Monday, May 30, 2016

The Brown Scapular Devotion

An image of Our Lady giving the Brown Scapular to St. Simon Stock
Our Lady giving the Brown Scapular to St. Simon Stock

With May being the "Month of Mary," I thought it fitting to close out the month with a post on the Brown Scapular Devotion; a devotion that in addition to the Rosary is considered to be one of the main Marian devotions in the Catholic Church. 

Much in the same manner as the establishment of the Rosary Devotion, when Our Lady appeared to Saint Dominic and presented the Rosary in 1214, the Blessed Virgin Mary did likewise with Saint Simon Stock (Prior General of the Carmelites (1247-1265) for the Brown Scapular Devotion, who She appeared to in 1251, in the town of Aylesford in England. Our Lady handed him a brown woollen scapular and said, “This shall be a privilege for you and all Carmelites, that anyone dying in this habit shall not suffer eternal fire.” This later became known as the "Scapular Promise." 

The growth in popularity of the Brown Scapular Devotion spread in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries from several popes who promulgated the "Sabatine Privilege," and approved the Confraternity of the Scapular for every diocese in the Church. In 1726, the Brown Scapular Devotion was extended to the entire universal Catholic Church, on July 16, the feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel.

The Scapular Promise

The Scapular Promise and Sabbatine Privilege have certain conditions that must be met by each devotee in order to receive the benefits; the most important being that the scapular be worn devoutly. The absence of a pious devotion would render wearing the scapular meaningless. So it is important to remember that there are external practices that accompany this devotion, but first and foremost, it is necessary to have a pious interior devotion to Our Lady; allowing Her to be our light to Christ, showing us the way to Jesus. To wear the scapular without a serious Christian commitment would be a presumption of God's mercy, and an insult to Our Blessed Mother, whose loving protection and aid we implore.

Part of a pious devotion entails prayer that should be recited with love. The prayer most associated with the Brown Scapular Devotion is the Rosary; so we must always remember to whom we are praying. Reciting the Rosary should always be done with the utmost respect and love due to the Mother of God, and Our Mother. Devotion and prayer to Our Lady is part of a relationship of love.

The Scapular Promise is a confidence in the intercession of the Blessed Virgin to obtain for its wearer the grace of final perseverance, or a happy death.

The reliance on Mary's intercession for the gift of final perseverance stems from the historical account of the Blessed Virgin Mary's apparition to St. Simon Stock, Prior General of the Carmelites (1247?-1265). During that apparition, Our Lady communicated that all who die wearing the Scapular will not suffer the eternal flames of hell. This tradition has become known as the "Scapular Promise."

To receive the benefit of the Scapular Promise, wearers of the Brown Scapular must meet two conditions: the first, one must honour Mary by wearing the scapular until death, and the second, endeavour to lead a sincere Christian life.

The Sabbatine Privilege 

As for the Sabbatine Privilege, those who faithfully practice this devotion can expect Mary's aid in purgatory; that is, on the first Saturday after death, they will be delivered from purgatory. Here is what Our Lady stated during her apparition to Pope John XXII, “I, the Mother of Grace, shall descend on the Saturday after their death and whomsoever I shall find in purgatory I shall free so that I may lead them to the holy mountain of life everlasting.”

To obtain the Sabbatine Privilege, devotees must fulfill three conditions: prayer, penance, and the practice of chastity according to one's state of life.

The prayer prescribed to gain the Sabbatine Privilege is the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin, which today is substituted by other prayers, such as the Liturgy of the Hours or more commonly, five decades of the Rosary. The commute to these "other prayers" is granted by a priest.

A further note on the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin. This prayer is a short version of the Liturgy of the Hours, and it was often the official community prayers of some Religious communities before changes were made as a result from Vatican II. Since then it has been updated with the reformed Liturgy of The Hours. Most Religious communities have adopted the Liturgy of the Hours as their community prayers. Although, the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin was popular during the time when the Brown Scapular was being promoted, it no longer is the case today.

The penance originally stipulated for the Sabbatine Privilege was not to eat meat on Wednesday and Saturday. If for some reason, this is not doable, a priest could commute this requirement to the recitation of five decades of the Rosary.

