Catholic CornucopiadCheney

XIII. The Scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel

The Sacramentals of the Holy Catholic Church

The church is one in doctrine and in government, yet the modes in which she manifests the inward life which she receives from the ever continuing action of Christ, her Divine Head, are countless in their beautiful varieties. She is, at the same time, contemplative and active, abiding in the desert and dwelling in community, the physician of the bodies as well as of the souls of men, the teacher of the ignorant, the civilizer of barbarians, the defender of the Gospel at home, its missionary abroad. These different and apparently incongruous functions of her sublime life she performs on a large scale by means of her Religious Orders. These holy associations are members of Christ’s mystic body, each having its different office, yet all conspiring, by their harmonious action, to the strength and beauty of the organism to which they belong. They are the various ornaments of the golden robe of splendor which Christ has cast around His Spotless Spouse, the Church.

Numerous as are the differences in origin, mode of life and aim of the Religious Orders, they all, without exception, agree in cultivating and propagating a most tender devotion to Mary, the Mother of God, and many of the most beautiful and touching practices of piety in her honor, now existing in the Church, have been introduced by them. The Rosary, as we saw in our last number, is a Dominican devotion, and an unwavering faith in the Immaculate Conception, and a burning love for that greatest of Mary’s privileges, next to the Divine Maternity, characterized the Seraphic Order of St. Francis, centuries before the mystery was defined to be an article of faith. Devotion to the Sacred Name of Mary found a home in the Cistercian Order, a nestling place in the heart of the greatest of its abbots, the illustrious St. Bernard of Clairvaux: respice stellam, voca Mariam: look to the star, call on Mary . . . . . in dangers, in troubles and in doubts think of Mary, call on Mary, were the words, sweet as honey, that distilled from his glowing lips which the coal of Mary’s love had. touched. The Society of Jesus, the, bulwark of the Church in modern times, shows its devotion to Mary by establishing, in the colleges under its direction, sodalities and confraternities in her honor. The two Scapulars [Scapular, from its Latin derivation, means a shoulder garment.] of which we are now about to treat have been given by God to His Church through the instrumentality of Religious Orders; the Brown Scapular, or that of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, was introduced by the Carmelites; the Red Scapular, by the Lazarists.

This agreement of all the Orders in devotion to the Blessed Virgin, though differing in so many other devotions, proves that it is not one of several modes of manifesting the vital energy of the Church, but one which is an integral and essential part of the Christian system. Mary is not, as Father Faber shows in his Growth in Holiness, a mere appendage or ornament of true religion: she is the mystical neck uniting the Church to Jesus, its Head: she is so completely interwoven, like a golden thread, in the web of Christian doctrine, that to separate her from it is to destroy it. The particular manner of honoring her may vary with times and countries and dispositions, but the devotion itself will live on through the ages to be transplanted with the Church Militant, when time has ceased to be, to those happy courts over which Mary presides as Queen.

These general remarks have led us away from our immediate subject, the Scapular of Mount Carmel, yet they may be useful in showing how all devotions in honor of the Blessed Virgin, and all the Sacramentals which concern her are expressions of one great truth—that Mary is to be reverenced because of her connection with Jesus.

The Carmelites claim to be one of the oldest Orders in the Church, tracing their descent from the immediate disciples of the Prophets Elias and Eliseus, who lived more than eight hundred years before the coming of our Lord. They derive their name from Carmel, a mountain of Palestine, on which the first religious of the Order built their cells. Whether they can make good their claims to so venerable an antiquity is not for us to determine; from the end of the twelfth century, however, their history is clear and reliable. Albert, Patriarch of Jerusalem, gave them a rule in 1209, which was afterwards approved by the Holy See. The troubles consequent upon the continual irruptions of the Saracens into Palestine induced the good religious to look out for a safer asylum, and one in which they would be able to practise, in its perfection, their rigorous rule. Accordingly, they passed into Europe, in the middle of the thirteenth century, and rapidly spread through the different Christian kingdoms, owing to the protection and favor of the Holy See, and the ability and zeal of the Generals of the Order. One of the most illustrious of those Generals was Simon Stock. He was an English man by birth, and, from his early years, was remarkable for the austerity and stainless innocence of his life and his tender devotion to the Blessed Virgin. Mary rewarded his confidence and love, as she did those of his contemporary, St. Dominic. She appeared to him in a vision and delivered to him the Brown Scapular, promising special graces to those who should devoutly wear it. The new devotion was eagerly embraced by all ranks of society; the priest, the king, the noble and the commoner prided themselves on wearing the livery of the Queen of Heaven. The Popes approved it by granting indulgences to it and establishing a festival in its honor. And thus it has continued in the Church until our day, the holy rival of the Rosary in winning souls to the love of Mary and her Divine Son.

