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The stole is a liturgical vestment of various Christian denominations. It consists of a band of colored cloth, formerly usually of silk, about seven and a half to nine feet long and three to four inches wide, whose ends may be straight or may broaden out. The center of the stole is worn around the back of the neck and the two ends hang down parallel to each other in front, either attached to each other or hanging loose. The stole is almost always decorated in some way, usually with a cross or some other significant religious design. It is often decorated with contrasting galloons (ornamental trim) and fringe is usually applied to the ends of the stole following . A piece of white linen or lace may be stitched onto the back of the collar as a sweat guard which can be replaced more cheaply than buying a new stole.
Etymology and history
The stole was originally a kind of shawl that covered the shoulders and fell down in front of the body; on women they were often very large indeed. After being adopted by the Church of Rome about the seventh century (the stole having also been adopted in other locals prior to this), the stole became gradually narrower and so richly ornamented that it developed into a mark of dignity. Nowadays, the stole is usually wider and can be made from a wide variety of material.
There are many theories as to the "ancestry" of the stole. Some say it came from the tallit (Jewish prayer mantle), because it is very similar to the present usage (as in the minister puts it on when he or she leads in prayer) but this theory is no longer regarded much today. More popular is the theory that the stole originated from a kind of liturgical napkin called an orarium (cf. orarion) very similar to the sudarium. In fact, in many places the stole is called the orarium. Therefore it is linked to the napkin used by Christ in washing the feet of his disciples, and is a fitting symbol of the yoke of Christ, the yoke of service.
The most likely origin for the stole, however, is to be connected with the scarf of office among Imperial officials in the Roman Empire. As members of the clergy became members of the Roman administration, see Constantine I and Christianity, they were granted certain honors, one specifically being a designator of rank within the imperial (and ecclesiastical) hierarchy. The various configurations of the stole (including the pallium or the omophorion) grew out of this usage. The original intent, then was to designate a person as belonging to a particular organization and to denote their rank within their group, a function which the stole continues to perform today. Thus, unlike other liturgical garments which were originally worn by every cleric or layman, the stole was a garment which was specifically restricted to particular classes of people based on occupation.
Symbolism and color
Together with the cincture and the now mostly defunct maniple, the stole symbolizes the bonds and fetters with which Jesus was bound during his Passion; it is usually ornamented with a cross. Another version is that the stole denotes the duty to spread the Word of God.
The liturgical colors used for the stole and the other vestments in the Roman Catholic Church are indicated in the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, 346. They are colored white in the seasons of Easter and Christmas and on feasts that are not of martyrdom; red on Palm Sunday, Good Friday and Pentecost Sunday, and on feasts of martyred saints; green in Ordinary Time (between Christmastide and Lent and between Eastertide and Advent). Violet (often confused with purple) is the color for Advent and Lent, and may be used in Masses for the dead. Where it is customary, rose (pink) may be used for the third Sunday in Advent (the pink candle in the Advent wreath) and the fourth Sunday in Lent, which are known respectively, because of the first word of the Introit, as Gaudete Sunday and Laetare Sunday; these Latin words mean "Rejoice", and the change of color symbolizes, as it were, a "break" in the gloom of penance during the violet seasons. Similarly, black may be used, where customary, in Masses for the dead. However, Episcopal Conferences may, with the consent of the Holy See, adapt these rules to national traditions, as, for instance, in countries where white is the color of mourning.
In the Anglican Communion and the Lutheran Church (like the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, the Wisconsin Synod, the Evangelical Lutheran Synod), the primary colors are the same (white, red, green, and purple), but with blue often replacing the purple for Advent (blue symbolizing Israel's Hope for the Messiah or the Virgin Mary), and either crimson (Anglican Communion) or scarlet (Lutheran) being worn for the Holy Week period. Since red symbolizes faith, it is also worn at a pastor's ordination or installation or for a confirmation. Black, a common color used by most denominations, symbolizing mourning, was originally worn for Good Friday and funerals, but since the 1960s, black has been superseded by white. In some situations, black is still reserved for funerals in some Anglican funerals (an example of the latter was for the funeral of Queen Elizabeth, the "Queen Mother"). As a rule, the Anglican use is generally identical to the Roman Catholic use from which it derives. Most Lutherans use black only for Ash Wednesday, and as a cross-drape for Good Friday. Almost without exception, Lutherans will never change the color from its appointed season (even for a funeral or a wedding), remembering that our joys and sorrows fall within any given season of life. Variations can occur if the pastor or church recognizes the life of a martyr or saint, in which case the colors can be changed to red or white, respectively.
Eastern Christianity tends to follow two different traditions when it comes to liturgical colors. The more ancient system only takes into account two types of colors: somber and festal, without specifying what specific colors these are. A more modern tradition is based somewhat on the western practice of assigning specific colors to specific days, though the particulars differ from place to place.
In the Roman Catholic Church the stole is the vestment that marks recipients of Holy Orders. It is conferred at the ordination of a deacon, by which one becomes a member of the clergy after the suppression of the tonsure and minor orders after the Second Vatican Council.
A bishop or other priest wears the stole around his neck with the ends hanging down in front, while the deacon places it over his left shoulder and ties it cross-wise at his right side, similar to a sash.
Before the reform of the liturgy after the Second Vatican Council, priests who were not bishops crossed the stole over the breast (as pictured below), but only at Mass or at other functions at which a chasuble or cope was worn. It is now worn hanging straight down (General Instruction of the Roman Missal, 340) at all times. On solemn occasions, the Pope wears, as part of his choir dress, a special state stole highly decorated and bearing his personal coat of arms.