Chastity according to one's state of life refers to both conjugal chastity, and to those who are not married. 

The Brown Scapular is a Sign of Mary

A photo of the Brown Scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel
Brown Scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel
The Church has many signs relating to some event, tradition or person; one of these is the Brown Scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. It is a sign approved by the Church, and accepted by the Carmelite Order—and all those who practice this devotion—as an external sign of love for Mary, an expression of their trust in her motherly protection, and the desire to be like her in her commitment to Christ, and to others.

You might be wondering what exactly is a scapular. A scapular—a word that derives from the Latin scapulae meaning shoulders—is a garment worn by religious over the shoulders (scapula), that hangs down in front and to the back, usually the length of the habit. Originally worn to protect the habit from work performed, it eventually gained spiritual significance.

From this we have the smaller version of the Brown Scapular, two pieces (each piece approximately one square inch) that are connected by cords, and worn over the head. The scapular must be one hundred percent wool without plastic casing and should not be pinned or affixed to clothing. The face of one piece depicts the event of Our Lady's apparition to St. Simon Stock, giving him the scapular; and the other piece contains writing quoting Our Lady to St. Simon Stock, "Whoever dies clothed in this scapular shall not suffer eternal fire."

Enrolment in the Brown Scapular Confraternity

To be eligible for the Scapular Promise, one must be enrolled in the Brown Scapular Confraternity, also referred to as the Confraternity of Our Lady of Mount Carmel or Confraternity of the Scapular.

Enrolment can be done individually or within a group setting. For individual or private enrolments, there is the option of a simple form of investiture; a priest or deacon recites a Marian prayer, such as the Hail Mary, Memorare or Salve Regina, while placing the scapular over the head of the individual. This completes the investiture and the individual is officially enrolled in the Confraternity.

Enrolment within a group setting, a community celebration, is somewhat longer. Like the individual enrolment, it is also performed by a priest or deacon, who recites the Rite for the Blessing of and Enrolment in the Scapular, which includes: the opening rite, the Word of God, intercessions, prayer of blessing, enrolment in the scapular, and the closing rite. The enrolment must be done with a Brown Scapular, and not with the Scapular Medal. It is only after the enrolment that members, should they choose to do so, can replace the wool scapular with the medal.

Whether done individually or within a group setting, enrolment in the Confraternity is done once, so should you have a need to replace your scapular, there is no need to be enrolled again. 

The Morning Offering

O my God, in union with the Immaculate Heart of Mary (here kiss your Brown Scapular for a partial indulgence) I offer Thee the Precious Blood of Jesus from all the altars throughout the world, joining with it the offering of my every thought, word and action of this day. O my Jesus, I desire today to gain every indulgence and merit I can and I offer them, together with myself, to Mary Immaculate...that She may best apply them to the interests of Thy most Sacred Heart. Precious Blood of Jesus, Save us! Immaculate Heart of Mary, Pray for us! Sacred Heart of Jesus, Have mercy on us!

The Popes and the Brown Scapular

Like in centuries past, many popes from the last one hundred and fifty years, from Pope Leo XIII to St. Pope John Paul II, have promoted the Brown Scapular Devotion:

