“Presently, my firm is redesigning the sacristy at our church which was originally built in @ 1950. This is the only article that I have been able to find on the subject although our clergy has tried to contact a number of churches for suggestions. Thank you!
A highlight for every parish each year is the annual visit of our bishop. We have received several inquiries about how the altar should be arranged at various times during the service, bulletins, and other pressing matters to assure the service flows smoothly. The link above (Bishop’s Visit) at the top of the page should be useful to clergy, parish administrator, hospitality coordinators and altar guilds.
There seems to be quite a diversity of ideas as to setting up a credence table or shelf depending on custom in the parish or desires of the current clergyperson. As I travel around to different churches, I take note before the service begins of how things are done in our parish churches. Some churches use a chalice veil, some use only a purificator and pall on the chalice. Pita, or baked bread requires a different presentation than wafers. So, in the end- there are no hard and fast rules. Consult your parish priest for preferences. There should, however, be a clean white cloth on your shelf or table, the chalice should have a purificator across the top and a white pall to cover the top of the chalice at the least. When placing your water and wine cruets (or flagon), make sure the handles are at 12 ‘o’clock-in other words- pointing away from the altar server. When the server grasps the cruet by the neck, then pivots to face the priest, the handles will be convenient for the priest or deacon to grasp.
In some churches, I have observed the corporal is already spread on the altar at the beginning of service, with a vested chalice center altar as a time-saving convenience. It is a particular desire of our bishop that this not be done. The Liturgy of the Word should take place without communion metalware on the altar. The portion of the service devoted to the Holy Communion is the time for the deacon (if there be one) to “set” the table for the Eucharist, beginning to do so at at the Offertory. The chalice(s) should be resting on the credence table or shelf up until that time. Some parishes have the custom of oblationists or gift bearers to bring the gifts of wine and bread up the center nave aisle to the foot of the chancel where either the Master of Ceremonies, head acolyte, deacon, or sometimes the priest will step forward to receive them. Once again, make sure the handle of the wine cruet is facing away from the bearer so as to be ready to grasp by the receiver.
After the service of Holy Communion is completed and the vessels emptied and wiped clean at the altar, everything should be returned to the credence table. I have noticed that many priests, after rinsing the chalice with a little water, wipe out the bowl with a purificator and leave the purificator in the chalice, then place the pall and veil on top. This purificator usually has a lot of wine stain on it and should be carefully washed out with the wash water going in the piscina or in the earth. Don’t forget to take the corporal out of the burse, shake any little particles of bread over the piscina to be washed away-the same for the paten or dish which contained baked consecrated bread.
It is always convenient to place the lavabo towel over the lavabo bowl, in readiness for the ablutions. I find most clergy appreciate a good-sized towel and not a tiny “fingertip towel”. A hand towel of linen, about the size or slightly smaller of a regular hand towel we use at home is much-appreciated. The lavabo towel is the one small linen which does not have to be blessed. You can make up lovely lavabo towels out of linen or cotton scraps, pieces cut from worn fair linens which still have some remaining good fabric left, or fine linen napkins or tablecloths. You may embroider a neat whitework or redwork cross on it when the edges have been hemmed.
Not all priests keep sick call kits in the church sacristy, so you may not have had to clean or pack linens and supplies for a sick call kit as part of altar guild regular duties. Still it is good to know how to do so if ever the need arises. The usual traveling or home Mass kit or sick call case contains miniature linens (purificator, lavabo and corporal), a cross or crucifix, small candles which will fit into spaces on either side of the crucifix, a small chalice and ciborium, paten, water, wine, wafers, a small, short purple stole, cotton balls, and anointing oil, and in some cases a small spoon if the individual receiving the Sacrament is an invalid who may have difficulties. The fittings may be very elaborate and costly or very simple and plain.
Viaticum can be referring to the sacrament given to the dying, or even to the vessel which holds the consecrated elements. I have seen a most remarkable viaticum at St. John’s Newport which is a cylinder of crystal with a cone-shaped threaded screw top which holds a consecrated wafer. The crystal tube is for wine. This was made in Scotland in 1906. There are other styles for the portable viaticum container such as the one pictured to the left on sale in a popular church supply catalogue. This one features a compartment for wine and one for wafers.
