Pope St. John Paul II had a great devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, and because of this he faithfully wore a scapular (notice him wearing his scapular in the above photo).
He is reported to have worn the brown scapular since he was a boy, and he insisted that doctors not remove it during surgery following the assassination attempt on his life in May of 1981.
Father Mariano Cera, a Carmelite priest, told Inside the Vatican magazine:
“Just before the Holy Father was operated on, he told the doctors, ‘Don’t take off the scapular.’ And the surgeons left it on.”
The Holy Father credited the miraculous preservation of this life to the protection of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
In his message to the Carmelites at the 750th anniversary of the bestowal of the scapular, Pope John Paul II said those who wear the scapular — or habit, as he called it — dedicate themselves to the service of Our Lady for the good of the whole Church:
“The sign of the Scapular points to an effective synthesis of Marian spirituality, which nourishes the devotion of believers and makes them sensitive to the Virgin Mother’s loving presence in their lives.
The Scapular is essentially a ‘habit’. Those who receive it are associated more or less closely with the Order of Carmel and dedicate themselves to the service of Our Lady for the good of the whole Church.”
. . .
“Two truths are evoked by the sign of the Scapular: on the one hand, the constant protection of the Blessed Virgin, not only on life’s journey, but also at the moment of passing into the fullness of eternal glory; on the other, the awareness that devotion to her cannot be limited to prayers and tributes in her honour on certain occasions, but must become a ‘habit’, that is, a permanent orientation of one’s own Christian conduct, woven of prayer and interior life, through frequent reception of the sacraments and the concrete practice of the spiritual and corporal works of mercy.
In this way the Scapular becomes a sign of the ‘covenant’ and reciprocal communion between Mary and the faithful: indeed, it concretely translates the gift of his Mother, which Jesus gave on the Cross to John and, through him, to all of us, and the entrustment of the beloved Apostle and of us to her, who became our spiritual Mother.”
The original scapular is the brown scapular associated with the Carmelite order, presented by Our Lady to St. Simon Stock in the year 1251. The Virgin Mary appeared to him surrounded by angels and holding in her hands the brown scapular of the Carmelite habit.
She said to him, “This shall be a privilege for you and for all Carmelites: whoever dies clothed in this shall not suffer eternal fire, rather, he shall be saved.”
The Brown Scapular is a sacramental of the Catholic Church, a devotion as old as the Holy Rosary. A sacramental is, by definition, “a sacred sign which bears resemblance to the sacraments, and by means of which spiritual effects are signified and obtained through the prayers of the Church” (CCC 1667).
The faithful become invested in the scapular once through the prayers of the priest; it is not the scapular but the person who becomes invested. Wearing the scapular is a sign of this consecration and can be replaced later as it becomes worn out, without the person having to be reinvested.
Today there are many different kinds of scapulars associated with various devotions and religious orders with various attached promises. Learn more about them here.