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The Scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel

Also known as the Brown Scapular, this is the best known, most celebrated, and most widespread of the small scapulars. It is spoken of as "the Scapular", and the "feast of the Scapular" is that of Our Lady of Mount Carmel on 16 July. It is probably the oldest scapular and served as the prototype of the others. According to a pious tradition the Blessed Virgin appeared to St. Simon Stock at Cambridge, England, on Sunday, 16 July, 1251. In answer to his appeal for help for his oppressed order, she appeared to him with a scapular in her hand and said: "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". This tradition, however, appears in such a precise form for the first time in 1642, when the words of the Blessed Virgin were given in a circular of St. Simon Stock which he is said to have dictated to his companion secretary, and confessor, Peter Swanyngton. Although it has now been sufficiently shown that this testimony cannot be supported by historical documents, still its general content remains a reliable pious tradition; in other words, it is credible that St. Simon Stock was assured in a supernatural manner of the special protection of the Blessed Virgin for his whole order and for all who should wear the Carmelite habit, that the Blessed Virgin also promised him to grant special aid, especially in the hour of death, to those who in holy fidelity wore this habit in her honour throughout life, so that they should be preserved from hell. And, even though there is here no direct reference to the members of the scapular confraternity, indirectly the promise is extended to all who from devotion to the Mother of God should wear her habit or badge, like true Christians, until death, and be thus as it were affiliated to the Carmelite Order.

Heretofore no authenticated testimony has been discovered proving that the small scapular was known from the second half of the thirteenth century and was given to the members of the Confraternity of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. On the contrary there are many reasons for the view that the small scapular, as we now know it and in the form it has certainly had since the sixteenth century, is of much later origin. Zimmerman (Mon. hist. Carmelit.) and Saltet give very reasonable grounds for this view. In any case, the scapular was very widespread in European countries at the end of the sixteenth century, as is evident from "La cronica Carmelitana" of the Carmelite Joseph Falcone (Piacenza, 1595). In 1600 appeared at Palermo the "Giardino Carmelitano" of the Carmelite Egidio Leoindelicato da Sciacca (the approval is dated 1592). Towards the end the author gives after the formulas of benediction for the Fratelli and Sorelle della Compagnia della Madonna del Carmine (who receive the complete habit of the order) the formula for the blessing of the scapular for the Devoti della Compagnia Carmelitana (pp. 239 sqq.). This is the earliest form of benediction for the small scapular with which we are acquainted. It is also noteworthy that the formula for the sisters contains no reference to the scapular, while in that for the brothers there is a special blessing for the scapular.

Nevertheless, even should we admit that the small scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel originated even as late as the beginning of the sixteenth century, yet the above promise, which is designated the first privilege of the Carmelite Scapular, remains unimpaired. For this privilege declares nothing else than that all those who out of true veneration and love for the Blessed Virgin constantly wear the scapular in a spirit of fidelity and confiding faith, after they have been placed by the Church itself with this habit or badge under the special protection of the Mother of God, shall enjoy this special protection in the matter and crisis which most concerns them for time and eternity. Whoever, therefore, even though he be now a sinner, wears the badge of the Mother of God throughout life as her faithful servant, not presumptuously relying on the scapular as on a miraculous amulet, but trustfully confiding in the power and goodness of Mary, may securely hope that Mary will through her powerful and motherly intercession procure for him all the necessary graces for true conversion and for perseverance in good. Such is the meaning and importance of the first privilege of the Carmelite Scapular, which is wont to be expressed in the words: "whoever wears the scapular until death, will be preserved from hell".

The second privilege of the scapular otherwise known as the Sabbatine privilege, may be briefly defined as meaning that Mary's motherly assistance for her servants in the Scapular Confraternity will continue after death, and will find effect especially on Saturday (the day consecrated to her honour), provided that the members fulfill faithfully the not easy conditions necessary for obtaining this privilege.

As regards the external form of the scapular, it should consist of two segments of brown woollen cloth; black, however, is also admissible. This scapular usually bears on one side the image of our Lady of Mount Carmel, but neither this nor any other image is prescribed. The authentic list of indulgences, privileges, and indults of the Scapular Confraternity of Mount Carmel was last approved on 4 July, 1908, by the Congregation of Indulgences. It is noteworthy that this summary says nothing of the above-mentioned first privilege; what it says of the Sabbatine privilege is explained in the article on that subject. Concerning the often miraculous protection which Mary on account of this her badge has granted to pious members of the Scapular Confraternity in great perils of soul and body, there exist many records and reliable reports (some of recent times), to which it is impossible to refuse credence. Like the rosary, this scapular has become the badge of the devout Catholic and the true servant of Mary.

 

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Our Lady of Mount Carmel

Feast Day is July 16

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