of the sacred.

A canonist friend sent the following pertinent information:

I had some time to look into the issue of washing altar linens.

Among the information I found out is that, lay brothers of the Order of Friars Minor who were entrusted with the charge of the sacristy, by papal privilege, could handle the sacred vessels and perform the first washing of the corporals and purificators. In addition, the privilege of doing these first washings were usually granted to brothers and sisters of religious institutes that follow the Rule of St. Francis who serve as sacristans in their chapels.

Then, with the momentous motu proprio, Pastorale munus, Paul VI, in 1963, granted a whole bunch of faculties to diocesan bishops. One of those faculties (#28) was,

“Permittendi clericis minoribus, religiosis laicis, necnon piis mulieribus ut pallas, corporalia et purificatoria prima quoque ablutione extergere possint.”

It seems that non-religious laymen and impious women are still prohibited from doing the first washing.

The drama builds.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in "How To..." - Practical Notes, ASK FATHER Question Box, Liturgy Science Theatre 3000, Our Catholic Identity and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. Joking aside this permission, which I would expect was instituted by virtually every bishop, is interesting for what is missing. Lay brothers (religiosis laicis) and lay women (piis mulieribus) would have permission, but not mere lay men. Very interesting omission. Sounds like oppressive matriarchy to me . . .

  2. Supertradmum says:

    The nuns I worked with when I was a sacristan were from three different orde, rs, none Franciscan. These were Sisters of the Holy Cross, from St. Mary’s of the Lake; Sisters of the Blessed Virgin Mary, from Dubuque, Iowa, and Sisters of the Humility of Mary, from Ottumwa, Iowa. This time period, as I noted before was from 1963-1970. As far as I can remember, the sisters, then still in habit and obedient in all things, washed the linens, although I helped with some of the linens,washing and drying. Of course, they all wanted me to be a sister, so I was “in”. I was actually President of the Sacristy Club in high school, but those years stated cover the end of grade school,high school and part of college. Linen washing was a daily occurrence and the ironing took a great deal of time.I also helped with the sacred vessels,but obviously not the cleaning, as that was done by the priest. I loved it all. When we laid out the vestments for the next day, we had a special way of draping the cincture over the rest in shapes relating to the saint of the day. On Marian Feasts, we made a great “M” with the cincture. Happy days of youth.

  3. Supertradmum says:

    signed by impious woman, or rather, girl

  4. catholicmidwest says:

    Hey take it easy on the Secular Franciscans. Over the course of the centuries, they have been regarded in a special way by the Church, and that’s not a bad thing. They do have some privileges, actually. Stations of the Cross are also supposed to be hung by a Franciscan, as they and Christmas creches are Franciscan innovations.

  5. catholicmidwest says:

    Let us be clear here. Women can never receive Holy Orders, that is, ordination to the diaconate or priesthood, and so they cannot do things explicitly reserved for priests or deacons. BUT, women are often members of religious orders, and they do often have things that go with that, depending on which order they belong to.

    In the Franciscan movement, women are not and never have been relegated to the sidelines within the religious orders. The Poorclares are nearly as old as the Brothers, and the secular Franciscans (which used to be called the third order Franciscans) were founded in the same time frame. And they also fully have the Franciscan charism, including some of the privileges and responsibilities that have been assigned to them for many centuries by the Holy See.

  6. Papabile says:

    Nice…. so once again, we have a series of Roman decisions indicating continuity with past practice which have been virtually ignored.

    “Before soiled corporals, palls, and purificators are given to nuns or lay persons to be laundried, bleached, mended or ironed, they must be first washed, then rinsed twice by a person in sacred orders (Cong. Sac. Rit., 12 September, 1857). “;

    Sisters, without permission of the Holy See, are forbidden from doing the first washing (S.R.C. 3059 ad 26)

    Faculties that belong to a residential Bishop by right from the moment he takes canonical possession of his See/Diocese, but/that, with the exception of his coadjutor and auxiliary bishops and the Vicar General, unless the contrary is expressly state in the faculties he cannot delegate to others: ….. 28. To permit minor clerics, lay religious as well as devout women to perform even the first washing of palls, corporals, and purificators.
    (Pastorale Munus, Paul VI, 30 Nov 63)
    [This is my quick translation]

    [120.] Let Pastors take care that the linens for the sacred table, especially those which will receive the sacred species, are always kept clean and that they are washed in the traditional way. It is praiseworthy for this to be done by pouring the water from the first washing, done by hand, into the church’s sacrarium or into the ground in a suitable place. After this a second washing can be done in the usual way.
    (Repdemptionis Sacramentum, CDW Instruction, March 2004)

  7. wmeyer says:


    At least in my parish, the DRE harps on tradition vs. Tradition, the latter being the only important sort. Sadly, as far as I can tell, very few things fall into Tradition, most seem to be tradition, and those are tossed. Well, unless we are speaking of the Traditions of the last 40 years, which are, of course, sacred.

