Entries on the Scapular

Meaning and Origin

Entries on the Scapular

Latin: scapula, shoulder-blade

The scapular forms a part, and now the most important part, of the habit of the monastic orders. Other orders and numerous religious congregations (both male and female) have also adopted the scapular from the monastic orders. It is usually worn over the habit or soutane and consists of a piece of cloth about the width of the breast from one shoulder to the other, and long enough that it almost reaches the feet in front and behind. In the middle of the cloth is the opening for the head, the scapular thus hanging down from two narrow connecting segments resting on the shoulders. Originally the segments were connected by cross pieces under the arms.

This scapular, like the whole monastic habit and the liturgical vestments of the priest, developed from the ordinary clothing of the laity. Just as the stole is the special sign of the priestly dignity and power, the scapular is now the sign of the monk. In the West, in the case of Saint Benedict, the scapular was at first nothing but a work garment or apron such as those used by agricultural labourers. From this developed the special monastic garment to which a hood could be fastened at the back. In fact, the original scapular of the Dominican Order was made so that it covered the head.

Ceremony and Symbolism

Western monastic formulae from the 9th century make no mention of the investment with the scapular. It was only gradually that it became one of the important part of the monastic habit, and later it was solemnly presented during the clothing, and the symbolism of the scapular is emphasized in the formula used during this ceremony. The scapular was often called simply crux (cross) due to its shape, and symbolism was introduced accordingly. It was thus natural to term the scapular jugum Christi (the yoke of Christ); it was also called scutum (shield), as it was laid over the head, which it originally covered and protected with one portion (from which the hood afterwards developed).

The rules of the religious orders expressly required the scapular must be worn, even at night. Carmelites have now a special smaller scapular which they wear at night, and it is likewise prescribed in the Servite Constituion. After Saint Benedict required appropriate dress while sleeping, the scapular became required for Benedictines, and appears to have become a portion of the night clothing of all monks.

Third Order Use

In the early Middle Ages, many lay people had already joined the Benedictine Order as oblates, and often received the entire monastic habit which they wore either constantly, or at least during Divine Service. It was a great grace and privilege to die and/or be buried in the monastic habit, which was frequently given to the dying or placed on the deceased before burial. The 1891 and 1904 statutes of the Benedictine Oblates states that “Oblates may be buried in the black habit of the order, with scapular and girdle, wherever the conditions allow the fulfilment of this pious wish”. By the Decree of the Sacred Congregation of Bishops and Regulars in 1616, the Bizzoche who lived in the houses of relatives could wear the tertiary habit, but without veil, pectorale, and scapular. Later, the wearing of the special habit of an order became unusual, and constantly wearing one was regarded as a privilege.

Gradually the most distinctive article of the monastic habit, the scapular, was given in an ever smaller form. Eventually the third orders for the laity, such as those of the Franciscans, Servites and Dominicans, began to wear as their special badge and habit a “large” scapular, consisting essentially of two segments of woollen cloth (about 4.5 by 2.5 inches, although no particular length or breadth is prescribed) connected with each other by two strings or bands. The best known scapular is that of the Third Order of Saint Francis, or, as it is simply called, the Scapular of Saint Francis; it is brown, grey, or black in colour and generally has on one of the woollen segments the image of Saint Francis and on the other that of the little church of Portiuncula. For these large scapulars, the same general rules hold good as described in detail below in the case of the small scapulars. It is especially necessary that persons who desire to share in the indulgences and privileges of the third orders shall wear the scapulars constantly. However, the Congregation of Indulgences expressly declared on 30 April 1885 that the wearing of the scapulars of smaller form and of the same size as those of the confraternities entitled one to gain the indulgences of the third order.

The four oldest small scapulars

Like the large scapulars, the first and oldest small scapulars developed from real monastic scapular. Pious lay people of either sex attached themselves to the Servites for instance; many attached themselves to the third order with vows, but for many others this was impossible. Soon after the foundation of the Servite Order the Confraternity of the Servi B. Mariae Virginis and the Confraternity of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. It is probable that many of those who could not be promoted to the third order or who were special benefactors of the first order received the habit of the order or a large scapular similar to that of the oblates, which they might wear when dying and in which they might be buried. It was only later and gradually that the idea developed of giving to everyone connected with the order the real scapular of the order in miniature as their badge to be worn day and night over or under their ordinary clothing.