For the celebration of the Mass, the principal celebrant as well as concelebrants wear the stole over the alb but under the chasuble. Likewise, the deacon wears the stole over the alb but under the dalmatic. The stole is also worn over the surplice or alb for the distribution and reception of Holy Communion.
The priest or deacon who presides in paraliturgical celebrations, such as the Stations of the Cross, usually wears the stole over the surplice (or alb), and always under the cope.
In churches of the Anglican Communion, a stole may be conferred at the ordination of a deacon and worn over the shoulder. At ordination to the priesthood, the newly-ordained priest then wears the stole around his or her neck, hanging down in front, either straight down or in the traditional "crossed" manner. Evangelical clergy who object to the wearing of a stole on conscientious grounds follow the Reformation practice of wearing a preaching scarf.
In Protestant churches, the stole is most often seen as the symbol of ordination and the office of the ministry of Word and Sacrament. Stoles are often given by the congregation (sometimes hand-made or decorated) as a love gift at ordination or at other life milestones. Generally, Protestant clergy wear the stole in the same manner as Catholic priests—around the back of the neck with the ends hanging down the front (though not crossed). Stoles are commonly worn by ordained ministers in Lutheran (see below), Methodist (see below), Presbyterian, United Church of Christ, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), and other denominations. The clergy of some other Protestant denominations will wear stoles, though normally those in the less liturgical churches will wear either a pulpit robe (with a preaching scarf) or simply a suit during church services.
In the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (LCMS), and the Independent Evangelical-Lutheran Church (Germany), only bishops and priests wear the stole, as there is only the one order of ordination, that of pastor, in the Lutheran tradition. (The office of bishop is only a specific office or vocation similar to the bishops in the United Methodist Church, not a separate order of ordination.) Diaconal ministers, the ELCA's equivalent to the deacon, generally do not wear the stole, but sometimes will wear the traditional deacon's stole while performing liturgical functions traditional to the diaconal order.
In the United Methodist Church, ordained deacons wear a stole around the shoulder as in the Anglican and Roman traditions. An ordained elder wears the stole in the same fashion as an Anglican or Roman Catholic priest, with the role of elder being the United Methodist equivalent to that office (the English word "priest" is in fact derived from the Greek word presbyter, which means "elder"). Some annual conferences also allow Local Pastors to wear stoles, although they are sometimes specific to the order.
In Eastern Catholic Churches and Eastern Orthodox Churches the stole worn by a deacon is called an orarion, while that worn by a priest or bishop is called an epitrachelion (a bishop additionally wears an omophorion), all similar in meaning and use to the Western stole. Minor clerics (and in Greek and Melkite traditions the altar servers as well) wear an orarion wrapped around their waist, crossed in back, and then either crossed again in front and tucked under the belted section or not crossed and tucked in (see explanation of subdeacon below).
The priest's epitrachelion consists of a long strip of cloth, hung around the neck with the two strips fastened together in front, either by buttons or by stitching. The epitrachelion comes down in front almost to the hem of his robes, and is symbolic of the priest's "anointing" (Septuagint: Psalm 132:2; KJV: ). Traditionally—though not necessarily—the epitrachelion will have seven crosses on it: six in the front (three on each side) and one on the back of the collar. The priest traditionally blesses the cross on the collar and kisses it before he puts it on, and kisses it again when he takes it off. When he is vesting for the Divine Liturgy, he says the following prayer before putting on the epitrachelion:
Blessed is God, Who poureth out His grace upon His priests, like the oil of myrrh upon the head, which runneth down upon the beard, upon the beard of Aaron: which runneth down to the fringe of his raiment. (Cf. Psalm 132:2, LXX)
In the Russian Orthodox tradition, the priest may say a special blessing and sprinkle the epitrachelion with holy water before it is worn for the first time. A priest is not permitted to celebrate even the simplest service, even the Daily Office, unless he is wearing the epitrachelion (and in some traditions the epimanikia, or "cuffs", as well). When a member of the faithful goes to Confession, the priest places the edge of his epitrachelion over the head of the penitent as he confesses his sins. After the absolution, the penitent will often kiss the priest's hand and then one of the crosses on the edge of the epitrachelion. At an Orthodox wedding, the priest will have the bridal couple hold the edge of his epitrachelion as he leads them in a procession three times around the Gospel Book, symbolizing the pilgrimage of life.
The protodeacon or archdeacon wears the orarion "doubled", i.e., over the left shoulder, under the right arm, and passing again over the left shoulder. The two ends hang down, one in the front and one in the back, coming down almost to the hem of his sticharion (dalmatic).
A deacon wears an orarion which simply passes over the left shoulder, the two ends of which hang straight down, one in the front and one in the back, coming down almost to the hem of his sticharion. This is only common in the most traditional Orthodox churches. In many Eastern traditions, the stole is always worn "doubled" unless the deacon in question is wearing only his exorasson (outer cassock) and then it is essentially folded and worn over the left shoulder.
The subdeacon wears his orarion over both shoulders, crossed in the back and the front. Those acting as subdeacons (i.e., vested and serving as subdeacons but without having been ordained) wear their orarion crossed only in the back, to show that they do not bear holy orders.
In the Oriental Orthodox Churches, the priestly stole is very similar to the epitrachelion described above; however, instead of a long narrow strip of fabric that is wrapped around the neck and fastened together, it is often cut out of a single broad piece of cloth that has a hole cut in it for the head to pass through. Sometimes, depending upon the liturgical Rite, it also extends farther down the back.
- Encyclopaedia Britannica, 11th ed., vol. 26, p. 953.