Liturgical Variations: The Placement of the Deacon's Stole in the Ambrosian Rite

To Catholics of the Roman rite, an Ambrosian rite deacon, with their distinctive manner of wearing the stole and dalmatic, might seem a rather strange sight. Frequently when photographs of such are shown questions arise as to what is taking place and why. You'll note that the stole here is worn outside the dalmatic rather than beneath it as it is within the Roman rite. The explanation for this is not that the Ambrosians developed their own unique form of vesting a deacon, it is rather that they retained an earlier custom.

The Catholic Encyclopedia notes that "...after the tenth century it was only in Milan and southern Italy that deacons carried the stole over the dalmatic, but at an earlier date, this had been common in many parts of the West." Further to this, Archdale King notes in The Liturgies of the Primatial Sees that "the stole of the deacon is worn outside the dalmatic, as in Spain and Gaul before the Carolingian reform. It probably at one time hung down to the ground, and was always white in colour. The first council of Braga (561) specifically directed the stole of the deacon to be visible, in order that he might be distinguished from the subdeacon." (p. 385)

What we see here then is not a later ceremonial variation but rather an interesting remnant which is witness to an antique liturgical custom.

Some of our readers might wonder about the proximity of this to what can be seen of the deacon in the Byzantine rite. It indeed may look very similar, but it should be noted that the dalmatic/tunic shaped garment worn in this tradition (called the sticharion) finds its closest parallel in the alb. Still, it might help give some further witness to the earlier origins of this custom. 

While we are on the subject, in another interesting intersection of East and West, during Holy Week in Duomo in the traditional Ambrosian rite, the deacon would wear a long woollen stole for the chanting of lessons in a form which is basically reminscent of a Byzantine subdeacon:

Top: Ambrosian rite. Bottom: Byzantine rite.

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