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The Brown Scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel

compiled by Catherine Fournier

What Is It?

(From a Carmelite Monastery pamphlet)

The small brown scapular is an outward sign of one's love and devotion to the Mother of God and an acknowledgment of her special role in His plan of salvation. It is a miniature model of the larger form worn by memebers of the Carmelite Order as part of their religious habit.

According to tradition, in the 13th century Our Lady appeared to Saint Simon Stock, Superior General of the Order, and gave him the brown scapular saying that whoever wore it would be preserved from eternal damnation and on the 1st Saturday after their death, would be taken by her to heaven.

The wearing of the scapular must be understood to mean that one is striving earnestly to live up to all Christian ideals. It does not take the place of the Church's sacraments, but is an outward sign of inward commitment to virture and Christian piety, under the patronage of Mary.

The Church teaches us to believe that those who hold an intimate and faithful devotion to the Blessed Virgin May will be particularly blessed by her. Thus the wearing of her brown scapular signifies a pledge of our part and a promise on hers. Placing us under her protection, it becomes an aid throughout life to help us maintain the virtues of our vocations. As an outward profession of dedication and trust in Mary, it necessarily calls down special grace, for she would share the sentiments of her Son who said: "If anyone openly declares himself for Me in the presence of men, the Son of Man will declare Himself for him in the presence of God's angels." (Luke 12:8)

It would be fitting to believe further, that the Mother of God will continue to aid after their deaths those who have served her faithfully, and even that this aid will be especially extended on Saturdays, the day dedicated to her."

In addition: since children these days are not generally enrolled, if you enroll your children in the scapular, it will become an apostolate, a modest Catholic missionary activity, to respond to those people God sent to ask you that question. So it is a grace of evangelism to fly the flag, so to speak. A Scapular is a Sacramental, able to prepare a soul for grace. The mere sight of a Sacramental, reverently used, can do this. So the unusual brown cords prompt more people to inquire. Graces follow.

What Does It Look Like?

The Catholic Encylopedia article on scapulars is well worth reading.

Some relevant excerpts:

General Ecclesiastical Regulations Concerning The Small Scapulars

The small scapulars consist essentially of two quadrilateral segments of woolen cloth (about two and three-quarter inches long by two inches wide), connected with each other by two strings or bands in such a manner that, when the bands rest on the shoulders, the front segment rests before the breast, while the other hangs down an equal distance at the back.

The two segments of cloth need not necessarily be equally large, various scapulars having the segment before the breast of the above dimensions while the segment at the back is much smaller. The material of these two essential parts of the scapular must be of woven wool; the strings or bands may be of any material, and of any one colour. The colour of the segments of woollen cloth depends on the colour of the monastic habit, which it to a certain extent represents, or on the mystery in honour of which it is worn.

Here, however, it must be remarked that the so called Brown Scapular of the Carmelites may be black, and that the bands of the Red Scapular of the Passion must be of red wool. On either or both of the woollen segments may be sewn or embroidered becoming representations or other decorations (emblems, names etc.) of a different material. It is only in the case of the Red Scapular that the images are expressly prescribed.

Several scapulars may be attached to the same pair of strings or bands; each scapular must of course be complete, and must be attached to both bands. In many cases the five best-known of the early scapulars are attached to the same pair of bands this combination is then known as the "fivefold scapular". The five are: the Scapular of the Most Blessed Trinity, that of the Carmelites, of the Servites, of the Immaculate Conception, and the Red Scapular of the Passion. When the scapulars are thus joined together, the bands must be of red wool, as required by the Red Scapular; it is customary to wear the Red Scapular uppermost and that of the Most Blessed Trinity undermost, so that the images specially prescribed in the case of the Red, and the small red and blue cross on the Scapular of the Blessed Trinity, may be visible.

Scapulars are available free from the Carmelites. A more durable Scapular is available at about $ 4.50 each. Kits for home sewing are available from the Carmelites, with all the materials, at less cost. You could consider this as an apostolate to make the finished product available in your parish bookstore.

