Externals of the Catholic Church – Scapulars

This chapter will be devoted to the history and description of a sacramental which, in its different forms, is in very general use among Catholics, and which is a channel of great graces and spiritual benefits, inasmuch as it gives its users a share in the merits and prayers of great associations of holy men and women.

The word scapular is from a Latin word which means literally the shoulder-blade. In many of the religious orders, such as the Carmelites and Benedictines, a garment is worn called a scapular, which forms a part of the monastic habit. It is a long piece of cloth, varying in color according to the order, with an opening for the head, and hanging down in front and at the back from the shoulders almost to the ground. It is worn over the monk’s gown, and is open at the sides. In some religious orders the sides are fastened together under the arms; in others, formerly, there were hanging flaps which covered the shoulders, thus making the whole somewhat like a cross; and sometimes a cowl was attached, which could be drawn over the head.

A Symbolic Yoke

It is a curious fact that the original scapular of the monks undoubtedly was developed from a working garment or apron, such as was worn in those days by laborers. The monks found such a covering useful in their toil in the fields, to protect their monastic habit; and it was only about the eleventh century that it was recognized as a part of the religious garb and was blessed and imposed at the reception of a candidate. Then its use became a symbol of the burden of the monastic life. It was called, in the language of the Ritual, the yoke of Christ,” “the cross” and “the shield”; and as the obligations of the religious life were never to be laid aside, so (in many religious communities) the scapular was never to be removed, but was to be worn at night as well as during the day.

The Scapulars of the Third Orders

In the pious times which we call the Middle Ages, many devout lay persons were permitted to join the religious orders as “oblates” – that is, they remained in the world, but assisted regularly or frequently at the monastic services, united their prayers with those of the monks, and partook of the spiritual benefits of the devotions and good works of the order. These often received the religious garb, which some of them wore constantly; but gradually the custom prevailed of wearing it only at divine service. It was looked upon as a great privilege to die in the monastic habit and to be buried in it; and frequently it was given to those who were dying or was placed upon the bodies of the dead.

In later times it was found to be more convenient to dispense with the rest of the religious garb and to wear the scapular, much reduced in size, under the clothing. Thus it has come to pass that the associations of the laity known as “Third Orders,” such as those connected with the Franciscans and Dominicans, wear today as their badge a so-called “large scapular,” made of woolen cloth and measuring about 5 by 2×2 inches. That of the Franciscans, often called simply the Scapular of Saint Francis, is brown, gray or black in color, and has usually a picture of the Saint and one of the church of Portiuncula, where he was favored with a vision. Those who belong to these Third Orders must wear the scapular constantly in order to partake of the indulgences and privileges.

The Small Scapulars

Like the “large scapulars” for the laity, the first small scapulars were derived from the monastic habit. Many pious laymen associated themselves with various religious communities, that thereby they might participate in the good works and consequent merits of those who had consecrated themselves to God. It was deemed proper to form these devout persons into societies whose badge was a miniature of the scapular of the order. These societies or confraternities became sources of great good, and were rapidly extended throughout the Catholic world.

There are now eighteen small scapulars in use among Catholics. The early history of some of them is, to a great extent, obscure; but it is likely that the oldest of them is the Scapular of Mount CarmeL Each of the small scapulars consists of two pieces of woolen cloth, about two inches wide and a little longer, connected by two strings or bands so that when these rest on the shoulders one piece hangs at the breast and the other at the back. The bands need not be of the same color as the two pieces, except in the case of the Red Scapular. On each half of the scapular pictures or emblems are usually sewn or painted, and for some scapulars they are essential. While the two parts of the scapular must be of woolen cloth, these decorations may be of other material, such as silk or linen. Some of the faithful may imagine that the picture is the scapular, or at least adds to its efficacy. This is a mistaken idea. While a picture or emblem is necessary in some cases, the scapular is the woolen cloth, and richness of ornament does not enhance its religious value in any way.

The Scapular of Mount Carmel

In describing the various kinds of scapulars we shall first consider that which is best known – the “brown scapular” of our Lady of Mount Carmel. A beautiful story is told of its origin. In the thirteenth century there lived at Cambridge, in England, a holy man named Simon Stock, the Superior-General of the Carmelite order. He was a man of such sanctity, wisdom and prudence that he was afterwards canonized by the Church. He is said to have declared that on the sixteenth of July, 1251, the Blessed Virgin appeared to him and presented him with a scapular, telling him that it was a special sign of her favor; that he who dies clothed with it shall be preserved from eternal punishment; that it is a badge of salvation, a shield against danger and a pledge of her protection.

