The most highly developed of Marian Scapular devotions is that of the Brown Scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. Since the seventeenth century, the Brown Scapular has been a universal Catholic devotion, considered to be, together with the rosary, a customary form of Marian devotional practice. The popularity of the Scapular devotion was due to the sixteenth and seventeenth century popes, who promulgated the so-called Sabbatine Privilege and who approved the Confraternity of the Scapular for every diocese throughout the Catholic world. The growth and development of the Scapular devotion reached its culmination in 1726 in the extension to the universal Church of the feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel for July 16.
The wearing of the Scapular fosters a true devotion to Mary that is based on her supernatural mission in the redemption of mankind. Two Marian doctrines are proposed in the devotion of the Brown Scapular: Mary’s Spiritual Maternity and her Mediation of Grace. The Scapular teaches a practical confidence in the intercession of the Blessed Virgin to obtain for its wearer the grace of final perseverance, or a happy death. The two general conditions to obtain this benefit are that one must honor Mary by wearing the Scapular faithfully until death and endeavor sincerely to lead a Christian life. This reliance on Mary’s intercession for the gift of final perseverance derives historically from the belief that the Blessed Virgin promised in an apparition to Saint Simon Stock, Prior General of the Carmelites (1247?-1265), that all who die wearing the Scapular will not sujffer the eternal flames of hell. This tradition has become known as the “Scapular promise.”
The devotion also teaches that the aid of Mary may be confidently expected in purgatory by all those who have faithfully worn the Scapular and have fulfilled two other conditions: the practice of chastity according to one’s state of life and the daily recitation of the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin. This privilege of the Scapular devotion has been thought to stem from an apparition of Mary to Pope John XXII, who then promulated this spiritual benefit to the faithful in 1322. According to the copies of the Bull of promulgation attributed to John XXII, the devotee of the Scapular would be released from purgatory on the Saturday after death. Because of the allusion to Saturday, the document of John XXII has been called the “Sabbatine Bull” and its Marian privilege the “Sabbatine Privilege.”
The Origin of the Scapular Devotion
Historically, the devotion of the Scapular among the Catholic laity originated from the tradition of the Marian apparition and promise of the Scapular to Saint Simon Stock. From about 1400, Carmelite authors allude to the wearing of the Scapular by the laity in reliance on the Virgin’s promise of eternal salvation. Carmelite authors of the fifteenth century begin to record a devotional view of the Scapular, insinuating its heavenly origin. According to Grossi (c.1411), Mary gave the Scapular to Saint Simon Stock. According to Bradley (c.1450), in bestowing the Scapular Mary changed the Carmelite habit. Still later authors added new motives for the wearing of the Scapular by the laity. Calciuri (1461) alluded to miracles that had been worked through the Scapular; and Leersius (1483) added that the Scapular had been worn by saints. This tradition of the fifteenth century, which began to develop the devotional value of the Scapular and of its promise, culminated in 1479 in a work by Arnold Bostius, a Belgian Carmelite of Ghent. His manuscript work, De fotronatu et ‘patrocinio B. V. M., formulated the solid basis of Marian doctrine on which the Scapular devotion was founded. Bostius explained how the Scapular promise of eternal salvation was a concrete illustration of the doctrine of Mary as Mediatrix of all Graces. The reception of the Scapular as the pledge of Mary’s promise of eternal salvation placed the obligation upon the members of the Confraternity to imitate Mary in her practice of virtue. Bostius work was popularized by John Paleonydor, a Flemish Carmelite, in a book entitled Fasciculus Tripartitus. Published in 1495, the book was frequently reprinted in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. By the end of the fifteenth century, the theological structure of the Scapular devotion had been essentially outlined: its doctrinal foundation was the cult of Mary as Mediatrix of all Graces; its motive was the tradition of the apparition of Our Lady to Saint Simon Stock with the promise of the Scapular.
The Scapular Promise and Historical Criticism
The question of the historical authenticity of the Scapular promise was raised in the seventeenth century when the modern concept of scientific history was first developed. It cannot be said that the historical value of the tradition has been decided with finality. Recent historical investigations into Carmelite medieval history have provided information on the tradition of the Scapular promise that was not in the possession of scholars of past decades.
