Friday, July 29, 2011
A Liturgical Rant: Wearing Underwear Over Outerwear
I'm old enough to remember very well the days prior to the Second Vatican Council. I began serving Mass in 1957 when I was seven years old, and often served two or three Masses a day. I then spent high school and college in the seminary during and after the Council; liturgically, that's a lot of experience! I first served as a liturgical Master of Ceremonies when I was 15. OK, that's some background.
For centuries, the accepted practice for all clerics in the major orders was to wear the amice, alb, cincture, and maniple. Over these foundational vestments, the subdeacon added the outer vestement of the subdeacon, the tunicle. Over those same foundational vestments, the deacon added the stole (tied diagonally and held in place by the cincture) and then the outer vestment of the deacon, the dalmatic. Over those same foundational vestments, the priest added the stole (worn crossed over his chest and held in place by the cincture) and then the outer vestment of the priest, the chasuble. Notice the pattern? THE OUTER VESTMENT, by definition, was worn OVER EVERYTHING ELSE!
Catholic clergy didn't adopt the Protestant practice of a "preaching stole" worn over other vestments.
So -- what happened? Why do priests and now some deacons choose to wear these so-called "overlay" stoles? How did this liturgical novelty catch on, DESPITE liturgical guidance (read: law) otherwise?
Let's get the legal stuff out of the way. The General Instruction of the Roman Missal (the GIRM) has always stated that the dalmatic or chasuble is worn OVER the stole and other foundational vestments. Period. So why do some choose to wear their liturgical "underwear" over their liturgical "outerwear"?
I think there are a couple of things at play here.
First -- and this is a good thing -- we have seen a wonderful emphasis on the primary role of the bishop, presbyter and deacon for preaching the Good News. I get that, and support it. This led some priests, immediately after the Council, to adopt the common practice of other Christian churches to wear the stole, associated by many of those Churches with the function of preaching, OVER their chasubles. Vestment makers picked up on this and began to design "overlay" stoles. Still, it's worth noting that the liturgical law of the Church has NOT changed on this regard: it still tells us to wear the stole UNDER the chasuble/dalmatic. What's next, wearing the cincture over the chasuble/dalmatic? How about throwing on an amice over everything? That would be an interesting look, too!
Second -- for deacons, many of us are still getting used to the dalmatic. After the Council, most parishes got rid of their old "Mass sets": fiddleback chasubles, dalmatics/stoles, and tunicles. New liturgical vestment styles were developed, except that in the late 1960s and early 1970s these often didn't include vestments for the deacon, since the permanent diaconate was still in its infancy. This led to expedient of wearing an alb along with a "priest" stole tied or pinned diagonally. There were very few dalmatics. This led to the liturgical innovation of a deacon of the Mass wearing only an alb and a stole: this was NEVER the practice prior to the Council. So, deacons often associated the stole as the primary sign of their Order of Deacon. HOWEVER, the actual sign of the deacon is the DALMATIC: that is the vestment unique to the diaconate (and the episcopate). So, when overlay stoles were developed by the vestment makers, they gradually extended that mistake to the deacon's vestments as well, and some deacons have embraced it because they can wear "their" identifying vestment (mistakenly assumed to be the stole) in plain view over the dalmatic.
During this time of ongoing liturgical renewal, it seems a good time to get back to the basics: Wear the stole UNDER the dalmatic!