The priest nearly always prepares the home Mass, sick call kit, or viaticum provisions personally, but the altar guild may well be required to wash and iron linens for the kit, and from time to time may be asked to clean and polish the vessels . If you are asked to wash up after a home communion, or sick call, all the usual rules apply to handling consecrated elements- with water and wine residue from the chalice being put down a piscina or into the earth. The small linens (corporal and purificator) should be blessed. The lavabo towel does not require it, although frequently whole sets are blessed as a unit. If you must dispose of worn linen, it must be burned if it has been blessed.
The photo above shows a pocket pyx. We have already discussed pyxes on the site at great length under the Metalware catagory. The pocket pyx is the form which looks a lot like a pocket watch and is generally the style used for emergency trips to deliver consecrated wafer(s). It may fit into the home Mass kit, or more often it is worn around the neck of the priest in a small pyx burse of silk or kid leather on a cord. Burse (boursa) means pouch or small pocket.
If you have worn fair linens or larger small linens which still have areas of good fabric, think about recycling these into small linens for the home Communion kit- a good summer project.
Fourth of July weekend is a great time to be out and about at flea markets, yard sales and antique shops. Who says sacristies cannot also be beautiful as well as orderly, neat, and clean? I enjoy finding little treasures when I am out on the antique trail which will add a little something special to the sacristy towel rack and linen drawers. The towel to the left is of a soft 100% cotton, loose weave. These were very popular in all sizes during Victorian-Edwardian times and even into the the 1920’s. Sometimes these are called “birdseye” due to the little tiny dots all over in the pattern, or sometimes hock cloth or huckweave. This fabric is very soft and absorbant and nothing is better for drying glass and silver. Often there is a dainty lace edging made of filet crochet, tatting, or bobbin lace- but more often the larger towels have a hemstitched plain end or fringe. Sometimes they are monogrammed. The more you wash them, the softer and more absorbant they become. Yes, they look best when ironed, but it is a very small price to pay for the look of a gleaming towel bar over your sink, lined with these lovely and durable towels. They also dry quickly after using if stretched out to air on the towelbar. I have tried terrycloth and linen towels and nothing beats these wonderful old vintage white towels. I see them everywhere in the $ 2-$ 8 dollar range-a little more for the larger size. $4 is on average for the hand towel size. And keep an eye out for lace trims (hand made), neat Irish linen tea cloths, linen napkins, damask weave cottons, and other white vintage textiles which can be transformed into amazing credence cloths and lavabo towels! Sometimes the exquisite whitework embroidery, all hand done is a FRACTION of what those expensive catalogues want -and the fabric and work far superior. This can be a fun project for your altar guild this summer-finding little treasures which are useful, practical- and beautiful!
One hears a lot hanging out in sacristies. Over the years the #1 complaint which I have overheard from clergy, and some parishioners too comes after the Dismissal. As the organist prepares to launch into an inspiring postlude-does your altar guild team dash up to the altar and credence table to juggle the metalware, snatch the flower vases for shut-in delivery and clack in high heels across the chancel on the way to the sacristy? If “mea culpa“s the answer, it is not too late to reform! Generally understood in most parishes is that the service has ended and exiting may commence when the acolytes have extinguished the altar candles-in some cases it is more than the two Eucharistic candles and this may take some time if done properly, carefully, and with some decorum. The altar is then covered with the fair linen protector (if not done before putting out the candles), the acolytes step back, genuflect or bow from the waist, and leave the chancel. After a few bars of the postlude, parishioners begin to rise from the pews or chairs and head back down the nave to where the rector is often waiting to greet the flock at the end of the aisle. When the congregation has transferred its attention from the chancel to leaving the sanctuary, it is then timely for the altar guild to exit the sacristy to begin the important business of clearing the credence table, checking for stains or spots, trimming candlewicks, etc.