These confraternities developed into scapular confraternities in the modern sense, and the faithful resorted ever more to them, especially after they had heard of the graces members had received through the scapulars, and above all when the story of the apparition of the Blessed Virgin and of her promise to all who wore the Scapular of Mount Carmel faithfully until death became known. The four oldest small scapulars are the badges of four confraternities, attached to the Carmelites, Servites, Trinitarians and Mercederians. Later the Franciscans gave the members of their third order the large scapular, and then the Dominicans assigned to their third order the large scapular as its badge; since 1903 there has been a small scapular of Saint Dominic provided with an indulgence but connected with no confraternity. The Benedictines founded a special confraternity in the latter half of the thirteenth century, and gave to its members a small scapular of Saint Benedict.

Newer small scapulars

Over time other orders received approval to bless small scapulars and invest the faithful with them, although such scapulars were not always connected with a confraternity. Thus originated the Blue Scapular of the Theatines in the seventeenth century, in connexion with which a confraternity was not founded until the 19th century. The Fathers of the Precious Blood have a scapular and confraternity named after their order. The Camillians have the Confraternity and Scapular of Our Lady the Help of the Sick, and the Augustinians the Confraternity and Scapular of the Mother of Good Counsel; the Capuchins have the Scapular of Saint Joseph without a corresponding confraternity. The Lazarists have the Red, and the Passionists the Black Scapular of the Passion. Under Pope Leo XIII the Scapular Confraternity of Saint Michael the Archangel was founded, which is attached not so much to an order as to the church in which it exists. In 1900 the Scapular of the Sacred Heart, the Scapular of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary (both without a corresponding confraternity), and the Scapular of the Immaculate Heart of Mary were approved.

The history of the origin of the first four small scapulars is a little obscure. It is probable that the revival of the religious life in the sixteenth century (the Counter-Reformation) gave the chief impetus to the development of the scapulars, just as it did to other institutions and practices (e.g., confraternities and novenas). It is impossible to cite the exact date of the origin of the first small scapular; it seems that the Carmelite scapular antedated all the others, as a prototype well worthy of imitation, and had its origin the above mentioned scapular prescribed for wearing at night. At the end of the sixteenth century the scapular was certainly widespread, as is clear from the information given by the Carmelite Joseph Falcone in “La Cronica Carmelitana”, a book which was published at Piacenza in 1595.

General regulations for small scapulars

Small scapulars are essentially two rectangular pieces of woolen cloth about 2.5 inches by 2 inches, connected by two strings or bands in such a manner that, when the bands rest on the shoulders, the front segment rests before the breast, the other hanging down an equal distance at the back. The two segments of cloth need not necessarily be the same size, but must be made of woven wool; the strings or bands may be of any material, and of any single colour. The colour of the cloth pieces depends on the colour of the monastic habit which it represents, or on the mystery in honour of which it is worn. The so called Brown Scapular of the Carmelites may be black, and that the bands of the Red Scapular of the Passion must be red wool. Either or both of the woollen segments may be sewn or embroidered with images, phrases, emblems or other decorations, which may use material other than wool.

Only at the original reception of any scapular is either the blessing or investment by an authorized priest necessary. When a person needs a new scapular, he can put on an unblessed one. If the investment with a scapular is inseparably connected with reception into a confraternity, the reception and enrollment must take place on the same occasion as the blessing and investment. 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 cease to wear it 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. A maximum of five scapulars may be worn at once. Several scapulars may be attached to the same pair of strings or bands; each scapular must be complete, and must be attached to both bands.

The Scapulars

A scapular gives its wearer a share in the merits and spiritual benefits of the association of which it is the badge. Every scapular, which is not merely an object of private devotion (for there are also such) but is also provided with an indulgence, must be approved by the ecclesiastical authorities, and the formula of blessing must be sanctioned by the Congregation of Rites. In this article we cover only of scapulars approved by the Church. They are

See also


Scapular of Mount Carmel
Brown Scapular


Probably the oldest and certainly the best-known and most widespread of the small scapulars. It is the badge of the Confraternity of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, and like the rosary, has become emblematic of the devout Catholic and the true servant of Mary. It is generally brown in color, though black is acceptable. It is often ornamented with pictures, most commonly that of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, but these are not required.