  8. Supertradmum says:

    I think the priests just did not want to do this, were too rushed, or thought it was women’s work. Good references. As I was aged 14-21 and not yet inclined to read Canon Law, I am sure I am forgiven. What the sisters, knew is another question.

  9. Fr. Augustine Thompson: Sounds like oppressive matriarchy to me . . .


  10. pseudomodo says:

    So…. let me get this straight.

    Established church law (current to Repdemptionis Sacramentum) specifically forbids first washing by anyone other than a person in sacred orders. Right?

  11. catholicmidwest says:

    Be careful about the word “orders.” There are Holy Orders, which is a sacrament; and then there are religious orders, which are not. It’s important to be specific or it’s really confusing.

  12. Supertradmum says:

    Not being inclined to the matriarchal system myself (not being either Celtic or Anglo-Saxon, or Italian, or Maltese) and definitely loving the patriarchal Church, are matriarchs intelligent and manipulative, or just plain stupid? Just wondering, as the nuns were all so nice in those days….well, most of them. Do you think they did these things on purpose, as notice my dates? I must say I remember the priests rushing off to class or whatever and leaving all that for the nuns to do.

  13. Precentrix says:

    fr Augustine et al,

    Would the phrase “piis mulieribus ” possibly be equivalent to “devoto femineo sexu” (as in the Officium Parvum etc.)?

    At any rate, I would expect *impious* women – and men – to be forbidden from doing this! It does make me feel a whole lot better about taking over the sacristy at university, though!

  14. Precentrix says:

    Worst I’ve seen though is where the woman who does the linens ‘clears up’ after Holy Mass and does things like shake out the corporal in case there are crumbs on it. HELLO PEOPLE!!! Makes me wants to cry.

  15. Precentrix,

    That is exactly how it took it. Pie mulier means a woman. Religiosus laicus, however, means a “lay brother,” not a “devout lay man.”

    And this document makes it clear that the first wash (still recommended) that even before RS, the first wash could be done by anyone (except perhaps lay men). As RS dose not impose any restriction, it is clear that any practicing Catholic can wash the linens. That is also the virtually universal practice. And much as it bothers some people unless it is something not in the law that they want done anyway, “Custom is the best interpreter of law” (a principle of canon law since the time of Gratian . . .).

  16. edm says:

    Interesting to hear about the different ways of laying the cincture out for various feasts. I have never seen this done. In my parish (Anglocatholic) we always lay it out to form the “S” of an “IHS” formed by the maniple (I), stole (H) and finally, cincture (S). These three are placed over the spread chasuble and under the spread alb and amice

  17. Nun2OCDS says:

    While I was still an Anglocatholic (now RC) and the maniple went into disuse we use to use the stole to form an Alpha and the cincture, an Omega.

  18. James Joseph says:


    I knew I was right.

    I’m loving this.

  19. Michael J. says:

    For some reason I thought I read one time that Sub-deacons were to be the proper persons to wash the linens and such. I know that many, in fact most churches, did not have a Sub-deacon, so unless there was a Transitional Deacon present, the first washing would generally fall to the duties of the priests. I would consider it an honor to wash the linens used at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, but would never do so if not permitted. Does anyone know what the policy is for today in the Church? Thank you.

  20. Precentrix says:


    On thinking about it, I remember a distinction being made between the corporal/pall – which we weren’t supposed to touch at all – and the other linens, even the purificators, which could be handled after the first rinse. But that is solved by wearing gloves.

  21. Jeremy S says:

    Fr. Z, I organize an EF Mass once a month at a parish that does not have a sacrarium, which poses major problems with the rinsing of the linens. How would you recommend handling this situation?

  22. Speravi says:

    @ Jeremy S,
    Whatever you would normally pour down the sacrarium, pour on the ground outside (for instance, under a bush or on the flowers). That is where a sacrarium goes anyway.

  23. Martial Artist says:

    It sounds to me very much that the term “impious women” must have a rather specific definition, if it is not to be misinterpreted/misapplied. Can anyone enlighten me as to precisely what distinguishes an impious woman from a woman who would not be deemed impious?

    Pax et bonum,
    Keith Töpfer

Comments are closed.