I have found that an attractive silver tray with side handles, lined with a white linen doily or towel the perfect way to convey all vessels with some gracefulness and safety from the chancel back to the sacristy. In some churches acolytes bring the vessels back to the sacristy, but I would not recommend this for young acolytes as costly metalware is frequently dropped or “juggled” precariously as they attempt to take everything in one trip. Many is the breadbox I have seen with numerous dings in the side or lid or a crooked lid cross. This is an expensive damage to repair.
Changing of the frontal or any major work to be done should be accomplished when all have exited the church. Sometimes one must forfeit the coffee hour treats when duty calls.
I am mourning the demise of the red and black cassocks and white cottas shown in the photo above. Nothing was lovelier than seeing that cheery red cassock on Christmas morning, and the black cassock was always a reminder of Advent and Lent. Altar servers, if young, wore the square-necked short cotta, the Master of Ceremonies a snowy longer surplice, and the adult acolytes a square-necked surplice while the choir wore round-necked surplices over black cassocks. I am not sure how the new altar server white alb came about or if it is mandatory. Apparently it has caught on and is popular in most churches in New England. I am always pleased to visit a church and see the “old-fashioned” style still in use-as is the case still in some Rhode Island parishes. I am not a fan of the white server alb which looks somewhat monastic, is difficult to keep clean, and the cincture ropes are a temptation for knot-tying, fiddling, and such during the service.
The catalogue companies must be rejoicing though-and the number one article I receive for relocation is a red or black acolyte cassock- by the trunkful.
I am glad to see the Lesage book on Amazon.com for under 5 dollars these days. It is actually volume 114 of The Twentieth Century Encyclopedia of Catholicism, section 10 under The Worship of the Church and is translated from the French, published by Hawthorn Books, NY. 1960. This was one of the first books I found when beginning the study of vestments and church furnishings, and is a very useful little volume of 152 pages. Topics included cover information on thuribles, altars, sacred vessels, candlesticks, the font, church bells, vestments and much more. Although some of the material covered applies to Roman Catholic usage, the book is well worth having for the history behind many of the vestments and vessels also used in the Episcopal church. The only negative about this publication may be that there are no diagrams or photographs.
A few years ago I happened upon a great series of little books about decorative arts in the Church, textiles and church architecture which was printed by A.R. Mowbray and Co. of London in a series spanning the first decade of the 1900’s. “The authors will write for the average intelligent person who has not had the time to study all these matters, and they will therefore avoid technicalities, while endeavoring at the same time to present the facts with a fidelity which will not, it is hoped, be unacceptable to the specialist.”- as the Editor’s note proclaims at the beginning of each slim volume.
I am not certain exactly how many volumes there are in the series as I possess only four to date, but here is one of the later editions with a list. You will note the estimable Rev. Percy Dearmer, author of The Ornaments of the Ministers (a must-have history of vestments for sacristies) and The Parson’s Handbook, has forewords and contributions in many of these little books. For everything about The Rev. Percy Dearmer visit this Project Canterbury link http://anglicanhistory.org/dearmer/index.html You may read the entire Parson’s Handbook (full of great information) free at
Ornaments of the Ministers with all of its amazing vintage vestment photographs can be copied and viewed using several formats here http://www.archive.org/details/MN40293ucmf_4
If you know of any other volumes in this series, I would be delighted to know of them. My particular favorite is Church Embroidery by Alice Dryden which was published in 1911. The great period of Church embroidery was from the twelfth to the middle of the fourteenth century (opus anglicanum) and this little book offers many plates and photos of extant pieces of ecclesiastical embroidery of this period. Method and execution are also included with a particularly excellent chapter on couching and stitches.
These little books may be found on ebay, A Libris, Bibliofind, and other out of print online dealers in the 30-50 dollar range. I have had the most success in finding them in England. Well worth the investment!!
The exquisite piece of linen thread bobbin lace to the left was created by hand sometime around 1690-1700 and might be called Baroque- even Rococo. This is a monstrance or benediction veil. What’s the difference between a monstrance and an ostensorium? Not much. Monstrance comes from the verb monstrare, “to show clearly”. You can see the word monstrance in the English word “demonstrate“.
