QUAERITUR: Bare altars (no cloths)

From a reader:

Some churches in my diocese have recently begun the practice of having no altar cloth. I.e., only when Mass is said is there a small cloth unfolded on the altar beneath the paten and chalice — otherwise the table altar is bare. Is this permitted under Church law or whatever governs such things?

What you describe has nothing to do with our Roman tradition. Moreover, I refer you to the General Instruction of the Roman Missal.

GIRM 304. 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, there should be, on an altar where this is celebrated, at least one cloth, white in color, whose shape, size, and decoration are in keeping with the altar’s structure. 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.

Thus, it is not enough just to put a corporal on a bare altar. There should be at least one altar cloth.

Traditionally, we Romans use three cloths on our altars.

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 and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. Father P says:

    Are you sure there is no altar cloth? I only ask this because there is becoming popular altar cloths that do not extend beyond the mensa and so it looks as if the altar is stripped even though there is a cloth

  2. I would point out that there is one exception: during the course of the Triduum, there will be a time when the altar is completely bare. The exception, of course, proves the rule.

  3. jmgazzoli says:

    What if there is glass between the altar cloth and the corporal, so as to protect the altar cloth from dripping wax?

  4. acardnal says:

    Scitoviasdomini says:
    28 August 2012 at 1:49 pm
    I would point out that there is one exception: during the course of the Triduum, there will be a time when the altar is completely bare. The exception, of course, proves the rule.

    Yes, the altar is stripped bare after Holy Thursday Mass, but remember, there is no Mass on Good Friday either. So there is no sacrifice on the altar until the next Mass at the Vigil of Easter, and the altar is dressed once again for that.

  5. edm says:

    That was the fashion around these parts a few years ago. It was more prevalent if it was a new building or a new altar…it seemed the pastor would go overboard to “show it off” and only a small cloth, similar to a corporal, but not really one, would be spread upon the mensa at the offertory. It was quickly removed after communion.

  6. Random Friar says:

    If it’s a group of parishes in the same area, I’m wondering if someone’s going around stealing the cloths. Thieves, mostly drug addicts, will take whatever they think they can sell. We’ve had a few odd things taken now and then.

  7. Peco says:

    The bare altar has been in vogue at our parish for 25+ years. At the Offertory 2 lay people come forward and “set the table” with a corporal and umpteen cups and purifiers for the umpteen “Eucharistic Ministers”, i.e EMHC. It is only when I visit another parish (usually outside this diocese) that I see an actual altar cloth. We live in a liturgical wasteland!

  8. Pingback: Ratzinger Schülerkreis Cardinal Dolan Cardinal Martini | Big Pulpit

Comments are closed.