The Carmelite Review – The Brown Scapular

Scapular of Mount Carmel

The Feast of the Scapular

It is customary among the rulers of nations to decorate deserving subjects, by granting them a cross a medal or a ribbon, that are to be worn over the heart, and confer upon the wearer a distinction not only in the eyes of their less fortunate fellow men, but also in the eyes of the decorating prince. The church likewise decorates eminent men in her service, giving them the title of Doctor, Monsignor etc., and attaches special privileges to their distinctions. Ail this is but an imitation of what God himself does. He distinguishes his saints by the gift of miracles, prophecy, the stigmata, etc. As the mother of God is always “leaning upon her beloved,” we need not be astonished that Mary also grants to her favorites distinctions and privileges, and of all the favors shown by the Blessed Virgin to her devotees, there is none greater in distinction and in privilege than the Brown Scapular.

Let the Queen of Carmel herself prove this assertion: “Receive, most beloved son, the Scapular of thy order, a sign of my confraternity, a privilege both to thee and to all Carmelites, in which he that dies shall not suffer eternal fire; behold the sign of salvation, a safe-guard in danger, a covenant of peace and everlasting alliance.” Thus the Blessed Virgin spoke to Saint Simon Stock on the 16th of July, 1251, as she handed to him the Brown Scapular.

I called the Scapular a distinction, and our Holy Mother designates it “a sign of my confraternity.” It is precisely this confraternity, this everlasting alliance, which constitutes the distinction. How are people envied by the world, who rising from humble beginnings, become allied by position or marriage to the first and most influential families of the country, how proud do they feel at their elevation. Yet such distinctions are as nothing when compared to the relationship with the Mother of God, the Queen of Heaven. And whilst all worldly alliances sooner or later are severed by death or other causes, this alliance, according to the words of Mary herself, is “everlasting ” on her side, so that it will or can be broken only by ourselves. Mary granted many different favors, wrought uncounted miracles, extended her protection and intercession to millions, but only the Scapular does she constitute a sign of her confraternity, conferring on the wearer the proud title of a brother of hers. Only the Scapular is to be a covenant of everlasting alliance, a badge and pledge of a contract between her and us. Can a higher distinction be given?

I called the Scapular a privilege. Read the words of Mary, and you will see that she grants to it. first, protection, in perils of body and soul, “a safe-guard in danger,” and second, a happy death; “a sign of salvation, a covenant of peace, freedom from eternal fire.” What privilege could possibly be more valuable than this? The great power and influence exerted in our behalf in temporal and spiritual necessities during life and her inestimable interposition in the moment of death, which decides an eternity.

Let me relate here two instances that came under my personal observation, which prove that Mary still holds to her covenant. A woman whom I had invested in the Scapular fell into the Danube when the river was swollen beyond bounds and was rapidly carried towards a mill-race where an instantaneous death seemed inevitable. Whilst alternately cast up or drawn under by the turbulent waves, she invoked the “safe-guard in danger” and all at once found herself cast on shore in close proximity to the mill-race. She ascribes her salvation exclusively to the Scapular.

A young man in a congregation attended by our fathers in the United States lay at the point of death. He had neglected his religion in life and refused its consolation in death, refused even to speak a word to the priest. The latter having exhausted every argument invested him with the Scapular, and within fifteen minutes the young man spoke, received the sacraments in very good disposition, and an hour after he died – Mary had saved him.

Besides the privileges enumerated, there is a third and valuable one granted by Mary herself in the “Sabbatine privilege.” And if among the religious or brethren of the Confraternity who depart out of this life there shall be any who for their sins have been cast into purgatory, “I, their glorious Mother, will descend on the Saturday after their death, I will deliver those whom I shall find in purgatory and lake them up to the holy mountain of eternal life.” Pope John XXII promulgated this privilege, adding “I accept this holy indulgence, I corroborate and confirm it on earth as Jesus Christ, by reason of the merits of His glorious Mother, has conceded it in heaven.” Truly such an alliance is “everlasting.”