Do we Catholics believe that this vision was vouchsafed to the holy Carmelite? We may – but we are not obliged to do so. There is little or no historical evidence that the small scapular was known so far back as the thirteenth century; in its present form, at least, it is probably of much later origin. Nevertheless, the account of Saint Simon’s vision remains a pious and praiseworthy tradition; that is, it is quite credible that the Saint was supernaturally assured of the protection of the Blessed Virgin for all who should wear this badge. This vision has been accepted as genuine by several Pontiffs, and has been cited by them as a reason for the granting of indulgences to those who wear the scapular.

The Scapular Privileges

The above promise is what is known as the “first privilege” of the Carmelite order, and it amounts to this: That all who out of true love and veneration for the Blessed Virgin constantly wear the scapular in a spirit of faith after they have been properly invested in it, shall enjoy the protection of the Mother of God, especially as regards their eternal welfare. If even a sinner wears this badge through life, not presumptuously relying on it as a miraculous charm, but trusting in the power and goodness of Mary, he may hope that through her intercession he will obtain the graces necessary for true conversion and for perseverance.

The Sabbatine Indulgence

The second privilege of the scapular is what is called the Sabbatine (Saturday) Indulgence. There has been much discussion concerning it, and its existence has been denied by many. According to those who uphold the genuineness of this indulgence, the Blessed Virgin assured Pope John XXII that any wearer of the scapular who shall have complied regularly with certain conditions will be released promptly from Purgatory, especially on the first Saturday after his death. Concerning this privilege, as stated, there is considerable doubt. Several Pontiffs seem to have been in favor of it. Benedict XIV and Paul V granted permission to the Carmelite Fathers to preach it to the people, and thereby would seem to have indirectly sanctioned it. “The faithful can believe that the Blessed Virgin will help by her continued assistance and her merits, particularly on Saturdays, the souls of the members’ of the Scapular Confraternity who have died in the grace of God, if in life they wore the scapular, observed chastity according to their state of life, and recited the Office of the Blessed Virgin or observed the fasts of the Church, practising abstinence on Wednesdays and Saturdays.”

About this supposed privilege, then, we cannot speak decisively. It may be true, or it may not be. It is one of the pious beliefs which have not been expressly confirmed by the Church, even though a qualified or partial approval may have been given by individual Pontiffs. We may readily believe that our Blessed Mother consoles with special affection those who have worn the scapular, her livery, while on earth, and are now in Purgatory – especially if they have been chaste and devout – and that she will endeavor to bring them speedily to Heaven. But whether this will take place on the Saturday after death is another question.

Investing in the Brown Scapular

Among us, the investing in this scapular often takes place at the time of First Communion or Confirmation, but there is no rule to that effect. The investiture may be performed for infants; and after they have come to the use of reason they do not need a renewal of it.

Who can perform the investing? This was originally restricted to the priests of the Carmelite Order; but for many years our bishops have had the power of giving this faculty to all their priests. Therefore today any priest having ordinary faculties in a diocese can invest in this scapular.

The form to be used is that prescribed by Pope Leo XIII in 1888, which is shorter than the one formerly in use. After a few introductory versicles and responses a prayer is offered to our Blessed Lord, asking Him to bless this habit which is to be worn for love of Him and of His Mother. The scapular is then placed on the shoulders of the recipient with an appropriate formula, as follows: “Receive this blessed habit, imploring the most holy Virgin, that through her merits thou mayest wear it without stain, and that she may defend thee from all adversity and lead thee to everlasting life. Amen.”

The priest then declares that, by virtue of the power granted to him, the person invested is received into the Scapular Confraternity and is entitled to share in the spiritual benefits of the Order of Mount Carmel. And after another prayer to God asking a blessing on the new member and praying that he may receive the aid of our Mother Mary at the hour of death, he is sprinkled with holy water – which concludes the ceremony of investiture in this scapular.

Scapular Rules

The scapular may be given in any place – not necessarily in church; thus the sick may receive it in their beds. It must be worn so that one part hangs on the breast, the other on the back, with a band on each shoulder. If worn or carried otherwise, no indulgences are gained. It may be worn under all the clothing or over some of it; that is, inside or outside of the under-garments.

After having been once invested, it is never necesssary to have a scapular blessed. When one is worn out or is lost, the wearer simply puts on another without ceremony.

