Albs, Stoles and Chasubles

Author: Father Edward McNamara


Albs, Stoles and Chasubles

ROME, 11 JAN. 2005 (ZENIT)

Answered by Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum Pontifical University.

Q: I am a newly ordained priest. I may have seen an older priest or read somewhere that the priest's stole used to be crossed in front, so being traditional, I started crossing mine. While at a concelebrated Mass, one of the priests (in charge of liturgy for the diocese) said to me in a very loud voice: "You can't wear you stole crossed, it's illegal!" Now I realize it would have been more prudent to approach me afterward, but checking documents and instructions, the only thing I can find in reference to the stole is that it is worn over the shoulders and hangs down the front. What is your opinion? — C.L., Florida. I've seen priests celebrating weekdays Masses in the Philippines wearing chasubles and stoles, i.e., without albs. Is it acceptable? — M.C., Pasig City, Philippines

A: Because these two questions are related I would like to answer them together.

It is true that before the liturgical reform simple priests would wear the stole (a long narrow band of material of material several inches wide and of the same color and design as the chasuble) crossed over the front.

All those who wore pectoral crosses, such as bishops, abbots, and priests who had this privilege, would wear the stole hanging in front.

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. The present indication is that all bishops and priests wear it hanging down in front.

Although the master of ceremonies at the concelebration may have lacked tact, he was technically correct although the word "illegal" would imply an express prohibition or reprobation of the former custom that has never been explicitly stated.

Certainly, if priests are concelebrating, and wearing only alb and stole, then crossing the stole would also be incorrect from an aesthetic point of view as it would break the general uniformity of liturgical attire that should be observed by the concelebrants.

It would also tend to drew inordinate attention to oneself and might be a source of distraction to some of the faithful.

Monsignor Peter Elliott in his excellent guide "Ceremonies of the Modern Roman Rite" suggests that crossing the stole could be tolerated if Mass is celebrated using traditional Roman vestments such as the planeta. I believe that this is a reasonable exception.

Regarding the second question, the recent instruction "Redemptionis Sacramentum" clearly states in No. 123:

"'The vestment proper to the Priest celebrant at Mass, and in other sacred actions directly connected with Mass unless otherwise indicated, is the chasuble, worn over the alb and stole.' 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."

No. 126 states: "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. In order that such abuses be corrected as quickly as possible, Ordinaries should take care that in all churches and oratories subject to their jurisdiction there is present an adequate supply of liturgical vestments made in accordance with the norms."

It is therefore clear that the alb — a full-length white linen garment usually tied at the waist — may never be omitted for the celebration of Mass or for other rites in which it is required.

As far as I have been able to ascertain, no group, not even a religious order which sports a white habit, has ever been granted a privilege to omit the alb and celebrate with stole and chasuble over the habit.

In hot climes the habit may be removed if possible and replaced by the alb. ZE05011122

* * *

Follow-up: Albs, Stoles and Chasubles [01-25-2005]

Our piece on the requirement of albs even for religious who vest a white habit (Dec. 11) has raised an interesting indirect debate between two of our readers associated with the venerable Order of Preachers.

A reader from Portugal mentions that the Dominicans have a long-standing practice of wearing stole and chasuble over the white habit and he believes that this was due to an official indult.

I myself, while studying theology at the Angelicum in Rome, believed that this was a specific practice of the Dominican rite.

However, another reader, a Dominican priest of some repute, informed me that members of the order started the practice of leaving aside the alb only after the Second Vatican Council, as part of a general simplifying trend and thus the practice cannot claim such a long history.

I do not know if such an indult exists, and although it is possible, it would be unusual for the Holy See to reprobate a custom which it itself had permitted without at least inserting some clause making exceptions for particular privileges.

A Pennsylvania reader suggested some causes for adopting this custom before the recent clarification from the Holy See. To wit:

(1) After Vatican II many religious limited the use of the habit for liturgical functions. As the habit was no longer de facto street dress, and the renewed stress upon the habit was in connection with the baptismal garment, many thought the substitution was legitimate.

(2) In concelebrations, religious priests, in an effort to distinguish themselves from diocesan clergy, turned to wearing the stole over the habit.

(3) In some communities (the Norbertines and Dominicans, for example) the scapular on the habit developed from the canonical alb and not the monastic apron. Hence an "alb" is part of the habit and there was thought to be no need to wear two albs for liturgy.

These could well be plausible and sincere motives. But whatever the reasons, since "Redemptionis Sacramentum" makes no exceptions and insists that the alb be used by all priests on all occasions, I think it is clear that any custom to the contrary should be changed to conform to the Church's general norms.

On another theme, a reader from the Philippines asked about the chasuble-alb approved for use by the bishops as well as the so-called center-stole.

If the bishops have approved the chasuble-stole, then it may be used according to the norms they have published. In those countries where it has been approved, its use has generally been restricted to celebrations outside a sacred place.

This rather ungainly, and frankly ugly, vestment seemingly originated in Europe. It appears to be steadily disappearing in favor of a return to the traditional liturgical attire.

The center-stole, as far as I know, has never been approved by anyone and is not mentioned in the universal liturgical books.

It is probably a product of liturgical fantasy and should not be used. But if the design and material are of good quality, perhaps it could be retailored to form part of an authentic chasuble. ZE05012521

This article has been selected from the ZENIT Daily Dispatch
© Innovative Media, Inc.

ZENIT International News Agency
Via della Stazione di Ottavia, 95
00165 Rome, Italy

To subscribe
or email: with SUBSCRIBE in the "subject" field