Some may smile at a devotion based on no better foundation than a vision. Yet they can not deny, without rejecting the Bible and the testimony of ecclesiastical and profane history, the occurrence of visions in past times. If supernatural interferences have taken place, they may take place again; and whether such has been the case in any particular instance can be ascertained by the rules of historical criticism. Now, in regard to St. Simon Stock, we have the testimony of his secretary, Suvaningron, who, relating the vision, says, hanc ego immeritus, homine Dei dictante, scribebam: this account I have written, though unworthy of the honor, under the dictation of the man of God. His testimony has been received, after standing the test of an historical and theological sifting, by every unprejudiced mind that has examined the subject. It is confirmed by the, high sanctity of the parties in the transaction, by the miracles, attested under oath, wrought by means of the Scapular, and by the spiritual blessings conferred on those who devoutly wear it.

The advantages which the Scapular procures us are threefold: it puts us under the particular protection of Mary; it gives us a participation in all the good works of the Carmelite Order, and places within our reach numerous indulgences.

When we put on the blessed scapular, we clothe ourselves with the uniform of Mary’s army, we enroll ourselves under her banner, we choose her for our Mother and our Queen. Like the domestics of the wise woman, whose praise is in the Book of Proverbs, we are clothed with double garments to protect us against the cold winds and storms of spiritual adversity. The Scapular is the pledge of the sacred contract that we have entered into with the Blessed Virgin; and if we be faithful to it on our part, she will reward us with the choicest blessings of her Son.

It is piously believed, to use the words of the Roman Breviary (in the Lessons of the 16th of July,) that Mary will obtain a speedy release from Purgatory for those who wear the Scapular in life and die a Christian death. There is nothing absurd in this. Jesus is the King of Purgatory; then Mary must be Queen. Is it not natural to suppose that she is the Mediatrix of pardon for the suffering souls, as she is of grace and mercy for us? And what day more suitable to exercise her intercession for them than Saturday, which the Church has consecrated to her honor? Of course it would be the sin of superstition to believe that a person dying in mortal sin could escape the fires of hell by the fact of wearing Mary’s livery. Nor need we suppose that God’s justice remits, in favor of the members of the Scapular Confraternity, any of the Purgatorial punishment due to sin. It can crowd into an hour, by increase of intensity, sufferings which otherwise might be protracted through years.

The devotion of the Scapular beautifully illustrates the Catholic doctrine of the Communion of Saints; it associates us to all the good works of the Carmelites. Their satisfactions for sin becomes ours, their impetrations for blessings belong to us. The Scapular is the key to the rich treasure of graces which, for centuries, has been accumulating in the Church by the Masses and missionary labors, and studies and toil, and praying and watching and fasting of holy Carmelites all over the world. Our own poor penances for the sins of our past life are little worth, but joined to the super-abundant satisfactions of the Saints, they are increased in value a thousand fold.

The indulgences annexed to the Scapular afford another illustration of the Communion of Saints. By gaining them we cancel the debt of temporal punishment due to our transgressions; we offer to God, in place of our own satisfactions, those of Christ, the Blessed Virgin and the Saints. Yet various acts are required on our part to appropriate them; we must free our souls from the stain of sin by cooperating with God’s holy grace, which urges us to receive the Sacrament of Penance, and we must fulfil the other conditions prescribed by the Sovereign Pontiff in the grant of the indulgence. The day of admission into the Confraternity of the Scapular, the Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, on the 16th of July, and the hour of death, have a plenary indulgence annexed to them. The numerous partial indulgences may be found in most manuals of devotion. To participate in the benefits of the Confraternity it is necessary to receive the Scapular from a priest who has been empowered to give it, and to wear it constantly. It is also advised that the members should recite daily seven Our Fathers and Hail Marys, or the Litany of the Blessed Virgin.

These, then, are the blessings which Mary offers us if we assume her habit; but in doing so we contract the obligation of serving her as faithful vassals and imitating her virtues, in proportion to our grace. He who professes himself her client, and yet neglects the duties of his state of life, insults her and incurs the anger of her Son. No exterior symbols will profit us if the interior spirit be wanting; the Scapular will not save us if we lead bad lives, any more than will the livery of his country screen the coward or the deserter from his merited punishment.

When the Prophet Elias passed from earth, in a chariot of fire, he dropped his robe to his faithful follower, Eliseus. The disciple cast the garment about his shoulders, and, at the same moment, the spirit of his departed master was infused into his heart. So it should be with us. Mary’s Scapular hangs around the neck to no purpose, unless the soul clothe itself with the virtues that she practised. Let us apply to ourselves what St. Paul wrote to the Galatians: for as many of you as have been baptized in Christ have put on Christ&mdashl;as many of us as have received the Scapular of Mary, have put on Mary.

It is related of Boleslas IV., King of Poland, “that he always carried about with him the portrait of his father, as the witness and guide of his actions. Whenever he had to pass any decree or engage in any important affair, he looked at the image of his parent and pronounced these admirable words: “O, my father! do not permit me to dishonor the blood that flows in my veins; do not permit that my tongue should utter any word, or my hand perform any action, unworthy of thy name and my high rank.” In like manner, when we look at the Scapular and the image of Mary attached to it, let us cry out with a holy enthusiasm: “O, Sweet Mother! do not suffer us to dishonor thy name or the title of thy children.”