"It becomes clearer day by day that the way for men to return to God is assured by Mary, that Mary is the basis of our confidence, the guarantee of our security, the foundation of our hope." - Saint John XXIII
The Brown Scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel is best understood in the context of our Catholic faith. It offers us a rich spiritual tradition that honors Mary as the first and foremost of her Son’s disciples. This scapular is an outward sign of the protection of the Blessed Virgin Mary, our sister, mother and queen. It offers an effective symbol of Mary’s protection to the Order of Carmel-its members, associates, and affiliates-as they strive to fulfill their vocation as defined by the Carmelite Rule of Saint Albert: “to live in allegiance to Jesus Christ.”
While Christ alone has redeemed us, the Blessed Virgin Mary has always been seen by Catholics as a loving mother and protector. The Blessed Virgin has shown her patronage over the Order of Carmel from its earliest days. This patronage and protection came to be symbolized in the scapular, the essential part of the Carmelite habit.
Stories and legends abound in Carmelite tradition about the many ways in which the Mother of God has interceded for the Order, especially in critical moments of its history. Most enduring and popular of these traditions, blessed by the Church, concerns Mary’s promise to an early Carmelite, Saint Simon Stock, that anyone who remains faithful to the Carmelite vocation until death will be granted the grace of final perseverance. The Carmelite Order has been anxious to share this patronage and protection with those who are devoted to the Mother of God and so has extended both its habit (the scapular) and affiliation to the larger Church.
Private revelation can neither add to nor detract from the Church’s deposit of faith. Therefore, the Brown Scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel echoes the promise of Divine Revelation: “The one who holds out to the end is the one who will see salvation: (Matthew 2:13), and “Remain faithful unto death and I will give you the crown of life” (Revelation 2:10). The Brown Scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel is a reminder to its wearers of the saving grace which Christ gained upon the cross for all: “All you who have been baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves in him” (Galatians 3:27). There is no salvation for anyone other than that won by Christ.
The Sacraments mediate this saving grace to the faithful. The sacramentals, including the scapular, do not mediate this saving grace but prepare us to receive grace and dispose us to cooperate with it. As the Catechism of The Catholic Church teaches:
Sacramentals do not confer the grace of the Holy Spirit in the way that the sacraments do, but by the Church’s prayer they prepare us to receive grace and dispose us to cooperate with it. For well-disposed members of the faithful, the liturgy of the sacraments and sacramentals sanctifies almost every event of their lives with the divine grace which flows from the Paschal mystery of the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Christ. From this source all sacraments and sacramentals draw their power. (CC 1670)
We see, therefore, that the Church clearly teaches that all grace, including that of final perseverance, is won for us by the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of the Lord. Simply wearing the Brown Scapular does not confer that same result.
The Brown Scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel is the habit of the Carmelite Order. For the religious members of the Order it takes the form of two long, undecorated panels of brown cloth joined at the shoulders and falling, one to the front and one to the back. For the laity it takes the form of two smaller pieces of brown or dark cloth, preferably plain, joined over the shoulder by ribbons, and falling, one to the back, the other to the front. As the Order’s habit, the scapular signifies some degree of affiliation to the Carmelites.
Six practical ways of affiliation are recognized by the Carmelite Order:
- The religious men and women of the Order and aggregated institutes.
- The Secular/Lay Order (Third Order).
- Members of public associations and confraternities of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, such as active communities of the Scapular Confraternity.
- Those who have been invested in the scapular, practice the Order’s spirituality, and have been granted some association with the Order.
- Those who wear the scapular out of devotion, practice the Order’s spirituality, but who have no formal association to the Order.
- Those who are committed to practice the Marian characteristics of Carmelite Spirituality but use outward forms other than the Brown Scapular to express this devotion.
The Brown Scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel is the common habit of all branches of the Carmelite Family and a sign of unity of that family. For that reason the Scapular Confraternity and similar associations of the faithful centering around this sacramental belong not to any one branch of Carmel, but to the entire Carmelite family. Thus, there is only one common public association of the Scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel.
A person who wears the scapular and practices the spirituality of the Carmelite Order has an affiliation, loose as it may be, to the Carmelite family and so shares in the graces traditionally associated with the Brown Scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. However, simply to wear the scapular without accepting the responsibilities attached to it would be to reduce this precious sacramental to the status of a charm or good-luck piece.
The spirituality of the Carmelite Order is one of the preeminent spiritual traditions of the Catholic Church. It is difficult to reduce this spirituality to a few sentences. One who wears the scapular should certainly reflect upon the teaching of the great Carmelite saints, three of whom are doctors of the Church.
- A few basic introductory principles of Carmelite spirituality would be:
- Frequent participation in the Mass and reception of Holy Communion;
- Frequent reading of and meditation on the Word of God in Sacred Scripture;
- The regular praying of at least part of the Liturgy of the Hours;
- Imitation of and devotion to Mary, the woman of faith who hears the Word of God and puts it into practice;
- The practice of the virtues, notably charity, chastity (accordion to one’s state of life), and obedience to the will of God.
Historical research has shown that the alleged fourteenth-century appearance of the Blessed Mother to Pope John XXII is without historical foundation. As a matter of fact, in the year 1613 the Holy See determined that the decree establishing the “Sabbatine Privelege” was unfounded and the Church admonished the Carmelite Order not to preach this doctrine. Unfortunately, the Order did not always comply with this directive of the Holy See.
At the time the Carmelites were instructed to stop mentioning the “Sabbatine Privelege” the Holy See acknowledged that the faithful may devoutly believe that the Blessed Virgin Mary by her continuous intercession, merciful prayers, merits, and special protection will assist the souls of deceased brothers and sisters and members of the confraternity, especially on Saturday, the day which the church dedicates to the Blessed Virgin.
Consistent with the Catholic tradition, such favors associated with the wearing of the Brown Scapular would be meaningless without the wearers living and dying in teh state of grace, observing chastity according to their state in life, and living a life of prayer and penitence. The promises traditionally tied to the scapular offer us what the Second Vatican Council says about the role of the Blessed Virgin Mary: “By her maternal love, Mary cares for the brothers and sisters of her Son, who still make their earthly journey surrounded by dangers and difficulties, until they are led to their happy fatherland.”
According to the Rite for the Blessing of and Enrollment in the Scapular of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mount Carmel, approved by the Holy See in 1996, any priest or deacon has the faculties for blessing the scapular. A person given authority to act in the name of the Order may receive people into the confraternity of the scapular. The official ritual provided by the Holy See makes no provision for someone other than a priest or deacon to bless the scapular.
No, those wear the scapular out of devotion, practice the Order’s spirituality, yet who have no formal association to the Order share in the spiritual affiliation to the Carmelite Order. It gives them the assurances of the graces pertinent to this sacramental. Indiscriminate enrollment in the Scapular Confraternity or other such associations weakens the purpose and mission of those associations and should be avoided.
The Ecclesiastical Censor of the Archdiocese of Washington, upon reviewing this booklet, wrote the following comment which deserves inclusion in this catechetical section.
That the Scapular is a garment, a piece of clothing, does much to make this a beloved and meaningful sacramental. Clothing is, even today, a sign of parental love and care-even when the clothing is purchased at K-Mart. How much more in Jesus’ day when mothers carded the wool, spun the thread, wove the cloth and made the clothing! There is a sign value by the very nature of clothing that precedes even the scriptural examples from the Old and New Testaments. I think this helps to make the Scapular appealing to the faithful. Our earthly mother clothes us; our heavenly Mother clothes us. Without a word of explanation we know exactly what that means.