Where did the Brown Scapular originate?
The scapular was a form of working clothing worn by monks. It draped over both shoulders and hung down the front and back of the wearer. The name derives from the shoulder bone, or scapula. Over time the scapular took on symbolic meanings, such as the carrying of the cross of Christ. Among Carmelites, the scapular grew to be seen as a symbol of their dedication to Mary, as an expression of trust in her motherly protection, and as a desire to be like her in her commitment to Christ and to others.
In the Middle Ages, a part of the habit of some Religious Orders, a cord or scapular for example, was sometimes given to lay persons to express their association with that Order through membership in a lay group such as a confraternity. Among Carmelites a small version of the friars’ brown scapular was given as a sign of the layperson’s association with the Carmelites and their spirituality. Thus the Brown Scapular is essentially a “habit”, as John Paul II has said, of the Carmelite Order.
What about the appearances of Our Lady to St. Simon Stock?
According to tradition, Our Lady of Mt. Carmel appeared to the Prior General of the Order at the time, St. Simon Stock, at Aylesford, England on July 16, 1251. She gave him, who was greatly oppressed by worries, the Brown Scapular for the Carmelites with the following promise, saying: “Receive, my beloved son, this habit of thy Order (the habit taken to mean the scapular in particular). This shall be to thee and to all Carmelites a privilege, that whosoever dies clothed in this shall never suffer eternal fire. It shall be a sign of salvation, a protection in danger and a pledge of peace.”
What is the meaning of the Brown Scapular today?
The Brown Scapular is a sign which has been approved by the Church for over seven centuries. The Church today approves the Carmelites’ understanding of the meaning of the Brown Scapular as a commitment to follow Jesus as did Mary, the perfect model of all disciples of Christ. Mary shows us: how to be open to God and his will; how to be guided by faith, hope, and love; how to be close to the needs of others; how to pray at all times; and how to discover God as present in all that happens around us. The scapular must not be seen as a charm to protect the wearer or as an automatic guarantee of salvation, and thus an excuse for not living the demands of the Christian life.
By wearing the Brown Scapular am I thereby associated with the Carmelite Order?
A person who wears the Brown Scapular and practices the spirituality of the Carmelite Order shares a greater or lesser degree of affiliation to the family of Carmel. As Pope John Paul II has said, “Those who receive [the scapular] are associated more or less closely with the Order of Carmel and dedicate themselves to the service of Our Lady for the good of the whole Church.” This association to the Order can be found in the following expressions:
- the religious men and women of the Order and their aggregated institutes;
- members of one of the Carmelite Secular (or “Third”) Orders;
- members of public associations and confraternities of Our Lady of Mount Carmel;
- 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 have no formal association to the Order.
Persons in any of these categories of affiliation to one of the Carmelite Orders share to some degree in the favours traditionally associated with the Brown Scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel.
How can I be enrolled in the Brown Scapular?
An individual may be enrolled by a priest or deacon according to the Rite for the Blessing of and Enrolment in the Scapular of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mount Carmel, approved by the Holy See in 1996. One who is officially “enrolled” makes commitments to certain spiritual practices associated with the Carmelite Order and their name is registered with the Order. A person given authority to act in the name of the Order may receive people into the confraternity of the scapular.
Following enrolment, the Scapular may be replaced by a scapular medal, showing the Sacred Heart on one side and an image of Mary on the other. Once enrolled in the Brown Scapular, a new scapular (or medal) obtained in the future does not require an additional blessing or enrolment. Old and worn scapulars should be disposed of in a respectful manner as with other blessed objects, normally buried or burned.
Is it necessary to be enrolled in the Scapular Confraternity in order to share in the spiritual benefits attached to the scapular?
No, those without formal affiliation with the Order, but who wear the scapular out of devotion and practice the Order’s spirituality, still share in a spiritual affiliation to the Carmelite Order. This gives them the assurances of the favours pertinent to this sacramental. Since the Brown Scapular is a habit of the Carmelite Order, the Order does encourage wearers to make some level of commitment to the spirituality of the Order.
What form does the lay scapular take?
Scapulars are found in many colours and sizes related to various Orders and devotions within the Church. The Brown Scapular of the Carmelites has traditionally been two pieces of plain dark brown cloth (square or rectangular, traditionally wool), connected over the shoulders by strips of cloth or ribbon. Though the Order notes a preference for plain brown cloth, Brown Scapulars are most commonly found with some decorative elements.
After one has been invested in the Brown Scapular the scapular medal may be substituted for the cloth scapular. When Pope Pius X instituted the use of the scapular medal it was not intended to replace the cloth scapular but as an option in situations in which the use of the cloth scapular was problematic (tropical conditions, for example). Nevertheless, the scapular medal enjoys all the privileges granted to the wearing of the scapular.