The Carmelites of the fourteenth century preserved the tradition of the Scapular promise as part of the cult within the Order to Saint Simon Stock. The narrative of the apparition and of the promise of the Scapular was incorporated in the Carmelite Catalogue of Saints, or Sanctoral, composed for the Order. The account in its earliest known form reads as follows:
The ninth (saint) was Saint Simon of England, the sixth General of the Order. He continually besought the most glorious Mother of God to defend with a privilege the Order of Carmelites, which enjoys the special title of the Virgin. He prayed devoutly:
Flower of Carmel
Splendor of heaven,
None equals thee!
O Mother benign.
Who no man didst know,
On all Carmel’s children
Thy favors bestow
Star of the Sea.
The Blessed Virgin appeared to him with a multitude of angels, holding in her blessed hands the Scapular of the Order. She said, ‘This will be for you and for all Carmelites the privilege, that he who dies in this will not suffer eternal fire,” that is, he who dies in this will be saved.
There is no doubt that the origin of the Scapular devotion among the laity is traceable to this fourteenth century narrative. Its composition has been dated about the mid-fourteenth century.” Of greater significance, however, than the date of the narrative, is its location in the Carmelite Sanctoral, where it forms the complete hagiographical notice on Saint Simon Stock. If this story of the Marian apparition and promise were not found in the earliest hagiographical notice on Saint Simon Stock, but only in documents of later origin, this fact would cast grave suspicion on the authentic origin of the tradition. The appearance in the fourteenth century narrative of the poem, the Flos Carmeli, reveals the existence of a cult of the apparition at this time within the Order. A Marian devotion induced by the Scapular promise existed within the Carmelite Order before it arose among the laity. The story of the apparition of Mary and the promise of the Scapular was a fully formed tradition within the Order by the mid-fourteenth century, one hundred years after the death of Saint Simon Stock. The tradition was not originally motivated by the spread of the Scapular devotion among the laity. Nor was the tradition utilized by the medieval Carmelites to claim a unique Marian privilege. The absence of these motives behind the tradition tells in favor of its authenticity.
In the past, scholars have urged three difficulties against the historicity of the Scapular promise: (1) absence of documentary evidence for the tradition from the thirteenth century; (2) silence of Carmelite authors of the fourteenth century concerning the promise; (3) confusion in the tradition between the Carmelite habit and the Carmelite Scapular as the garment supposedly designated by Mary. These objections no longer constitute serious diflBculties against the authenticity of the Scapular tradition. Documentary evidence cannot be expected from the thirteenth century since the Carmelite Order did not begin to produce an extensive literature until the middle of the fourteenth century. The appearance of the written tradition of the Scapular promise coincides with the blossoming of literary activity within the Order. In the face of modem research into the history of Carmelite literary activity in the fourteenth century, the argument from silence against the tradition of the scapular promise loses point. The account of the Marian apparition to Saint Simon Stock is a constant written tradition as far back as literary activity reveals itself to be an important factor in the life of the Order. Finally, the conclusion of some historians that the apparition was originally associated by the Carmelites with their habit in general rather than with the Scapular in particular is certainly mistaken. There is an unbroken line of evidence, beginning with the Chapter of Montpellier in 1287 that the terms habit and Scapular were used interchangeably by the medieval Carmelites.* When the word habit is employed in Carmelite authors in connection with the Marian promise to Saint Simon Stock, the term means simply Scapular.”
The sole reason for rejecting the historical authenticity of the Scapular promise is the absence of thirteenth century documentation revealing Carmelite knowledge and acceptance of the story of the apparition. The absence of such evidence leaves open the possibility that the Scapular tradition developed as a legend in the thirteenth or early fourteenth century. While the possibility of a legendary origin for the tradition of the Scapular promise must be admitted, its legendary origin cannot be affirmed. Beginning with the documentary evidence in the fourteenth century, the essential details of the tradition remain invariable: (1) the apparition of Mary, (2) to Saint Simon Stock, (3) with the Scapular, (4) stating the words of eternal life for all who die clothed in this garment.
