The Brown Scapular is known officially as the Scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. Many of us who are fifty years of age or older were invested in the brown scapular at the time of our First Holy Communion. But to be honest, even though I know I was, I don’t remember it (I was in second grade, after all!). Nevertheless, wearing the brown scapular was a part of our Marian devotion growing up. If you are new to the brown scapular or, like me, are just hoping to find out more about it, here are answers to the six most commonly asked questions about the brown scapular:
Where did the brown scapular come from?
The Scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel hearkens back to St Simon Stock, who often prayed to the Virgin Mary asking her to favor the Carmelite Order with some singular sign of her favor. It is said St Simon Stock saw an apparition in Cambridge, England on July 16, 1251 in which the Virgin Mary appeared to him holding the Scapular. She said, “Receive, my beloved son, this scapular of thy Order; it is the special sign of my favor, which I have obtained for thee and for thy children of Mount Carmel. He who dies clothed with this habit shall be preserved from eternal fire. It is the badge of salvation, a shield in time of danger, and a pledge of special peace and protection.”
How does the brown scapular reflect the habit of the Carmelite monks and nuns?
In its large form the Carmelite scapular consists of the brown apron-like part of the Carmelite habit. It extends to almost the length of the habit in the front and the back. The Carmelite Scapular forms an essential part of the monastic habit of Carmelites. In its original context, the meaning of this promise of the Virgin Mary to St Simon Stock was that Carmelite religious who persevered in their vocation would be saved.
Beginning in the 16th century, the Carmelites began giving the Brown Scapular to lay people who wanted to be affiliated with the Order, and it became increasingly popular as a religious article. In its smaller, devotional form the scapular is made up of two small pieces of cloth joined by two bands of cloth worn over the shoulders. For centuries, the Church has held that one doesn’t have to be a monk or a nun to be a part of the Carmelite family, wear the Scapular, or enjoy its blessings. All Christians are able to put on the Scapular to express their love for the Mother of God and enjoy this sign of Mary’s protection.
How does wearing the scapular express devotion to Mary?
According to a 1996 doctrinal statement approved by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, The Brown Scapular is “an external sign of the filial relationship established between the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother and Queen of Mount Carmel, and the faithful who entrust themselves totally to her protection, who have recourse to her maternal intercession, who are mindful of the primacy of the spiritual life and the need for prayer” (Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments; Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy. Principles and Guidelines. Vatican, 2001).
The brown scapular is a garment we wear as both a sign of our belonging to Mary and as a pledge of her maternal protection in this life and the next. It expresses our consecration to and trust in Mary, and is an incentive to imitate Our Lady’s virtues, especially her humility, chastity, and prayerfulness.
What is the benefit of being invested in the brown scapular?
All those invested with the Brown Scapular become sharers in all the fruits of the good works of the Carmelite Order. After death they share in all the prayers of the Carmelites and in a weekly Mass offered by every Carmelite priest, all the deceased members of the Scapular Confraternity are remembered.
All those who out of true love and veneration for the Blessed Virgin constantly wear the scapular in a spirit of faith, after being properly invested with it, will enjoy the help of the Mother of God, especially regarding their eternal salvation.
What does the scapular look like?
In the current Catechesis prepared under the direction of the North American prior provincials of the Carmelite Order and the Order of Discalced Carmelites and given imprimatur by the Archbishop of Washington D.C., the scapular must consist of two pieces of brown cloth with one segment hanging on the wearer’s chest, and the other hanging on his/her back. These pieces are joined by two straps or strings which overlap each shoulder—hence the word “scapular” (shoulder blade). Religious pictures or symbols, though unnecessary, may be sewn on; this custom began in the eighteenth century. The catechesis also acknowledged that the Scapular was formerly required to be made from 100% wool (a rule since dropped); it noted the habits of the Carmelite religious are also now typically made of other, less expensive yet more practical materials. It is normally worn under the clothes but not pinned to undergarments.
Because wool deteriorates rapidly in tropical climates, since 1910 those properly invested into a confraternity may wear a properly blessed scapular medal with the depiction of Jesus with his Sacred Heart on one side and Mary on the obverse. However, Pope Pius X expressed his preference for the cloth scapular. Pope Benedict XV has also proclaimed the Church’s strong preference for cloth to be worn rather than the medal. This preference is because cloth is important to the sign value of the scapular as a garment, a habit.
Do I need to be invested in the brown scapular?
Unlike typical sacramentals, brown scapulars are not merely blessed. A person needs to be invested by a priest. The short form of investing or conferral consists of a priest or deacon taking a blessed scapular and while placing it over their head reciting with the person any Marian prayer (e.g. Hail Mary, Memorare, Salve Regina). The person is now invested.
In the “Catechesis and Ritual for the Scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel”, published in 2000 and distributed by ICS Publications, the prayer there is a short prayer that can be used for investiture:
“Receive this Scapular, a sign of your special relationship with Mary, the Mother of Jesus, whom you pledge to imitate. May it be a reminder to you of your dignity as a Christian, in serving others and imitating Mary. Wear it as a sign of her protection and of belonging to the Family of Carmel, voluntarily doing the will of God and devoting yourself to building a world true to his plan of community, justice and peace.”
There are no lists to join, though those who are invested in the brown scapular are henceforth members of the Scapular Confraternity and share in its spiritual benefits (the prayers of the members). No special daily practices are obliged, though someone consecrated to Mary, of which the scapular is the sign, should live chastity according to their state and recite the Rosary daily.
There is also a long form in the Book of Blessings, chapter 46, which is very fitting for group investments. One final note: investing is done with the cloth scapular. Those who wish to wear the medal can do so after investment. The scapular blessing attaches to each subsequent scapular. A new blessing is not required.