The Brown Scapular Of Our Lady of Mount Carmel
A Scapular is a means by which Catholic lay people are able to show affection for or affiliation to a Religious order – people who because of their state in life are unable to actually join an order can at least participate in its merits and privileges. There are a number of scapulars, of varying colours – each has its own story and spirituality. The most famous of them all – and the most important – is the Brown Scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel.
The Brown Scapular consists of two pieces of cloth joined by cords or strings and worn over the shoulders. According to ancient traditions, the Scapular was given to Saint Simon Stock in the year 1251 by the Blessed Virgin, Who appeared to him at the Carmelite Priory in Aylesford, Kent, England.
Of course the Scapular itself existed before then as part of the religious habit of the Carmelites – but in this vision the Queen of Heaven and Earth is said to have attached a very special promise to the devout use of the Scapular. She said –
“Receive this habit of your Order; this shall be to you and to all Carmelites a privilege that whosoever dies clothed in this habit shall never suffer eternal fire”
This is certainly a marvellous promise, but it should not be the primary reason for wearing the Scapular. The Scapular devotion symbolises a desire to improve ones spiritual life, to seek the constant help and intercession of the Mediatrix of all Grace in finding Jesus, Her Son, and the lifelong quest for perfection. The Scapular is a way of life.
In 1951, during the seventh centenary celebrations of Saint Simons’ vision, Pope Pius XII said –
“The scapular is essentially a habit. The person who receives it, by virtue of accepting it, is associated to a greater or lesser degree with the Order of Carmel” and he recommended it as being “adapted to the minds of all by its very simplicity and so has become so universally widespread among the faithful and has produced so many and such salutary fruits …”
Wearing the Scapular (after proper investiture by a priest) assures and signifies affiliation to the Carmelite Order; this places responsibilities upon the wearer. The true worth of the Scapular lies in the way of life which it signifies and calls us to – it is far too easy simply to wear it in order to obtain the benefits of the famous promise of Our Lady.
The Scapular is a sign of our commitment to God through the Blessed Virgin – it is a symbol of Consecration. As Pope Pius XII said –
“May the Scapular be for all Carmelites a sign of their consecration to the most sacred Heart of the Immaculate Virgin”.
Saint Louis de Montfort recognised that there was no surer way to Jesus than through His Mother, Mary – his True Devotion was the result of this lifelong belief. He summarised this with the words –
“The most perfect consecration to Jesus is nothing else but a perfect and entire consecration of ourselves to the Blessed Virgin”.
Jesus chose to come to us via Mary – could there be a better way for us to return to Him?
The Scapular devotion requires the constant attempt at self-improvement as a result of the living of ones consecration to Jesus through Mary. It requires that we try and try again, no matter how often we might fall.
After a life of trying, we may then be a little more worthy of the benefits of the Scapular promise, receiving from the hands of Mary the graces we need in order to die well. A number of theologians have explained the Promise as meaning that Our Blessed Lady will – at the hour of our death – obtain for us the grace to persevere in the state of grace, or else the grace of final repentance.
Of course, the promise does not mean that we may not need to spend time in the purifying fires of Purgatory. An adjunct to the Scapular Promise is known as the Sabbatine Privilege; this is based on a Papal bull said to have been issued by Pope John XXII on 3rd March 1322. There no longer exists a copy of this Bull, but it is understood to mean that those souls who die in the Carmelite family will be freed from Purgatory by the Blessed Virgin on the first Saturday after their death – providing they have been faithful to the requirements of the Scapular devotion, have observed chastity according to their state and have daily recited the Little Office (or if they do not know how to do this, have at least observed Church fast days). Officially, the Church teaches that these souls will be liberated from Purgatory soon after death by the intercession of Our Lady, rather than specifying an exact day.
Two conditions are required to be fulfilled in order to benefit from the Scapular Promise. Firstly, valid enrollment with the Brown Scapular by a Roman Catholic Priest. Secondly, the faithful wearing of the Scapular throughout life as a sign of our desire to be faithful to Jesus through Mary His Mother. It is not necessary to have each replacement Scapular blessed. The Scapular may be replaced with the Scapular medal, but successive Popes have indicated that the Scapular itself is preferable wherever possible.
The Scapular is not a talisman or lucky charm – it would be a great insult to live a life of willful sinfulness and still expect to obtain the benefits of the Promise. Rather, the Scapular is a Sacramental – a material object used as a sign and signifying effects of a spiritual nature, through the intercession of the Church. It signifies our intention and desire to live according to the teachings of Jesus Christ, helped by Mary His Mother.
The Scapular devotion has been greatly approved by the Church –
“No Confraternity has ever received a greater number of approbation’s from the Sovereign Pontiffs than the Scapular Confraternity of Our Lady of Mount Carmel” (Cardinal Vaughan).
For instance, in 1967 Pope Paul VI wrote –
“Among the practices (commended by the Second Vatican Council) we would mention by name the Marian Rosary and the devout use of the Scapular of Carmel”.
Our Lady has also reminded us of Her affection for the Scapular. The final apparition at Lourdes took place on the feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, July 16th. This final apparition had been totally unexpected, following an interval of three months since the previous apparition, and afterwards Saint Bernadette said her Lady had “never looked as beautiful” as on that day.
And on the day of the final apparition at Fatima in 1917, the day of the Miracle of the Sun, She appeared dressed as Our Lady of Mount Carmel. Lucia (the longest surviving visionary from Fatima, who died in 2005) said Our Lady held in Her hands “two pieces of brown cloth” – she did not know the word ‘scapular’ at the time. Lucia (who eventually became a Carmelite nun, Sister Mary Lucia of the Immaculate Heart) spoke frequently of the Brown Scapular and the importance of its use in our lives. She recommended that it be worn as a sign of our consecration to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
The Brown Scapular is another gift which has been given to us by the Most Blessed Virgin. Throughout the centuries She Herself has reminded us of it and has attached to this simple act of devotion a most marvellous promise – can we afford to ignore Her?
Our Lady of Mount Carmel, pray for us.