  • Pope Leo XIII (1878-1903) - In 1890 Pope Leo XIII granted confessors the opportunity to commute the condition of abstinence (not eating meat on Wednesday and Saturday) into other good works for gaining of the Sabbatine Privilege.
  • St. Pius X (1903-1914) - St. Pius X permitted for the Brown Scapular cloth to be replaced with a Scapular Medal, to further encourage dedication to Mary. The faithful who were invested in any scapular, except those that belong to the Third Orders, were permitted to make this substitution, with the simple requirement that the medal be carried on the person. The medal was not intended to be a new form of devotion, but as an aid to its continual practice.
  • Pope Pius XI (1922-1939) - In an apostolic letter Pope Pius XI stated, "...[A]lthough it is very true that the Blessed Virgin loves all who love her, nevertheless those who wish to have the Blessed Mother as a helper in [the hour of] death, must in life merit such signal favor by abstaining from sin and laboring in her honor." 
  • Pope Pius XII (1939-1958) - In an apostolic letter, Pope Pius XII stated the following: "We are not here concerned with a light or passing matter, but with the obtaining of eternal life itself which is the substance of the promise of the most Blessed Virgin which has been handed down to us. We are concerned, namely, with that which is of supreme importance to all and with the manner of achieving it safely. . . But not for this reason may they who wear the Scapular think that they can gain eternal salvation while remaining slothful and negligent of spirit, for the Apostle warns us: "In fear and trembling shall you work out your salvation." (Phil.2:12)
  • Pope Paul VI (1963-1978) - In speaking of Marian devotion and the Brown Scapular, Pope Paul VI stated, "Let the faithful hold in high esteem the practices and devotions to the Blessed Virgin approved by the teaching authority of the Church. It is Our conviction that the Rosary of Mary and the Scapular of Carmel are among these recommended practices. The Scapular is a practice of piety, which by its very simplicity is suited to everyone."
  • St. Pope John Paul II (1978-2005) - In his Letter to the Carmelites on the Occasion of the 750th Anniversary of the Scapular, St. Pope John Paul II wrote, "Therefore two truths are evoked by the sign of the Scapular: on the one hand, the constant protection of the Blessed Virgin, not only on life's journey, but also at the moment of passing into the fullness of eternal glory; on the other, the awareness that devotion to her cannot be limited to prayers and tributes in her honour on certain occasions, but must become a "habit", that is, a permanent orientation of one's own Christian conduct, woven of prayer and interior life, through frequent reception of the sacraments and the concrete practice of the spiritual and corporal works of mercy. In this way the Scapular becomes a sign of the "covenant" and reciprocal communion between Mary and the faithful:  indeed, it concretely translates the gift of his Mother, which Jesus gave on the Cross to John and, through him, to all of us, and the entrustment of the beloved Apostle and of us to her, who became our spiritual Mother."

The Rosary and the Brown Scapular are Inseparable

It is often written that the Rosary and the Brown Scapular are inseparable. As one who has been wearing the Brown Scapular since 2003, and began praying the Rosary a few years before that, I would like to offer my advice to those who are seriously considering wearing a Brown Scapular, and who are new to the Rosary.

If you have not done so already, the decision to wear a Brown Scapular should be accompanied by a sincere effort to understand the Rosary and how to pray it. You will most likely receive a commute from a priest to recite five decades of the Rosary, as part of fulfilling the conditions of the Brown Scapular Devotion. Below is a selected list of my blog posts on the Rosary that contain additional reading resources and web site links:

Our Lady of Mount Carmel, pray for us.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Comunità Cenacolo: A Solution to Some of Canada's Problems

A street view of the front entrance at Comunità Cenacolo, Medjugorje
Cenacle Community (Comunità Cenacolo) in Medjugorje, Herzegovina

If you have never heard of Comunità Cenacolo (Cenacle Community in Italian), it is a Catholic community whose outreach spans to many parts of the world, striving to respond to the needs and desperate cries of so many people (men and women), mostly young, whose lives are troubled due to: alcohol abuse, drug addiction, depression, disappointment, and those searching for joy and the true meaning of life. Those that enter the community do so as a matter of acknowledging that they have a problem, and need help to find the solution, to change their lives for the better, and begin life anew.

It is said that the worst death is the loss of all hope. At the Cenacle Community, hope is rekindled in each individual, strengthened by God's blessings and graces, and a community experience, where each individual quickly realizes, "I am not alone." Where once darkness and sadness filled the lives of these individuals, it is replaced by light and joy; the beginning of a new simple, family-orientated life centered on: work, prayer, faith in God, communication and interaction with each other, and those that visit Cenacolo (many pilgrim groups visit to hear testimonials), all of which is reinforced by the group recitation of the entire Rosary, imploring the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

An image of Sister Elvira Petrozzi, smiling with her hands held out.
Sister Elvira Petrozzi
Comunità Cenacolo was first established in Italy in 1983, by Italian Sister Elvira Petrozzi, a member of the Congregation of the Sisters of Charity, whose concern about the troubling conditions of so many youth in society, prompted her to petition her superiors for the freedom to pursue what she discerned to be, a new calling, the Cenacle Community. It took several years for Sister Elvira to be given the freedom to pursue the call, but once released, she set out, with two other fellow religious, Srs. Aurelia and Nives Grato, to establish the first community.

