Clothed in a Sign of Salvation

July 16 is the feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. Do you know where your brown scapular is?

The traditional practice of wearing the two small pieces of wool connected by string has been largely neglected and often misunderstood in the Church's recent history. But did you know that Mel Gibson wears one? Or that Pope John Paul II never left home without his?

Our Lady first presented the scapular in an apparition to St. Simon Stock, father general of the Carmelite Order, on July 16, 1251. St. Simon reported that the Blessed Virgin spoke the following words regarding the scapular: “Receive, my beloved son, this habit of thy order: This shall be to thee and to all Carmelites a privilege, that whosoever dies clothed in this shall never suffer eternal fire. … It shall be a sign of salvation, a protection in danger, and a pledge of peace.”

Tradition tells us that, in order for a layperson to receive the spiritual blessings associated with the brown scapular, he or she needs to be formally enrolled by either a priest or a layperson who has been given this faculty. The enrollment is for life.

The Church further teaches that, in order for its wearing to be spiritually efficacious, three conditions must be met. Along with wearing the scapular, the individual needs to observe chastity according to his or her state in life and pray the Rosary regularly.

Contrary to popular misperception, the scapular is not a “Get Out of Hell Free” card.

“It's an outward sign of devotion to Our Lady,” explains Joanne Lavis, co-owner of the Rose Scapular Corp. (rosescapular.com), based in Oxnard, Calif. “It's not about superstition; it's about faith. When I wear the scapular, I am always thinking of Our Lady and she in turn is always thinking of me.”

Having grown up in the midst of the family scapular business, Lavis has had ample opportunity to witness the power of this devotion firsthand.

For example, she relates the story of an elderly woman who once came into their California store to buy some religious items. Lavis noticed that, despite the heat of a summer day, a man remained behind in the woman's car waiting for her. When Lavis asked if he would be coming in, the customer explained that her husband would not enter the store because he was a fallen-away Catholic who had been bitter in his rejection of the Church for more than 30 years.

“I suddenly felt inspired to talk with him,” Lavis explains. She went to his car and offered him a scapular. He responded positively, accepted the scapular and put it on before the couple left. Later that day, the elderly woman returned to the store to offer Lavis a tearful thank-you. She explained that, immediately upon leaving the store, her husband insisted on finding the nearest Catholic church and locating a priest who would hear his confession.

“I told her that I wasn'd the one who did it,” says Lavis. “It was Our Lady.”

Humility Helper

Alicia Fazio of Stoneham, Mass., a young wife and mother of three, was first introduced to the scapular as a freshman in college. At the suggestion of a friend she met at daily Mass, she put one on and has worn it ever since. Specifically, Fazio feels that wearing a scapular is a continual reminder of her faith and a tangible connection to other Catholics around the world.

“It helps me to keep a certain level of humility,” she says. “It unites me with many religious communities around the world that all wear a scapular of some sort. I feel the guarantees that come with this devotion are not superstitious, but more of a guide on how to live. You will not be spared hell just by wearing it, but, because you wear it, you will desire to practice a level of humility that will help you avoid the pains of hell.”

Mary Ann Smith of Muscatine, Iowa, cites similar reasons for wearing her scapular, and adds that wearing it occasionally presents an opportunity to evangelize.

“Sometimes people see it and they ask what it is,” she says. “I am always glad to tell them the story of Our Lady's promise. It has led to some great discussions with people about my faith, about Mary, and about purgatory and hell.”

Smith is clear, however, about the importance of not thinking about the scapular as a magical item or Catholic good-luck charm. She points out that, in order to receive the scapular's benefits, one must be willing to live a devout Catholic life according to his or her vocation.

“I love to wear my scapular because, as Our Lady's garment, it gives me signal graces and ties me close to Mary,” she explains. “It helps me remember that she is my mother and she is taking care of all my needs. I feel entrusted and very close to her. Through the scapular, I have entrusted myself and my family to Mary and none of us has strayed from the Church.”

Modesty Magnet

Fazio also appreciates the connection the scapular gives her to the Blessed Virgin, but points out an even more practical use of the scapular as a guide to appropriate dress.

“By seeing it around my neck,” she says, “I am reminded to pray or at least think of Jesus throughout the day. I also use the scapular as a guide to modesty. The same woman who introduced me to the scapular also explained to me that she uses the cord as a check when buying tops. If a shirt doesn'd cover the scapular, it's cut too low. I now follow this advice when choosing clothes as well.”

Joanne Lavis reports that the Rose Scapular Corp. is in the process of compiling a collection of stories from people who have experienced miraculous cures and conversions through the scapular

There appears to be no shortage of these.

“When you wear the scapular, the Blessed Mother just doesn'd let go of you,” she says. And to those who remain skeptical about the value of devotion to the scapular, she offers a simple suggestion:

“Put it on and see what happens.”

Danielle Bean writes from Belknap, New Hampshire.

The Earth is Not Our Mother

“The main point of Christianity was this: that Nature is not our mother: Nature is our sister. We can be proud of her beauty, since we have the same father; but she has no authority over us; we have to admire, but not to imitate.”—G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy