ASK FATHER: Preliminary rinsing of altar linens before laundering. Wherein Fr. Z rants.

From a reader…


I have seen many documents and books explaining that a first rinse or wash of purificators and corporals must be done before laundering as usual. But after much searching I have been unable to find specific instructions on how to do the first rinse. Having seen all sorts of various things done in different places. Are you aware of a certain way to do the first rinse?

This doesn’t have to be complicated.

Ideally, the first rinsing of altar linens should be done by a priest (whose hands are consecrated to touch sacred things, e.g. the Eucharist) either in a sacrarium – a sink whose pipe goes directly into the earth – or in a vessel which could then be poured either into the sacrarium or onto the ground.

Why the first rinsing?  Because corporals may have particles of Hosts and because purificators have been used to absorb the Precious Blood.

Once the first rinsing is done, then anyone can deal with the linens, hopefully using the right starch and ironing pattern.

This seems nitpicky?

It is all part of a worldview that is Catholic.

This world has its “prince”, the Devil and fallen angels, the Enemy.  We believe – or ought to believe – that there are things are are “outside the Temple… profane”.  That doesn’t mean “nasty”, it means “unconsecrated”.  When we consecrate or bless things with constitutive blessings, they are ripped from the dominion of the prince and given over to the King.   They are “inside the Temple” as it were.   This applies to certain places, things and people.   This is also why in traditional giving of certain blessings and in the rite of Baptism there are exorcisms.

This is real.  This is really how the cosmos is.

This is what modernists deny and want to obliterate from Catholic identity.  They reduce everything supernatural to the natural.   That’s their game. They would take the Church down to an NGO.  That’s what they are doing.

This is why in the dreadful post-Conciliar Book of Blessings there is an explicit move away from the concept of constitutive blessings, blessings that make things blessed things.

If you lose the concept of “sacred”, then you’ve lost the big picture of why we do certain things with rites and with beautiful things.  If you don’t believe, like those influenced by the Jesuit Rahner, that rites and blessings and sacraments actually do something, effect something, rather than just acknowledge some pre-existing reality, then you are not really Catholic other than in name only.   You can put on any old garment, or not, and do whatever you want, or not.  It hardly makes a difference.

One thing you will do, however, is rail against anything that reminds you of or recalls the Catholic belief in the supernatural realm, the efficacy of rites, that there is a difference between the sacred and the profane.  You will belittle and insult and suppress all that hearkens to the transcendent.

The way to combat this modernist, desacralizing attitude and project is to embrace the old ways.  If in some parishes sacred vessels are treated like common drinking cups, then where it is possible to get the custom going again, wear a glove when handling chalice if you are not a priest.   That’s just one example of many.

I think that one of the reasons why so many strange problems are cropping up in society at large today is that the sense of transcendence has been so repressed.  The outward signs that remind us of transcendence and Catholic identity are fading away.

I heard something from an exorcist once that got me thinking.  Exorcists will tell you that the numbers of cases coming to them are on the rise, in a serious way.   One idea why that could be, among others, is that in the Church itself there is a desacralization going on.  Once, in the traditional way of things, everything to be used for Mass had to be blessed before use.   There were special blessings for everything and it was unthinkable not to use them.   Now?  Pfffft.  Buy stuff and use it without a thought.  In other words: leave it in the realm of the prince but use it on the altar.   Does that sound right?   There is an idea that the first use of a chalice for Mass consecrates the chalice.  Maybe it does.   Maybe it doesn’t.  But why on earth wouldn’t you want to have the chalice consecrated before use?

Get it?   If we are our rites, and we are, if there is a real connection between the dynamic of rites and the sacred in their effects on the world, then what the hell are we doing by dumbing down our rites?  If we really believe that our rites have effects, then what are we denying to the world as a Church by denying or destroying the rites?

So, a question about first rinsing opens up a window onto a much larger landscape.


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Elizabeth D says:

    My mother is a protestant and she has become one of the rotating altar linens team at the Catholic community at her retirement community (my dad is Catholic and she attends with him without receiving Holy Communion, as she often has in her life. She does not believe in the Real Presence. My dad has never indicated clearly one way or another in my entire life whether he believes in the Real Presence, I hope he does.) I have tried multiple times to talk with her about this and send her info about the first rinsing needing to be poured on the ground, but do not have a straight answer what she is doing just that she is doing whatever procedures they taught her. She seems to love the Catholic community of the retirement village but I am concerned if she is doing something that neglects practices that exist for basic reverence toward the Real Presence I feel that is quite bad for her. And yes of course for years I have tried to interest her in becoming Catholic and talked frequently about the Real Presence.

    I was hopeful this would be an article I could send to my mom to remind her and help her understand. Unfortunately as I read on, it’s just a little bit about altar linens procedures and that would not make sense to her and would be offputting.

  2. Elizabeth D says:

    “and that would not make sense” should be “and a lot that would not make sense”

  3. Ms. M-S says:

    “They would reduce everything supernatural to the natural.” And then they redefine the natural from God’s order to a diabolical unnatural order. Are we there yet? About halfway I guess.

  4. JonPatrick says:

    I remember when going through my old school first communion classes the nuns having to handle the chalice and paten with a cloth as only the priest was allowed to touch the metal. Even my six year old mind could see something special is going on here

  5. B says:

    This post raises an interesting question… With installed acolytes, the men touch the paten and chalice before the bishop. They are not priests, obviously so their hands are not consecrated. But there is a ritual of the Church, with the bishop, where they are installed with the permissions to assist at Mass and thereby to touch ciboriums, distribute communion, etc. So are their hands “blessed” in some ways for this office (which I understand is not transferable automatically to other dioceses but only under the initial bishop and then only at his continued approval of their ministry).

  6. MKrzem says:

    A point that should be borne in mind…

    Deacons and subdeacons were traditionally allowed to touch the vessels — even though their hands were not consecrated. Indeed, the subdiaconate was the first level at which one could do so. In the Latin church, we have lost the traditional sense of the hierarchy, which ran from the bishop right down to the minor orders, and as a result, the priest has become a somewhat isolated figure.

    @B: I was recently instituted as an Acolyte by Bishop Lopes of the Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter, along with about forty other men, so that we can serve as subdeacons at our High Masses. The traditional duties of the subdeacon at High Mass include placing the chalice on the altar the start of the Offertory, wiping the chalices with the purificators, and then drying the vessels after the ablutions and reassembling them.

    Institution is for the whole church and is recognized in other dioceses as well.

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