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First published in The Reign of Mary, Issue #123

The Brown Scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel

By Sr. Mary Agatha, CMRI

Over the past several decades, the many details of the Fatima apparitions have been examined and analyzed countless times, and even more so in recent years — and for good reason. After all, if God permitted His Mother to bring this message to the world in such an extraordinary manner, every word and detail of the apparitions must have special significance.

One aspect of the Fatima message that is easily overlooked has to do with the visions the children saw on October 13 during the miracle of the sun. First they saw the Holy Family, and then this vision was replaced with one of Our Lord and the Sorrowful Virgin. Finally, in a vision reserved only for Lucia, the Blessed Virgin appeared as Our Lady of Mount Carmel. While some have interpreted this last vision as a presage of Lucia’s vocation to the Carmelite Order, it seems more likely that Our Lady’s appearance under this particular title would have significance for all the faithful, and not just Lucia. Moreover, the Blessed Virgin seemed to wish to call attention to this title of hers at Lourdes as well, for her last appearance to St. Bernadette took place on July 16, the feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel.

Why did the Blessed Virgin wish to draw attention to this devotion?

Perhaps it was because that, for centuries now, innumerable Catholics have been placing themselves under Mary’s protection by becoming enrolled in the Confraternity of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. This confraternity has long been one of the largest organizations within the Catholic Church, encompassing countless souls across the globe and over several centuries, who by this simple means become members of her special family by affiliating themselves with the Order of Carmel. Since the 13th century, the Brown Scapular has been regarded as a sign that the wearer has dedicated himself to her in a special way. One can see, then, how this ties in with the Fatima message, and Our Lady’s plea for amendment of life and consecration to her Immaculate Heart. She was reminding Catholics to live their Scapular consecration.

When Sister Lucia was asked in an interview why the Blessed Virgin appeared as Our Lady of Mount Carmel in her last apparition, she replied, “Because Our Lady wants all to wear the Scapular... The reason for this,” she explained, “is that the Scapular is our sign of consecration to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.” When asked if the Brown Scapular is as necessary to the fulfillment of Our Lady’s requests as the Rosary, Sister Lucia answered, “The Scapular and the Rosary are inseparable” (Mary in Her Scapular Promise, James Mathias Haffert, AMI Press, 1954).

The Brown Scapular is a special gift from our Blessed Mother herself to her faithful children. In the year 1251, Our Lady appeared to St. Simon Stock, the superior general of the Carmelites, in answer to his pleas for help for his order, which was facing extinction. Surrounded by angels, she held the Brown Scapular towards him, saying:

“Receive, my beloved son, this habit of thy order. Whoever dies invested with this Scapular shall be preserved from the eternal flames. It is a sign of salvation, a sure safeguard in danger, a pledge of peace and of my special protection until the end of the ages.”

This has since become known as the Scapular Promise. They are astounding words, and have been much misunderstood. Certainly Our Lady did not mean that one who wears the Scapular may live a sinful life without fear of incurring eternal punishment. Rather, as theologians have explained, she meant that those who wear the Scapular devoutly will either persevere in the state of sanctifying grace, or they will be granted the grace of perfect contrition at the hour of death.

For the fulfillment of the Scapular Promise, there are three conditions: one must be lawfully enrolled in the Scapular Confraternity, he must sincerely try to lead a good life, and he must wear it constantly, so that he is wearing it at the moment of death. As a sacramental, the Brown Scapular is productive of grace based on the dispositions with which it is worn. If a person wears it devoutly, Our Lady will watch over him and assist him until he has reached the port of salvation. If he is a sinner who loves her enough to wear her Scapular, yet is too weak to give up a life of sin despite his desire to amend his life, she will assist him at the hour of death and obtain for him the grace of perfect contrition. According to Bl. Claude, “Because of the alliance which Mary contracts with us and which we enter into with her, no other devotion renders our salvation so certain” (The Scapular of Carmel, Most Rev. E. K. Lynch, O. Carm., p. 21).

Guidelines Regarding the Brown Scapular

  • It must be made of woven wool (not felt or matted wool).
  • Its color may be any shade between brown or black, but preferably brown.
  • It must consist of two rectangular-shaped pieces of cloth connected by cord, string or chain, which must be sewn directly to the wool.
  • It must be worn over the shoulders to rest on the front and back of the body.
  • It may be decorated with pictures, but this is not necessary.

A person who is enrolled in the Brown Scapular is enrolled for life. The Scapular used in the enrollment ceremony is blessed, but subsequent replacements need not be blessed or conferred in a ceremony. As the Scapular is a sacramental, when it is worn out it should be burned or buried.


The wearing of the Scapular, then, is itself an act of devotion, and when one wears it with fidelity and love, it is renders habitual homage to Our Lady. “Other pious practices,” writes Father Chaignon, S.J., “are attached to certain times and to certain places, but the devotion to the Scapular belongs to all times and places. Thanks to my little habit, wherever I am, whatever I am doing, Mary never sees me without seeing on my body an evidence of my devotion to her. Always and everywhere my Scapular pleads for me, recommends me to her tenderness, tells her that I love her and that I confide all my interests to her maternal care” (Lynch, p. 23). The Scapular, therefore, is not simply an indication that one has a devotion to Our Lady; it is meant to be the sign of a life lived in her. Even when we are not thinking of it, it is a sign that we will to be united to her.