Originally the investing in this scapular was restricted to the Carmelite Order, but now any priest having ordinary faculties in a diocese can invest in it. The formula now in use was prescribed by Pope Leo XIII in 1888. The authentic list of indulgences, privileges, and indults of the Scapular Confraternity of Mount Carmel was last approved on 4 July, 1908, by the Congregation of Indulgences.

The “Feast of the Scapular” is that of Our Lady of Mount Carmel on 16 July. Tradition says that the Blessed Virgin appeared to Saint Simon Stock at Cambridge, England, on Sunday 16 July 1251. In answer to his appeal for help for his oppressed order, she appeared to him with a scapular in her hand and said: “Take, beloved son this scapular of thy order as a badge of my confraternity and for thee and all Carmelites a special sign of grace; whoever dies in this garment, will not suffer everlasting fire. It is the sign of salvation, a safeguard in dangers, a pledge of peace and of the covenant”. Thus, whoever wears the badge of the Mother of God throughout life as her faithful servant, not presumptuously relying on the scapular as on a miraculous or magical amulet, but trustfully confiding in the power and goodness of Mary, may securely hope that Mary will through her powerful and motherly intercession procure for him all the necessary graces for true conversion and for perseverance in good. The second privilege, known as the Sabbatine privilege, means that Mary’s motherly concern for those in the Scapular Confraternity will continue after death, and will find effect especially on Saturday (the day consecrated to her honour), provided that the members fulfill faithfully the not easy conditions necessary for obtaining this privilege.

Scapular of Our Lady of Ransom

Badge of a confraternity affiliated to the Order of Our Lady of Mercy (Trinitarians). It is white, one part bears a picture of Our Lady of Ransom, and the other simply of a smaller piece of white cloth. The summary of indulgences of the confraternity was last approved by the Congregation of Indulgences on 30 July 1868. The General of the Mercedarians communicates to other priests the faculty of receiving into the confraternity and of blessing and investing with the scapular.

Scapular of Saint Benedict

To associate the faithful, who were not Oblates of Saint Benedict, in a certain measure with the Benedictine Order, a confraternity of Saint Benedict was founded in the second half of the nineteenth century, at first by the English Congregation. Reception is effected by the enrollment of the members and investment with a small blessed scapular of black cloth. One of the segments usually has a picture of Saint Benedict but no picture is necessary. The confraternity was endowed with indulgences by Pope Leo XIII in 1882 and 1883.

Scapular of Saint Dominic

Fostered by the Dominican Order. The general of that society, however, can give to other priests the faculty of blessing it. It was approved on 23 November 1903 by Pope Pius X who granted an indulgence to the wearers every time that they devoutly kiss it. It is made of white wool, and usually bears a picture of a kneeling Saint Dominic on one part and that of Blessed Reginald receiving the habit from the Mother of God on the other.

Scapular of Saint Joseph

Promoted by the Capuchin Fathers, and used locally since 1880. Approved by Pope Leo XIII on 15 April 1898. It is violet, with white bands; on each half is a square of gold colored cloth; that on the front part bearing a picture of Saint Joseph with the Child Jesus on his right arm, a staff of lilies in his left hand, and the words “Saint Joseph, Patron of the Church, Pray for us”; on the other part bearing the papal crown and keys, a dove to represent the Holy Spirit, and the words Spiritus Domini Ductor Ejus (The Spirit of the Lord is His Guide).

Scapular of Saint Michael the Archangel


The only scapular not oblong in shape. Designed as a shield, one part is blue, the other black, and the connecting bands are blue and black. Each part bears a picture of Michael the Archangel slaying the dragon, and the inscription Quis ut Deus? (Who is like to God?). It is the badge of the Archconfraternity of Saint Michael, founded in 1878, and each member is invested with it. Blessed Pope Pius IX gave it his blessing, and it was indulgenced by Pope Leo XIII.

Scapular of the Hearts of Jesus and Mary

A white scapular with the two Hearts and the implements of the Passion on one part, and a red cross on the other. It owes its origin to the Daughters of the Sacred Heart, a community founded at Antwerp in 1873. It was approved on 4 April 1900. Indulgenced by Pope Leo XIII and Pope Pius X.

