The 'Stola' of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta

Anyone who has attended liturgical rites of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta (SMOM) in places like England or Rome can appreciate the visuals, the high level of pageantry, and colorful symbolism particular to the Order.  What many do not know is that the Order of Malta is the only lay religious order in the Church and it has some of its own liturgical traditions. 

Professed members, including the Prince and Grand Master, have a unique liturgical tradition prescribed by the Order's Caeremoniale:  they are clothed with a one-of-a-kind lay vestment of sorts known as the "stola."

They receive this symbol of their profession and part of their habit when they make solemn profession, a very rare and ancient ceremony. Few professed knights exist. The stola hangs from a sling attached at the back of the neck while wrapping around and resting on the left forearm, similar in a very broad sense to a maniple.  

Recently the Grand Priory of England's FB page posted these images with this description of the stola:

"This garment reflects two injunctions of Our Lord: "Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves, take up their cross and follow me" (Matthew 16:25); and "Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light" (Matthew 11: 29-30).

The stola is a literal yoke, hanging from the back of the neck, and comprises embroideries of all the instruments of the Passion, from the Cross itself, carried high on the Professed's back; to the knotted cords with which He was scourged, and dice with which they cast lots for His clothes at the bottom end, hanging over the left arm. It also includes the words spoken by Our Lord on the Cross."

Members of the Order reflect on the
stola and meditate on the rich symbolism of its embroidered images. By the merits of His saving Passion we are redeemed by His Most Precious Blood. The instruments of His Passion and other relics of the Passion and death bring to mind the sacrifice of Calvary and our baptismal promise, that we will be born again with Christ through the glories of his Passion, death, and Resurrection. 

The long list of images include the wood of the cross, the spear and
sponge, the crown of thorns, the 4 nails, the hammer and nail pincer, Veronica's veil, the seamless garment of Christ, the palm branch of victory, the cock that crowed at Peter's denial, the casting of lots or dice thrown by the soldiers, the cruet with vinegar offered as drink to Christ, the thirty pieces of silver of Judas, the violence of the sword, the kiss of betrayal, the pillar of scourging, and the instruments of flogging and beating. Last, but not least is the prominent Maltese cross from Amalfi with its 8 points, a reminder to members of the importance of the 8 Beatitudes.

God bless and reward
the professed members of the Order. May they 
continue to deny themselves and learn from Christ by carrying His Cross; and let us ask Our Lord to send an abundance of fresh vocations of professed members to the Order. At the drama of every Mass we offer ourselves to Christ (the Offertory), we die with Him (the Consecration), and because we die with Him we receive new life (Holy Communion). 

May all of us be inspired by the stola, worn by professed members, seen at liturgical events generally seated in the
sanctuary or in the front pews. May all Catholics take note of the holy words seen on the stola taken from the 7 last words of Christ: CONSUMATUM EST and SITIO ("It is consummated") in John 19:30 and ("I thirst") in John 19:28. By meditation on these holy words may we be inspired by the ignominy of the cross and its glorious triumph.


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