July 16th, Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel
“Take, beloved son, this scapular of thy order as a badge of my confraternity and for thee and all Carmelites a special sign of grace; whoever dies in this garment, will not suffer everlasting fire. It is the sign of salvation, a safeguard in dangers, a pledge of peace and of the covenant.” (From the apparition of the Blessed Virgin to St. Simon Stock, 16 July 1251)
While there are many scapulars, the brown scapular of the Carmelite Order is certainly the most popular among the devotion of the people. We need not mention the many miracles and graces which have been bestowed upon the Christian faithful through this most precious gift of the Mother of God. Through the brown scapular, countless souls have been converted, families reconciled, and whole nations restored to the dominion of Christ.
However, while we must surely recognize the great privileges bestowed upon the brown scapular, we may not fully understand its significance. Why is it called a “scapular”? And, what makes the brown scapular different from a religious medal (like, for example, the Miraculous Medal)?
The scaplula, or shoulder
The word “scapular” comes from the Latin scapula, meaning “shoulder”. A scapular is that piece of cloth worn by monks and nuns over their shoulders. It extends from the shoulders down the front and back of the habit.
To this day, the monastic scapular is quite large and covers a good portion of the body of the religious.
However, according to popular devotion, this larger monastic scapular has been adapted to better suit the practical needs of the lay people who desire to be united to the tradition of the monastic communities – in this case, to the Order of Carmel. Thus it is that the “brown scapular” consists of two pieces of woolen cloth (generally small squares) connected by two cords – such that the square pieces of cloth hang upon the shoulders and hang over the chest and back of the individual.
Hence, the little brown scapular is really a reminder and imitation of the larger monastic scapular which the Carmelite monks and nuns wear on the outside of their habits. In order to adapt this devotion to the needs of secular life, the brown scapular is worn under the clothing next to the skin – for it would be quite inappropriate for a lay person to walk about town with a visible monastic scapular!
|A young Karol Wojtyla, with his scapular|
When a scapular breaks – it does happen from time to time!
It can happen that the cords holding the brown scapular together will break. Especially after many years of constant wear and tear, a scapular can become so old as to need to be replaced.
Some very active individuals – especially, for example, mothers of young children – may find that their scapular breaks regularly, on account of the many and trying duties of their vocation.
What are we to do if our scapular breaks? Does this mean that we have somehow offended our Lady? Of course not! Rather, we can be certain that, if we are fulfilling to duties of our vocation and if these duties require such labor as to cause our scapular to wear out quickly, our Blessed Lady will be quite filled with joy – for in performing our daily chores (especially in doing the small things with great love) we imitate the great charity of the Virgin!
If our brown scapular breaks, we simply must replace it with a new one. However, while it is quite important to be enrolled and/or invested in the brown scapular at the first, when we replace a scapular which has broken beyond repair there is no need for any further blessing or ceremony.
|The monastic scapular rests upon the shoulders, covering the chest and back|
[pic from the Carmelite "Coffee Monks" of Wyoming, here]
A new scapular does not need to be blessed
Why is it not necessary to have a replacement scapular blessed? The answer is that the brown scapular is really quite different from a religious medal.
If we were to lose a blessed medal, we would want to replace it with another medal – but first, we would want to have that medal blessed. Indeed, the blessing of religious medals extends only to the particular medals that are being blessed.
However, with the scapular, no such blessing is required for the second or third or (as in some cases) even fourth scapular. After an individual has been invested in the brown scapular, no further ritual or blessing is required for replacement scapulars. Why is this?
Unlike a blessed religious medal, the brown scapular is a reminder and sign of the habit of the Carmelite Order. When a monk receives his habit for the first time, he is “invested” – this ceremony recalls how the habit is primarily meant as a sign of the religious vocation to which he desires to consecrate himself. During the summer months, the monk wears one (lighter) habit; but during the winter months, he wears another (heavier) habit. Further, when a particular habit is worn out, it is simply replaced by a new one. And there is no special ritual or rite for the reception of a different or new habit.
So too it is with the scapular. When a man is first invested in the scapular, he receives the brown cloth over his shoulders as a sign of his filial devotion to the Mother of God and of his desire to imitate her virtues – especially her charity and her chastity. Additionally, the brown scapular is a participation in the spiritual tradition of the Order of Carmel.
However, just like the religious habit, if the scapular breaks or is worn out and needs to be replaced, there is no need for a “second investiture”. Rather, the new scapular is simply procured by the individual and donned without any special ritual.
Because a scapular is different from a blessed medal
While it is true that the cloth scapular, after the investiture, can be replaced by the scapular medal; we must stress that the most ancient tradition (and really the whole logic of the scapular) connects this devotion with the vesture of the Carmelite Order. The very name “scapular”, as well as the color and style, are wholly derived from the religious habit of the Carmelites.
And here we can see a major difference between a scapular and a religious medal. While the blessed medal is itself consecrated, the scapular is rather the sign that the man is consecrated. While the religious medal itself is blessed, the scapular is the sign that the man wearing it lives a blessed life.
If we remember this point – that the brown scapular is a “miniature” of the Carmelite habit – we will come to a much deeper appreciation of the significance of the gift our Lady gave to St. Simon Stock.
Our Lady of Mount Carmel, Pray for us!