Ok, What’s a Scapular?
Fr Boniface D’Souza OCD – Originally it was a practical garment. A scapular was a type of work apron, consisting of large pieces of cloth front and back, joined over the shoulders with strips of cloth.
It developed as a practical garment, protecting one’s clothes during work. In time it became invested with spiritual significance, protection, consecration or dedication to God.
This scapular was given by Mother Mary as a sign of protection. When the Carmelite Order was in crisis, the general of the order, St Simon Stock, prayed to Our Lady to protect the order from danger.
On July 16, 1251, when he was in prayer, Mother Mary appeared to him, gave him the brown scapular, and promised: “Take this scapular; it shall be a sign of salvation, a protection in danger and a pledge of peace. Whoever dies wearing this scapular shall not suffer eternal fire.”
Though the historicity of this documentation is disputed, after Our Lady appeared to St Simon, almost immediately a miraculous change took place in the Carmelite Order.
The best-known and most highly esteemed scapular, and the one most favoured by the Church and by the Blessed Virgin in many of her apparitions, is the Brown Scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel.
It is adapted from the scapular of the Carmelite Order and represents a special consecration to Our Lady under the title of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. Those who wear it practise a special devotion to Mary. In addition, the person has a special entrustment of themselves to Mary for their salvation.
This, in fact, has been promised to those who faithfully wear the scapular: “Those who die wearing this scapular shall not suffer eternal fire”.
Salvation in Jesus
This must not be understood superstitiously or magically, but in light of Catholic teaching that perseverance in faith, hope and love [in Jesus Christ] are required for salvation. The scapular is a powerful reminder of this Christian obligation and of Mary’s promise to help those consecrated to her to obtain the grace of final perseverance.
One of the great mysteries of our time is that the majority of Catholics either ignores or has entirely forgotten this heavenly promise of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
With regard to the scapular as a convention and sacred sign, the Church has intervened at various times in history to clarify its meaning, defend it and confirm the privileges. From these Church documents there emerges the nature and meaning of the Carmelite scapular.
- The scapular is a Marian habit or garment. It is both a sign and pledge. A sign of belonging to Mary, a pledge of her motherly protection, not only in this life but after death.
- It is a conventional sign signifying three elements strictly joined. First, belonging to a religious family particularly devoted to Mary, especially dear to Mary, the Carmelite Order.
Second, consecration to Mary, devotion to and trust in her Immaculate Heart.
Third, a motivation to become like Mary by imitating her virtues, above all her humility, chastity and spirit of prayer.
Fr D’Souza is a Carmelite priest currently at Kempton Park parish in Johannesburg.