Catholic CornucopiadCheney

XII. The Scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, or Brown Scapular

The Sacramentals of the Holy Catholic Church

The purpose of this essay is to give a brief account of the origin, the graces, and the indulgences of the Brown Scapular, with the conditions upon which these spiritual favors may be gained. Since the introduction of this scapular into general use among the faithful, so many questions have been proposed to the Sacred Congregation of Rites or to the Superior-General of the Carmelites relating to it that it is difficult for many to know what precisely is necessary to be done in order to reap all the spiritual advantages which the Church in her liberality has granted to the devout wearers of this livery of Mary. Some persons may do more than is necessary, while others may do less; and while the members of the one class err by imposing unnecessary obligations upon themselves, those of the other commit a greater mistake in failing to fulfil what is prescribed, and hence reap little advantage. Another difficulty which priests too often meet with in propagating devotions of this kind is that in almost every congregation one or more devout persons are found who are looked upon by the rest as authorities in matters relating to devotions which pious Catholics are accustomed to practise, whether such persons are learned or not; and here, as elsewhere, it generally turns out that a little learning is a bad thing. Such pious souls, being anxious to extend the devotion to which they are particularly attached, will recommend it to others, and, either from the very excess of their unenlightened piety, or from the desire of making the gaining of indulgences doubly sure, are not infrequently prompted to make unwarranted additions to the conditions which the Church has laid down for the securing of these spiritual treasures, or to interpret them more strictly than the letter of the grant warrants, which amounts to about the same thing. And, to increase the difficulty, it will too often be found that people will take the word of these persons in preference to that of the priest; at least such has been my experience. It is much to be desired that these pious souls were either more enlightened or more diffident.

But all this aside, we owe the scapular to the direct intervention of the holy Mother of God, who in this new proof of her love for man chose St. Simon Stock as her instrument. This devout servant of Mary was a native of England, who had attached himself to the Order of Our Lady of Mount Carmel soon after its introduction into his native land, had made such progress in the science of the saints, and had displayed such prudence, that he was ere long elected Superior-General of the Carmelites of the West. The scapular was revealed to him in a celebrated vision with which the Mother of God favored him on the 16th of July, 1251, at Cambridge. Holding the scapular in her hand, 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. Ho 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” This address of the Mother of God is given in different words by different writers, but all agree substantially. The vision has been called in question by certain writers; but when it is stated that it has been confirmed by many well-authenticated miracles, that Pope Benedict XIV., among others, accepted it as genuine, and that the indulgences granted by several Sovereign Pontiffs also suppose its genuineness, there is little room left for cavilling.

It is not the intention to pause to inquire into the manner in which this devotion became, in a very short time, extended not only among the members of the Order to which it had been granted, but also among such of the faithful—and they were many—who wished to place themselves under the special protection of the august Mother of God. Nor shall any of the miracles be adduced by which it pleased Almighty God from time to time to confirm the belief and confidence of the faithful in the promises of the Mother of His divine Son. It will be more profitable to turn to the various questions that have arisen in the lapse of years in connection with the devotion of the scapular.

The word scapular is derived, like many others, from the Latin, and means the shoulder-blade, or, in the plural, in which it is more commonly found, the shoulders. As a garment, the scapular is a broad piece of cloth, with an aperture in it for the head, which hangs down in front and at the back almost to the ground, as may be seen in the habits of the Carmelites, the Benedictines, and some other religious Orders. The scapular worn by the faithful is a symbol of that worn by the religious of the Order of Mount Carmel. In form it is essential that it should consist of two parts, each oblong or square,—in accordance with the custom that has long been observed and is sanctioned by the Church,—fastened together with two strings, so that one part may hang on the breast and the other on the back. When the Sacred Congregation was consulted as to whether it was lawful to make scapulars of an oval, round, or polygonal form, the response was that no innovation should be made; in other words, that the form up to that time in use should be retained as the only proper one.1 As regards the material of which it is lawful to make scapulars, it must be woollen cloth; cotton, silk, or other material is strictly forbidden; and by the word cloth is meant woven cloth, so that if threads of woollen were knit or worked with the needle into the form of a scapular it would not do. In color the scapular must be brown or black. The habit of the Carmelites, of which it is a symbol, is brown, and hence that has always been regarded as the proper color for the scapular; but it was maintained by some that the wool of a black sheep, inasmuch as it was the natural color of the wool, and not dyed, would also be permitted. When the question was brought before the Sacred Congregation it replied that the members of the confraternity gained the indulgences although the scapular was not exactly brown, provided the color substituted for brown was something similar to it, or black.2 It is permitted, although it is not necessary, to ornament the scapular with needle-work, even though the ornamentation is of a different color from that of the scapular; nor need such ornament be worked with woollen thread; silk, cotton, or other thread may be used. But it is essential that the necessary color of the scapular should predominate. It is not necessary to work any image or picture on the scapular; it may, however, be done if the color of the scapular is left to predominate.3

