There are several different interpretations as to where the clergy stole came from. In general, the mass of adherents believes the liturgical stole was extracted from a neck shawl that went over the shoulders and dropped into the front placket. Before the Roman Catholic Church introduced the stoles worn by ladies between 600 and 690 AD, the stoles tended to be quite broad, while over time, they became narrower and started incorporating more intricate ornamentation to represent nobility.
What Exactly Is A Clergy Stole?
In its modern definition, a stole is an ornamented strip or sash that a religious person wears, draped over a person's shoulder and hides part of one's neck. Stoles are designed for wearing with several other clerical garments. Priests often use clergy stoles today to symbolize eternal life through the divine, and they’re often worn by clergy officiating or administering the Holy Communion. They’re also used today by some church priests, although their origin isn’t entirely confirmed. And, quite fortunately, today, there are more clergy men apparel options to choose from than before.
The stole is derived from the Latin word for garment, ‘stola.’ It was a scarf-like garment worn by imperial members of the social class, and was confined to a particular individual level. The Latin Vulgate also uses stola for specific instances. A passage that illustrates this is found in Luke 15:22 regarding the robe that the Prodigal Son has to wear. The ‘yoke of Christ’ was sometimes associated with the term, but it’s now generally associated with the chasuble.
Originally a shawl, the stole covered the shoulders and often fell in front of the body; and they're usually seen as very large on women who wear them. As the stole became popular in ancient Rome, they developed as a mark of dignity as it became narrower and featured more ornate designs. It’s believed to have been adopted around the seventh century. But, currently, the stole has become larger and more versatile.
It’s unclear what the stole's ‘ancestry’ is. The tallit, a Jewish prayer mantle, is credited with influencing it since it uses a very similar design today, but this theory is no longer viewed as much today.
A more widespread opinion suggests the stole could have its origin in a kind of liturgical cloth called an orarium, which was very close to the sudarium. This is the reason why it’s still called the orarium in many places. Presumably, this piece of fabric is connected to the napkin that Jesus used to wash the disciples' feet and serves as a fitting symbol for the yoke of Christ, which is also referred to as the yoke of service.
The stole, usually depicted with a cross, symbolizes the shackles and handcuffs with which Jesus was bound during his Passion. It used to be worn with the cincture and the now generally obsolete maniple. Another way of explaining the stole is that it symbolizes spreading God’s Word.
The church will generally determine the stole colors depending on what season or what service they’re being used for.
As the symbol of ordination and expression of the office of the Word and Sacrament, the stole is most often viewed in Protestant churches in this way. A stole is usually given at ordination or life milestones by the congregation as a congratulatory gift, and it could be handmade and well-crafted. Similarly with Catholic priests, Protestant clergy usually wear their stoles in the same manner. However, their ends hang down the front of their neck and are not crossed.
The Catholic Church follows through with several doctrines and formal procedures. Like priesthood, sainthood, and clergywomen, there are qualifications for each process. But, as for robes, stoles are the vestments that mark Holy Orders recipients in Latin Catholicism. After the suppression of the tonsure and minor orders following the Second Vatican Council, the ordination of a deacon gives one the right to serve in the clergy.
Bishops and priests wear stoles around their necks, while deacons drape the stole over their left shoulders and tie it crossing their chest, worn similarly to a sash.
At the beginning of the 20th century, priests who weren't bishops would cross their stoles over their breasts, but if they held a mass or events, such as weddings or funerals, they could wear a chasuble instead. Many people now wear them hanging down right without having them cross their chests.
The significance of a stole is varied, but it may symbolize impermanence. Typically, a clergy member officiating communion will frequently wear it. In addition, there are diverse ways of how modern stoles are worn and used now. They usually vary greatly based on past practices, when they’re worn, and for what purpose. Knowing their history will make you better understand the evolution of these clergy stoles from before to the current age.