On any except the Red Scapular any suitable ornaments or emblems may be sewn or embroidered in other material than wool; these neither add to nor take away from the value of the scapular. In the case of some scapulars, the investment means reception into a confraternity; the blessing of the scapular and its imposition must then take place at the same time as the enrollment.

The scapular is intended to give its wearer a share in certain spiritual benefits and privileges. It must, therefore, be worn constantly. Laying it aside for a short time – an hour or a day – probably does not deprive one of these advantages; but if the wearing of it has been neglected for a long time, no indulgences are gained during that time. As soon, however, as the scapular is resumed, the spiritual benefits begin again for the wearer.

The “Five Scapulars”

It is permitted to attach several scapulars to the same pair of strings or bands, provided that the scapulars be different from one another and that both parts of each be used. It has long been customary with certain devout persons to combine five of the best-known scapulars. Those generally used are:

the scapular of the Most Blessed Trinity, which is white, blue and red;

the brown scapular of the Carmelites;

that of the Servites, called the Seven Dolors, which is black;

the blue scapular of the Immaculate Conception, and

the red scapular of the Passion.

Each of these will be described briefly later in this chapter.

When these are used together, it is necessary that the bands should be red – because that color is strictly required for the last-mentioned, the red scapular of the Passion; and it is customary to wear this scapular uppermost, so that the images prescribed for it may be visible, and that of the Blessed Trinity undermost, so that the red and blue cross may not be hidden by the other scapulars.

As five scapulars worn together make rather a bulky appendage, the use of them has become less common of late, especially since the approval of the scapular medal as a substitute for any one or all of them, provided that it be lawfully blessed for that purpose – as will be explained later on.

Benefits of the Brown Scapular

To come back to the Scapular of Mount Carmel – what are the advantages and privileges which we gain by using it? All those who have been invested in this scapular become sharers in all the fruits of the good works of the great religious order of the Carmelites – their prayers, meditations, Masses, penances, charitable works, etc. More than this – by a special decree of the Holy See they partake in a special manner in all the good works performed in the whole Catholic Church by clergy and religious and laity. After death they share in all prayers of the Carmelites and in the weekly Mass which every priest of that order offers for the deceased members of the Scapular Confraternity.

Many indulgences may be gained – a plenary one on the day of receiving the scapular, under the usual conditions; another at the hour of death; and all Masses said for deceased wearers of the scapular have the advantage of a “privileged altar” – that is, a plenary indulgence is gained for the person for whom the Mass is offered. Besides these, there many partial indulgences.

Many of the other scapulars, also, give to their wearers a share in the good works of some religious order, and in the merits gained by the members of the confraternity of that scapular.

The Scapular Medal

By a regulation made by Pope Pius X in 1910, it is permitted to wear a medal instead of one or more of the small scapulars. There is a story – which may be true or may not be – that the attention of the kindly Pontiff was first called to this matter by an African missionary who told how his naked negro Catholics found the wearing of the scapular difficult in the thorny jungles of the Congo. The permission intended at first for these dusky children of the Church, to use a medal as a substitute, was finally given to all Catholics. The wearing of several scapulars is inconvenient and possibly unsanitary, and this medal can replace any or all of them; that is, all persons who have been validly invested with a blessed woolen scapular may use the scapular medal instead – and if they have been invested with several, the medal will take the place of all if properly blessed. This refers only to the small scapulars, for the medal is not a substitute for the so-called “large scapulars.”

As said above, a new scapular may replace an old one without a blessing – but this is not the case with the medal. It must be blessed; and this can be done only by a priest, who has faculties to bless and invest with the corresponding scapular. If the medal is to be used instead of several scapulars, a blessing must be given to it for each scapular which it is intended to replace. For each blessing the Church requires merely the sign of the cross.

The scapular medal must have on one side a representation of our Lord with His Sacred Heart, and on the other an image of the Blessed Virgin. It may be made of any kind of hard metal. How is it to be worn? There is no rule about this. It may be hung from the neck, carried in the pocket or purse, or worn in any desired manner. If worn or carried constantly, it gives a share in all the spiritual privileges that would come from the wearing of the scapular or scapulars which it replaces.

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Having considered the origin and use of the Scapular of Mount Carmel and the regulations concerning it, we shall now give a brief history and description of each of the other scapulars which have received the approval of the Church.

