WHAT IS A SCAPULAR?
The word 'scapular' is derived from the Latin word 'scapula', or shoulder blade. The scapular originated hundreds of years ago as two large pieces of cloth, attached at the shoulders by narrow strips, which covered the front and back of a monk's habit. It was originally worn for the practical purpose of preserving the habit from dirt and wear, eventually becoming part of the habit itself.
Lay people who wanted to associate themselves with a particular religious order, or a particular devotion belonging to one, would wear a miniature version of the scapular as a sacramental of the Church.
There are now more than a dozen types of scapulars approved by the Church: brown scapulars, white scapulars, green scapulars, and many others, each associated with a different devotion to Our Lady, Our Lord, a saint, a religious order, etc., and worn as a sign of special consecration to that devotion.
The original, and still the most popular scapular, is the Brown Scapular of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel.
HISTORY OF THE BROWN SCAPULAR
According to tradition, in the year 1251 a Carmelite superior general living in Cambridge, England, St. Simon Stock, was praying for heavenly intercession for his order, as the Carmelites were facing trials and oppression at the time.
On July 16th, 1251, he received a visit from Our Lady in answer to his prayers. She handed him a Brown Scapular, saying,
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. He 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 apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary is known as Our Lady of Mt. Carmel. Because of her great promises to those who wear the Brown Scapular, the scapular spread to the laity as a sign of Marian devotion and consecration, signified by two small square pieces of brown wool cloth connected by cords, with one square resting on the chest and one on the back.
Since then, the Brown Scapular has been recognized as a source of great graces for those who, living holy lives, wear the Brown Scapular with devotion during life and at the time of death.
Fun Fact: It is believed that St. Simon was dubbed 'Simon Stock' after having lived as a hermit in a hollow tree trunk (in Old English, a 'stock') before joining the Carmelites.
WEARING THE BROWN SCAPULAR
Because the scapular is a sign of faith and devotion, it should be accompanied by the effort to live a life of faith and devotion, in cooperation with the grace of God. To receive the benefits of the Scapular, the wearer should have the scapular blessed and be enrolled in the Confraternity of the Brown Scapular.
Members of the Confraternity should devoutly wear the Brown Scapular as a visible sign of devotion to Our Lady, with a commitment to regular prayer, frequent reception of Holy Communion, and daily recitation of one of the Hours of the Divine Office (such as Morning Prayer, Evening Prayer, or Night Prayer), or the Psalms, or the rosary, or other equivalent devotional prayers. For more information, read A Catechesis on the Brown Scapular prepared by the Carmelites in celebration of the 750th anniversary of the Brown Scapular.
For those who may think that the story of Our Lady making a promise that those who wear the Brown Scapular will be saved from eternal damnation is a pious legend without truth, it is important to point out that at Fatima—an approved modern Marian apparition witnessed by tens of thousands of people—Our Lady appeared to Lucia, Francisco, and Jacinta as Our Lady of the Rosary, while holding a rosary, and next as Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, while holding a scapular. Both praying the rosary and wearing the scapular daily are requests of Our Lady and signs of consecration to her. She always comes to the aid of those who entrust themselves to her maternal intercession and protection.
Because all the forms of our love for the Blessed Virgin and all its various modes of expression cannot be equally pleasing to her, and therefore do not assist us in the same degree to reach Heaven. I say, without a moment’s hesitation, that the Brown Scapular is the Most Favored of all. No devotion has been confirmed by more numerous authentic miracles that the Brown Scapular.” - St. Claude de la Colombiere
BROWN SCAPULAR INVESTMENT PRAYER
Any priest may bless your scapular and invest you in the Brown Scapular Confraternity with the following words (these instructions may also be included when you purchase a Brown Scapular here).
Priest: Show us, O Lord, Thy mercy.
Respondent: And grant us Thy salvation.
P: Lord, hear my prayer.
R: And let my cry come unto Thee.
P: The Lord be with you.
R: And also with you.
P: Lord Jesus Christ, Savior of the human race, sanctify by Thy power these Scapulars, which for love of Thee and for love of Our lady of Mount Carmel, Thy servants will wear devoutly, so that through the intercession of the same Virgin Mary, Mother of God, and protected against the evil spirit, they persevere until death in Thy grace. Thou who lives and reigns world without end. Amen.
(Sprinkling Holy Water) Receive this blessed Scapular and beseech the Blessed Virgin that through her merits, you may wear it without stain. May it defend you against all adversity and accompany you to eternal life. Amen.
I, by the power vested in me, admit you to participate in all the spiritual benefits obtained through the mercy of Jesus Christ by the Religious Order of Mount Carmel.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
May God Almighty, the Creator of Heaven and earth, bless you, He who has deigned to join you to the confraternity of the Blessed Virgin Of Mount Carmel; we beseech Her to crush the head of the ancient serpent so that you my enter into possession of your eternal heritage, through Christ our Lord.
A PRAYER OF CONSECRATION TO OUR LADY OF MT. CARMEL
O Mary, Queen and Mother of Carmel, I come today to consecrate myself to you, for my whole life is but a small return for the many graces and blessings that have come from God to me through your hands.
Since you look with special kindness on those who wear your Scapular, I implore you to strengthen my weakness with your power, to enlighten the darkness of my mind with your wisdom, and to increase in me faith, hope and charity that I may repay each day my debt of humble homage to you.
May your Scapular bring me your special protection in my daily struggle to be faithful to your divine son and to you. May it separate me from all that is sinful in life and remind me constantly of my duty to imitate your virtues. From now on, I shall strive to live in God's presence, and offer all to Jesus through you.
Dearest Mother, support me by your never-failing love and lead me to paradise through the merits of Christ and your own intercession.
See also A Prayer to Our Lady of Mt. Carmel
This article has been updated and was originally published in July 2014. © The Catholic Company