How Should I Wear It?

To share in the indulgences and privileges of a scapular, one must wear it constantly; it may be worn over or under one's clothing and may be laid aside for a short time, if necessary. Should one have ceased wearing the scapular for a long period (even through indifference), one gains none of the indulgences, during this time, but, by simply resuming the scapular, one again participates in the indulgences, privileges, etc.

According to Father John Hardon's Catholic Dictionary the scapular medal was authorized as a substitute by Pope Saint Pius X in 1910. Investiture requires the scapular. After that the medal may be worn for any reason even for reasons of convenience. The scapular medal has all the same indulgences that are associated with cloth scapular.

The cloth scapular must be worn around the neck, with one tab in front and one in back, inside or outside the clothing, but medal can be worn anywhere on the person, including in one's pocket. Many rosaries have scapular medals on them. If you are enrolled in the brown scapular, carrying that rosary in your pocket is the same as wearing one around your neck. Both cloth and medal scapulars may be removed for brief periods of time (such as for bathing) without losing the indulgences. The scapular may be given to any Catholic, even to a baby. It may be given in any place, even in a sick room.

Here's the full text of the document Pope Saint Pius X issued authorizing the use of the scapular medal:

And an excerpt:
(Copyright (c) Trinity Communications 1995.)

The Scapular Medal

In 1910, Pope Saint Pius X introduced a scapular medal which may be substituted in most cases for any of the various scapulars. Valid enrollment in the scapulars must, however, be made before the substitution.

The decree, in translation, reads thus:

"For the future all the faithful already inscribed or who shall be inscribed in one or other of the real Scapulars approved by the Holy See (excepting those which are proper to the Third Orders) by what is known as regular enrollment may, instead of the cloth scapulars, one or several, wear on their persons, either round the neck or otherwise, provided it be in a becoming manner, a single medal of metal, through which, by the observance of laws laid down for each scapular, they shall be enabled to share in and gain all the spiritual favors (not excepting what is known as the Sabbatine Privilege of the Scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel), and all the privileges attached to each.

"The right side of this medal must show the image of Our Most Holy Redeemer, Jesus Christ, showing His Sacred Heart, and the obverse that of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary. It must be blessed with a separate blessing for each of the scapulars in which the person has been enrolled and for which the wearer wishes it to suffice. Finally, these separate blessings may be given by a single sign of the cross , whether in the act of enrollment or later at the convenience of those enrolled, it matters not how long after the enrollment or in what order they may have taken place; the blessing may be given by a priest other than the one who made the enrollment, as long as he possesses the faculty, ordinary, or delegated, of blessing the different scapulars- the limitations, clauses, and conditions attached to the faculty he uses still holding their force. All things to the contrary, even those calling for special mention, notwithstanding" (Holy Office, Rome, December 16, 1910).

The Scapular Medals

Since 1910 and the regulation of the Holy Office of 16 December of that year (Acta Apost. Sedis, III, 22 sq.) it is permitted to wear, instead of one or more of the small scapulars a single medal of metal. This medal must have on one side a representation of Jesus Christ with His Most Sacred Heart and on the other an image of the Mother of God.

All persons who have been validly invested with a blessed woollen scapular may replace such by this medal. The medal must be blessed by a priest possessing the faculty to bless and invest with the scapular or scapulars which the medal is to replace. The faculties to bless these medals are subject to the same conditions and limitations as the faculties to bless and invest with the corresponding scapulars. If the medal is to be worn instead of a number of different scapulars, it must receive the blessing that would be attached to each of them, i. e. as many blessings as the number of scapulars it replaces.

For each blessing a sign of the Cross suffices. This medal must also be worn constantly, either about the neck or in some other seemly manner, and with it may be attained all the indulgences and privileges of the small scapulars without exception. Only the small (not the large) scapulars may be validly replaced by such medals.

The website of the National Shrine of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Middletown, NY, home of the Carmelite Province of Saint Elias, contains more interesting information about the brown scapular.

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