The Church on its side not only stamped with its official approbation and promulgation the favors extended by Mary but also opened its own treasure house, enriching the Scapular with indulgences. It would bring me beyond the space allotted for this article were I to enter into details. Let them be reserved to future articles Allow me only to direct attention here to the latest favor shown to the Scapular by our gloriously reigning Pontiff, Leo XIII, in a brief, dated May 16th, 1892. The holy father there says: “In order that the devotion and piety of the faithful towards the Blessed Virgin of Carmel may grow and bring forth abundant and wholesome fruit, We, yielding to the pious petition of our beloved son, Aloysius M. Galli, General of the Order of the Blessed Virgin of Mount Carmel of the Old Observance, have resolved to enrich the Carmelite churches by a special privilege. Therefore, through the mercy of Almighty God and the holy Apostles, Peter and Paul, relying in His authority, we grant a plenary indulgence to all the faithful of either sex, who after worthily receiving the sacraments of Penance and holy Eucharist, shall visit a church or chapel of the Order of Carmel, calced or discalced, of monks or nuns, between the first vespers and the sunset of the 16th of July, the day on which the festival of the Blessed Virgin of Mount Carmel is celebrated, and shall there devoutly pray for union among the Christian princes, the extirpation of heresy, the conversion of sinners and the exaltation of Holy Mother church, as often as they do so. We also grant mercifully in the Lord, that these indulgences be applied to the souls in purgatory, who left this world joined in love to God – notwithstanding, etc.”

Hence, the 16th of July now shares the famous privilege of the Portiuncula. Anyone living within proper distance of a Carmelite Monastery or Convent may gain from the afternoon of July 15 to sunset of July 16 as many plenary indulgences as he wishes, and I only hope that a great many people will avail themselves of the privilege.

In conclusion let me say that the Scapular is a privilege also on account of the easy conditions on which its blessings are secured since the general obligations of the wearers of the Scapular (exclusive of the Sabbatine privilege) are only, first, that they may be invested by a priest having the power. Second, that they always wear the Scapular in the proper way, one tablet on the breast, the other on the back, and, third, that their names be registered in a Carmelite monastery. For those who wish to enjoy the third privilege, it is moreover required that they, first, observe chastity according to their state of life, second, that they recite daily the little office of the Blessed Virgin, or if unable to read, that they instead abstain from flesh meat every Wednesday and Saturday. And even this may be commuted by those having the power. The indulgences of the church are common and accessible to all.

May abundant temporal and spiritual blessings follow the wearing of the Scapular in future as they have followed it hitherto.

Form of the Scapular

In the last number we took occasion to speak of the promises made by the Blessed Virgin to those who would wear the Carmelite Scapular. We intend now in a series of articles to speak in detail of the history, the prerogatives, the duties, etc., of the Scapular, convinced that it requires but a candid explanation to spread the Scapular among those who hitherto for one reason or the other neglected to wear it, and to increase the esteem for it and fervor in those who wear it.

In order to bring into relief the importance of the grant of the Blessed Virgin it is necessary to go back into the history of the Carmelite Order. As there is a figure and type in the synagogue for every important branch of Catholic belief and worship, so likewise for the religious life, embodying the evangelical counsels. This we find in the sons of the prophets, founded by the holy prophet Elias, and governed after his rapture into paradise by the prophet Eliseus. This school of the prophets not only contained the germs of the essentials of regular life, but its distinctive feature was that anticipated veneration of the Blessed Virgin, whom Elias had seen in vision, had recognized as the woman promised to our first parents, and had taught his pupils to long and pray for. In the course of centuries this school of the prophets from independent hermits developed into eremitical communities, these again formed a kind of provincial union, and when at the time of the crusades the Europeans, under the leadership of the Calabrian Knight Berthold, embraced the eremitical life, the transformation from hermits to Coenobites took place, retaining, however, the strictly contemplative character of their life. Their headquarters from the beginning were on Mount Carmel beside the fountain of Elias. Their habit up to the Saracen conquest of the Holy Land was white – the garment of the sons of the prophets. The Saracens, looking upon white as a privileged royal dress, forbade the hermits its use, whereupon they adopted a striped habit of white and brown, and thus they enjoyed the toleration, sometimes even the esteem and friendship of their Mahommedan rulers. But matters were changed when the fierce and fanatical Seldjukian Turks overthrew the Saracen empire. Hundreds fell as martyrs, the remainder found life unbearable and hence accepted the invitations of France, England and Sicily, to abandon the Holy Land and settle in Europe. Here, however, they encountered a new kind of persecution. The decrees of the 4th Lateran Council, forbidding the establishment of new orders, were invoked against them, their chronicles were ridiculed as idle fancies or willful deceptions, a powerful influence worked in Rome against their approbation, their very existence was threatened. Contumely, calumny and denunciation were resorted to, to make their settlement and increase impossible.

