Joseph Pronechen is staff writer with the National Catholic Register since 2005. His articles have appeared in a number of national publications including Columbia magazine, Soul, Faith and Family, Catholic Digest, and Marian Helper. His religion features have also appeared in Fairfield County Catholic and in one of Connecticut’s largest news dailies. He holds an MS degree and formerly taught English and courses in film study that he developed at a Catholic high school in Connecticut. Joseph and his wife Mary reside on the East Coast.
There’s a picture of a young Karol Wojtyla as a factory worker posing with a friend during a work break. He is wearing a big smile and a very visible Brown Scapular.
As Pope John Paul II, he recalled how he wore his Scapular from about age 10. When in May 1981 he was shot, he insisted doctors not remove his Scapular. Carmelite Father Mariano Cera told Inside the Vatican magazine: "Just before the Holy Father was operated on, he told the doctors 'Don't take off the Scapular.' And the surgeons left it on."
To put a favorite catchphrase of years ago to better use, John Paul knew that when it comes to the Scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel — Never leave home without it.
John Paul set an example to follow because today in some places people are forgetting the way this powerful sacramental enriches our devotional life and the promises attached to it.
Not only is the St. John Paul II Scapular-Fatima connection a clear tipoff, but even more so is Fatima’s Oct. 13 apparition. There, Mary first identified herself as Our Lady of the Rosary. Following the Miracle of the Sun, she also appeared Our Lady of Sorrows and Our Lady of Mount Carmel, holding and offering a brown Scapular.
Then there’s this connection too. In a letter to the Carmelites, John Paul II wrote that “the most genuine form of devotion to the Most Holy Virgin, expressed by the humble sign of the Scapular, is the consecration to her Immaculate Heart.” At Fatima Mary called for the consecration to her Immaculate Heart.
Prophetic Major Connections
In 1858, Our Lady’s last apparition at Lourdes which was on July 16 — the feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. On this date the Church celebrates Mary’s apparition to St. Simon Stock that happened on July 16, 1251 in Aylesford, England.
Take this Scapular, it shall be a sign of salvation, a protection in danger and a pledge of peace. Whosoever dies wearing this Scapular shall not suffer eternal fire, our Blessed Mother promised this prior general of the Carmelite order.
It’s no coincidence that our Blessed Mother gave us the Rosary and the Scapular in the same 13th century.
The Carmelites have always been her devoted servants. Yet Our Lady did not give the Scapular just to the Carmelites. She gave it, as the Rosary, to the whole world so that all her children can wear this “habit” as an outward sign of her love for them.
Garment’ Gift of Love
“The Scapular is a miniature habit of the order,” explained Carmelite Father Justin Francis Cinnante at the National Shrine of Our Lady of Mount Carmel (Carmelites.com). This mini-habit has the same privileges Mary gave the order. “It’s a tangible symbol and sacramental of the deeper reality of Mary clothing and protecting us with her own mantle,” he noted. “It’s a sign of consecration to the Immaculate Heart of Mary and that Mary will assure the salvation of those devoted to her.”
He also said how said, “many times we’re protected from the Evil One through the scapular.”
“The Scapular is such a symbol to the people of Mary’s guidance and protection,” said Former Carmelite Prior General Father John Malley some years ago. “It’s something so concrete a child can put on.”
But in this country is the practice slipping? It seems so. Children were enrolled in the Brown Scapular across the country not too many decades ago.
“The very fact of a Scapular around one’s neck is a reminder Mary is present with us,” explained Father Malley. “That constant visible sign is a reminder 24 hours a day that Mary is present in the Church and she’s surely with us.”
The whole custom of wearing a brown Scapular brings us closer to devotion to Christ because Mary is the model to follow in living a life in allegiance to Christ. It should start early, of course.
Sister Lucia Explains the Scapular
In 1950, Carmelite Father Kilian Lynch, the prior of Aylesford, traveled to Coimbra to speak with Sr. Lucia about the brown Scapular and its place and meaning at Fatima. In his book, Our Lady of Fatima and the Brown Scapular, he recounts two major conversations other Carmelite priests had with her on the same question.
In 1949, Father Donald O’Callaghan asked Lucia for her interpretation of Our Lady coming as Our Lady of Mount Carmel. She answered that “the Scapular devotion was pleasing to Our Lady, and that she desired it to be propagated.” The priest asked “if she thought the Scapular was a part of the Fatima message. She answered, ‘Most definitely, the Scapular and the Rosary are inseparable. The Scapular is a sign of consecration to Our Lady.’”
Servant of God Lucia dos Santos was firm speaking with Carmelite Father Howard Rafferty on the Feast of the Assumption in 1950 when he noted that books so far did not list the Scapular as a necessary part of the Fatima message. “Lucia said immediately: ‘Oh, they are wrong; Our Lady wants all to wear the Scapular.’”
The priest asked if Mary wanted the Scapular as part of the Message. “Lucia answered, ‘Yes.’ And she added: ‘Now the Holy Father has already told this to the whole world, saying that the Scapular is a sign of consecration to the Immaculate Heart. Nobody can disagree now.’”
He persisted. Was the Scapular also a condition of the Fatima message? “Yes, certainly,” Lucia answered. “Yes, the Rosary and the Scapular are inseparable.”
Simple Conditions and Reminder
There are two simple cautions. People can’t think of the Scapular as an avoid-hell-and-get-into-heaven-free cloth and excuse us from living a Christian life. To do otherwise misses the Scapular’s meaning or misuses it to think a sinful life is okay.
Wearing the Scapular means you show your devotion to Our Lady and choose to live following Jesus through Mary who will help you to do so.
To do otherwise misses the Scapular’s meaning or misuses it to think a sinful life is OK. Same for the Sabbatine Privilege that Pope John XXII added after Mary appeared to him, whereby (with certain conditions followed during life) she would bring a devout wearer from Purgatory to heaven on the first Saturday after their death.
That’s why along with being enrolled in the Scapular and wearing it always, the conditions include some kind of daily Marian devotion such as the Rosary (again, a Fatima connection) or the Little Office of the Virgin Mary, and observing chastity in your state in life. Father Cinnante explained, “We’re putting on Christ basically when we wear the Scapular or Scapular medal (which St. Pius X, who wore a Scapular, permitted). We ask her protection…and to imitate the virtues of our Blessed Mother to ultimately put on Christ.”
Scapulars remind us to clothe ourselves in the virtues of Jesus and Mary. That’s why Carmelite St. Therese of Lisieux wrote to a missionary priest, “How happy I am that you are clothed in the holy Scapular! It is a sure sign of predestination...”
To all these, John Paul II said as much in a Letter to the Carmelites on the 750th Anniversary of the Scapular. He cited two truths the Scapular brings out: “the continuous protection of the Blessed Virgin, not only along the pathways of this life, but also at the moment of passing into the fullness of eternal glory” and “the awareness that devotion towards Our Lady cannot be limited to the occasional prayer in her honor, but must become a ‘habit’, that is a permanent way of Christian living, made up of prayer and the interior life, frequent recourse to the Sacraments and the concrete exercise of the corporal and spiritual works of mercy.”
noted Father Malley I feel the Scapular is … a reassurance that our mother and father is there for us,”. “It’s the day in, day out constant realization that we’re loved. That Mary really does watch over us and cares for us.”
One Size Garment for All
Isn’t this July 16, the Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, a perfect time to be enrolled in the Scapular and wear it devotedly, or begin wearing it again if you’ve forgotten to keep it on? It may be a garment over 760 years old, but any way you look at it, the Scapular is the garment always in style.