Ostendere also means “to show” and the word as applied to the vessel used for exposition of the Blessed Sacrament is interchangeable with monstrance. A popular form this sacred vessel takes is a solar burst at the top of a vertical upright support, with many rays emanating from the central point, the place which contains the round luna, or lunette. This is a double glass or crystal lens set in a cylinder which contains a large priest host which has been consecrated. The lunette is easily removable, and usually each monstrance must have its luna custom-fitted. Monstrances and ostensoria (plural form) are made of the most precious materials affordable, and nearly always at the least gold-plated or sterling silver. Precious or semi-precious jewels are sometimes seen embedded around the lunette or in the base. When not in use, the lunette with the wafer inside may repose in a standing pyx inside the tabernacle. As the monstrance is waiting on the credence table or sacristy prior to the service, it must be covered with a white veil. Silk or handmade lace is preferred. It should completely cover the monstrance all around. The lace veil pictured above is 24 x 28 inches although each monstrance will have its own height measurements. Monstrances are sometimes constructed to look like miniature cathedrals, with Gothic spires and saints, or as a cross.
A corporal is generally spread on the center of the altar fair linen to receive the monstrance. I have seen some really beautiful benediction corporals in the state of Rhode Island. The white work with Eucharistic embroidery is worked on the finest batiste or fine linen. The corporal is of a generous size, and the burse used to carry it to the altar is sometimes slightly larger than the usual burse, and is always white, or white and gold. The monstrance will be handled with the humeral veil, once the Sacrament has been placed inside. Pockets are often provided at each end of the humeral veil for the hands to slip in. Several churches in the diocese have services of Benediction and observe Corpus Christi with a procession using the monstrance and baldicchino or canopy.
Today we have had a frantic note from a new guild which has to set up for Holy Communion on Sunday. Every sacristy should have an altar guild manual in plain view, – and always consult your rector, deacon, vicar, or head acolyte if there is an answer you need to know about how to set up for any type of service. Every single member of your altar guild should be trained to set up for any kind of service held at your church: weddings, baptisms, confirmations, Holy Communion, funerals, healing, etc.
Both the Gent/Sturges and Dorothy Diggs altar guild manuals are recommended for Episcopal church use. Edith Weir Perry is also a favorite, but hard to find as it is currently out of print. Here is an online altar guild manual which may be very helpful-and it covers most questions you may have. Click on this link below from the Diocesan Altar Guild, Episcopal Diocese of Texas.
Usually two purificators are tucked into the burse with the corporal. One purificator for the use of the celebrant will be already on the vested chalice between the chalice and paten. If your congregation is very large, or it is a special service where a larger-than-usual attendance is expected, sometimes a flagon must be used for the wine, and a second chalice may be needed. Always ask your clergy if there is any doubt. Ushers often keep a count of the number in the congregation, which is helpful. This number can be discreetly sent up to the chancel on a small slip of paper during the presentation of the gifts. It is better to have all supplies which may be needed at the ready rather than to run short. Your celebrant should never have to worry about these details- this is the job of the altar guild. Be prepared. Fresh small linens, wafers, wine, and a spare fair linen must always be in the sacristy without fail. Matches should also be handy in the chancel at all times, along with a hymnal, Bible, and Book of Common Prayer. Real thoughtfulness might also include a glass or bottle of drinking water, tissues and cough drops discreetly tucked away in the pulpit or within easy reach somewhere closeby to the chancel. Your priest may choose such a place to store these emergency items. You may just enjoy the everlasting gratitude of your priest! Anticipate probable and possible need before it becomes a crisis and things will run smoothly.