Scapular of Mary, the Help of the Sick

Scapular badge of a confraternity associated with the Society of Saint Camillus, patron of hospitals. In the Church of Saint Magdalen at Rome, belonging to the Clerks Regular of Saint Camillus, a picture of the Blessed Virgin is specially venerated under the title of Help of the Sick. This picture is said to have been painted by the celebrated Dominican painter, Fra Angelico da Fiesole and before it Pope Saint Pius V is said to have prayed for the victory of the Christian fleet during the battle of Lepanto. This picture suggested to a brother of the Order of Saint Camillus, Ferdinand Vicari, the idea of founding a confraternity under the invocation of the Mother of God for the poor sick. He succeeded, the confraternity being canonically founded in the above mentioned church on 15 June 1860. At their reception, members are given a scapular of black woollen cloth; the portion over the breast is a copy of the above picture of the Mother of God and at her feet are Saint Joseph and Saint Camillus, the two other patrons of the sick and of the confraternity. On the small segment at the back is sewed a little red cloth cross; although this receives separate and special blessing for the sick, it does not constitute an essential portion of the scapular. The scapular is the badge of the confraternity, which received its indulgences from Pope Pius IX in 1860, and from Pope Leo XIII in 1883; these were last ratified by a Rescript of the Congregation of Indulgences on 21 July 1883.

Scapular of the Holy Face

Made of white cloth, with the picture of the Face of Our Lord made famous through the tradition of Veronica’s Veil. It is the badge of the Archconfraternity of the Holy Face, but the members may use a medal or cross bearing the same emblem. Wearing of this picture is simply one of the pious practices of the archconfraternity, without any special indulgences.

Scapular of the Immaculate Conception


A blue scapular, bearing on one part a picture of the Immaculate Conception, and on the other the name of Mary. Blessed Ursula Benicasa, foundress of the Order of Theatine Nuns, relates in her autobiography how the habit she and her sisters wear in honour of the Immaculate Conception was revealed to her in a vision. When Jesus promised great favours for her order, she begged the same graces for all the faithful who would devoutly wear a small sky-blue scapular in honour of the Immaculate Conception and for the conversion of sinners. Her prayer was answered, and she disseminated such scapulars after they had been blessed by a priest. This devotion bore such rich fruits that on 30 January 1671 Pope Clement X expressly granted the faculty to bless and invest with this scapular. Pope Clement XI granted certain indulgences for the wearing of the scapular, succeeding popes increased the number, and the summary was approved by the Congregation of Indulgences first in 1845 and finally on 26 August 1882. Only the blue woollen cloth is essential and necessary. The scapular usually bears on one portion a symbolization of the Immaculate Conception and on the other the name of Mary.

Scapular of the Immaculate Heart of Mary


Badge of the society of the Sons of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. It was sanctioned and endowed with indulgences by Pope Pius IX on 11 May 1877, and approved by the Congregation of Rites in 1907. The superior general of the Sons can communicate the faculty of blessing and investing with this scapular to other priests. It is white woollen cloth, with a picture of the Heart of Mary surrounded by flames, surmounted by a lily, encircled with roses, and pierced by a sword.

Scapular of the Most Blessed Trinity

A white scapular with a red and blue cross. Badge of the Confraternity of the Most Blessed Trinity. Said to have originated in a vision vouchsafed to Pope Innocent II in 1198 in which an angel garbed in these colors appeared to him and directed him to approve the Order of the Most Blessed Trinity for the redemption of captives. Each person who joins the Confraternity of the Blessed Trinity must be invested with this scapular and must constantly wear it. The indulgences of this confraternity were last approved by a Decree of the Congregation of Indulgences of 13 August 1899. The General of the Trinitarians may communicate to other priests the faculty of receiving into the confraternity and of blessing and investing with the scapular.

Scapular of the Mother of Good Counsel


Approved by Pope Leo XIII in December 1893. Its use is promoted by the Augustinian Fathers; the faculty of blessing and investing with the scapular belongs primarily to the Augustinian monks, but the General of the Augustinians communicates this privilege to other priests. It is white wool, with one part bearing a picture of the Mother of Good Counsel with the inscription “Mother of Good Counsel”; on the other, the papal crown and keys with the inscription, “Son, follow her counsel. Leo III”.