The Sabbatine Privilege: Origin and Historical Critique
The Sabbatine Bull occupied a place of key importance in the spread of the Scapular devotion in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Throughout this period the popes repeatedly promulgated the Sabbatine Privilege in allusion to the Bull of 1322 attributed to Pope John XXII: Clement VII (1530); Paul III C1534; 1549); Pius IV (1561); Pius V C1566); Gregory XIII (1577); Urban VIII (1628); Clement X (1673; 1674; 1675); Innocent XI (1678; 1679; 1682; 1684).* Since according to the Sabbatine Privilege the souls of the faithful departed would benefit in purgatory from the intercession of the Blessed Virgin, the Church found it useful to stress the privilege in order to teach the legitimacy of the doctrine of indulgences and of Marian devotion.
The tradition of the Sabbatine Bull seems to have been first spread in the fifteenth century. The Bull was known to the Carmelites Calciuri in 1461 and Leersius in 1483. It was referred to by the Carmelite General Chapter of 1517. Historically, however, the tradition of the Sabbatine Bull is clearly vulnerable. No evidence of the Bull appears in the registers of John XXII. Although it is recognized that the absence of a papal document from the medieval registers is not a conclusive argument against its authenticity, no positive historical evidence from other sources supports the papal origin of the Bull. Its literary character is entirely too odd to recommend it as the work of John XXII. For these reasons, historians have rejected the authenticity of the Sabbatine Bull. The apparent spuriousness of the Bull naturally casts serious doubt on its tradition that the Sabbatine Privilege originated in a Marian apparition to Pope John XXII. Three theories have been proposed to explain the origin of the tradition of the apparition and the Bull. According to one view the tradition would have originated in an oral declaration by John XXII. theory accounts for the spurious character of the Bull and for its peculiar style. The explanation is too conjectural to win credence. A second theory would derive the Sabbatine Bull from an original authentic document from John XXII which became corrupt in the course of time. But no evidence has been produced from existing copies of the Bull to show a gradual corruption of its text. A third theory considers the Bull to be an interpretation, based on theological grounds, of the Marian promise to Saint Simon Stock.* Since Mary’s Mediation of Grace, of which her promise of eternal salvation is a reflection, embraces the final goal of the Christian life, which is union with God, it is logical to conclude that her maternal assistance makes itself felt in purgatory. This third theory, that the Sabbatine Privilege is a more developed understanding of the significance of the Marian promise to Saint Simon Stock, is the most plausible explanation of the origin of the Sabbatine Bull. The copies of the Bull indicate a close relationship between the promise to Saint Simon Stock and the Sabbatine Privilege. The Bull states, “One who perseveres in holy obedience, poverty and chastity – or who will enter the Holy Order – will be saved.” Then follows the declaration of the Sabbatine Privilege concerning release from purgatory for “others” who wear the holy Tiabit” of the Order. It would seem, then, that the Sabbatine Privilege arose historically in a fuller understanding of the Marian promise to Saint Simon Stock.
The Decision of the Holy Office on the Sabbatine Privilege
Since the early seventeenth century, Carmelite preaching of the Sabbatine Privilege has been theologically independent of the historical authenticity of the Sabbatine Bull. In 1613 the Holy Office under Pope Paul V issued a decree on the Sabbatine Privilege which took account of the papal bulls of the sixteenth century. These Bulls had promulgated the privilege according to the tradition of the Sabbatine Bull. The decree of the Holy Office made no reference to the Bull of John XXII or to the tradition of the Marian apparition to him. It simply affirmed the privilege itself. The decree follows:
The Carmelite Fathers may preach that the Christian people can piously believe in the aid of the souls of the brethren and confratres of the Sodality of the Most Blessed Virgin of Mount Carmel. Through her continuous intercessions, pious suffrages, merits, and special protection the Most Blessed Virgin, especially on Saturday, the day dedicated to her by the Church, will help after their death the brethren and members of the Sodality who die in charity. In life they must have worn the habit, observed chastity according to their state, and have recited the Little Office. If they do not know how to recite it, they are to observe the fasts of the Church and to abstain from meat on Wednesdays and Saturdays, except for the feast of Christmas.
This decree of Paul V stated in effect that the spiritual authority of the popes of the sixteenth century had sanctioned the Marian teaching of the Sabbatine Privilege. This aspect of the devotion of the Brown Scapular was thus declared spiritually fruitful for the laity.
