Embroidering Communion Linens

To the best of our knowledge the Catholic Church has never issued any special ordinances in regard to embroidery for communion linens, either as to material, color or design. This allows the priest, parish guild and the embroiderer a great deal of creativity in selecting the designs to represent their church and parishioners.

However common sense and good taste requires that the embroidery should harmonize with the character, color and use of the linen, and that the design should not be too heavy, too crowded, or too stiff.

Of course while there is no "rule" forbidding innovative design selection, designs that have traditionally represented the Church and its culture and ethic will always be the most popular, pleasing and recognizable.

While leeway in design selection is granted, that is not the case with the placement of the design on the individual communion linens. Each linen has a specific purpose in the Sacrament of Holy Communion, so design placement is crucial.

Much more latitude can be taken with baptismal towels, which are often personalized and, in the case of children, are usually presented to the parents after the christening.

Consider the information below as basic guidelines for communion linen embroidery.

Linen Name Info Suggested Design
Type & Placement
Sample Design
  • The most used cloth for covering the top of the alter.
  • Represents the burial shroud of Jesus.
  • The white surface symbolizes the purity of the sacrifice.
  • Sized to fit the width of the altar with recommended 18" drops at the ends or halfway to the floor.
  • In the corners: One 2" - 2½" cross in each corner.
  • Exact center: One 3" - 4" cross or sacred monogram.
  • The five crosses represent the wounds of Christ.
  • The single cross in the center also reminds us of Christ as the object of the sacrifice.
  • White embroidery is often preferred, but other colors embroidered singularly or in combination with white or white tones, are also frequently used with stunning results.
  • Pure white cloth that holds the sacramental elements before and after communion.
  • Linen type/style/color matches the altar cloth.
  • Sized to fit the width of the table.
  • Recommended end drops of at least 6", preferably 8".
  • A single 2" - 2½" design placed in the center or front center.
  • A cross is often used, but other motifs are perfectly acceptable.
  • White embroidery is often preferred, but other colors embroidered singularly or in combination with white or white tones, are also frequently used with stunning results.
  • Usually 6" to 7" square.
  • May be colored in accordance with the liturgical season.
  • Mounted on rigid plastic, glass, Plexiglas or cardboard for ease of cleaning.
  • Placed on top of the paten on the chalice when preparing the altar for communion.
  • Covered by the Chalice Veil.
  • A 3" - 5" design is often embroidered on the top center.
  • A cross is traditional, but other motifs are perfectly acceptable.
  • Tone-on-tone or complementary thread colors may be used.
  • Normally a square cloth large enough to cover the chalice while drooping to its base.
  • Used to dress the chalice prior to communion.
  • Also covers the sacramental elements during post communion.
  • May be colored in accordance with the liturgical season.
  • A 2" to 3" design is traditionally embroidered in the center or center front edge.
  • A cross is traditional, but other motifs are perfectly acceptable and widely employed.
  • Tone-on-tone or complementary thread colors may be used.
  • Normally a 12" to 18" square cloth.
  • Laid on top of the altar cloth at communion with the chalice placed in its center.
  • Functions as a place setting for the communion elements and to catch any pieces of the Consecrated Host that might fall from the paten.
  • A 2" to 3" design is embroidered in the center of the cloth or, more often, on the center front third of the cloth.
  • A cross is traditional, but other motifs are perfectly acceptable and widely employed.
  • Tone-on-tone or complementary thread colors may be used.
  • White linen often 8" to 12" square, or three times the width of the chalice.
  • Size and shape may vary from parish to parish.
  • Used to clean the communion cup and paten after communion.
  • A small cross (1") is traditionally embroidered in the center or on one of the corners of the cloth.
  • White embroidery is traditional, but tone-on-tone or complementary thread colors may be used.
  • Basically a finger towel, usually about 12" by 8".
  • Used when the celebrant needs to dry his hands after the ablutions.
  • A small cross (1½") is traditionally embroidered at the center of one short edge.
  • Tone-on-tone or complementary thread colors may be used.
  • Varies from finger towel to bath towel size.
  • A shell, the symbol of water in baptism, is often embroidered at the center of one short edge but many motifs, fonts and placements are used for personalization.
  • Tone-on-tone or complementary thread colors may be used.
Top