On July 16, 1251, the Blessed Virgin Mary, accompanied by a multitude of angels appeared to St. Simon Stock, the Father General of the Carmelite Order. Holding in Her hand the Scapular of the Carmelite Order, She gave the Scapular to him and said:
“This shall be to you and to all Carmelites a privilege that anyone who dies clothed in this (Scapular) shall not suffer eternal fire; and if wearing it they die, they shall be saved”.
When you are enrolled in the Brown Scapular (invested with the Scapular) by a priest, you are by that act admitted into the extended family of Carmel, popularly known as the Scapular Confraternity.
Catholic theologians and authorities like St. Robert Bellarmine and Pope Benedict XIV explain the promise to mean that anyone dying wearing the scapular will receive from the Blessed Virgin Mary, at the hour of death, either the grace of perseverance in the state of grace or grace of final contrition.
Comte Paul Biver, in his life of Father Lamy (1855 – 1931), quotes the following from Father Lamy’s writings:
The Blessed Virgin told me (Fr. Lamy) that many Christian men and women escape hell through her intercession. She often promotes repentance when the soul is being reft from the body. At that moment of extreme distress she obtains for them a feeling of love of God and repentance.
Our Lady has made a promise of salvation to all who die in her family of Carmel. To die in the Family of Carmel, one has to be validly invested in the Habit (Garment) of that family, that is, the Brown Scapular, and perseveringly wear it.
Many Saints, Popes and theologians have strongly declared their acceptance of the Scapular Devotion. Among them are St. Robert Bellarmine, St. Peter Claver, St. AlphonsusLiguori, St. John Vianney, St. John Bosco, Popes Gregory X, Sixtus IV, Leo XI, Leo XIII, St. Pius X, Benedict XIV, Benedict XV, Pius XI, Paul VI, John Paul II and Benedict XVI.
Pope Sixtus IV granted to members of the Scapular Confraternity all the privileges, indulgences, graces and favours which are granted to the Cord of Saint Francis, to the Rosary of Our Blessed Lady, or to any Confraternity whatsoever, “so that they do enjoy them as much as if they were really members of these sodalities, by reason of their communication in privileges with the Order of the Carmelites”.
Pope Benedict XIV, writing as a private theologian before his election as Pope, wrote: “Let no one ever dare to reject the devotion to Our Lady of Carmel, which the Roman Pontiffs have enriched with so many and such great indulgences, for by the intercession of the Blessed Virgin, God has worked many miracles for the advantage of those who practice this devotion”.
In his letter to the generals of the Carmelite Order on the occasion of the Seventh Centenary of the Brown Scapular, Pope Pius XII clearly revealed his approval and high opinion of the Scapular devotion. The following two paragraphs are taken from the letter:
“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 effects 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 Christian life. In the first rank of the most favoured of these devotions that of the Holy Carmelite Scapular must be placed — a devotion which, adapted to the minds of all by its simplicity has become so universally widespread among the faithful and has produced so many and such salutary fruits”.
“For not with a light or passing matter are we concerned but with the obtaining of eternal life itself which is the substance of that 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. For the Holy Scapular which may be called the Habit or Garment of Mary, is a sign and pledge of the protection of the Mother of God”.
Pope Paul VI, during Vatican Council II, sent a message to the International Marian Congress in explanation of paragraph 67 of Lumen Gentium:
“You will make known our will and our exhortations which we base on the dogmatic constitution of the Ecumenical Council Vatican II, which is in complete conformity with our thought and indeed upon which our thought is based.
“That one ever hold in great esteem the practices and exercises of the devotion to the Most Blessed Virgin which have been recommended for centuries by the Magisterium of the Church” — (#67). And among them we judge well to recall the Marian Rosary and the religious use of the Scapular of Mount Carmel… a form of piety which is adapted by its simplicity to the spirit indeed of everyone, and is most largely widespread among the faithful for an increase of spiritual fruit”.
Pope John Paul II in his letter to the Superiors General of the Carmelite Order (Fathers Joseph Chalmers and CamiloMaccise) on the occasion of the Carmelite Marian Year, dated 25th March 2001, says that “The Scapular represents a synthesis of Marian Spirituality. It nourishes the devotion of believers, making them sensitive to the loving presence of the Virgin Mother in their lives”. One of the truths which the sign of the Scapular brings out, according to the Pope, is “the continuous protection of the Blessed Virgin, not only along the pathways of the life, but also at the moment of passing into the fullness of eternal glory”. “For a very long time”, says the Pope, “I too have worn the Carmelite Scapular”.