Over the centuries, the Scapular has been enriched with many indulgences and privileges by numerous popes, including Sixtus IV, Gregory X, Clement VII, Clement X, Leo XI, Leo XIII, St. Pius X, Benedict XV, Pius XI, and Pius XII. Popes Clement VII and Clement X decreed that all who wear the scapular participate in a special manner not only in the fruits of the spiritual works of the Carmelites, but also in all the good done throughout the entire Church (Lynch, p. 36). Pope Sixtus IV granted to members of the Scapular Confraternity all the privileges, indulgences, graces and favors which are granted to the cord of St. Francis, to the Rosary of Our Lady, or to any confraternity whatsoever “so that they do enjoy them as much as if they were really members of these sodalities” (Lynch, p. 36).

Still, it was not until the 17th century that the Brown Scapular became universally known among Catholics. The spread of this devotion is due in great part to the popes of the 16th and 17th centuries, who promulgated the Sabbatine Privilege and approved the Confraternity of the Scapular for all dioceses (The Scapular Devotion, Christian P. Ceroke, O.C., 1961). At first only religious of the Carmelite Order itself, and then those who belonged to the Third Order, had been allowed to wear the Brown Scapular and to share in the privileges and indulgences attached to it. Eventually the privilege was extended to the Confraternity, to which any Catholic could belong who wished to devoutly honor Our Lady in this way.

brown scapular worn by St. Alphonsus

The Brown Scapular of St. Alphonsus Liguori, which was found incorrupt in his tomb. The Scapular of Pope Gregory X, who died in 1275, was likewise found incorrupt when his remains were disinterred in 1830, and is the oldest Scapular extant.


  

In addition to the Scapular Promise, there is another privilege associated with the Brown Scapular that is known as the Sabbatine Privilege. According to this devotion, those who faithfully wear the Scapular, practice chastity according to their state in life,* and daily recite the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin may confidently expect Our Lady’s swift deliverance from purgatory. (The recitation of the Little Office may be commuted to abstinence from meat on Wednesdays and Saturdays, except for the feast of Christmas, or to another pious work — for example, the Rosary.) This privilege is attributed to an apparition of the Blessed Virgin to Pope John XXII, who communicated this benefit to the faithful in a papal bull in 1322. According to copies of this document, these souls will be released from purgatory by Our Lady on the Saturday after their death.

In the 16th and 17th centuries, one Pope after another issued decrees promoting the Sabbatine Privilege in allusion to the papal bull of Pope John XXII, including Clement VII, Paul II, Pius IV, St. Pius V, Gregory XIII, Urban VIII, Clement X, and Innocent XI. In 1613 the Holy Office under Pope Paul V issued a decree which stated in effect that the spiritual authority of these Popes had sanctioned the teaching of the Sabbatine Privilege, and declaring this devotion to be spiritually fruitful for the faithful. In more recent times, St. Pius X, Pius XI, and Pius XII each made reference to it in official letters and decrees.

The Brown Scapular is, then, one of the most highly indulgenced and most privileged sacramentals of the Church, as well as one of the most ancient. More than that, it is a sign of consecration to the Blessed Virgin and a powerful aid to salvation which she herself has recommended in a special way for our times. Surely, as Sister Lucia said, Our Lady wants everyone to wear the Scapular because those who seek to honor her by wearing her livery by that very fact dispose themselves to graces that will assist them to live lives pleasing to God and therefore conducive to their own salvation and that of others. Let us remember its efficacy, then, and always have Brown Scapulars on hand to give away. We may, for example, meet a soul who is devout to Our Lady, but is unwilling to spend more than a few minutes a day in prayer. For such a one, the wearing of the Scapular may lead to a deeper devotion to her, then perhaps to the daily Rosary, and in time to a long chain of graces which will lead to his or her salvation.

Moreover, the Scapular is a powerful means of grace for society itself as well as for individuals. Pope Pius XII, on the 700th anniversary of Our Lady’s apparition to St. Simon Stock, wrote to the major superiors of the Carmelites:

“There is no one who is not aware how greatly a love for the Blessed Virgin Mother of God contributes to the enlivening of the Catholic Faith and to the raising of the moral standard. These effects are especially secured by means of those devotions which more than others are seen to enlighten the mind with celestial doctrine and to excite souls to the practice of the Christian life. In the first rank of the most favored of these devotions, that of the holy Carmelite Scapular must be placed — a devotion which, adapted to the minds of all by its very simplicity, has become so universally widespread among the faithful and has produced so many and such salutary fruits” (Apostolic Letter, Neminen profecto laetet, A.A.S., Vol. 42, 1950, pp. 390-391).

Our Lady’s Fatima message hearkens back to the prophecy that St. Dominic is said to have uttered, that “One day, through the Rosary and the Scapular, the world will be saved.” Yes, despite the tragic state of the world today, the Blessed Virgin assured us at Fatima that in the end her Immaculate Heart will triumph, and there can be little doubt that the Scapular will play a significant role in her victory.

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