The scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel is the primary article of clothing of the habit worn by Carmelites. It consists of two long pieces of wool that reach almost to the floor in the front and in the back and are connected at the shoulders by 2 smaller pieces of the same material. It was given by Our Lady to the general of the Carmelite Order on July 16, 1251 in response to his urgent appeal to her for protection of her Order. The scapular that is held out to us by Mary and Jesus in this image of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel is a miniature of the same Scapular which the Priests, Brothers and Nuns of the Order wear.
In the year 1246, the Carmelite Order was in the process of adapting itself to the European environment after having escaped from the Turkish invasion of Mount Carmel in Palestine where they had been living as hermits. In trying to conform to the more apostolic ministry of mendicant orders of the time, the Carmelites were in danger of losing their identity as contemplatives. Though their Rule of Life had been approved by Pope Honorius III in 1226, they were not very well received in Europe. This is sometimes attributed to the fact that their mantles were made of brown and white horizontal stripes. It could also have been because they called themselves Brothers of Our Lady and their persecutors rejected this title because in reality, Our Lady was an only child and didn’t have brothers and sisters. Some were just opposed to these new arrivals in Europe because they thought there were already enough religious orders and that these religious should simply join one of those already approved. The general of the Order, St. Simon Stock, prayed to Our Lady, addressing her as Flower of Carmel, Blossoming Vine, Splendor of Heaven and Mother Divine. Mary appeared to St. Simon Stock surrounded by a multitude of angels and presenting him with the scapular, said, “THIS SHALL BE A SIGN TO YOU AND TO ALL CARMELITES A PRIVILEGE, THAT ANYONE WHO DIES CLOTHED IN THIS SHALL NOT SUFFER ETERNAL FIRE: and if wearing it they die, they shall be saved“, thus bestowing upon the entire Order the singular privilege of her special favor and protection. This promise has been interpreted by the Church to mean that by wearing the brown scapular, the Christian pledges himself to live a virtuous life in imitation of Mary. She on her part pledges herself to watch over us as her children and win for us all the graces necessary for our salvation.
Connected with the scapular, is also something called the Sabbatine Privilege. This means that the Blessed Virgin will free any Carmelite or anyone connected with Carmel by the wearing of the brown scapular (a confraternity member) from Purgatory soon after their death and especially on Saturday. In a Papal Bull “Sacratissimo uti culmine”, Pope John XXII claims that the Blessed Virgin appeared to him on behalf of the Carmelites and their associates, and asked that he, as Vicar of Christ on earth, should ratify the indulgences which Christ had already granted in Heaven. Our Lady told him that she herself would graciously descend into Purgatory on the Saturday after their death and bring to Heaven all Confraternity members she found there. One becomes a member of the Confraternity simply by being enrolled in the Scapular. There is a recently approved ritual for enrollment in the Scapular which any priest is duly authorized to perform. In order to gain the Sabbatine Privilege, there are only 2 things necessary:
1. To observe chastity according to one’s state in life (which is what every Christian is obliged to do).
2. To recite the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin or if this is not possible for one, than to observe the fasts of the Church and to abstain from meat on Wednesdays and Saturdays. If one is unable to fulfill even this prescription, this may also be commuted to any other prayers or practice determined by one’s confessor.
Numerous Popes down through the ages have endorsed this Scapular devotion and the Sabbatine Privilege: Alexander V, Nicholas V, Sixtus IV, Clement VII, Paul III, St. Pius V, Clement VIII, Leo XI, Paul V, Urban VIII, Alexander VII, Benedict XIV, Pius VI, Pius X, Urban VIII, Benedict XV,and Pius XI. More recently, St. John Paul II had a great devotion to Our Lady and the Scapular and tried to even enter the Order of Carmel himself as a young man. (But God had other designs for him.)
Our Lady appeared at Fatima in 1917 and held out to the world a plan for World peace which simply included offering up one’s daily duties according to one’s state in life. praying the rosary while meditating on the mysteries and wearing the Scapular as a sign of this consecration. In the final vision, during the miracle of the Sun, Our Lady appeared dressed in the Carmelite Habit and holding a smaller Scapular in one hand. When in 1950, the one remaining shepherdess to whom Our Lady appeared in 1917 was asked why Our Lady held the scapular in her hand in the final apparition, Lucia answered, “Because Our Lady wants all to wear the scapular.” Upon being asked for a further explanation, Lucia replied, “The reason is because it is a sign of consecration to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.” By living our Scapular consecration we will obtain the grace of remaining faithful to Our Lord and close to Our Blessed Mother. It is not a superstitious practice whereby we can live according to the paganism of our day and still expect to go to Heaven when we die. There have been recorded instances of people who persisted in living in mortal sin while wearing the brown Scapular and who, at the point of death, either thrust it from them, convinced that it was burning them or by some other intervention were deprived of it.
In order to profit most by the wearing of the Scapular, we should fervently think of our consecration to Mary in moments of temptation and instinctively fly to Her, beseeching her for the grace to overcome the enemy of our souls. In the Memorare we pray, “Remember, O most gracious Virgin Mary, that never was it know that anyone who fled to thy protection, implored thy aid or sought thy intercession was left unaided.” The wearing of the Scapular should help us to remember to invoke the aid of our great protectress and loving Mother. Mary will never fail to obtain for us the graces we need. We can also fervently kiss our Scapular to show our love and devotion to Mary; for when we kiss our Scapular, it is as if we are kissing Mary herself.
It is indeed significant that the Gospel reading chosen for the ceremony of the enrollment in the Scapular is that of the woman with the issue of blood who reaches out to touch the hem of Our Lord’s garment. It is her faith which wins such praises from Our Lord when He turns around and asks who touched Him. There were many people pressing in on Him from all sides, but it was only the woman who touched Him with faith that attracted the attention of Jesus, for He was aware that power had gone out from Him. By wearing the Scapular with faith and devotion, we shall attract the special attention of Our Lord who has given to His Mother such great power over His Most Sacred Heart.
For more information on the Scapular, the following books are available from AMI Press Washington, NJ 07882:
Brown Scapular of Mt. Carmel
by Fr. Barry Bossa, S.A.C.
Sign of Her Heart
by John M. Haffert
The Scapular of Carmel
by Most Rev. E.K. Lynch, O.Carm