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Should a cassock-alb and stole be worn only for sacramental functions (i.e., the eucharist, weddings), or is it generally agreed that this vesture is allowed, e.g., for evensong?
The directions concerning vesture in Canon B8 merely state that “a surplice or alb with scarf or stole” shall be worn at holy communion and the occasional offices, and shall normally be worn at morning and evening prayer on Sunday.
According to the letter of the canon, therefore, an alb and stole may be worn for matins or evensong, as well as for occasional offices. According to the “letter of the law”, however, one could also, presumably, wear an alb and scarf!
Although the wearing of the cassock-alb for almost all services has become prevalent, it is worth remembering that it originates as a substitute for the cassock, amice, alb, and girdle that have traditionally been reserved for eucharistic services, whereas the cassock and surplice (or cotta) have been worn for other services.
The stole has traditionally been regarded as a symbol of the ordained office, and so is worn more generally when performing functions seen as broadly “sacramental”. Hence, it is not usually worn at matins and evensong, which are not offices that must be led by an ordained person.
Perhaps the guiding principle ought to be that, like any other symbol system, robes are of most use in contributing to an atmosphere of devotion if they are worn according to a logical and regular pattern. Although wearing cassock-alb and stole for evensong might technically be “allowed”, there seems to be no strong theological or devotional argument for adopting the practice. A case, perhaps, of “all things are permissible, but not all things are beneficial”?
(The Revd) Tom Clammer, Longlevens, Gloucester
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