Scapular of the Passion (Black)


Badge of a confraternity associated with the Congregation of the Passionists (Passionist Fathers). The Passionists gave the faithful who wished to associate themselves more closely with their order a black scapular in honour of the Passion of Christ. It bears on the front half an exact replica of the badge of the Passion, namely a heart above a cross, on which is written “Jesu XPI Passio” and below “sit semper in cordibus nostris” (May the Passion of Jesus Christ be always in our hearts). The back portion is simply a small segment of black woollen cloth. At various times indulgences have been granted to the faithful who wear this scapular, the Summary being last approved by the Congregation of Indulgences on 10 May 1877. The Superior-General of the Passionists communicates to other priests the faculty to bless and invest with the scapular.

Scapular of the Passion (Red)


This scapular owes its origin to a series of apparitions of Jesus Christ to a Sister of Charity of Saint Vincent de Paul in 1846 in which He showed the sister a scapular, and promised to all who should wear it on every Friday a great increase of faith, hope, and charity. It was approved and indulgences were granted to its wearers by Pope Pius IX on 25 June 1847. Priests of the Mission (Lazarists) were given the faculty of blessing the scapular and investing the faithful with it; the Superior-General can communicate the faculty of blessing and investing with this scapular to other regular or secular priests. This scapular and its bands are of red woolen material. On one half is a picture of Our Crucified Lord with the implements of His Passion and the words “Holy Passion of Jesus Christ, Save Us”; on the other are represented the Hearts of Jesus and Mary, and above these a cross with the inscription: “Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary, protect us.”

Scapular of the Precious Blood

Badge of the Confraternity of the Precious Blood. Priests who can receive the faithful into the Confraternity of the Precious Blood have also the faculty of blessing and investing these with this red scapular (or a red girdle). No special indulgences are connected with the wearing of this scapular, and the wearing of it is left optional to the members of the confraternity. It is red, and one part usuallly bears a picture of the chalice with the Precious Blood adored by angels; the other segment which hangs at the back is simply a smaller portion of red cloth.

Scapular of the Sacred Heart of Jesus

Besides the well-known badge of the Sacred Heart, there is a scapular, approved and indulgenced by Pope Leo XIII in 1900. It is white, bearing pictures of the Heart of Jesus and the Heart of Mary. This was especially employed during the plague at Marseilles as a protection against the pest. During the terrors of the French Revolution it served as a safeguard for the pious faithful. Although this badge is often called a scapular, it is not really such; consequently the conditions governing scapulars do not apply to it. It was only in 1872 that an indulgence was granted by Pius IX for the wearing of this badge. A real scapular of the Sacred Heart was first introduced in France in 1876 when it was approved by Decree of the Congregation of Rites and a special formula for blessing and investing with it appointed 4 April, 1900. This scapular consists of two segments of white woollen cloth connected in the usual manner by two strings; one segment bears the usual representation of the Sacred Heart, while the other bears that of the Blessed Virgin under the title of Mother of Mercy. By a Brief of 10 July, Leo XIII granted many indulgences for the pious wearing of this scapular.

Scapular of the Seven Dolors of Mary
Black Scapular of the Servites

The badge of a confraternity established by the Servites of Mary. It is black, and often bears a picture of the Mother of Sorrows. It must be worn constantly if one wishes to gain the indulgences of the confraternity. The summary of indulgences was last approved by the Congregation of Indulgences on 7 March 1888. Priests may obtain from the General of the Servites the faculty to receive the faithful into the confraternity and to bless and invest with the scapular.

Fivefold Scapular

Some times the five best-known of the early scapulars are attached to the same pair of bands, a combination known as the “fivefold scapular”. They are

The strings or bands must be made of red wool, as this is 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.

Scapular Medal


A blessed medal worn instead of one or more of the small scapulars, authorized as a substitute by decree of Pope Pius X on 16 December 1910. It bears on one side a representation of the Sacred Heart, and on the other an image of the Blessed Virgin. It takes the place of any small scapular in which the wearer has been invested, but not of any large scapular. Investing in any scapular cannot be done with the medal; a scapular must be used. When replaced by a new one, the latter must be blessed. If the medal is used in place of more than one scapular, a blessing is given for each. The priest who blesses must have faculties to invest in the corresponding scapular. The medal may be worn or carried in any manner.