A ZENIT DAILY DISPATCH
On Changing the Corporal
ROME, 17 JULY 2007 (ZENIT)
Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university.
Q: Does the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM) stipulate that the use of a new corporal on the altar at each Mass celebration is no longer needed? I see that a corporal is placed on the altar at some parishes for a week or more before changing it. I always thought the purpose of this cloth was to take proper care of any particles of Jesus' body that might fall from the hands or ciborium or paten. If this is the case, then I think proper care should be taken of the cloth and crumbs at the end of each Mass, and not have it lie there for a week, just accumulating more particles or crumbs. With all the care that a priest might take, the host particles on the white cloth is not always noted — I have learned this from sacristan duties. — E.M., Bridgewater, Virginia
A: The corporal is a square piece of linen or other fine fabric sometimes starched so as to be fairly firm. It is customarily folded into nine sections and hence stored flat. A larger corporal or more than one corporal may be required for concelebrations and other solemn celebrations.
Before use, the corporal is usually left on top of the chalice and, while no longer obligatory, it may be kept in a flat, square case called a burse.
Before the present reform, hosts were placed directly upon the corporal and although this is rarely the case today, as our reader points out, it may gather any fragments that fall from the host during the celebration although these mostly fall into either the ciborium or chalice.
The GIRM mentions the corporal in several places, first of all in describing the preparation of the gifts, in No. 73: "[T]he Lord's table, which is the center of the whole Liturgy of the Eucharist, is prepared by placing on it the corporal, purificator, Missal, and chalice."
No. 118 says that the corporal should be on the credence table before Mass. Other indications require that a chalice or ciborium should be placed on a corporal whenever it is left on the altar or credence table for purification.
With respect to our reader's queries, it would appear that in her parish they follow the bad habit of leaving the corporal unfolded upon the altar between Masses and even for days on end. The norms require that the corporal be unfolded during the presentation of gifts and properly folded again after Communion.
All the same, extra corporals may be placed on the altar before especially solemn Masses in which more sacred vessels are used than can fit on the corporal directly in front of the priest.
The GIRM does not require a new corporal for each Mass, it is sufficient for the corporal to be opened and folded with due care to avoid any mishaps. For this reason a corporal should be opened one section at a time while lying flat and never shook open.
A corporal is washed in the same manner as a purificator although less frequently. It is first soaked in water; this water is then poured either down a sacrarium or directly upon the earth. Afterward, the corporal may be washed in a normal fashion.
* * *
Follow-up: On Changing the Corporal [8-21-2007]
Several readers wrote for further clarifications regarding the proper use of the corporal (July 17).
A deacon commented: "I often find particles remaining on the corporal after Mass. This is a concern to me, because the corporal is left on the altar, and then the book of the Gospels is placed on top of the corporal ... so I always clear any particles, some which can be substantial in size, from the corporal before or after Mass. Your response to the initial question on corporals indicates that the corporal may be folded up, and set aside to be reused at a later Mass. Presumably, the corporal would thus sit in a cabinet in the sacristy until the next Mass. But, if, in fact, particles are remaining in the folded-up corporal, as is often the case, it does not seem that a cabinet or other storage drawer is the proper place to leave the Eucharist. Of course, it is better than leaving the corporal on the altar ... but if the purpose of a corporal is to 'catch' particles of the host, then why would we not treat those particles with the same care as we do the particles which remain in the vessels we purify?"
Any visible fragments remaining on the corporal should be removed and placed in the chalice for purification. Yet, liturgical practice has generally considered that the careful folding and opening of the corporal is sufficient and that no disrespect is shown by carefully keeping the corporal in the sacristy.
Until recently, however, between Masses the corporal used at the Eucharistic celebration was enclosed in a special holder called a burse out of respect and this custom may be maintained.
With respect to its care, Trimeloni's preconciliar 1,000-page compendium of practical liturgical norms recommended a monthly wash for corporals — and that at a time when hosts were placed directly upon the corporal itself.
Another reader asked about the correct way of folding a corporal. Here I defer to the indications provided by Monsignor (now Bishop) Peter J. Elliott in his practical ceremonies manual:
"a. Take the corporal (from the burse, if used) with your right hand, and place it flat at the center of the altar, still folded, approximately 15 cm. (5 inches) from the edge of the altar, or further if a large corporal is being unfolded.
"b. Unfold it, first to your left, then to your right, thus revealing three squares.
"c. Unfold the section farthest from you, away from yourself, thus making six squares visible.
"d. Finally, unfold the crease that is nearest to you, towards yourself, thus making all nine squares visible. Adjust the corporal so that it is about 3 cm. (an inch) from the edge of the altar.
"If there is a cross embroidered on one of the outer center squares, move the corporal around so that the cross is nearest to you.
"Although Hosts no longer rest directly on the corporal, it is still useful in the event that fragments may fall on it at the fraction or during the purifications, etc. Therefore, never flick a corporal open or shake it open in midair. Such an action would also show a lack of respect for the most sacred altar linen, which must always be used wherever a Mass is celebrated.
"To fold a corporal, reverse the above steps. Therefore fold the front three squares away from you, then fold the back three squares towards you and finally bring the right square and the left square onto the remaining central square to complete the process.
"If the corporal is brought to the altar in a burse, this may be placed flat, traditionally on the left of the corporal, away from the place where the missal rests. But it may be more conveniently placed on the right of the corporal, or a server may take it back to the credence table. When Mass is celebrated facing the altar, the empty burse traditionally rests upright against a candlestick or gradine (altar shelf), to the left of the corporal."
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