Who may be invested with the scapular? The Church not only permits, but also wishes that all the faithful should enroll themselves among the devout servants of Mary, as she wishes them to make use of all the means of grace which in her liberality she places within their reach; and hence all Catholics may be lawfully and validly invested with the scapular, there being nothing in the bulls or briefs of the Sovereign Pontiffs to forbid it. Even infants who have not yet come to the use of reason may be invested ; and when they attain to the years of discretion it is not necessary for them to be again invested, or to do anything more than simply to comply with the necessary conditions for gaining the indulgences, and immediately they will begin to reap these spiritual advantages.4

By whom can a person be invested? By a priest of the Carmelite Order, or by any other priest duly authorized to invest with it. In this country it is customary for bishops to give all their priests the faculty of investing with the scapular. A priest who has power to invest others may also invest himself. Whatever formulas were heretofore permitted for investing, the priest must now use the one prescribed by Pope Leo XIII., July 24, 1888. But one priest cannot bless the scapular, and another invest a person with it; the blessing and investing must both be done by the same priest. The practice which obtained in some places of giving blessed scapulars to pious laymen for distribution among the faithful is also forbidden under penalty of forfeiting all the graces and indulgences attached to the scapular. If the first enrolment of any person was invalid for any reason whatever, such as the scapular not being of the required material or form, or both parts being at one end of the strings, it is not sufficient for the person so enrolled to get a scapular and have it blessed; he must be again invested, as if he had never gone through the ceremony at all.5

As to the place and manner of receiving the scapular, a person may receive it in any becoming place; and the sick may receive it in their beds. It is not necessary for the person being invested to hold the scapular in his hands; it is sufficient that it be placed near him; nor is a lighted candle necessary. But the priest who invests must himself, under penalty of nullity, place the scapular on the neck of the person whom he invests. But when the first scapular is worn out or lost, or got rid of in any other way, all that is necessary is for the person to get another, and put it on without blessing or ceremony. When a number of persons are invested at the same time, all the scapulars may be blessed at once; but the form of investment must be repeated as each scapular is placed on the neck of the person who is to wear it, except in the case of some missionaries, who have special faculties for investing differently. But if a number of persons are to be invested at the same time, and there are not scapulars enough for all, the same one may be successively placed on several persons one after another, and each can afterward procure a scapular for himself; but the first that each one wears must be blessed.6 It was formerly necessary that persons receiving the scapular should have their names enrolled with the Carmelite Fathers at Rome; but Pope Gregory XVI. dispensed with this obligation, April 30, 1838, which dispensation was confirmed by a decree of the Sacred Congregation of September 17, 1845. This privilege of dispensing with the enrolment was, however, withdrawn by Pope Leo XIII. by a decree of April 27, 1887; and by another decree of the same date he forbade the investing with the brown scapular in connection with others. It must be blessed and imposed by itself.7 If a person puts off his scapular for a longer or shorter time, either through indifference, forgetfulness, or even contempt, and afterward resolves to commence wearing it, it is not necessary for him to be invested anew; it is sufficient for him to put on the scapular again, and wear it, trusting in the mercy of God that he will again be made partaker of the spiritual favors attached to the pious confraternity.8

What are the spiritual advantages of wearing the scapular? First let us clearly understand what precisely is meant by wearing it, for on this depends the participation in those graces. By wearing the scapular is meant that it be so adjusted upon the person that one part hangs on the breast and the other on the back, one of the strings passing over each shoulder. If both parts be carried on the breast, or both on the back, it is not wearing it, in the sense of the Church, and the person so acting would not be entitled to any of the graces or indulgences. Much less would a person be entitled to them who carried the scapular in his pocket. To keep the scapular about him in any way might indeed be a sign of devotion to the Mother of God and of confidence in her protection, and as such would receive a fitting reward; but it would not in any sense be regarded as wearing it. It is not necessary that the scapular should be worn next the person ; it may be worn over or under any part of the clothing. The religious who wear the large scapular are accustomed, as we know, to have it outside their habit.9

