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The Scapular…a Sign of Mary’s Motherhood

January 31, 2014 by  
Filed under Carmelite Sisters, Sacramentals, Scapulars

What is the scapular, and why is it so important to Carmelites?

Do you remember what Our Lady was wearing when she appeared to Bernadette? How about her appearance as Our Lady of La Salette? How did Juan Diego describe her or how did she appear on his tilma? It seems Our Lady had a different wardrobe each time!

Whenever a visionary describes the appearance of Our Lady when she makes herself visible to the seer, it usually includes a description of what she was wearing. Often her clothing is symbolic and is related to the message she wishes to impart.

The clothing of the people of any culture, historical period, or even of different eras here in our own country tells us much about the people of that age and mothers of all times have spent a good part of their daily activities providing and maintaining clothing for their families. These garments provide warmth, protection, dignity for our personhood, as well as identification of our culture or historical period.

Perhaps you yourselves have memories or stories of your mother making special sacrifices to provide you with new clothing for a special occasion, taking you shopping for new outfits, buying material to make garments, or perhaps even disagreements as to what you should wear on any given day or occasion. Whatever we may recall, it is a mother’s love that is evoked as she struggles to supply both our needs and not offend our tastes.

Mary is no less concerned than our earthly mothers but her care lies primarily in the spiritual realm; thus she clothes us in garments that are a sign of our special relationship with her, a sign of her protection and of our dignity as Christians and, in the case of the Brown Scapular, of our belonging to the Family of Carmel.

The clothing, or Habit, of a Carmelite consists of a brown tunic over which is place a brown scapular. In the beginning the scapular was a working garment – a kind of apron worn over the tunic to protect it and likewise a symbol of the divine service to which the monks or hermits were called. This garment, now called the scapular, is a sign of Mary’s protection for those who wear it. The scapular is a cloth garment. Anyone invested in the Brown Scapular would receive for the Investiture a small cloth scapular (more on the scapular medal later). Thus the Brown Scapular for the laity becomes a sacramental, a means of actual grace when devoutly worn. Sacramentals prepare us to receive grace and dispose us to cooperate with it. The use of sacramentals imposes a commitment or responsibility on the part of the user. They are not magical charms!

The small scapular consists of two pieces of brown cloth with one segment hanging on the wearer’s chest, and the other hanging on his/her back. These pieces are joined by two straps or strings which overlap each shoulder–hence the word “scapular” (shoulder blade). It is normally worn under the clothes but not pinned to undergarments. The small scapular comes in different styles; it may or may not be enclosed in plastic; it may or may not have an image printed or embroidered on it. The important aspect is that the 2 pieces are made of cloth; it is no longer required that the cloth be wool. Once a person has been invested with the cloth scapular he/she may use the scapular medal with the depiction of Jesus with his Sacred Heart on one side and Mary on the other. This choice may be made due to allergy, tropical climate or other sufficient reason; however, the cloth is still preferable to the medal since the medal does not give the sign value of a garment.

One question which frequently arises is whether or not a lay person can enroll others in the scapular. The answer to this is that any Catholic priest/deacon may invest a baptized Catholic with the Brown Scapular. Lay people may not bless a Scapular. A good source of reference for better understanding of the history and devotion, as well as the ritual involved, is the “Catechesis and Ritual for the Scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel”, published in 2000. There is also a form of the blessing and investiture in the Book of Blessings which will normally be found in any Catholic parish. The most recent Rite for the Blessing of and Enrollment in the Scapular, approved in 1996 by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, is available in booklet form.

Now you might ask, “Where, then, did the scapular originate?” After the Carmelite hermits began to migrate back to Europe in the early 1200’s, they underwent some difficult times in getting themselves established, obtaining full recognition in the Church and ensuring the survival of the Order. Tradition tells us that St. Simon Stock, an English Carmelite, in a vision of Mary, received from her hands the brown scapular in which she told him, “This is a privilege for you and the order: whoever dies wearing this Scapular will be saved.” From this moment on a miraculous change took place in the Order.

There was belief later in the so-called Sabbatine Privilege but since there is no documentation to support this belief it has not been authorized by the Church.

For a clearer understanding of the degree of affiliation with the Carmelite family please refer to page 12 of “Catechesis and Ritual for the Scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel”.

