An excerpt from the third book of the Rationale Divinorum Officiorum of William Durandus of Mende, Englished by T.H. Passmore:
1. After the Girdle the Priest doth put upon his neck the Orarium, or Stole, which is a type of the light yoke of Christ, or of the yoke of His precepts, to show that he hath taken the Lord's yoke upon him. This he doth kiss in putting it on and off, to mark the consent and desire wherewith he submitteth himself to that yoke. And it falleth down from the neck before, adorning both the right side and the left; for BY THE ARMOUR OF RIGHTEOUSNESS ON THE RIGHT HAND AND ON THE LEFT, that is, in weal and woe, the Priest ought to be armed, that he be neither broken by misfortunes nor lifted up by well-being. Wherefore when the Priest receiveth the Stole in Holy Order, the Bishop saith unto him, 'Receive the yoke of God, FOR HIS YOKE IS SWEET, AND HIS BURTHEN IS LIGHT;' that is, sweet in well-being, and in misfortune light.
2. The Stole reacheth down to the knees, which are bent by us as showing that we must be humble and gentle of heart. It signifieth also patience, whereof it is written, YE HAVE NEED OF PATIENCE, THAT YE MIGHT RECEIVE THE PROMISE; and again, IN YOUR PATIENCE YE SHALL POSSESS YOUR SOULS. Hence it ariseth that the Stole is tied in certain knots on the right and on the left, with the Zone or Girdle, for virtue doth company with virtue and succoreth it, lest by some impulse temptation be stirred up; which showeth also that both in things good and in things evil the yoke of Christ ought patiently to be borne, in the bond of charity. But unto the foregoing some Bishops do add these words, 'May the Lord clothe thee with the Stole of innocence'; and this hath respect unto the Stole in its olden shape, which was typical of innocence.
3. Again, the Stole is crossed over from the left shoulder of the Priest unto his right side, while he is ordained, for obedience, taking its beginning from the active life through the love of his neighbour, doth pass over into the contemplative life through the love of God. The length of the Stole meaneth perseverance, and its two ends hanging down are prudence and temperance; thus the Apostle saith unto Titus, LET US LIVE SOBERLY, RIGHTEOUSLY, AND GODLY, IN THIS PRESENT WORLD. But according to a decree of the Council of Braga, the Priest ought with one and the same Stole, disposing it equally round his neck and both his shoulders, to trace and make ready on his breast the sign of the Cross, as one who is bidden to live between good and evil fortunes, yet is not dismayed; that men may ever mark him surrounded with the adornment of virtue upon either shoulder. And whoso shall do otherwise, saith the decree, he shall be duly liable to excommunication. Unless indeed one might deem this decree to have been repealed by the general custom of the Church to the contrary; for it is not everywhere that the two arms of the Stole are thus disposed upon the breast in the form of the cross. He beareth, then, the Cross on his breast, the while in his heart he taketh pattern by the Passion of Christ, Whose servant he is.
4. The Stole, as I have said, is at once a yoke and a burthen. It is a yoke, that is, unto the Priest, and a burthen unto the Deacon; and by reason of this the Priest weareth it around his neck, but the Deacon over his left shoulder. For on the neck a yoke is work, but a burthen is carried on the shoulder. And if thou read in Leviticus, thou wilt see that the Levites only were appointed unto the bearing of the burthens. Unto the Deacon the Stole signifieth also a yoke, as I have shewn in another Book. And it is placed upon his left shoulder, because it is meet that temporal things should be subject unto things spiritual; or else because it behoveth the right shoulder of the Deacon to be unencumbered, to the end that he may go hither and thither the more freely in the service of the Priest; whereof also I have already treated, in that place aforesaid.
5. It is girt round at the loins, that the Priest may be strong and active against the onslaughts of lust. But sometimes its forepart is folded over the left arm only; and this is drawn from the Priests of the Law, who while they sacrificed used to turn back the ends of the girdle over their shoulders. But upon the Bishop or Priest it falleth down before on either side evenly, because Christ, Whose likeness they bear, and Who kept an even mind in weal and woe - which are denoted by left and right - did desire to lead the dwellers of the earth unto heavenly things, and did ever bear this thought before the eyes of His mind.
6. The Stole is also called Orarium, the Praying-Vestment; because, whereas it is lawful to baptise, to confirm, and to do many other things which stand in prayer, without the other vestments, yet without the Stole it is lawful to do none of these things, save when driven by urgent need. At the Council of Tribur it was appointed that Priests should not walk, save when vested with the Stole.
It is to be noted, that the Stole was originally a white garment flowing down to the feet, such as the Patriarchs wore before the Law. This was put on by firstborn sons when they received their father's blessing; on which occasions they offered victims unto God, as though they had been Priests. But when the Albe began to be worn, the Stole was altered into the form of a collar. For by the first Stole was understood innocence, which was the estate of the first man. But when he lost his innocence through sin, it needed that he should recover it as it were through the Fatted Calf. It remaineth, then, that we, who fell through disobedience, should by obedience rise up again; wherefore we do rightly bow our necks unto the collar of obedience, that we may win back the robe of innocence. For by the Stole which now we wear, we do accept the obedience of the Gospel of the Crucified.
7. As touching that which agreeth unto the Head, even Christ, the Stole, as lying over the Amice on the Priest's neck, doth signify that obedience and servitude which the Lord of all things underwent in order to the salvation of His own. For He, BEING IN THE FORM OF A GOD, THOUGHT IT NOT ROBBERY TO BE EQUAL WITH GOD; BUT MADE HIMSELF OF NO REPUTATION, AND TOOK UPON HIM THE FORM OF A SERVANT, AND BECAME OBEDIENT UNTO DEATH, EVEN THE DEATH OF THE CROSS. Yet did He neither inherit originally, nor commit actually, aught worthy of death.
The Stole is also a figure of the band, wherewith Jesus was tied to the column.
8. It hath been appointed in the Canons, that Subdeacons, Readers, and Singing-Men may not wear Stoles.