Catholic Classroom: The Brown Scapular
Question: What is the brown scapular and why do we wear it?
July 16 is the feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, a day commemorating the apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary under the title of Our Lady of Mount Carmel to the English Carmelite St. Simon Stock in 1251. During this apparition, Our Lady is believed to have given St. Simon Stock the brown scapular (also called the scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel). Today, as we celebrate the loving example of our Blessed Mother, we pay special attention to the devotion of the brown scapular.
The brown scapular is made up of two square or rectangular pieces of brown wool that are connected with a cord. The scapular is worn around the neck with one piece of cloth hanging over the chest and the other hanging over the back. This gives the scapular the appearance of being a miniature “habit” that bears a resemblance to the habit worn by Carmelites. There are various types of scapulars denoting different devotions, but the brown scapular is specifically a sign of devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary under the title of Our Lady of Mount Carmel.
Much like the habits worn by many consecrated religious, the brown scapular is a silent sign of devotion that is always present. As a sacramental, it does not have magic powers or carry the promises of a good luck charm. What it does do is remind the wearer that when they put on the scapular, they are putting on Christ. In wearing the scapular, they are showing devotion to Our Lady and a desire to emulate her humble obedience—two goals that always point to the higher aim of uniting us more closely with Jesus.
If you have heard about the brown scapular before, then you have probably also heard about the promise associated with it. Tradition holds that when the Blessed Virgin gave St. Simon Stock the scapular, she made this promise: “Whosoever dies in this garment shall not suffer eternal fire.” There are two important things to note about this promise. The first is that the faithful are not obligated by any private revelation. Second, the promise is not a guarantee against hell for anyone who simply wears the scapular. Like all sacramentals, the scapular does not have any special power, but it helps dispose us to receive God’s grace. If you want to receive the promises of the scapular, then you must also maintain the interior disposition associated with wearing it.
The Church has not officially confirmed the scapular promise. However, the Church has identified wearing the scapular as a sign of three elements:
- Belonging to the religious family of the Carmelites
- Consecration to Mary
- An encouragement to imitate Mary’s virtues
No matter what your position is on the apparition of Our Lady of Mount Carmel or the promises associated with the scapular, you can be assured that embracing the interior disposition of the scapular that the scapular promotes is virtuous.
Mary, Mother of Carmel, pray for us!