Wearing Stoles Over the Chasuble

And More on “Pro Multis”

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ROME, JUNE 7, 2011 (Zenit.org).- Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university.

Q: I have been in the habit of wearing my stole under the chasuble, as I was taught and as I have always found in the instructions. In our country, however, the stole is generally worn above the chasuble. Some bishops follow this practice, too. I was told several times that my way of wearing the stole was wrong. Somebody explained to me that the chasubles we use are “gothic chasubles”; they have no special decoration in the front, while the accompanying stoles do carry elaborate artwork. This would be the reason for wearing them above the chasubles. I searched for further details about this matter, but I found none. If I am in the wrong, I would rather change my habits. Is there any indication about this? — P.V., Colombo, Sri Lanka

A: Your practice of wearing the stole under the chasuble is correct, according to the Church’s most recent legislation. 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.”

The fashion for designing chasubles with external stoles became popular during the 1970s and early 1980s but 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.

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, the relative position of stole and chasuble has nothing to do with the use of gothic or Roman styles or with the decorative elements of these sacred vestments. Indeed, the stole is placed under the chasuble in all historical vestment styles. The external stole is a recent and transitory fad which is now contrary to the universal liturgical law.

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.

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Follow-up: Translating “Pro Multis”

In the wake of our comments on the translation of “pro multis” (May 24), a reader commented: “Regarding your comment about ‘the art of translation’ and the upcoming changes to the missal, as a person who has been called upon to translate texts into and from English, Japanese, French and Spanish, I understand what a challenge it is. If I may be so bold, for ‘pro multis’ I might like to suggest ‘for the many,’ as it speaks more theologically to Jesus’ message and experience, as well as the mission of the apostles, to offer the call of salvation beyond just the Jewish nation. Don’t you agree?”

It is too late now to change the approved missal, but it is worth pointing out that “for the many” was one of the possibilities suggested by the Holy See as a legitimate translation of “pro multis.” In the end the bishops’ conferences opted for the simpler “for many,” which is perhaps easier to understand and more familiar.

In explaining the new version a priest would still be able to expound the different legitimate translation possibilities and how each one adds a shade of meaning to the Eucharistic mystery.

Another reader wrote: “Permit me to reference to ‘Jesus of Nazareth,’ Volume 2, by His Holiness. He goes into quite some detail on this starting at Page 134.”

I think this adds another good reason to read the Holy Father’s latest book.

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Readers may send questions to liturgy@zenit.org. Please put the word “Liturgy” in the subject field. The text should include your initials, your city and your state, province or country. Father McNamara can only answer a small selection of the great number of questions that arrive.

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