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All About the Brown Scapular

What do you know about the Brown Scapular?

A scapular is a garment worn by religious over the shoulders  and hanging down in front and back, usually to about the bottom of the habit. 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.

By analogy to the scapulars of religious, there are small scapulars that are derived from them which represent a particular devotion or spirituality, usually associated with a particular community. Such a scapular is two pieces of cloth (generally about an inch square), connected by cords and worn over the head. It often has a picture or a particular color, depending on the spirituality it stands for.

The best known and most highly esteemed scapular, and the one most favored by the Church, and by the Blessed Virgin in many of her apparitions, is the Brown Scapular of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel. It is adapted from the scapular of the Carmelite Order and represents a special Consecration to Our Lady under the title of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel.

The Church has blessed the appearance of Mary to St. Simon Stock, an early Carmelite, in which she is said to have promised that anyone who remains faithful to the Carmelite vocation until death will be granted the grace of final perseverance.  This grace, it must be reminded, does not come from the scapular or any other sacramental; all grace is obtained for us by the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of the Lord.  The sacraments mediate this saving grace; sacramentals do not mediate grace but prepare us to receive grace and to cooperate with it.  Favors associated with the wearing of the Brown Scapular would be meaningless without the wearer living and dying in a state of grace.

Those who wear it practice it a special devotion to Mary. In addition, the person has a special entrustment of themselves to Mary for their salvation. This, in fact, has been promised to those who faithfully wear the scapular:  “Those who die wearing this scapular shall not suffer eternal fire.” This must not be understood superstitiously or magically, but in light of  Catholic teaching that perseverance in faith, hope and love are required for salvation. The scapular is a powerful reminder of this Christian obligation and of Mary’s promise to help those consecrated to her obtain the grace of final perseverance.

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.

How might one practice the spirituality of the Carmelite Order?

It is difficult to reduce the Orders’ spirituality to a few sentences. One would be advised to look at the witness of the Carmelite saints, especially Our Lady of Mount Carmel, St. Elijah, St. Teresa of Jesus, St. John of the Cross, St. Therese of Lisieux.  A few introductory principles of Carmelite spirituality, however, 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 a 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 (according to one’s state in life), and obedience to the will of God.


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All About Carmelite Spirituality

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