On July 16th, 1251, the Blessed Virgin Mary, accompanied by a multitude of angels appeared to St. Simon Stock, the Father General of the Carmelite Order. Holding in Her hand the Scapular of the Carmelite Order, She gave the Scapular to him and said: “This shall be to you and to all Carmelites a privilege that anyone who dies clothed in this (Scapular) shall not suffer eternal fire; and if wearing it they die, they shall be saved”. Our Lady has given us a powerful gift of Her Scapular. The Church has recommended its use and the Saints have worn and promulgated the sacramental.
A Scapular is made up of two rectangular pieces of brown cloth, which are linked together by two cords so that it can be won around the neck. The scapular must be won constantly (day and night). It can be worn underneath one’s clothing. The blessing and conferral of the scapular are attached to the wearer for life. After having received the initial blessed scapular, subsequent scapulars which are used do not need to be blessed nor conferred again.
Many Saints, Popes and theologians have strongly declared their acceptance of the Scapular Devotion. Among them are St. Robert Bellarmine, St. Peter Claver, St. Alphonsus Liguori, St. John Vianney, St. John Bosco, Popes Gregory X, Sixtus IV, Leo XI, Leo XIII, St. Pius X, Benedict XIV, Benedict XV, Pius XI, Paul VI, John Paul II and Benedict XVI.
During her final vision (appearance) at Fatima (in Portugal) in 1917, the Blessed Virgin Mary held the Brown Scapular in her hands. When in 1950 Lucia (one of the three children to whom Our Lady appeared) was asked why the Mother of God held the Brown Scapular in her hands, she answered: “Because she wants everyone to wear the Scapular”. When pressed for a further explanation, Sr. Lucia said “Because it is our sign of consecration to Her Immaculate Heart”.
The scapular is a sign of our consecration to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. By wearing the scapular, we pledge our whole life to Mary — we totally surrender to her all that we are and all that we have. The Scapular should be a constant reminder that we belong to her at all time and in all places. It should be a constant reminder to the absolute purity of Mary and of our duty to imitate her. It should separate us from all that is not holy and inspire us to greater and greater purification of our lives.
A life that is consecrated to Mary should always bear the good fruit of love, charity, kindness, meekness, gentleness and prayerfulness. As St. Louis de Montfort puts it: “The most perfect consecration to Jesus is nothing else but a perfect and entire consecration of ourselves to the Blessed Virgin”.
For more than four centuries, the scapular has been known as “Mary’s sacrament”. Let us not conclude, however, that the scapular is endowed with some kind of supernatural power, which will save us no matter what we do or how much we sin. We might apply here what St. Alphonsus says about devotion to Mary in general: “When we declare that it is impossible for a servant of Mary to be lost, we do not mean those who by their own devotion to Mary think themselves warranted to sin freely. We state that these reckless people, because of their presumption, deserve to be treated with rigour and not with kindness. We speak here of the servants of Mary who, to the fidelity with which they honour and invoke Her, join the desire to amend their lives. I hold it morally impossible that these be lost”.
However, Saints and Pontiffs often warn us of the foolhardiness of deliberately living in sin because of Mary’s Scapular Promise. “One can take it as certain”, says John Haffert, “that if a person continually sins because of Mary’s Scapular Promise, he/she shall not die in the Scapular. To lead a sinful life while trusting in the Scapular Promise is to commit a sin, the horror of which borders on sacrilege; its punishment will not only be eternal but far worse than if one had led a sinful life without making the Mother of God an excuse for crucifying Her Son”.
It is clear from the words of the Saints and Pontiffs that a certain measure of fidelity is required on the part of those who wish to gain the special love and protection of Our Lady.
Catholics should be very careful in their choice of the scapulars they buy and wear as some are not genuine. Let us gratefully receive Our Lady’s precious gift and wear it as a constant reminder of our total giving of ourselves to Her and Her Divine Son.
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