Under this stress the Carmelites, and especially their general at the time, Saint Simon Stock, turned with aching hearts, yet full of confidence, to Mary. It was her order that was assailed, her own creation, as it were, that was in jeopardy, no other help was accessible or to be hoped for. And their prayer was not in vain; Mary came to the rescue, and she did it in such a way that the proof thereof should last as long as her order existed.

It was on the 16th of July, 1251, that the Queen of Mount Carmel appeared to Saint Simon in the oratory at Cambridge, England, holding in her hand a Brown Scapular, which she handed over to him with the words quoted in the July number of The Carmelite Review. It was to be and proved itself a token of present and a pledge of future salvation, a badge of alliance between her and the children of her choice. The learned and holy Pope Benedict XIV in his treatise on the feasts of the Blessed Virgin declares: “We believe this vision to be true, and believe that it is to be so considered by all.” In consequence of this vision the order was recognized and spread rapidly in the Occident. The Scapular was a new lease of life and the germ of fecundity, both to the order as such, and to the single members. And as in the thirteenth century, so it is still at the close of the nineteenth, a sign of election.

Now the Carmelite habit is brown, the cloak white, and thus the Carmelites became known as the “White Friars,” just like the Dominicans from the color of their cloak were called the “Black Friars.”

It is but natural that a great many persons, though unable to enter the order and live as regulars, were anxious to share in the valuable privileges of the order attached to the Scapular. And it was the expressed wish of the Queen of Carmel to enroll all the faithful desirous to share. Hence we see different classes of wearers of the Scapular, viz: The first, second and third order, the affiliated confraternities, and those who are invested without belonging to a confraternity. We are not now concerned with the first and second order, composed of the male and female branch of the Order of Carmel, but we intend to ray what is necessary regarding the Third Order, the Confraternity and the wearers of the Scapular.

In one thing they all agree in the Scapular. The word Scapular means “shoulder cloth,” and as such it has been worn centuries before the Christian era. In fact, in the Orient it took the place of any other garment for covering the upper body. It was sleeveless, open at the sides, covering the breast and shoulders. Such a garment, especially when worn under other clothes, would, however, be inconvenient, and consequently, whilst retaining its shape, it was diminished in size, so that at present it consists of two square pieces of cloth joined by strings or braid.

Shape, material and color are essential. The pieces must be square (the dimensions are left to the choice of the wearer). They must be of woven wool of a dark brown color. Material other than wool, or a color not brown, would render the Scapular unfit, and hence deprive the wearer of all benefits. This rule does not apply to the strings or braid by which the two pieces are joined, since they take only the place of the thread used for sewing together the big Scapular. They may therefore be of any material or color.

The Scapulars, in their modern form, are generally covered on one side by a picture, many are also embroidered. Both things are allowed, but are not necessary. They may even endanger the validity of the Scapular, as in all such cases it is indispensably necessary that the brown color predominates. The five-fold Scapulars which were heretofore made, and are yet worn by a great number of people, were often invalid, because two tablets of different colors were sewn together and hence formed but one and counted but for one. As we will see in some future number, this question applies now only to the past, as the Brown Scapular cannot be given with the other four, but I would advise those who were invested with the five Scapulars to get themselves specially invested in the Brown Scapular, as the privileges are too important to be overlooked.

In the following chapters I shall treat on the manner of blessing, investing, the obligations and privileges, etc., of the Scapular. Some of the reverend clergy may find that my statements seem to contradict divisions of the Sacred Congregation of Indulgences. To avoid all unnecessary questioning and doubt, I wish to say right here that I speak of the obligations and rights, as they at present exist in the United States, which, as a missionary country, has received privileges not accorded to Catholic countries.

Blessed and Investing

In the last number I spoke of the material and form of the Scapular. Let me now say what is necessary concerning the blessing of and investing with the Scapular.

Owing to the manner in which the Carmelites received their badge, the Scapular has always been acknowledged as their property, and hence they alone could allow others to participate in its advantages. But since all the spiritual treasures in the church are confided to the administration of the Vicar of Christ, whose subjects all baptized Christians are, it follows that even the Order could not affiliate Christian laymen or priests and share with them their spiritual privileges without the consent of the Pope, and that the latter can dispose of such blessings independent of the Order In Europe the Sovereign Pontiff reserves this affiliation to the Superiors of the Carmelites, but in missionary countries like our own he delegates his powers to the bishops, granting them at the same time the power of sub-delegating their priests. Hence it is that all the priests here receive the power of investing with and blessing the Scapular among their other faculties. Of course this sub-delegated power cannot extend further than the delegation, which is granted to the bishops for five years, after the lapse of which it has to be renewed or expires. The Superior General and Provincial of the Order, as they are disposing of their own by their own right, are not confined to the five years and can delegate priests, granting them the faculty “valid until revoked”.

