Church Linens and Altar Linens: Lavabo Towel

What is a Lavabo Towel and What is it Used for?

Altar linens and church linens are some of the many details that go unnoticed in the world of religion and churchgoers. While there is definitely nothing wrong with that as the majority of us are generally more so focused on the bigger picture idea of church and religion such as eternity and preaching the gospel.

But now and then it can be a bit refreshing to take a step back and find something that is usually passed over entirely and learn more about it and where it fits within the grand scheme of things.

This article in particular aims to do just that, we will be taking a look at the category of church linens that are used for specific ceremonies like say a purification ceremony.

There are multiple church linens used for multiple different ceremonies, so for the sake of time, we will be focusing on the lavabo towel that is used for the lavabo ceremony.

What is a Lavabo Towel?

A lavabo towel is a cloth linen or sort of hand towel that is used to dry the hands of a person who is performing a lavabo ceremony. It is one of several small altar linens or church linen items.

But it isn’t just some random dish towel you might grab from your kitchen; the lavabo towel must be a pristine white church linen cloth as it symbolizes the purification that occurs as a result of the lavabo ceremony.

What is the Lavabo Ceremony?

Okay, so we know that this lavabo towel is a pristine white cloth in the church linen closet that is used during the lavabo ceremony, but then that begs the question of what is the lavabo ceremony?

We are glad that you asked.

The lavabo ceremony is a religious ceremony that the majority of modern-day churches no longer use or probably even know about really. The church denominations that would be most likely to perform a lavabo ceremony with a lavabo towel are the Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, and maybe the Lutherans.

So, the lavabo ceremony itself is quite simple in action but deep in meaning. It is a brief ceremony that each congregant member performs as they prepare themselves for the eucharist

Each congregant church member will dip their hands in a bowl of water (known as the lavabo bowl) that is either brought around by a church leader or fastened to a wall somewhere and then wipe their hands dry of the cleansing water with the lavabo towel.

Once they have ceremoniously cleaned their hands in the lavabo bowl and then dried them off with the lavabo towel they are ready to partake of the eucharist ritual, or the Lord’s Supper or communion as you might know it.

What is the Significance of the Lavabo Ceremony and the Lavabo Towel?

If you were to sit in on any of these church services that perform the lavabo ceremony with the lavabo bowl and lavabo towel before participating in the eucharist or the Lord’s Supper, unless you knew your bible, you probably wouldn’t think much of this brief hand washing ceremony.

The lavabo ceremony was created in time from the words and prayer of King David of Israel from the 26th chapter of the book of Psalms.

David is praying to his Lord and God a prayer of vindication that God would test and see that David’s heart was clean from evil as he loved the Lord his God in truth and faith. 

King David also makes mentions in this prayer that he would “wash my hands in innocence, and go about your altar, LORD”…here’s a larger section of David’s prayer to provide some more context behind the lavabo ceremony for the washing of hands before participating in the eucharist.

“Vindicate me, Lord, for I have led a blameless life; I have trusted in the Lord and have not faltered.
Test me, Lord, and try me, examine my heart and my mind; for I have always been mindful of your unfailing love and have lived in reliance on your faithfulness. I do not sit with the deceitful, nor do I associate with hypocrites. I abhor the assembly of evildoers and refuse to sit with the wicked. I wash my hands in innocence, and go about your altarLord, proclaiming aloud your praise and telling of all your wonderful deeds.” Psalm 26:1-7 ESV

So, we can see the purpose and significance behind the lavabo ceremony and the use of the lavabo towel lies stems from the heart of King David who was known to be a man after God’s own heart.

While the meaning and significance might be lost for some people today that perform the ceremonial hand washing of the lavabo ceremony with the lavabo towel, however, that doesn’t lessen its significance for those who know its origin and the heart behind it.

Symbolism and Purpose of Purification in the Eucharist

The idea that truly resonates with this ceremony and the use of this altar linen or church linen is to intentionally purify yourself before entering into the Eucharist, otherwise known as the Lord’s Supper or communion.

The Eucharist is a sacred ritual that signifies the remembrance of Christ’s death on the cross and later his burial and resurrection that covers our sins and brings us to a state of forgiveness and reconciliation with God.

Any Christian believer regardless of denomination looks at the ritual ceremony of the Eucharist or communion as a sacred event that even though is done mostly in public is a very personal moment between them and God. 

The act of cleansing your hands in the lavabo bowl and then drying them with the lavabo towel was originally meant to be a symbolic gesture of preparing to partake of communion with an innocent and purified heart.

We hope that you have enjoyed this article and that you have not only learned something interesting about altar linens and church linens and ceremonies that originated back from the 6th-century Christian church, but that also the next time you participate in communion you’ll take an extra moment to set your mind and heart in innocence before you join in the Lord’s Supper.

Church Linen by Dom Roulin