If your Catholic church has a marble altar and you've just volunteered to create a cleaning schedule and routine for it, you might be unsure where to begin. You have to recruit volunteers for the job and ensure that the altar is thoroughly cleaned and well maintained. Here are some tips to keep in mind through the process:
1. Invest in gentle cleaners.
When cleaning marble, it is best to use very gentle cleaners. You can make your own marble cleaner by putting a few drops of dish soap in water, or you can buy cleaning products designed just for marble. It's also important to avoid wire bristle brushes or other abrasive cleaning implements.
Keep these tips in mind when stocking the cleaning cabinet for your altar-cleaning volunteers.
2. Give your volunteers tips for removing wax.
In addition to providing your volunteers with gentle cleaners, you also want to ensure that they are well trained so they can deal with the types of stains you are likely to find on a church altar.
For example, candles are often burnt during Catholic masses, and unfortunately, their wax can drip onto the altar. As you train volunteers to clean your church's altar, make sure that you review a wax-removal strategy.
Ideally, they should rub ice on the wax to make it hard and brittle so that it easily flakes off the surface of the altar. Then they can use a razor blade to separate the wax from the marble. This is an abrasive cleaning tool, so it must be used extremely carefully to avoid damage to the marble. Ideally, the cleaners must make sure to keep the blade horizontally level so that it glides over the marble but doesn't scratch or gouge it.
Finally, if the wax has discolored the marble, dip a cotton ball in some rubbing alcohol and scrub the stain with that until it disappears.
3. Don't forget about the soot.
Candles invariably produce smoke, and that, especially when combined with smoke from ceremonial incense, can leave soot damage on the altar. To remove soot, use a mixture of four parts water and one part hydrogen peroxide to clean the stain. This slightly acidic cleaner breaks down the soot and bleaches the marble to hide the stain.
If any smokey discoloration lingers after that point, you can use a few mineral spirits. Also known as turpentine substitute, this cleaner helps to break down the oils that are part of many smoke stains.
4. Use long and wide altar protectors.
An altar protector is a special cover that you place on an altar when it is not being used for ceremonial purposes. It protects the altar cloth (a special tablecloth on the altar). Together, both of these elements help keep the top of the altar clean and damage free.
However, if you truly want to protect the altar from dust, dirt, smoke, and other messy things, you should use the longest and widest altar protector possible. That helps protect the base of the altar as well as the top. That can be important especially if the base has lots of intricate features that tend to harbor dust. By protecting the altar from messes, you make it easier to clean.
5. Plan to clean around the host during the sacrament of Blessed Adoration.
Once you have gathered your supplies and trained your volunteers on the best altar-cleaning processes, you just need to create a schedule. In many cases, you can simply schedule the altar cleaning when the church is not in use, such as after morning mass.
However, in other cases, your church may be constantly in use with people involved in the sacrament of Blessed Adoration. This is when a blessed communion wafer is displayed on the altar in a special metal stand and someone prays in front of it.
Luckily, you and the cleaning crew don't need to worry about these parishioners. You can just quietly clean the marble altar regardless of their presence. Cleaning the altar is considered part of God's work, and as such, it should not be seen as disruptive to people who are engaged in adoration.
If you need more extensive help, look for professional marble cleaning in your area.