The spiritual advantages of wearing the scapular are fivefold: those which are received during life; those received at the approach of death; those after death; the Sabbatine indulgence or privilege; and the other indulgences granted to those who wear the scapular. And, first, as regards the advantages that may be received during life, it is to be remarked that the members of the Confraternity of the Scapular are associated with the religious Order represented by that scapular, which means that they participate in the fruit of all the good works of the religious belonging to that Order; that is, in the fruit of their prayers, meditations, Masses, fasting, penances, alms, and all else that goes to form the spiritual treasures of the Order. Now, the brown scapular represents the Order of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. But the devout wearers of this scapular enjoy favors not granted to those who wear the other scapulars; for Popes Clement VII. and Clement X. declared that the associates participated in a special manner in the fruit not only of the spiritual works of the Carmelites, to whom they are united as a confraternity, but also in all the good done throughout the whole Catholic Church. The associates of this scapular have received, as we have seen, the promise of the Blessed Virgin, according to the revelation made to St. Simon Stock, to be adopted as her favorite and privileged children, and to enjoy during life her special protection both for soul and body.

Secondly, the favors granted at the approach of death to those who devoutly wear the scapular are that there is for them, like for those who wear the other scapulars, a formula for a general absolution at the moment oJt death, independent of the ordinary “Last Blessing,” which all the faithful are privileged to receive at their departing hour, as may be seen in another part of this work. Persons wearing the scapular are also encouraged to hope for the special assistance of the Mother of God at the moment of death, as she promised to St. Simon Stock: “He who dies clothed with this scapular shall not suffer eternal fire.” This is what is called the “privilege of preservation.” It means that the Blessed Virgin, by her powerful intercession, will draw from the divine treasury in favor of the associates special graces to help the good to persevere to the end and to move sinners to avail themselves of favorable opportunities of conversion before death seizes on them. This privilege may also mean that sometimes, owing to the influence of the Blessed Virgin, the hour of death is postponed, to give an associate who is in sin a further opportunity of conversion; and writers add that this privilege may sometimes be exemplified in the case of obstinate and obdurate sinners when God permits death to come upon them when they are not wearing the scapular, either as the result of forethought or from indifference or neglect.

In the third place, as regards the graces after death, the deceased members of the confraternity have a special share in the fruit of the daily prayers of the Order of the Carmelites and of the Holy Sacrifice, which they offer once a week, and occasionally at other times during the year, for the deceased Carmelites and associates of the Carmelite Confraternity.

Fourthly, the meaning of the “Sabbatine indulgence” is this: the associates of the Scapular of Carmel enjoy, on certain conditions, however, which we will mention later on, the remarkable privilege known as the “privilege of delivery,” or the “Sabbatine indulgence.” This privilege refers to, and is grounded on, the promise of the Blessed Virgin, made to Pope John XXII., to withdraw promptly from purgatory, and especially on the first Saturday after death, associates of the Scapular of Carmel. The account of this revelation to Pope John XXII. is embodied in his famous Bull Sacratissimo Uticulmine, more commonly called the Sabbatine Bull, on account of the promise of deliverance on the first Saturday after death. The genuineness of this bull has been questioned on the ground of internal evidences of the absence of authenticity, and also because it is not found in the Roman bullarium. It is, however, printed in the bullarium of the Carmelites and in many other works. It may be further stated that Pope Benedict XIV. admits its authenticity.10 “Leaving the discussion of the authenticity of this bull to others whom it concerns more directly, it is enough for us to know that the privilege of deliverance has been explained and sanctioned by succeeding Popes. Paul V., when giving permission to the Carmelite Fathers to preach this indulgence to the faithful, explains the nature of it in this way: ‘The Carmelite Fathers,’ he says, ‘are allowed to preach that the people can believe that the Blessed Virgin will help, by her continual assistance, her merits, and her special protection, after death, and particularly on Saturdays—the day consecrated by the Church to the Blessed Virgin—the souls of the members of the Confraternity of Mount Carmel who have died in the grace of God, and who have in life worn her habit, observed chastity according to their state, and recited the Office of the Blessed Virgin, or, if they are not able to recite the Office, who have observed the fasts of the Church, and abstained from meat on Wednesdays and Saturdays, except when Christinas falls on either of these days.’”11 In the Second Nocturn of the Office of the feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, given in the Roman Breviary, mention is made of this privilege in much the same language. We read in this Office: “It is piously believed, since her power and mercy have everywhere great efficacy, that the Most Blessed Virgin consoles with special maternal affection the associates of this scapular, when detained in the fire of purgatory, who have practised certain light abstinences, repeated certain prescribed prayers, and observed chastity according to their state in life, and that she will endeavor to bring them to heaven sooner than would otherwise happen.”