An abandoned old house in Saluzzo, Italy, a town in the province of Cuneo (Piedmont region), served as the humble beginnings of this community. On July 16, 1983, on the feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, Comunità Cenacolo officially opened. It wasn't long before troubled young people began arriving at the door, and so began the work of what would later become an international ministry. Currently, there are fifty-six houses spread throughout the world: Italy, France, Croatia, Medjugorje (Herzegovina), Ireland, Brazil, Austria, Dominican Republic, and Mexico. There are also four community locations in the United States: three in St. Augustine, Florida (one being a house only for women) and one in Hanceville, Alabama.

I was first introduced to the Cenacolo Community during my pilgrimage to Medjugorje in late June'2014. It afforded me the opportunity to see, first hand, the many "fruits," that have been harvested in the "spiritual orchard" of Medjugorje; a place that Saint Pope John Paul II referred to as, "The spiritual center of the world."

During my visit to Cenacolo, I listened attentively to the testimonials of two young American men (see photo below) who revealed the details of their troubled lives to a group of pilgrims that I was apart of. It was fascinating to watch and listen to them; they truly were powerful witnesses of God's grace and work being accomplished through their lives at the community. At the time of their testimonials, it was abundantly clear that they were well adjusted to community living, and were well on their way to living a normal and virtuous life, closely connected to God and Our Lady, Queen of Peace.

Recalling that visit to Cenacolo, I can not help but think of the scripture passage from John, "I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing." (John 15:5)

Two American men Comunità Cenacolo, Medjugorje providing testimonials to pilgrimages
Two American men from Comunità Cenacolo in Medjugorje, giving their testimonials to pilgrims.
The photo to the right is Sister Elvira Petrozzi.

Since my visit, I had not thought too much about Cenacolo. Certainly the community came up in conversation with other Medjugorje pilgrims, but what prompted today's post was inspiration I received stemming from my attendance at the annual Marian Day of Prayer conference in Toronto on May 7. At that conference I was reunited with three other Medjugorje pilgrims, two of which were guest speakers at the conference: Diane and Ben Wasiniak, a mother and son team whose testimonials spoke of the effectiveness, success, and necessity of Cenacolo.

Ben and Diane were such powerful witnesses because of their personal experience with Cenacolo in Medjugorje. Ben entered Cenacolo on May 25, 2012, and left on June, 2, 2015. As he put it, it was "three years and breakfast," meaning, once he completed his time there, having made the successfully transition, the next day he had breakfast, and it was time to go. Cenacolo had served its purpose, he was a new man, changed for the better, prepared and strengthened to meet the challenges ahead, and close to God and Our Lady. On a personal note, I can tell you that Ben is an extremely personable and likeable young man; it was a pleasure to have met him in Medjugorje, and spent time with him in Toronto.

Cenacolo is not only a time of transition for its members, but also for many of the parents whose children are in the community. One can only imagine the impact upon parents—as well as to loved ones, other members of the family, and friends—when someone they care and love is besieged by serious trouble. Those of us who attended the Marian Day of Prayer conference, were given a glimpse of all that a mother goes through, with Diane's testimonial. As a devout Catholic, Diane prayed for her son, "kept the faith," and did all that she could for Ben while he went through his transition, part of which included meetings with other parents whose children were also in the community. Here is how Diane described those meetings:
Parents are asked to attend a meeting every first Saturday to get together to support each other and discuss the current topic. It is a spiritual exercise to discuss how we need to examine ourselves and make changes. There are different regions based on location that parents meet and some parents travel eight hours or more to attend. It is extremely important to be involved and parents are expected to attend. We have Mass, then breakfast then recite the Rosary and then have the meeting. It is a great support for parents.
An image of Ben and Diane Wasiniak giving their testimonials at the Marian conference.