Without delegation from either bishop or religious superior no one can validly bless a Scapular or invest with one already blessed. Neither a lay person nor a priest, not delegated, can invest himself But if delegated, he can invest himself The Scapular must be blessed and placed upon the person to be invested by the delegated priest. If the number of persons to be received is greater than the number of Scapulars on hand the same Scapular may be used, investing successively a number of persons.

A number of Scapulars may be blessed together, but the persons are to be separately invested. Imposing the Scapular with the mere intention of investing a person and without express words is invalid. Also the blessing of the Scapular by the mere sign of the cross, as in other blessings, would be invalid. The prescribed form of the Ritual must be used. In consequence of complaints about the length of the old formula a new and shorter one has been published, which may be used instead of the old one, though the latter still continues in force. As the older rituals do not yet contain the shorter formula I think I shall render a service to the reverend clergy by inserting it here. It is this:

“Ostende nobis Domine misericordiam tuam. Et salutare tuum da nobis.

“Domine exaudi orationem meam. Et clamor meus ad te veniat.

“Dominus vobiscum. Et cum Spiritu tuo.

“Oremus: Domine Jesu Christe, humani generis Salvator hunc habitum quem propter tuum tuaeque Genitricis Virginis Mariae de Monte Carmelo amoreni servus tuus devote est delaturus, dextera tua sanciifica ut eadem Genitrice tua intercedente, ab hdste maligno defensus in tua gratia usque ad mortem perseveret. Qui vivis, etc.”

The priest sprinkles the Scapular with holy water and placing it upon the person, says: “Accipe hunc habitum benedictum precans sanctissiriiani Virgineni, ut ejus meritis ilium perferas sine micuiaet te ab omni adversitate defendat atque ad vitam perducat aeternam. Amen.”

“Ego ex potestate mihi concessa te ad participationem omnium bonorum spiritualium, quae, operante misericordia Jesu Christi, a Religiosis de Monte Carmelo peraguntiir. In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus sancti Amen.”

“Benedicat te Conditor coeli et teriai Deus omnipotens, quo te cooptare dignatus est. in confraterni’atem beatae Mariae Virginis de Monte Carmelo, quam exoramus, ut in hora obitus tui, conterat caput serpentis antiqui; atque palmam et coronam sempternain haereditatis tandem consequaris. Per Christum Dominum nostrum. Amen.”

Finally the person received is sprinkled with holy water.

Persons once properly invested cannot be invested again, unless they throw off the Scapular in contempt and afterwards repenting wish to wear it again. If, however the investment is doubtful, either because of a doubtful delegation of the priest investing, or because the Scapular itself is doubtful as to material and form or color, they should not hesitate to be invested again, as all the spiritual favors depend on a lawful investment. The same very often holds good in regard to persons wearing the five Scapulars, as these often are made I in such a manner that they may serve for three, but not for five Scapulars. This is particularly the case if two tablets of different colors are sewn together round about so that they form but one tablet.

For persons properly invested it is not necessary to have the succeeding Scapulars blessed, since the blessing has been imparted to all in the first Scapular. This is also the case if the first Scapular, imposed by the priest, belonged to somebody else. If, however, a person wishes to have a succeeding Scapular blessed it can be done, in which case naturally only the first oration of the Ritual is used.

They who have the faculty of investing in the Scapular have ipso facto the right to give the general absolution in the moment of death with the plenary indulgence.

In countries where canon law is in force no priest can use his faculty of giving the Scapular within a circuit of five miles from a Carmelite convent, but in this as in ether missionary countries the faculties may be lawfully used by any priest at places where a Carmelite community is established, and even in the presence of a Carmelite priest.

That the blessing and imposition of the Scapular does not by itself constitute membership of the Confraternity, I shall show in some future article.

– text taken from the article “The Feast of the Scapular” in the July, August and September 1893 editions of The Carmelite Review magazine, authored by Father Pius R. Mayer, O.C.C.