Altar Cloth Q. Our Catholic Church has just recovered our altar with a new and ornate covering which covers the entire altar and looks very much like a bedspread! I have always been used to a white linen covering. The new covering is distracting from what the priest is doing during the Mass. It seems to me that the altar is a “sacrificial” structure and should not be covered with such a fancy overly decorative cloth. It is not a “table.” What is the proper covering for a Catholic church’s altar?

Ann, via e-mail

A. Here is a reply from Father Francis Hoffman, J.C.D.:

Here’s what the General Instruction of the Roman Missal says on the matter:

“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” (No. 304).