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.

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