The word ‘scapular’ is derived from the Latin word ‘scapula’. It originated hundreds of years ago as two large pieces of cloth, attached at the shoulders by narrow strips, which covered the front and back of a monk’s habit.
Scapulars were large pieces of cloth with a hole in the center to be placed over the head. It is one of the most important parts of a monastic habit. At that time, the front and back panels of the scapular would hang at an equal distance on the front and back of the wearer’s body. From there, scapulars developed. There are many smaller sizes, and are still worn over the head in the same fashion but are made of a single square of wool cloth and bear specific symbols and colors according to the confraternity or order from which they come.
There are now more than a dozen types of scapulars approved by the Church: brown scapulars, white scapulars, green scapulars, and many others. The most famous of these is the Brown Scapular of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel associated with the Carmelite religious order. Today scapulars are also made of wood or metal, such as the Scapular Medal.
Scapulars come in many varieties and styles, some are even protected with plastic coverings. Scapulars have specific indulgences attached to them and promise to those who wear them faithfully. The Brown Scapular is a sacramental sign of special devotion to Our Lady. It was worn for the practical purpose of preserving the heart from dirt and wear. Lay people who wanted to associate themselves with a particular religious order, or a particular devotion belonging to one, would wear a miniature version of the scapular as a sacramental of the Church.
A brief history of the Brown Scapular
In the year 1251 a Carmelite superior general, St. Simon Stock who lived in Cambridge, England, was praying for heavenly intercession for his order, as the Carmelites were facing trials and oppression at the time. On July 16th, 1251, he received a visit from Our Lady in answer to his prayers. She handed him a Brown Scapular, saying,
Receive, my beloved son, this Scapular of thy Order; it is the special sign of my favor, which I have obtained for thee and for thy children of Mount Carmel. He who dies clothed with this habit shall be preserved from eternal fire. It is the badge of salvation, a shield in time of danger, and a pledge of special peace and protection.”
This apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary is known as Our Lady of Mt. Carmel. Because of her great promises to those who wear the Brown Scapular, the scapular spread to the laity as a sign of Marian devotion and consecration, signified by two small square pieces of brown wool cloth connected by cords, with one square resting on the chest and one on the back. Since then, the Brown Scapular has been recognized as a source of great graces for those who, living holy lives, wear the Brown Scapular with devotion during life and at the time of death.
Because the scapular is a sign of faith and devotion, the wearer should take an effort to live a life of faith and devotion, in cooperation with the grace of God. To receive the benefits of the Scapular, the wearer should have the scapular blessed and be enrolled in the Confraternity of the Brown Scapular.
Members of the Confraternity should devoutly wear the Brown Scapular as a visible sign of devotion to Our Lady, with a commitment to regular prayer, frequent reception of Holy Communion (of course, to receive it you must be at peace with God), and daily recitation of one of the Hours of the Divine Office (such as Morning Prayer, Evening Prayer, or Night Prayer), or the Psalms, or the rosary, or other equivalent devotional prayers. Our Lady’s Promises about the Scapular are true but that does not mean that as long as you wear the brown scapular (provided it doesn’t fall off), you get to heaven even if you deny the Trinity.
Now here is how it is;
Our Lady made the Brown Scapular promise in direct reference to people who had devoted their lives to Christ and His Church. The Brown Scapular to which she refers is a part of their habit. So the promise already refers to the faith. The Pope then extended the promise to the rest of us, meaning, the Church Militant…which means, we believe the same thing. He didn’t extend the promise to the separated brethren or the Wiccans.
For those who may think that the story of Our Lady making a promise that those who wear the Brown Scapular will be saved from eternal damnation is a pious legend without truth, it is important to point out that at Fatima—an approved modern Marian apparition witnessed by tens of thousands of people—Our Lady appeared to Lucia, Francisco, and Jacinta as Our Lady of the Rosary, while holding a rosary, and next as Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, while holding a scapular. Both praying the rosary and wearing the scapular daily are requests of Our Lady and signs of consecration to her. She always comes to the aid of those who entrust themselves to her maternal intercession and protection.