UR CONSIDERATION of the priestly vesting prayers continues this week with the stole, one of the most important vestments worn during the sacred liturgy. The stole is the distinctive garment of ordained clergymen, symbolizing the role & authority of the minister who wears it. In form, a stole is a long, narrow band of embroidered material worn around the neck that matches the color of the chasuble.
The vesting prayer that accompanies the stole is as follows:
Redde mihi, Domine, stolam immortalitatis, quam perdidi in praevaricatione primi parentis; et, quamvis indignus accedo ad tuum sacrum mysterium, merear tamen gaudium sempiternum.
Restore to me, O Lord, the stole of immortality, which I lost by the transgression of our first parents. Grant that, although I am unworthy to approach Thy sacred mysteries, I may be made worthy of everlasting joys.
I love the fact that, as the priest dons his stole—the very symbol of his priestly authority—he acknowledges his unworthiness to approach the sacred mysteries. No one is worthy to attend Holy Mass, much less offer it. Jean-Marie Vianney, himself, was not worthy to celebrate Mass, and he would be the first to admit it. Nevertheless, the Lord extends the invitation to us to share in the sacrifice of His Son. It is wholly fitting that we priests, especially, should acknowledge our unworthiness before every Mass, so that our approach to ministry might never become casual.
In addressing the maniple last week, we drew attention to the manner in which that vestment symbolizes the toils of priestly life. Similar symbolism applies also to the stole, which is worn like a yoke, around the neck. To some extent, this significance of the stole has been increasingly underscored since the abrogation of the maniple.
Yet another aspect of the stole’s symbolism comes out in the vesting prayer, which refers to the vestment as the “stole of immortality.” The stole, indeed, refers to the everlasting life in which we hope to share.
Traditionally, the manner in which the stole is worn has been used to distinguish the degrees of Holy Orders. For instance, a deacon has always worn the stole draped over his left shoulder down to his right hip. Bishops have always worn the stole around their necks, with the two ends hanging straight down in front. Priests, meanwhile, formerly wore the stole around their necks, with the two ends crossed over in front. Since the reforms of the Second Vatican Council, however, presbyters no longer wear the stole crossed; instead, the stole is worn in the same manner by both bishops and presbyters, without differentiation.
The stole has always been a symbol of authority, and we should not be afraid to admit that. The rationale for the former crossing of the stole was to acknowledge the distinction between the full authority of the bishop and the lesser authority of the priest. According to Fr. Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum Pontifical University: “In the light of the Second Vatican Council’s call for an overall simplification of the rites and rubrics, this distinction in the way of donning the stole was abolished.”
Fifty years on, it is worth asking whether the liturgical reform constituted an “overall simplification” or an “over-simplification.”
Let me share, in closing, a short anecdote to illustrate the importance of the stole as a sacred vestment. I never once put a stole around my neck until the day I was ordained a priest. From the time I was a young student in Catholic grade school, I had been taught that the stole was a symbol of priestly identity and authority. For this reason, I always had a profound respect for the stole, and I chose not even to “try on” privately the stole I planned to wear for my first Mass of Thanksgiving. The result has been that, as a priest, the donning of the stole has been especially meaningful. It is a daily reminder of the extraordinary calling I have received.
May the stole be for all ordained ministers a reminder of the sacred responsibilities with which we have been charged!
Part 1 • Introduction
Part 2 • The Hand Washing
Part 3 • The Amice
Part 4 • The Alb
Part 5 • The Cincture
Part 6 • The Maniple
Part 7 • The Stole
Part 8 • The Chasuble