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Lay Carmelites with the Scapular

Fr. Joseph Hung Tran, O.Carm.

The maternal love that the Blessed Virgin Mary has for the Carmelites is evidenced in the Brown Scapular. It is the sign of protection that Mary offered to the Order of Carmelites during a difficult time of the Order. The legend recorded is that Mary appeared to St. Simon Stock and promised to protect the Order

by handing to him a piece of her garment as a symbol of protection. Since then, the Brown Scapular has become part of the habit of the Order and over time, the Brown Scapular became part of the identity of the Order. As Pope John Paul II has said, the Brown Scapular is essentially a “habit”, of the Carmelite Order.[1] Eventually, a smaller version of the friars’ brown scapular was given to lay people as a sign of their association with the Carmelites and their spirituality. 

The Brown Scapular is a sign which has been approved by the Church for over seven centuries.  Thousands of Lay Carmelites, confraternities and many Catholics are wearing the Scapular. In many countries, babies and children are invested into the Scapular at their baptism or First Holy Communion as a sign of protection from her and devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary.[2]

By wearing the Scapular, Lay Carmelites put on themselves the garment of Mary in order to become one like her, to act like her and to love like her. By receiving the Scapular they receive the garment of Mary in order to remind them of their obligation to clothe themselves with the virtues of the Blessed Mother.[3] “If Mary is our garment, she too should be visible in our person, and we should reveal her virtues in our conduct and in our daily lives”[4] said St. Bernard. Therefore the Scapular must not be seen as a charm to protect the wearer or as an automatic guarantee of salvation, and thus an excuse for not living the demands of the Christian life but it is the symbol of their consecration and dedication to Mary.  Rather it is an expression of trust in her motherly protection, and as a desire to be like her in her commitment to Christ and to others. It should be a daily reminder of all virtues of Mary that we have to live when we wear the Scapular.[5]

The Scapular is the sign of Consecration to Sacred Heart of Jesus and to the Immaculate virgin therefore by wearing the scapular lay Carmelites are consecrating their lives to God in the spirit of Mary as well as God consecrates them through giving them Mary.[6]  This privilege has two fold meanings, first they belong to God and Mary in a special way and second they must live their life worthily to this consecration. The life of consecration is a total surrender, a complete giving up of themselves to God and Mary, like the Blessed Mother who consecrated herself to God in total association with her Son. Consecration must mean more that a formula of words; it is not just a moment or even the day of consecration, but their whole life. Consecration is more than outward conformity to certain practices of devotion, to certain prayers; it involves the whole of their life and especially their mind and heart. Thus, by wearing the Scapular, lay Carmelites are reminded that they belong to God all times and in all places and that He has a right to their service.”[7] By wearing the scapular, lay Carmelites are invited to live their lives like the Blessed Mother who is a perfect replica or mirror of the life of her Son who came not to do his worn will be the will of  the Father who sent him.[8]

Wearing the Scapular, Lay Carmelites remind themselves of their daily commitment to follow Jesus as did Mary, the perfect model of all Disciples of Christ. In the Scapular the Blessed Virgin reminds all Carmelites that they must open their lives to God and His will. As Mary, whose life was guided by faith, hope, and love; lay Carmelites also are invited to live their Christian lives as Mary did.[9]

In wearing the Scapular, Lay Carmelites live in imitation of Mary - that is, to be close to the needs of others, as she had done to her cousin Elizabeth and to the couple at the wedding at Cana.  Devotion to the Scapular reminds all Carmelites how to pray at all times; and how to discover God’s presence in all that happens around them.[10] However, devotion to Scapular is not simply a matter of saying prayers in her honor, of imitating her virtues, of visiting her shrines.[11] Father.  Bartholomew Xiberta, O.Carm., explains it this way:

Devotion to Mary in its full sense is not to be restricted to certain acts of homage rendered to her on special occasions. Rather it means the permanent dedication of one's intimate affections. To be a devotee of Mary does not mean merely to follow one of the many practices that are frequently added to the keeping of the commandments; devotion to Mary affects the whole person, constituting a distinctive mark that is intimately connected with and derived from the Christian character. Actually we expect from Mary not only this or that particular grace but her constant solicitude. The true devotee of Mary assumes towards her the position of a child towards its mother; he surrenders his whole being to her. This characteristic of Marian devotion may be summed up in the one word, consecration. This means a total and exclusive offering by which a person belongs entirely to the one to whom he is consecrated - not for any specified length of time, but for ever.[12]

Wearing the Scapular, Lay Carmelites remind themselves that they are members of the Carmelite family and they are invited to live out their daily commitment according to the Charism of the Order, that is, to live in allegiance to Jesus Christ with a pure heart and a clean conscience. Their lives and actions must reflect on the Gospel values and the teaching of the Church. Their lives must find expression in prayer, the Eucharist, fraternal love and service.[13]

 


[1] Cf. Edit by North American Province of Carmelite Order, The Scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel: Catechesis and Ritual, (Middletown, NY, 2001), 5.

[2] Ibid, 6.

[3] Scapular 29

[4] Scapular 29

[5] Scapular 29

[6] The Scapular… 25

[7] Scapular 26

[8] Scapular 26

[9] Ibid.

[10] Cf. Chalmers, Mary the Contemplative…10.

[11] Scapular 24

[12] Scapualr 24

[13] Ibid.

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As Carmelites We live our life of allegiance to Jesus Christ and to serve Him faithfully with a pure heart and a clear conscience through a commitment to seek the face of the living God (the contemplative dimension of life), through prayer, through fraternity, and through service (diakonia). These three fundamental elements of the charism are not distinct and unrelated values, but closely interwoven. 

All of these we live under the protection, inspiration and guidance of Mary, Our Lady of Mount Carmel, whom we honor as "our Mother and sister."