Welcome to: Why are you dressed like that? Part 3. This is a series of entries motivated by a young girl who visited us at St Francis Church and said to me: Why are you dressed like that?
First, I invite you to Part 1 where you will you can read my disclaimer as to the accuracy of any assigned values to vestments. If you do not want to go to that entry, the disclaimer is also copied at the end of this installment.
In Part 2, I discussed the Alb/Surplice/Cotta – those white gowns/robes that priests wear over their black street clothes and/or cassocks. Next comes that scarf hanging around their necks – what is that and why wear it?
There are actually a couple of different things your priest may be wearing around his neck. Almost all liturgical churches (Roman Catholic, Anglican, Orthodox, and even some Protestant denominations) make use of the Stole. In the Anglican Church, there is also the use of the Tippet AKA Preaching Scarf. Seeing that the Stole tends to be universal, and therefore the most frequently seen, we will start with it.
The stole is a narrow piece of fabric (traditionally silk but can be found in many different fabrics today) that is worn over the neck of the priest. There is also a version for deacons which is worn over one shoulder. The stole, like the alb (discussed in Part 2 of this series) is commonly considered a vestment worn explicitly for the celebration of the Eucharist but has come to be used in many other worship settings over the years.
You will see stoles in a variety of colors and a variety of widths. The colors each represent a season of the Church (Advent – Purple, Christmas – White, Ordinary Time – Green, Lent – Purple, Easter – White, and some include the Triduum – Red) or specific days/celebrations of the Church (Commemoration of Martyrs – Red, the majority of Saints – White, Ordinations – Red or White depending on traditions of the denomination involved, Baptisms – White, Funerals – Black or White depending on the traditions of the denomination involved, etc). The widths of stoles seem to be a matter of preference and typically vary based on whether the priest will be wearing a chasuble or only the stole over the alb. If only the alb, you will then more often see a wider stole.
The Tippet (AKA the Preaching Scarf) is similar in appearance to the Stole but is plain black and used almost exclusively among Anglicans. The tippet is much wider than a stole and is then gathered and pleated at the neck. The tippet functions to signify the role of the priest as the person authorized by the bishop to preach before and teach the congregation. You will frequently see the ends of a tippet decorated with the seal of the Seminary/Theological College where the priest received his degree(s) and that of the Bishop/Diocese who has licensed him to Preach and Celebrate the Sacraments. The tippet will always be worn with the Cassock and Surplice combination – you will never (at least you should never) see it worn with the Alb.
Regardless of which one you see your priest wearing, the stole or tippet is a sign of servant leadership. The leadership part as they are both indicative of being ordained and authorized by the Bishop to lead a congregation. The servant part as it is the representation of the yoke of Christ. The Priest, as Archbishop Fulton J Sheen makes clear in his book by the title, is Not His Own. The priest belongs to Jesus and is given to the Church for the sake of the building up of His people.
Jesus’ gifts were that some should be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ. (Ephesians 4:11–12)
And has therefore answered Jesus’ call and taken the yoke of Christ upon himself.
Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me (Matthew 11:29)
So, when you see your priest before you wearing his stole (or tippet) remember two things.
- He is acting with the authority of the bishop and has therefore been deemed qualified to lead the congregation.
- More importantly – He is under the yoke of Christ and is bound to always be an example of servant leadership under the authority of Jesus who has sent him to the parish to help you grow in the faith.
Pax et Bonum,
First a big disclaimer: You need to know up front that the majority (possibly all) vestments and other clerical wear got their start in something quite practical (such as keeping the priest warm in ancient churches without the benefit of modern HVAC systems). Once worn, however, various traditions of sacred symbolism have been assigned to the many different things worn. The next thing you need to know is that the various traditions of sacred symbolism are not all the same. You may find one person say a particular piece of vestiture means one thing when somebody else says it means another. It is not (necessarily) that one is wrong, and the other right (although possibly so) but that they are both “right” in that either explanation of sacred symbolism is a valid way of interpreting the item. In this series, over the next few days or weeks, you will learn the symbolism as I learned it. I encourage to read about vestments and their meanings and see what else other people have to say as well.