GRAVE: The Stole

The Grand, Robust All-American Vestments Extravaganza (GRAVE) continues today with a look at the stole.

The stole is the long, narrow strip of fabric worn over the shoulders by priests, deacons, and bishops. It is the Church’s sign of power and authority conferred by the sacrament of Holy Orders.


It pretty obviously resembles a yoke, which recalls Christ’s words in Matthew 11:30:

My yoke is easy and my burden light.

Thus, it’s a sign of authority and responsibility for ordained men in the Church.

Customarily, the stole has crosses embroidered on either end, though the only requirement is a single cross in the center. At liturgical celebrations, the stole is supposed to match the correct liturgical color for the day. It is possible to find reversible stoles so you can maximize their utility. During the sacrament of confession, the priest wears a purple stole.

Reversible stoles. Photo courtesy of the outstanding St. Philippine Duchesne Catholic Parish in Westwood, KS.

The history and development of the stole are not totally clear. Some have suggested that it developed from the use of the Jewish tallit or prayer shawl, while others say it derived from a sort of ancient face-towel called the orarium.

Liturgical Abuse Guy in action. Here he is furiously typing away in the comment section of a sedevacantist blog.

Occasionally you will priest celebrants will either skip the stole for Mass or, more noticeably, wear it over top of their chasuble. I am not interested in being Liturgical Abuse Guy so please don’t get that impression. However the Church is pretty clear that this is Not Cool.

“Likewise the Priest, in putting on the chasuble according to the rubrics, is not to omit the stole. All Ordinaries should be vigilant in order that all usage to the contrary be eradicated.”
Redemptionis Sacramentum, 123

“The abuse is reprobated whereby the sacred ministers celebrate Holy Mass or other rites without sacred vestments or with only a stole over the monastic cowl or the common habit of religious or ordinary clothes, contrary to the prescriptions of the liturgical books, even when there is only one minister participating.”
Redemptionis Sacramentum, 127

One exceptional case is when there are lots of concelebrants and not enough chasubles to go around. In this case, the concelebrants are able to simply wear a stole an alb, without a chasuble.

I have heard that St. Maximilian Kolbe used a single purple thread as a stole while he was in Auschwitz. I can’t remember where I heard that and can’t find confirmation of it now, but it’s kind of cool.

The vesting prayer for the stole is:

Lord, restore the stole of immortality, which I lost through the collusion of our first parents, and, unworthy as I am to approach Thy sacred mysteries, may I yet gain eternal joy.

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