Anyone who chooses to be enrolled in the Confraternity of the Brown Scapular identifies themselves with the mission of the Carmelite Order: to be in the world a prophetic sign of union with God, that is to “stand in the presence of God” as a witness to His mercy in communion with our brothers and sisters. Mary leads us on this faith journey toward her Son.

For our part, we must live out the words of our Investiture which states:

Receive this Scapular, a sign of your special relationship with Mary, the Mother of Jesus, whom you pledge to imitate. May it be a reminder to you of your dignity as a Christian, in serving others and imitating Mary.

Wear it as a sign of her protection and of belonging to the Family of Carmel, voluntarily doing the will of God and devoting yourself to building a world true to his plan of community, justice and peace.

Art: Our Lady of Mount Carmel – Madonna with the Scapular. Madonna extradites the scapular to St Simeon Stock, Sebastian Stetner, 1740, Former secondary altar piece in Kalocsa Cathedral, photo Szilas, PD-US & Worldwide, Wikimedia Commons.

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About Carmelite Sisters of the Most Sacred Heart of Los Angeles

PROMOTING A DEEPER SPIRITUAL LIFE THROUGH HEALTHCARE, EDUCATION AND RETREATS. The way of life of the Carmelite Sisters of the Most Sacred Heart of Los Angeles is rooted in the Gospel, the Church, and the spirituality of Carmel as lived out through the charism of our foundress, Venerable Mother Maria Luisa Josefa of the Most Blessed Sacrament. In His merciful goodness, God has graced our Institute with the Carmelite charism which has its foundation in a long history and living tradition. Our vocation is a grace by which contemplation and action are blended to become an apostolic service of the Church as we promote a deeper spiritual life among God's people through education, healthcare, and spiritual retreats. We are called by God to be a presence inflamed within our world, witnessing to God's love through prayer, joyful witness and loving service. Our mission flows from each sister's profound life of prayer as Mother Luisita, our foundress, wrote, "the soul of each Carmelite raises herself to Christ, Who is her heaven, while her shadow falls in charity upon earth doing good to all people."

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  • Jeanette

    Can you explain the difference between belonging to the Confraternity of Brown Scapular and the Third Order of Carmelites?

    • LizEst

      The Carmelite Sisters have sent me a response to your question:

      The Confraternity of the Brown Scapular is made up of all people throughout the world who are enrolled in the confraternity. The enrollment happens when the scapular is blessed and you wear it for the first time. The Third Order of Carmelites is a religious organization composed of the lay faithful who are called to follow the rule of Carmel according to their way of life. They have a formal formation period and formal meetings like any organization. They also pray together.

      • Jeanette

        Thank you Sisters and thank you Liz for the information. Blessings.

  • Mary Anne

    I was enrolled in the Brown Scapular a few years ago, and I have to admit that I inconsistently wear it. I find the wool very scratchy (I have sensitive skin), and it never stays put- it rides up onto my neck, pokes out all of the time, and can be a nuisence to deal with at times. I know we’re not supposed to pin it to undergarments, etc., and I don’t want to be disrespectful to the scapular, either, by doing that. Does anyone have any practical suggestions on how to keep it in place? Thanks!

    • mcrognale

      Turn it over so that the wool faces out. It will then cling to your blouse or shirt and stay put. The smooth cloth won’t cause itching.

    • LizEst

      The Carmelite Sisters have sent me a response to your question:

      If it bothers your skin like that it is ok to pin it

      • Mary Anne

        Thanks, Liz. I bought your “bra strap tamers” after you suggested that, and it does make a difference. I’ve been wearing my scapular regularly. 🙂

        • LizEst

          Actually that was a different Liz. But, they sound like a good idea!

  • Liz

    I have found that Fashion Forms “bra strap tamers” to be very helpful in keeping the scapular cords hidden and in place under your shirt. It is made of pink plastic and metal. I combine that with the ‘free scapular.com” long cord scapular (the one Mel Gibson is shown wearing). It is the best I have come up with after wearing a scapular for 5 years.

    • Mary Anne

      Liz, thanks for the suggestion. I’ve already ordered them online this evening!

    • Camila

      Yes Liz! I too wear my scapular ‘attached’ 🙂 — with two safety pins…. your ‘bra strap tamers’ might be something I should look into… 🙂

  • mcrognale

    I have both. The metal scapular and the brown cloth. I asked to be invested in it and the priest refused the investiture ceremony but merely blessed it. When I asked my pastor about it he said that how I lived my life was more important than what I wear around my neck. I’ve been confused ever since. I wear both all the time so that isn’t an issue for me.

