On May 13, 1981, after Pope St. John Paul II was shot, his thoughts were focused on his Brown Scapular, a sacramental consisting of two small pieces of cloth attached with string or cloth and worn so that the cloths hang down across the chest and back, with the bands across the shoulders, as a reminder to live a Christian life.
“Just before the Holy Father was operated on, he told the doctors, ‘Don’t take off the scapular.’ And the surgeons left it on,” Father Mariano Cera reported in Inside the Vatican magazine.
John Paul II’s devotion to the scapular began in childhood. Later, a photo taken during a work break with co-workers shows young factory worker Karol Wojtyla wearing a very visible scapular.
The Church celebrates the feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel — and the scapular — each July 16. On this date in 1251 Mary appeared to St. Simon Stock 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 the holy prior general of the Carmelite order.
Our Lady gave the scapular to the whole world, so that all her children can wear this “habit” as an outward sign of her love for them.
Garment With Message
The scapular “is a tangible symbol and sacramental of the deeper reality of Mary clothing and protecting us with her own mantle,” explained Carmelite Father Justin Francis Cinnante at the National Shrine of Our Lady of Mount Carmel (Carmelites.com). “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 illustrated such protection with several stories. During a senior retreat at a high school last September, Father Cinnante gave students scapulars through an “enrollment.” Two days later, the campus minister told him that night a deer ran into the path of a senior driving home. His car ran into a ditch and rolled over twice. A policeman said he never saw someone survive such an accident. But the young man walked away without even a scratch.
“It’s not just physical miracles that take place under Our Lady’s mantle,” Father Cinnante added, “but how many times we’re protected from the evil one through the scapular.”
Terri Raciti, a devotee of the scapular and headmistress of St. Therese Classical Academy in Chester, New York, tells of a recent grace she attributes to the scapular. “We had a beautiful thing happen with a grandfather who converted on his deathbed,” she said. “When he was dying, we had him enrolled in the scapular. That was a blessing to us.” The family thanked Mary, because, she said, “for whoever is devoted to her, she would be our advocate in heaven.”
At St. Therese Classical Academy, Terri sees that the schoolchildren pray the Rosary daily and are enrolled in the scapular after their first Holy Communion.
In a letter to the Carmelites, St. John Paul II wrote, “There are two truths which the sign of the scapular brings out: On the one hand, there is 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; on the other hand, there is 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.”
In other words, people should not view the scapular as an avoid-hell-and-get-into-heaven-free cloth that excuses living a Christian life.
That’s why, along with being enrolled in the scapular and wearing it always, the conditions include daily Marian devotion, such as the Rosary, and observing chastity in one’s state in life.
As 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 imitate the virtues of our Blessed Mother to ultimately put on Christ.”
Sister Lucia Confirms
In 1950, Carmelite Father Kilian Lynch, the prior of Aylesford, traveled to the Carmel of Coimbra, Portugal, to speak with Fatima seer Servant of God Lucia dos Santos about the 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.’”
Sister Lucia was firm with Carmelite Father Howard Rafferty on the Solemnity of the Assumption in 1950: “Our Lady wants all to wear the scapular.’”
She added: “[T]he 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.”
Garment for All
Terri Raciti, her husband, Gregory, and their four daughters, ages 12 to 18, are frequent visitors of the National Shrine of Our Lady of Mount Carmel and all are enrolled in the scapular.
“I found it a beautiful witness to Our Lady of Mount Carmel,” Terri says of the family’s devotion.
Eighteen-year-old daughter Sara said the scapular means a lot to her “because I consecrated myself to Our Lady, and the scapular is one of the main ways I show true devotion to her. … I love the thought of the scapular, being under Our Lady’s protection, having her mantle on us and her being our advocate. We make sure we’re all wearing scapulars.”
The youth groups meeting in the Raciti home learn about devotion to Our Lady and are enrolled in the scapular by Father Cinnante.
“It has kept our family close together and not afraid” to talk about the faith, Terri explained. “When curious people ask: ‘What’s that brown string?’ we show them the scapular. It’s a witness and a ministry, as well, to the people who encounter us.”
Joseph Pronechen is a Register staff writer.