08 The Carmelite Scapular - Fr. Paul D'Souza

posted Jul 14, 2017, 12:14 AM by Neil D'Souza   [ updated Jul 14, 2017, 12:14 AM ]
The English word 'scapular' is derived from the Latin, scapulae, which means 'shoulders'. Originally, scapulars were somewhat like aprons, worn by Benedictine monks and nuns. The Rule of St Benedict in the sixth or seventh century required that the monks used their habits most of the time, and even at night. On the other hand, the Rule emphasised the importance of manual labour, in the monastery itself, or in the garden, or even in the fields. To protect the habit from getting soiled, aprons were introduced in the course of time. These aprons were called 'scapulars'. In the course of time, the scapulars became part of the monastic habit, and continued to be adapted to the different forms of life-style associated with the Benedictine Rule: Cluniacs, Carthusians, Cistercians, Camaldulese, Trappists ; and later passed on to the new forms of religious life, like the mendicants, among whom were the Franciscans, Dominicans and Carmelites.

The Carmelite Tradition

The Carmelites had a very special tradition regarding their scapular. It had been bestowed in a vision on Her order by Our Lady Herself through Simon Stock, with the promise of eternal salvation.

Arnold Bostius, eloquent fifteenth century mariologist, eulogises the merits of the scapular. He described the scapular, a sacramental to which the Church attaches indulgences and other spiritual effects. Bostius calls it a sign of unity and a bond of charity. He reminds the scapular wearer of his/her commitment to Mary: 'to invoke Her in necessities, to contemplate Her life and virtues, to live in dependence on Her.' Bostius also informs us of the custom of some lay folk who wished to join the confraternity of Our Lady, and secretly wore this garment and armour of the Order during their lifetime, and wished to die wearing the scapular. In the same century, Audet organised scapular confraternities. And these were recommended repeatedly to the faithful by the Popes.

Ecclesiastical Approval

Theologically speaking, the devotion was very conducive to Christian living, inasmuch as it reminded the faithful of Mary's protection and spurred them on to imitate Her virtues.

Slowly and steadily, devotion to Mary's scapular spread throughout western Europe first, and then in the missions, until the tiny trickle grew into a mighty river. Hundreds of miracles were worked through the scapular by Mary who Herself saw to it that Her faithful should use this simple method of expressing and exercising their devotion to Her. On the other hand, the scapular was also the channel through which the Mother of Carmel manifested Her protection for Her children. For the convenience of the faithful, the scapular was adapted and reduced in size. So we have the practice of giving the small scapular to lay people, so that they might share the benefits of devotion to Mary.