Coming from a Methodist background, I must confess to being very intrigued with the textiles and metalware of the Church. Spending my high school years in a Roman Catholic convent school probably had something to do with fostering an interest in All Things Liturgical. I came right in on the heels of Vatican II, but our nuns were a little slow getting around to the little changes, so I still vividly recall having to wear a little lace veil to Mass (which was in Latin), and seeing all of the textiles from maniples to ciborium veils which were used prior to 1969. In some Episcopal churches, even today, many of these veils, and other textiles may still be seen. The most familiar, of course, is the frontal which covers the altar. Frontals or frontlets are usually in the color of the feast of the day, or liturgical season. They are, in a sense, a veil for the altar. Many churches in our diocese still use the vested chalice which employs a silk chalice veil, usually matching the vestments of the day.
At one time, the patronesses of the parish, who traveled extensively, collected fine linen and lace, often in the form of handkerchiefs, from Italy or Belgium- and donated these items to the sacristy to be used as ciborium veils. Whenever the Blessed Sacrament was transported from the high altar to a chapel altar or elsewhere, a beautiful white linen and lace veil was draped over the ciborium, the sanctus bells were rung, and everyone in the church stopped their work and genuflected when the ciborium passed by. Machine lace was NEVER allowed-only handmade. I have seen several of these ciborium veils with a buttonhole in the center to fit over the ciborium lid cross in Episcopal churches in the diocese when I visit sacristies. Altars which still use a tabernacle situated in the center of an altar retable or gradine will use a pair of tabernacle veils (or curtains) -often in silk the color of the paraments for the day. These are usually fringed, handsomely embroidered, and suspended on a brass rod. Many from the 1800-1900’s have small ivory rings at the top which thread over the rod. Cylindrical tabernacles have a sort of canopy arrangement. Inside the tabernacle (or aumbry) there is often a pair of fine linen veils or curtains. These are sometimes trimmed with fine handmade lace. At St. John’s church we always launder these on Good Friday when the tabernacle is empty and open. I recall the nuns (training we young sacristans) emphatically scolding us that only the priest or deacon should be opening the tabernacle and handling consecrated elements.
Tomorrow- humeral veils, gremial veils- and baldicchinos! I guarantee a bishop will be most impressed if you happen to have a gremial veil in your sacristy! 🙂
3. Ostensorium or monstrance
3a. Lunette or Lunula (is removable from the center of the monstrance and is two glass or crystal lenses holding a consecrated host in between for exposition.) Used for Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament in the monstrance or ostensorium.
4. Case for the lunette
5. Theca . 1. A medieval term for the burse or purse, used to
contain the corporal in saying Mass. 2. Also for a portable
shrine. 3. In this diagram the container is on the order of a breadbox to contain congregational wafers on the way to the credence table and is of metal.
6. Ablution Cup- Contains water for the priest to wash fingers- a sort of covered lavabo bowl in this diagram.
7. Pyx or Pyxis- this one is more like a watchcase for carrying consecrated wafers to the sick.
8. Pyx burse usually leatherette lined with silk with cords which pass around the priest’s neck, holds the pyx for safe-keeping during transport to the sick.
9. Large breadbox or wafer cannister
10. Communion paten or patenella, sometimes has one long wooden handle, for use beneath the chin of the communicant to prevent crumbs from dropping.
11. Case for carrying the three oil stocks
12. Metal oil stocks cylinder (separates into three units which thread like a screw together) OI SC OS
Oil of the Sick (“Oleum Infirmorum”)
Oil of Chrism (“Sanctum Chrisma”)
Oil of Catechumens “Oleum Catechumenorum”)
13. Metal individual oil stock (usually an oil container for the sick OI is kept separately as it is used often.
14. Another type of pyx burse or pocket
Although some of these containers we rarely see every day in the sacristy, it is good to know what they are-the language of the sacristy is delightfully full of curious words and history. You may enjoy this link explaining some of the original meanings in a book called GLOSSARY OF LITURGICAL AND
ECCLESIASTICAL TERMS. COMPILED AND ARRANGED BY
THE REV. FREDERICK GEORGE LEE, D.C.L., F.S.A.
VICAR OF ALL SAINTS’, LAMBETH.
Just scroll down awhile to the vocabulary in alphabetical order- fascinating stuff!