Saturday was the feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, the liturgical
commemoration of Mary on which we automatically thought of the brown
scapular. Or, we did make an association with the BVM of Mount Carmel and the scapular. Our sensibilities have changed dramatically to the point that only the old people remember such devotions by-and-large.
Recently at the parish we were talking about selling rosaries,
bibles, catechisms nun-made fudge, and I introduced offering the brown
scapular. The person who is organizing this very small “church store” looked at me
quizzically: what are scapulars? So much for Catholic culture and the Catholic
liturgical imagination! I explained that as a concept originally referred to a
form of clothing, a wide band of clothe put on the shoulders reaching down to the front and back of the legs, often to the ankles. The scapular is worn by priests, nuns, and sisters like, but not limited to
the Dominicans; the scapular historically was worn as an apron that would
protect the tunic. Later the scapular was blessed taking it out of the realm of
a work outfit. But I am not talking about the scapular worn as part of the religious habit of the religious.
As the history goes, Saint Simon Stock, the sometime general superior of the Carmelite Order, received the scapular from the Blessed Virgin in 1251. The reception of this small band clothe came with the promise of special assistance in life and in death to all those who wear it with devotion. Hence, the scapular came to symbolize a Carmelite devotion to Mary, a devotional piece of clothe with the image of Mary on one side and Simon Stock on the other. But this devotion was not limited to the professed religious but extended to the laity. The blessing of the brown scapular was restricted to Carmelites priests but now the privilege has been given to all priests. This past weekend many NY area people descended on Middletown, NY Carmelite house for ceremonies related to Our Lady of Mount Carmel. So, the tradition is not dead, regrettably just on life support.
The other day I noticed on Zenit that Pope Benedict referenced the wearing the brown scapular as a “particular sign of union with Jesus and Mary. For those who wear it, it is a sign of filial abandonment to the protection of the Immaculate Virgin. In our battle against evil, may Mary our Mother wrap us in her mantle.”
In 2003, scapular-wearers recall that Blessed John Paul talked about his devotion to the sign of Our Lady of Mount Carmel: “Even I, from my youngest days, have worn around my neck the scapular of Our Lady and I take refuge with trust under the mantle of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of Jesus.”
As Father Stefano De Fiores said so well, Mary shows us “what we should be and, unfortunately, are not.” Good for the popes, good for us. Get a scapular! Recall the journey of faith we are all on.
Just for the record, the Church offers more than just the Carmelite scapular. In fact, there are 18 identifiable scapulars.