Albs, Stoles and Chasubles

And More on Scripture Readings

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ROME, JAN. 11, 2005 ( 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.

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Follow-up: Rhythm of the Readings

A couple of questions arose related to our piece on the rhythm of the readings (Dec. 14).

A reader from Nova Scotia asked as to the propriety of a practice recently introduced of “repeating the Sunday liturgy on Mondays for a few boys who often do not come to Sunday Mass because of sports activities though they could easily get to one of the other Masses in the neighboring churches, also under the charge of our pastor.”

This practice is certainly incorrect and sends the wrong message by seeming to give more importance to sports activities than to honoring the Lord’s Day.

While sports have their importance they can never constitute a necessary activity, such as the case of a firefighter or ambulance driver who have to work. In those cases the person would be dispensed from the obligation of attending Sunday Mass if there are no viable options.

Likewise, as you mention, it is possible to assist at a different Mass either on Saturday evening or on Sunday itself.
Sunday is not a transferable feast and one may not fulfill the obligation on any other day.

It is true that in certain countries in the Arabian world, where most Christians are immigrant workers, the Sunday liturgy is sometimes celebrated on Friday (the Muslim day of prayer) as well as Sunday because for many Christians Sunday is a normal working day and they cannot attend Mass.

This gives them an opportunity to worship that they might not otherwise have. But it does not, strictly speaking, substitute or transfer Sunday as there is no obligation to assist on Friday if Sunday is impossible.

The above adaptation to exceptionally grave circumstances would not justify celebrating on Monday because of sporting commitments.

Another reader asked if it were permissible to habitually join the Divine Office to Mass, and if the penitential rite is omitted in this case.

The norms regarding this are contained in the General Instruction of the Divine Office, Nos. 93-99.

No. 93 says: “In special cases, if the circumstances require it, a liturgical hour celebrated in public or in common may be joined more closely with Mass, provided that they are both of the same Office. … Care should be taken to ensure that this is not pastorally harmful, especially on Sundays.”

When an office (usually Morning Prayer or Prayer during the Day, more rarely Evening Prayer and Readings, but never Night Prayer) is thus joined to Mass, No. 94 of the norms foresee that the penitential rite is omitted as also the “Lord have Mercy” if so desired. Mass would then continue with the Gloria or the Collect as the case may be.

Since No. 93 specifically states that this practice is “in special cases,” doing so habitually in a typical parish Mass does not seem justified although one cannot go so far as to say it is forbidden. It may even be quite legitimate in monastic and other communities with an established tradition of common prayer.

It would probably be better, from a pastoral stance, to habitually separate the Mass and the Office while occasionally using the option of joining them on special occasions such as a popular local saint.

Otherwise the faithful and the celebrant might be deprived of important graces that often come during the penitential rite as well as the experience of the full use of the different formulas for this rite provided in the Roman Missal.

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Readers may send questions to Please put the word “Liturgy” in the subject field. The text should include your initials, your city and your state, province or country.

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