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An excerpt from
"WHAT MEAN YE BY THIS SERVICE?" --Exod. xxii. 26
Second Edition
Mowbray & Co., Oxford, 1868
The altars were formerly washed with wine and water on Maundy Thursday, in memory of the act of St. Mary Magdelaine, who washed our Lord's feet, and wiped them with the hair of her head, in preparation for burial (Matt. 22:12).  And it was customary for bishops and superiours of religious houses to wash the feet of twelve or thirteen poor persons.  The Kings of England long performed this office, the last who did so being King James II.  It was afterwards performed in the Chapel Royal by the Archbishop of York, acting for the sovereign; but since 1731 has been suffered to fall into disuse.  Doles, however, are still distributed by the Sovereign on this day.
537.  Will you explain to me why the altar in many churches remains stripped on Good Friday?
The custom has reference to the stripping off of our Lord's garments at the pillar, and to His hanging naked on the cross.  Stripping was also a sign of humiliation; and so just as the Church on festivals puts on her "beautiful garments" (Isa. 52:1), makes her clothing of "wrought gold" (Ps. 45:14): so on this day of sorrow and abasement she "lays her robe from" her like the King of Nineveh in the great fast (Jonah 3:6).  But if the altar cannot be conveniently laid bare, or is richly ornamented in colours, it is usual to cover it with a black frontal.

[Note: it brings to mind Psalm 99:5]