The Scapular of the Host Blessed Trinity

This scapular is of white woolen cloth, bearing a blue and red cross, usually only on the front portion. It is the special badge of the confraternity of the same name. When Pope Innocent II, in 1198, was considering the matter of approving the Order of the Trinitarians, an angel is said to have appeared to him, clothed in a white robe and bearing on his breast a cross of red and blue. This was accordingly assigned to the new community as their habit. Later, when the faithful sought to associate themselves with this order, a confraternity was established with this scapular as its badge of membership. Many indulgences have been granted to those who wear it, and these were reaffirmed by Pope Leo XIII in 1899.

The Scapular of Our Lady of Ransom

The “Order of our Lady of Mercy for the Redemption of Captives” was founded by Saint Peter Nolasco about 1240. The members of a confraternity which has been affiliated to it are invested with a scapular of white doth, bearing on its front half a picture of Our Lady of Ransom. The General of the order can give to other priests the faculty of investing with this scapular, and those who wear it receive the benefit of many indulgences, which were renewed and approved by the Holy See in 1868.

The Scapular of the Seven Dolors

One of the great religious orders founded in the thirteenth century was that of the Servites; and soon after its institution, many of the faithful sought a share in its good works and prayers. A confraternity was established in honor of the Seven Dolors or Sorrows of Mary. Their scapular is black, and often bears on the front portion a picture of the Mother of Sorrows. To those who wear it constantly many indulgences have been given, which were reaffirmed by Pope Leo XIII in 1888.

The Black Scapular of the Passion

This is the emblem of the confraternity associated with the Passionist Fathers, who were founded by Saint Paul of the Cross nearly two hundred years ago. It is related that he, in a vision, received the black habit of the order with its badge, which consists of a heart bearing the inscription “Jesu XPI Passio,” and below, “sit semper in cordibus nostris” – which is, in English, “May the Passion of Jesus Christ be always in our hearts.” The letters XPI are Greek, of which the Latin equivalent is CHRI, an abbreviation of “Christi.” This device is used on the black scapular of the Passion, on the front half only. At various times indulgences have been granted to the faithful who wear it, and these were last approved by Pius IX in 1877.

The Scapular of “The Help of the Sick”

A community founded by Saint Camillus, the patron of hospitals, has long venerated a picture of the Blessed Virgin which is preserved in the church of Saint Mary Magdalen at Rome. This painting is said to be the work of Fra Angelico, and before it Saint Pius V prayed for the victory of the Christian fleet at Lepanto, when Europe was threatened with a great Moslem invasion. A confraternity, founded in i860, has taken this picture as the distinguishing mark of its scapular, which is of black woolen cloth, the front part bearing a copy of the picture and the other half having a small cross of red cloth sewn on. Indulgences were granted to the confraternity by Popes Pius IX and Leo XIII.

The Scapular of Saint Benedict

This is also black, and one of the parts has a picture of Saint Benedict, although this is not essential. The confraternity of Saint Benedict is of English origin, and was founded about fifty years ago, with the object of giving the members a share in the good works of the great Benedictine order. It received a grant of indulgences from Pope Leo XIII in 1883.

The Scapular of the Immaculate Conception

The order of Theatine nuns was founded by a saintly woman, Ursula Benicasa, who has been declared Blessed by the Church. She affirmed that the habit which she and her community were to wear was revealed to her in a vision by our Blessed Lord. She besought Him that the graces promised to the new order might be extended also to all who would wear a scapular of the Immaculate Conception. The use of this scapular was approved by Clement X and by succeeding Popes, and the various indulgences granted for it were renewed by Gregory XVI in 1845. It is of blue woolen doth; on one of the parts is a picture of the Immaculate Conception, and on the other is the name of Mary.

The Scapular of the Precious Blood

Members of the Confraternity of the Predous Blood can wear either a red girdle which is blessed by the priest who enrolls them, or a sperial scapular of red woolen doth; but there is no indulgence granted for so doing. For this scapular it is merely defined that it shall be red; but usually on one part of it there is a representation of a chalice containing the Predous Blood of our Lord and adored by angels. The other half is without symbol or picture.

The Red Scapular of the Passion

This owes its origin to a vision which our Lord vouchsafed to a member of the Sisters of Charity of Saint Vincent de Paul, in 1846. To her it was promised that all who would wear this scapular would receive every Friday a great increase in the virtues of faith, hope and charity. The faculty of blessing it belongs to the order of men founded by Saint Vincent, known as the Priests of the Mission, or the Lazarists. Their Superior-General, however, can give this faculty to other priests. Several indulgences were granted to the wearers of this scapular by Pius IX in 1847. Both the scapular and the bands are of red woolen material. On one half is a picture of our Lord on the cross, with the implements of the Passion and the words ” Holy Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ, save us.” On the other are shown the Hearts of Jesus and Mary, a cross and the inscription “Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary, protect us.”