The Interpretation of the Scapular Promise
The first affirmation of theologians concerning the Scapular promise of eternal salvation deals with the necessity of ruling out formalism in the practice of the devotion. Formalism is the physical wearing of the Scapular without sincere intent to serve God. The theological reason for ruling out formalism is that exterior acts of religion must be a reflection of one’s interior mind and will if they are not to be hypocritical. The Scapular is merely a symbol having in itself no intrinsic power of grace. As a symbol it possesses a twofold import, one in relation to the Blessed Virgin, one in relation to its wearer. As a sign of consecration to Mary, the Scapular is a reminder of the spiritual prerogatives enjoyed by her in the economy of the redemption, and it is a pledge that her role be activated in favor of the wearer of the Scapular. In relation to its wearer, the Scapular is a sign that one has resolved to dedicate himself to the service of Christ and Mary according to his station in life. The Scapular symbolizes both the recognition of the spiritual maternity of Mary and an acceptance of the spiritual duties that Christians, as children of Mary, are obligated to undertake in the service of God. For the layman who becomes a member of the Scapular Confraternity the spiritual duties are summed up in the observance of the Ten Commandments, daily prayer, attendance at Mass on days of obligation, the reception of the Sacraments of Penance and the Holy Eucharist, and the faithful performance of the duties of one’s state. The Scapular devotion does not provide an escape from the ordinary duties of Christianity, but is rather an incentive to undertake them with fervor and exactitude in the knowledge that one thus prepares himself to arrive at the final goal of the Christian life, union with God in eternity. In order to insist that the Scapular is meaningless without interior devotion, the Church has inserted the word pie, “piously,” into the words of the promise concerning those who die in the Scapular.
The interpretation of the promise to Saint Simon Stock, “He who dies in this will not suffer eternal fire” must be based on sound principles of theology. The words themselves simply express the object of Mary’s promise, eternal salvation, and the pledge of her assistance, the material sign of the Scapular to be worn continually. To ascertain the meaning of the promise, one must have recourse to two principles for the interpretation of private revelation, (1) All private revelation must be understood in the light of the truths of salvation divinely revealed by Jesus Christ and His Apostles. These truths are proposed by the Church, the divinely appointed teacher. (2) Private revelations concerning the Blessed Virgin must be understood in the light of the spiritual values inherent in true devotion to Mary. These values have been revealed by God and are taught by the Church. Only when these two principles are utilized do we arrive at a correct estimate of the promise of the Scapular.
The practice of the Christian life, however perfectly it may be accomplished, cannot merit in justice the grace of final perseverance. The grace of final perseverance is a gift of God by which we die united to Him in supernatural friendship. All theologians teach it as certain that a good life does not entitle us, in justice, to obtain this grace from God. To live in the supernatural friendship of God is His gift, and so it is His gift also to die in this friendship. The moment of the death of all men, whether in the pursuit of good or of evil, lies in the hands of God. Those who are faithful to the divine commands, truly repentant for their sins, and who avail themselves of the means of grace established by Christ may remain, not absolutely certain, but confident of their salvation. This confidence derives from the virtue of Christian hope, by which we rely on the promises of God that He wills the salvation of all men and gives them the means to attain it. It is precisely in connection with the grace of final perseverance that the Church recommends the devotion of the Scapular. Mary has promised that the grace of final perseverance will be granted through her intercession to all those who, by means of the Scapular, dedicate themselves to her and wear it until death out of devotion to her and to the teachings of Christ. The particular value of the Scapular devotion consists in the special help of Mary, so that the grace of final perseverance, or of a “happy death,” may be obtained through her intercession.
This interpretation of the Scapular promise is but an affirmation of the spiritual value of Marian devotion: one who practices true devotion to Mary cannot lose his soul for eternity. This proposition of the power of Mary’s intercession has been expressed in papal teaching. It is the consciousness of the Church on the value of true Marian devotion. The same awareness is expressed in the Ave Maria, wherein the gift of final perseverance is requested: “Holy Mary . . . pray for us now and at the hour of our death.” Reliance on Mary s intercession, put into these words of momentary prayer, becomes in the symbol of the Scapular a continual prayer that spans the moments of a lifetime, to the supreme moment of death.