To recapitulate. The conditions necessary for participating in the spiritual advantages of the scapular are the following: to observe exactly all that has been prescribed regarding the material, color, and form of the scapular; to receive it from a priest duly authorized to invest with it; and to wear it constantly in the manner prescribed. These are the only conditions for membership in the confraternity of the scapular. No prayers or good works are necessary, if we except the special advantages of the “privilege of deliverance” or “Sabbatine indulgence,” for which the following conditions in addition to those necessary for membership in the confraternity are required: 1. Chastity according to one’s state of life; 2. The daily recitation of the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin, or the abstinence on Wednesday and Saturdays, as remarked above. Those who say the Divine Office, on which an essay will be found elsewhere in this work, comply by means of it with this condition, even though the Office is already, as in the case of priests, a work of obligation.12

Although the wearing of the scapular and the conditions prescribed for gaining the indulgences and other supernatural favors do not, absolutely speaking, induce any obligation binding in conscience, yet the person invested with the scapular, who through his own indifference or neglect should fail to fulfil the obligations of the confraternity, could not be regarded as free from at least some venial fault before God.13 To gain the plenary and partial indulgences that are granted in addition to the favors enumerated, it is necessary to fulfil the conditions prescribed for each of those particular indulgences.

I shall not give all the indulgences that are granted to those who devoutly wear the scapular and comply with the conditions, but shall quote from the Irish Ecclesiastical Record, from which much of the last few pages is taken.14 The writer says: “It is no small advantage to have numerous indulgences specially granted on easy conditions in favor of those who wear the scapular. These conditions vary a good deal, and to know exactly what are the conditions required for a particular indulgence we must examine the terms of the grant, or consult some approved book on indulgences that treats of it. To illustrate what we say we will mention a few of the indulgences granted in favor of those who wear the brown scapular, with the conditions attached. (1) A plenary indulgence on the day of receiving the scapular Conditions: confession and communion. (2) Plenary indulgence at the moment of death. Conditions: confession and communion, and the devout invocation with the lips, or at least with the heart, of the holy Name of Jesus. (3) 100 days’ indulgence. Conditions: devout recital of the Office of the Blessed Virgin. Thus each indulgence is granted on certain conditions, which can be known with accuracy only by investigating the particular case.” Schneider (p. 380) further states that by a decree of the Sacred Congregation of Indulgences, June 22, 1865, all Masses said for the repose of the souls of deceased members enjoy the advantage of a privileged altar; that is, a plenary indulgence is gained for the repose of the soul of the person for whom the Holy Sacrifice is offered. The same author gives all the other indulgences granted to the scapular, and the conditions upon which they may be gained.

When the Superior-General of the Carmelites was asked whether the laying aside of the scapular for a day would forfeit the indulgences and other favors or not, he replied that, as one day was but a small part of the year, there was no reason why we should conclude that the indulgences would be forfeited.15 The reader cannot, but conclude from what has been said that we possess in the Scapular of Our Lady one of the richest fountains of grace the Church in her liberality has opened to us.

1 Decree of August 18, 1868; Schneider, p. 686, No. 9.
2 Decree of February 12, 1840; Schneider, p. 686, No. 8.
3 Decree of August 18, 1868; Schneider, p. 686, No. 12.
4 Decree of August 29, 1864; Schneider, p. 6.
5 Decrees of March 7, 1840, August 24, 1844, June 16, 1872, and September 18, 1862.
6 Schneider, p. 686-688; decree of August 18, 1868.
7 Irish Ecclesiastical Record, July, 1887, and May, 1889.
8 Schneider, p. 688, Nos. 22, 23.
9 Schneider, p. 686, No. 11.
10 This question is ably discussed, with a conclusion in the affirmative, against certain doubts in an article on the scapular in the “Catholic Dictionary,” by a writer in the Irish Ecclesiastical Record for September and November, 1887.
11 Irish Ecclesiastical Record, 1883, pp. 329, 330.
12 Decree of February 12, 1840; Schneider, p. 689, No. 27.
13 Schneider, p. 689, No. 26.
14 1883, pp. 326-333.
15 Schneider, p. 688, No. 20.