    • Camila

      My husband gave me a scapular medal and my dad gave me a miraculous medal blessed by the pope – I think I’ll die wearing these around my neck. I’ll wear my simple chain with my two medals anytime anyday for anyevent over any other jewelry!

      • mcrognale

        My brother and sister got a private audience with Saint John Paul the Great years ago. He blessed a silver crucifix that I wear on a solid silver chain to this day along with the metal scapular. I would have died to have been in his presence. They only had like 5 minutes but he blessed their articles and them. Shook hands with them both and then left.

        • Camila

          That is simply too cool!

  • Camila

    Dear Sister,

    I have a large brown scapular that I made with crochet and beautiful brown real wool. My deacon blessed it. But I have since doubted whether to wear it or not….it doesn’t have any images on it – but I can add these if that would make it a ‘real’ scapular. I’m wondering if this is ok to do?

    • RobinJeanne

      I don’t know if they must have an image but I saw ones that the lady sewed the Miraculous medal on one side and a Sacred Heart of Jesus on the other…. as I was searching for where I Pinned it I discovered that it is not a requirement to have images on the scapular, people just do. Here is an example of what it looks like..

      http://www.etsy.com/listing/86401013/brown-scapular-of-our-lady-of-mt-carmel?utm_campaign=Share&utm_medium=PageTools&utm_source=Pinterest

      • Camila

        Thanks RobinJeanne, those are very simple and beautiful.

    • CatherineA

      Having images on it does not make a brown scapular more real. In fact, there is a school of thought (supported by many Carmelites) that “less is more,” that simplicity is better — just plain, unadorned brown cloth. This is more consistent with Carmelite spirituality and the goal of both spiritual and material poverty.

      • Camila

        Thanks CatherineA. I love the simplicity concept. On the spiritual and material poverty, I used real brown wool (naturally brown – not died) and one of the other purposes was that the wool would act as a reminder of the scapular on my skin…. just a gentle reminder you know… that gentle scratchy feeling helps lift my mind to God more often during the day…. this post and conversation is making me want to wear it again…

    • LizEst

      The Carmelite Sisters have sent me this response to your question:

      The scapular is made from a solid piece of material; It cannot be a
      knitted or crocheted item.

      • Camila

        Thanks!

  • I had a Scapular as a child. But I’ve gotten used to wearing the Miraculous Medal more than the Scapular. In my Jesuit university, they give out Miraculous Medals every October. My brother studied there since kindergarten so we have quite a collection! I put the medal inside a plastic ID protector for my school ID. 🙂
    I’ve heard that the promises for the Scapular and Medal are the same? Is there any difference which you choose to wear?

    • LizEst

      The Carmelite Sisters have sent me this response to your question:

      The medal is worn by those who are allergic to the wool cloth or by soldiers who are forbidden to wear the wool. The brown scapular is essentially to be of cloth. The other (medal) is an adaptation for the reasons above.

  • LizEst

    Thank you, Carmelite Sisters, for this beautiful post and explanation of the scapular. God bless you and reward you!

    • Camila

      Yes, they are truly a gift.

      In the movie Therese, I love the line Therese’s sister give the doctor upon being asked (if I remember correctly) why not take Therese to the hospital in order to be treated for her tuberculosis and she answers “we are the salt of the earth” — great line!

      I agree!

  • Angie

    Dear Sister,
    Since having your scapular blessed than different that being “invested” in the Lay Carmelite is there a process that you would need to go through to wear the Scapular as “invested’? I made my Lenten promise to wear the scapular last ear and since then I have gone from the one I had which is all worn and the strings are broken to a new one with plastic-not too thrilled with it, but the stickiness of it does help me to remember that Mary is with me..I kept my promise and have worn it all the time except when I bathe! I am thinking since I wear it all the time now, why not be invested? Funny, I work with a gal who is non practicing and she accidentally saw my scapular and said, I used to have one of those, haven’t worn it since I was a child! Maybe I should start wearing it again..I guess I need to buy one for her, get it blessed and give it to her! Isn’t that cool? I would appreciate any assistance in clarifying this question for me!

    God bless you!

    • LizEst

      The Carmelite Sisters have sent me this response to your question:

      One is invested with the scapular when one receives it from a priest during the ceremony which can be found on this link: http://forums.catholic.com/showthread.php?t=166276 Any priest can invest or enroll you in the Brown Scapular. God bless you too.

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