Unless you are particularly well informed on the matter or have some uncommon level of experience in clerical dealings, at a certain point or other you’re going to come across vestments that you just simply don’t recognize. In a similar vein, unless you are formally educated on the history and development of said vestments, you’re going to miss the mark a few times along the way.
For example, have you ever been party to a service or simply seen one, removed, from afar, and thought to yourself that you weren’t quite sure just exactly what the priests or minister was wearing? That could be because there are quite a number of clerical garments and vestments that are common in the various sects of the church throughout the word. What compounds the matter further is the fact that just what can be worn, and when, is prescribed by each of them – although, not always.
The short answer is that there is no hard or fast rule to identify a vestment because the rules that govern wearing them vary by sect, locality and tradition. For example, some priests will wear a cassock under their robes when they officiate a service, even though traditionally the cassock was not classified as a proper vestment and was to be worn throughout the day but not during the procession of a service.
To get to the matter at hand, have you ever seen those long strips of cloth that priests typically wear over their robes, draped over their shoulders? These vestments (they are vestments, properly) are typically worn when a priest is presiding over a communion or Eucharist service, and they may have once served a very specific purpose, although today their use is chiefly ornamental.
These garments are called clergy stoles, and though their origins are not universally accepted, there is a theory that they descended into the church from a garment known as an orarium, that was once worn by the wealthy and used as a sort of napkin or handkerchief. Originally this garment may have been a simple piece of cloth, although over time it became elaborately embroidered, even being made of exclusive materials such as silk.
It may have come into the church and been used at Eucharist services so that the priest could use it as a sort of napkin to clean off the chalice between participants, but today it is a largely ornamental component of a priest’s vestments during a service whether that service is Eucharistic or not.
At any rate, if you’re interested in learning more about these unique and historically colorful vestments, visit Divinity Clergy Wear at DivinityClergyWear.com. There you’ll come across a huge catalog of clerical vestments, including clergy stoles, along with a rich assortment of other unique and hard to find vestments and clerical garments. You can also always call their team up at 877-453-3535 or visit them in their store in Hamilton, New Jersey. Let them know what you’re looking for and they’ll get you started.