On July 17, 2011 at Castel Gandolfo, Italy, Pope Benedict XVI praised wearing of the Scapular and asked Mother Mary to wrap us in Her mantle, noting that the Scapular is a “particular sign of union with Jesus and Mary”. The Pope commented on the use of this devotion when he addressed Polish-speaking pilgrims gathered at the papal summer residence in Castel Gandolfo to pray the midday Angelus. “For those who wear it, it is a sign of filial abandonment to the protection of the Immaculate Virgin”, he said. “In our battle against evil, may Mary our Mother wrap us in her mantle”.
During her final vision (appearance) at Fatima (in Portugal) in 1917, the Blessed Virgin Mary held the Brown Scapular in her hands. When in 1950 Lucia (one of the three children to whom Our Lady appeared) was asked why the Mother of God held the Brown Scapular in her hands, she answered: “Because she wants everyone to wear the Scapular”. When pressed for a further explanation, Sr. Lucia said “Because it is our sign of consecration to Her Immaculate Heart”.
“In admitting me into her Family of Carmel, Mary promises me three great favours” says Fr. Chaignon, S.J. “She will protect me in danger, she will help me to die well, and she will promptly aid me after death”.
The Scapular is a sign of our special adoption by the Mother of God. The first and greatest privilege it brings us is that it envelopes us in the special love of Our Blessed Mother. It makes us “Hers” in a very special way.
The Scapular makes us not only the servants of Mary but also the “sons (and daughters) of her choice”. From the moment we are enrolled in it, we are dedicated to her in a special way and have a special claim upon her protection and intercession. Through her intercession, she protects us from evil, shields us from the attacks of Satan and helps us to overcome temptation and sin.
The scapular is a sign of our consecration to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. By wearing the scapular, we pledge our whole life to Mary — we totally surrender to her all that we are and all that we have. The Scapular should be a constant reminder that we belong to her at all times and in all places. It should be a constant reminder to the absolute purity of Mary and of our duty to imitate her. It should separate us from all that is not holy and inspire us to greater and greater purification of our lives. A life that is consecrated to Mary should always bear the good fruit of love, charity, kindness, meekness, gentleness and prayerfulness. As St. Louis de Montfort puts it: “The most perfect consecration to Jesus is nothing else but a perfect and entire consecration of ourselves to the Blessed Virgin”.
For more than four centuries, the scapular has been known as “Mary’s sacrament”. The scapular is not only an assurance of salvation after death; it is even now a powerful means of grace. In instituting such a simple but complete devotion, Mary continually binds herself, as it were, to intercede for us.
Pope Leo XI recognized one aspect of the sacramental quality of the scapular when he said, on its being accidentally removed from him at the moment of his Papal investiture: “Leave me Mary, lest Mary leave me!” So did St. John Vianney when he called the scapular one’s safeguard against temptation. Blessed Claude de la Colombiere, the renowned Jesuit and spiritual director of St. Margaret Mary said, “Because all the forms of our love for the Blessed Virgin and all its various modes of expression cannot be equally pleasing to her, and therefore do not assist us in the same degree to reach heaven, I say, without a moment’s hesitation, that this scapular is the most favoured of all”. He also adds, “No devotion has been confirmed by more numerous authentic miracles than this scapular”, and “No other devotion renders our salvation so certain”.
Let us not conclude, however, that the scapular is endowed with some kind of supernatural power, which will save us no matter what we do or how much we sin. We might apply here what St. Alphonsus says about devotion to Mary in general: “When we declare that it is impossible for a servant of Mary to be lost, we do not mean those who by their own devotion to Mary think themselves warranted to sin freely. We state that these reckless people, because of their presumption, deserve to be treated with rigour and not with kindness. We speak here of the servants of Mary who, to the fidelity with which they honour and invoke Her, join the desire to amend their lives. I hold it morally impossible that these be lost”.