Ben and Diane Wasiniak, giving their testimonials at the Marian conference

During Ben's testimonial, he pointed out that Canada does not have any Cenacolo communities, and that we all need to pray that Cenacolo comes to Canada. It was a point well made, and well received; one that seemed to remain with me in a significant way. As to the exact reason why, the answer became clear the next day on Sunday, as I spent some time in prayer, and reflected upon the conference. Amongst all that I had seen and heard, what stood out the most was Ben and Diane's testimonials about Cenacolo. In response to that inspiration I began to write the first draft of this post.

Ben is absolutely correct, Canada could certainly benefit from several Cenacolo communities. The effectiveness of Cenacolo makes it worthy of pursuing. I completely agree with Ben, we need need to pray for this, and if it is God's will, it will be.

If you are wondering what a day in the life is like in Cenacolo (Medjugorje), below is a summary that captures the core of each day's schedule:

  • The day begins at 6:15am, where the community gathers in the chapel to recite the Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary, on their knees, in front of the Blessed Sacrament.
  • One individual is committed to reading the Gospel, and shares how it has affected his life in community. Each day, a different individual reads and shares the Gospel experience.
  • After the Gospel sharing, everyone eats breakfast together.
  • Community work begins after breakfast. Depending on the particular location, this could mean tending to animals, gardening, landscaping, construction, or an ongoing community project.
  • By 10:00am, the community enjoys a five-to-ten minute break with a snack, then it's back to work.
  • At lunch (Noon), everyone eats together, but first the community recites the Angelus, and a thanksgiving prayer for the food they are about to eat.
  • After the community has eaten, there is thirty-to-forty minutes of sharing with another member. Community members pair up for this sharing; one that is by choice and consensual. Pairing changes each day, due to the importance of sharing with someone different. This goes on until approximately 1:15pm.
  • After which the community walks together reciting the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary, with the special intention for Sister Elvira.
  • Work continues after the Rosary is recited.
  • At 4:00pm, there is another five-to-ten minute break, with another snack.
  • Work continues for a bit, then a decision is made with respect to some free time. It may mean a quick football (soccer) game, practicing singing, the playing of musical instruments or something else.
  • By 5:30pm, everyone is expected to be showered and ready for prayers in the chapel, where the Glorious Mysteries of the Rosary are recited.
  • The community eats dinner together, after which they recite another set of the Mysteries of the Rosary.
  • Bedtime is 9:00pm.

If it all seems somewhat regimented, it needs to be. It is important to develop a consistent daily routine, one that will help each individual to develop positive work and prayer habits, discover and learn new things about themselves, grow in virtue, and make that positive transition to a new life.

Although most aspects of community life are readily understood, there are times when what appears to be obvious, does in fact have an added meaning or purpose. Case in point, the example that Ben shared at the conference; the task assigned to him of picking individual blades of grass from gravel or rocky parts of the landscape. At first, Ben loathed the idea, but it soon proved to be a learning experience, a time of discovery about himself. 

Plucking individual blades of grass takes time and patience, and patience is something that Ben needed to develop. In addition, he also learned to be obedient. Ben was assigned to picking blades of grass on more than once occasion. It wasn't long before Ben welcomed the task, knowing that it had a personal meaning for his own journey. This example spotlights how Cenacolo is very much a community experience, but also an individual journey.

If you are wondering how Cenacolo deals with issues and problems, the community has the answer: the Responsible, who is the person in charge of the entire community. The Responsible, works closely with "work groups," to discuss any issues or problems, and they are typically dealt with quickly, so as to not allow what may be a small problem to develop into a bigger one.

Perhaps the most fundamental aspect of Cenacolo is that it operates solely and completely on Divine Providence, which manifests itself in many ways: volunteers, donations, assistance from local families and communities, help from consecrated religious, and other ways. Medjugorje is blessed to have two Cenacolo communities, one for men and one for women.

The Cenacle communities throughout the world are truly something special; God's love and mercy reaching out to those lost souls, who need to be found. Perhaps it would be most fitting to end my post by quoting from the Cenacle Community's web site, "We are the first to be amazed by what the Lord is working in front of our eyes, and to thank Him because He makes us daily witnesses to His Resurrection, in the strength of which we see every day life return in the smiles of people who had lost all hope."

Hvaljen Isus i Marija (Praised be Jesus and Mary)