Stoles Over Chasubles

Date: July 23, 2023
Author: Fr. Edward McNamara, LC

Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy and sacramental theology and director of the Sacerdos Institute at the Pontifical Regina Apostolorum University.


Question: I see wider use of beautifully decorated stoles (concelebration style) being used and worn over the chasuble by concelebrants. What norms are available on this? -- F.C., Durban, South Africa


Answer: The General Instruction of the Roman Missal says in No. 337, "The vestment proper to the priest celebrant at Mass and other sacred actions directly connected with Mass is, unless otherwise indicated, the chasuble, worn over the alb and stole."


To this, we can add the specifications found in the 2004 instruction Redemptionis Sacramentum:


“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. 124. A faculty is given in the Roman Missal for the Priest concelebrants at Mass other than the principal concelebrant (who should always put on a chasuble of the prescribed color), for a just reason such as a large number of concelebrants or a lack of vestments, to omit 'the chasuble, using the stole over the alb.' Where a need of this kind can be foreseen, however, provision should be made for it insofar as possible. Out of necessity, the concelebrants other than the principal celebrant may even put on white chasubles. For the rest, the norms of the liturgical books are to be observed. ...


“No. 126. 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.”


While I am not quite sure what our reader means by “concelebration-style stoles,” I suppose that he means richly decorated stoles which are meant to be seen worn over the alb in those cases where the concelebrants use this possibility due to a dearth of available chasubles.


I have also sometimes observed at concelebrations a vestment of recent origin which falls halfway between a stole and a chasuble insofar as it has two strips falling in front and a single wider one that falls on the back with a hole in the middle for the head. It does not correspond to any official vestment but would probably count as a stole. It may have been inspired by some Eastern vestments, such as the Maronite stole.


All in all, however, the current law is quite clear that, when the chasuble is worn, the stole should be worn underneath.


During the 1970s and early ’80s, wearing the stole over the chasuble became quite popular. This fashion is now definitively on the wane.


Some countries have received specific permission from the Holy See to adopt special liturgical vestments such as a kind of combined alb-chasuble which necessarily requires the external stole. But this rather ugly and ungainly vestment has never quite caught on.


Although the norms have since been clarified, I would say that if a church or cathedral had made a significant investment in chasubles designed to be worn with a stole over the chasuble they could still be used until eventually replaced by new vestment that correspond to current regulations.


The reasoning behind the practice of wearing the stole under the chasuble is that traditionally the stole is seen as a symbol of priestly authority while the chasuble is a symbol of charity. It was often argued, therefore, that the reason why the stole is beneath the chasuble is that charity must always cover authority.


Whether this reasoning is authentic or not, it is a fact that, except for the brief fashion mentioned above, the stole is placed under the chasuble in all historical styles of chasubles.


There have been many forms of chasuble over the centuries. The earliest form of liturgical chasuble resembles the so-called monastic style, a full cut, roughly oval garment often falling to the celebrant's shoe tops and at times furnished with a hood. Modern monastic chasubles tend to be square-cut rather than oval.


Since this form of chasuble required the arms to be gathered up to be used freely, from the 12th century on, the sides were gradually shortened to ease movements. Thus, the gothic chasuble was developed. This form gradually tapers from the shoulders to a near point at the base but with both sides of equal length.


The semi-gothic form is similar but slightly shorter. Most contemporary chasubles are inspired by these two forms although frequently with a gradual rounding from shoulder to base or with rectangular or square cuts.


From the 16th century on, the size and shape of the chasuble was further reduced in length front and back and the arms were left completely free. This was done, above all, to facilitate certain movements such as joining the hands and incensing the altar. This kind of chasuble was often elaborately embroidered with Christian symbols and made quite stiff and heavy with the use of rich materials such as silk, gold and brocade. Within this form there were several stylistic differences.


One of the most common was the Roman, or fiddleback, chasuble with a rectangular front and a back vaguely resembling a violin. The Spanish-style chasuble is even shorter; its rounded front and back give it a distinctive shape, sometimes referred to as a "guitar" chasuble. The Germanic style is simpler, with a rectangular front and back.


The early 20th century saw a tendency to return to earlier forms, especially the gothic. At first this practice met with resistance, and the Congregation of Rites replied to a 1925 query in terms which many bishops interpreted as cautiously favorable. Thus, the revived form slowly spread in the Church. In 1957 the congregation wrote to the bishops, leaving decisions regarding the use of older forms of the chasuble to their prudent judgment.


Present legislation allows for the use of practically all historical styles of chasuble.


The stole was originally a kind of protective towel or scarf. Deacons originally wore it over the dalmatic on the left shoulder as a service symbol. 


It was only after the 12th century that it began to be used in its present form, hanging as a sash from left to right. During this period, it was always white and continued to be worn over the dalmatic until around 1500, when the stole assumed the liturgical color of the day and began to be worn under the dalmatic, as is still done today. Even today, in the Ambrosian Rite of Milan, the deacon wears the stole over the dalmatic.


Unlike the deacon, the bishop and priest wore the stole under the chasuble a practice for which there is evidence from at least the fifth century.


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Readers may send questions to Please put the word "Liturgy" in the subject field. The text should include your initials, city, state, province, or country. Father McNamara can only answer a small selection of the many questions that arrive.


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