Saints and Pontiffs often warn us of the foolhardiness of deliberately living in sin because of Mary’s Scapular Promise. Pope Pius XI warned all the faithful that “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 at the hour of death must in life merit such a signal favour by abstaining from sin and labouring in Her honour. “One can take it as certain”, says John Haffert, “that if a person continually sins because of Mary’s Scapular Promise, he/she shall not die in the Scapular. To lead a sinful life while trusting in the Scapular Promise is to commit a sin, the horror of which borders on sacrilege; its punishment will not only be eternal but far worse than if one had led a sinful life without making the Mother of God an excuse for crucifying Her Son”. It is clear from the words of St. Alphonsus and the Pontiffs that a certain measure of fidelity is required on the part of those who wish to gain the special love and protection of Our Lady.
It is the teaching of our holy faith that no one can merit the gift of final perseverance. We have no insurance against the loss of the state of grace. It does not follow that, because we are in the state of grace today, tomorrow will find us the friends of God and heirs to his kingdom. We do not know the time of our death. We can never be sure that death will come when we are in the state of grace. This depends upon divine providence. Strictly speaking, a person could live for years in the state of grace and have the misfortune to fall into grievous sin. If death overtook him before he had chance to go to confession or to make an act of perfect contrition he would be lost.
One of the greatest means of final perseverance we have is devotion to our Blessed Mother. It is the constant teaching of the Church that devotion to God’s Mother is not only a means but a pledge of eternal salvation.
When we are enrolled in (invested with) the scapular we become affiliated to the Order of Carmel. We participate in the spiritual treasure of Masses, prayers and good works of the Order. Enrolment in the Scapular makes us members of the Confraternity of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, a big family of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in the world. When we belong to the Confraternity, we have thousands and thousands of brothers and sisters in Carmel praying for us always; and when we are dead and forgotten by our nearest and dearest, they will continue to intercede for us until we reach the gate of heaven and the arms of our Blessed Mother.
The mother of God showed a vision of hell to the three little children of Fatima and said to them: “Pray, Pray very much, and make Sacrifices for sinners; for many souls go to Hell because there are none to sacrifice themselves and to pray for them”.
The sinner who wears the scapular has a whole world-wide Confraternity praying for him. “There is a second reason”, says Fr. Schultz, C.S.S.R., “why those who wear the scapular will save their souls; they will never be without the help of prayer”.
Even though we have the assurance of Mary’s special help and the support of Carmel’s unceasing prayer to plead our cause before the tribunal of divine justice, we should not tempt even the multitude of Our Lady’s tenderest mercies. Those who wear her scapular should be the first to give her the homage of their whole lives and to call her blessed at all times. The scapular is not simply the mark of a special devotion to her. It is the sign of a life lived in her.
A Scapular is made up of two rectangular pieces of brown cloth, which are linked together by two cords so that it can be won around the neck. The scapular must be won constantly (day and night). It can be worn underneath one’s clothing. The blessing and conferral of the scapular are attached to the wearer for life. After having received the initial blessed scapular, subsequent scapulars which are used do not need to be blessed nor conferred again.
Unfortunately, in Nigeria and some other African countries, most of the scapulars people wear, especially youths and women, are not genuine scapulars. Many people have round their necks, not the Brown Scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel but the devil’s scapular. In an attempt to make Catholics realise this, a certain Catholic bishop reportedly told scapular wearers among the congregation in a certain Church ceremony to come out and drop their scapulars in a container. The good scapulars were separated from the bad. When the bad ones were ripped open, satanic emblems, hairs, and occultic insignia were found in them. Satan’s scapulars are very small, hard and plastic covered. Wearing them is a mark of covenant with the devil. Catholics should be very careful in their choice of the scapulars they buy and wear. Genuine scapulars made by Carmelite nuns can be obtained from the Carmelite Monasteries or through the writer.
Our Lady has given us a powerful gift of Her Scapular. The Church has recommended its use and the Saints have worn and promulgated the sacramental.
Let us gratefully receive Our Lady’s precious gift and wear it as a constant reminder of our total giving of ourselves to Her and Her Divine Son, for, as St. Barnard has said,
“Following her, thou strayest not;
Invoking her, thou despairest not;
Thinking of her, thou wanderest not;
Upheld by her, thou failest not;
Shielded by her, thou fallest not;
Guided by her, thou growest not weary,
Favoured by her, thou reachest the goal”.Prof. Michael Ogunu is the first Nigerian lay member of the Carmelite Order. He is the National President of the Secular Order of Discalced Carmelites in Nigeria and the Provincial President of the Secular Carmelites in Ghana. For more information about the Brown Scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, you may contact him through his e-mail address (firstname.lastname@example.org) or by phone (08035020068/+2348035020068).
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