The Scapular of the Immaculate Heart of Mary

This scapular was sanctioned and endowed with indulgences by Pius IX in 1877, and further indulgences were granted for its use under Pius X in 1907. It is the special badge of the religious congregation known as the Sons of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. It is of white woolen doth, one part being ornamented with a picture of the burning heart of Mary, out of which grows a lily; the heart is endrded by a wreath of roses and pierced by a sword.

The Scapular of Saint Michael, Archangel

This is the only scapular which is not oblong in shape. Each half of it has the form of a small shield. One of these is of blue cloth, the other black; and the connecting bands are also one blue, one black. On each part is a picture of Saint Michael slaying the dragon, with the words “Quis ut Deus?” (“Who is like to God?”), which is the meaning of the name Michael. It is the special habit of the Archconfraternity of the Scapular of Saint Michael, which was founded in 1878 and received various indulgences from Leo XIII.

The Scapular of the Mother of Good Counsel

This is one of the newest scapulars. Its use is promoted chiefly by the Augustinian Fathers, and the faculty of blessing it belongs to them, though their Superior can give this privilege to other priests. It was approved by Leo XIII in 1893, and indulgences were granted by him to those who wear it. It is a white scapular, of the usual form, having on one half a picture of the Mother of Good Counsel (after a well-known painting in an Augustinian church at Genazzano, Italy), and on the other the papal crown and keys.

The Scapular of Saint Joseph

This is the scapular of the Capuchin Fathers, who received faculties for blessing it and investing the faithful in it in the year 1898; but previously, since about 1880, it had been used and approved in certain dioceses. It is made of two pieces of woolen cloth, violet in color, connected by white bands; to each of these pieces is sewn a square of gold-colored doth, which may be linen, silk or cotton. On the front half a picture is shown on the gold doth, representing Saint Joseph with the Child Jesus and the staff of lilies, with the inscription “Saint Joseph, Patron of the Church, pray for us.” On the other part is the papal crown, with the dove, symbolic of the Holy Ghost; under these is a cross and the keys of Peter, with the words “The Spirit of the Lord is his guide”.

The Scapular of the Sacred Heart of Jesus

Many Catholics wear the well-known badge of the Sacred Heart on an oval piece of woolen cloth, and some have a mistaken idea that this is a scapular. It is merely a pious emblem, the wearing of which was recommended by the Blessed Margaret Mary Alacoque. There is, however, a real scapular of the Sacred Heart, which was introduced in France about 1870 and was approved in 1900. It is of the usual form and material, white in color. One part bears a picture of the Heart of our Blessed Lord, the other that of the Blessed Virgin under the title of Mother of Mercy. Leo XIII granted indulgences to those who wear it.

The Scapular of the Hearts of Jesus and Mary

This somewhat resembles the red scapular of the Passion, described above, except in color. It was approved in 1900, and owes its origin to the Daughters of the Sacred Heart, a religious community founded at Antwerp in 1873. Indulgences for the wearers were granted by Popes Leo XIII and Pius X. The scapular is of white woolen material, having on one half a picture of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary with the implements of the Passion. On the other part is sewn a red cross.

The Scapular of Saint Dominic

The use of this scapular is fostered by the Dominican Order, but the General of that society can give other priests the faculty of blessing it. It was approved in 1903 by Pius X, who granted an indulgence of three hundred days to the wearers every time that they devoutly kiss it. White wool is the material; no ornaments are required, but it usually bears on one part an image of Saint Dominic kneeling before a crucifix, and on the other that of Blessed Reginald receiving the Dominican habit from the bands of the Blessed Virgin.

The Scapular of the Holy Face

This, the last of the scapulars, is of white doth, with the well-known picture of the Face of our Lord which is connected with the tradition of Veronica. It is worn by the members of the Archconfraternity of the Holy Face – who, however, can wear instead a medal or cross with the same emblem. It is simply recommended to the members of the society, and there is no indulgence for its use.

We see, then, how many means our Church has granted to her children for partaking of the merits of great religious orders and confraternities. She has multiplied the scapulars so that each individual may find one or more that appeal to his devotional spirit; and she has enriched nearly all of them with indulgences for the wearers. They are uniforms of great societies, the members of which are banded together for the same ends – to glorify God, to honor His Mother, and to benefit one another mutually by the gaining of merits which are shared by all.