The necessity of interior devotion does not prevent the sinner from benefiting from the Scapular promise, since all men are sinners. Only the degree, not the fact, of sin in man is debatable. To affirm that the Scapular devotion is not of value to sinners, including those humanly judged to be the worst of them, would be to say that God fails to hear their prayers. The teaching of Christ is that God hears the prayers of the sinner (Luke 18:9-14). The question of the Scapular and sinners is falsely posed when it is asked how the Scapular promise can save the worst of them. The question can only be whether or not the sinner who wears the Scapular out of devotion makes those interior acts in response to divine grace that are necessary to his salvation. The answer to this question is known only to God, who alone may scan the secrets of the heart of man.
The Scapular Devotion in Modem Life
The popes in modem times have been solicitous in their encouragement of the Scapular devotion. Saint Pius X permitted the substitution of a Scapular Medal for the cloth Scapular in recognition of the changed circumstances of life, precisely to encourage the dedication to Mary signified by the Scapular. For any reason, even simple convenience, the faithful invested in any Scapular except that of the Third Orders, may substitute a Scapular Medal which need only be carried on the person. The Medal was not intended as a new form of the Scapular devotion, but only as an aid to its continual practice. Catholics should be instructed to make free and wise use of both Scapular and Medal according to their judgment and circumstances. The permission for the Medal reflects the mind of the Church that the Scapular itself is only the exterior sign of an interior devotion.
In 1890 Leo XIII had begun to grant the faculty to confessors to commute the condition of abstinence into other good works for the gaining of the Sabbatine Privilege. In order to gain the privilege one must (1) wear the Scapular or the Scapular Medal; (2) observe chastity according to ones state in life; (3) recite daily the Little Office of Our Lady, or if one does not know how to recite it, abstain from meat on Wednesdays and Saturdays. The commutation of the third condition, due to practical difficulties in the circumstances of modem life, has become a common practice. The confessor is free to choose any suitable good work as the daily substitute. The commutation of Carmelite confessors is usually to seven Paters, Aves, and Glorias.
Other Marian Scapulars
From time to time in the history of the Church Scapular devotions have arisen to foster love of Mary and to encourage the practice of particular virtues. The Black Scapular of the Seven Dolors originated from the habit of the Servite Fathers. The inspiration for the habit of the Order and for its devotion to Our Lady of Sorrows is attributed to an apparition of Mary to its founders. Pope Martin V approved a rule for the Third Order secular in 1424. The Blue Scapular of the Immaculate Conception, which the Church has favored with an extraordinary number of indulgences, originated in an apparition of Mary to the Venerable Ursula Benincasa in 1617. Great graces were promised by Mary to those who would honor her Immaculate Conception by wearing the Blue Scapular. The condition was expressed that they live chastely according to their state in life. Other Marian Scapulars are of more recent origin: the white Scapular of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, approved by Pius IX in 1877; the white Scapular of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary, approved by the Congregation of Rites in 1900; the white Scapular of Our Lady of Good Counsel, approved in 1893 by Leo XIII for the purpose of invoking Marys guidance upon its wearer; the white Scapular of Our Lady of Ransom bearing the cross of Aragon, which originated in the thirteenth century in connection with the Fathers of the Blessed Virgin Mary of the Redemption of Captives; the black Scapular of Our Lady Help of the Sick, the badge of the Confraternity founded by Saint Camillus de Lellis for the aid of the sick, approved in 1860 by Pius IX.
Recent Popes and the Scapular
Pius XI and Pius XII have urged those wearing the Brown Scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel to be especially attentive in their personal lives to the requirements of true Marian devotion. Pius XI wrote, “…although 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.” Pius XII stressed the spiritual importance of the Scapular devotion:
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).
Pius XII likewise emphasized the value of the Scapular devotion for society itself:
There is no one who is not aware how greatly a love for the Blessed Virgin Mother of God contributes to the enlivening of the Catholic faith and to the raising of the moral standard. These eflFects are especially secured by means of those devotions which more than others are seen to enlighten the mind with celestial doctrine and to excite souls to the practice of the Christian life. In the first rank of the most favored of these devotions, that of the holy Carmelite Scapular must be placed – a devotion which, adapted to the minds of aU by its very simplicity, has become so universally widespread among the faithful and has produced so many and such salutary fruits.
– text taken from the booklet , by Christian P Cheroke, O.Carm.; it is reprinted from , v3, edited by Juniper B Carol, O.F.M., The Bruce Publishing Company, Milwaukee, Wisconsin; the article has the Imprimatur of + James Aloysius McNulty, Bishop of Paterson, New Jersey