Please read the great article by Philip Kosloski below on the power of the Brown Scapular, which should be one of your weapons you use in your daily spiritual combat.
July 16th is the feast day of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, so it is fitting to examine a mighty spiritual weapon connected with this devotion to the Blessed Mother: the Brown Scapular. There are many “promises” to the wearers of this scapular, but we must always keep in mind that the Brown Scapular is NOT a lucky “charm” that grants someone access to eternal life no matter what kind of life they live.
First of all, here is a quick history of the Brown Scapular:
[K]nown as the Brown Scapular, this is the best known, most celebrated, and most widespread of the small scapulars. It is spoken of as “the Scapular”, and the “feast of the Scapular” is that of Our Lady of Mount Carmel on 16 July. It is probably the oldest scapular and served as the prototype of the others. According to a pious tradition the Blessed Virgin appeared to St. Simon Stock at Cambridge, England, on Sunday, 16 July, 1251. In answer to his appeal for help for his oppressed order, she appeared to him with a scapular in her hand and said: “Take, beloved son this scapular of thy order as a badge of my confraternity and for thee and all Carmelites a special sign of grace; whoever dies in this garment, will not suffer everlasting fire. It is the sign of salvation, a safeguard in dangers, a pledge of peace and of the covenant“….And, even though there is here no direct reference to the members of the scapular confraternity, indirectly the promise is extended to all who from devotion to the Mother of God should wear her habit or badge, like true Christians, until death, and be thus as it were affiliated to the Carmelite Order. (Catholic Encyclopedia, emphasis added)
Our Lady grants to the wearers of this scapular particular “privileges:”
For this privilege declares nothing else than that all those who out of true veneration and love for the Blessed Virgin constantly wear the scapular in a spirit of fidelity and confiding faith, after they have been placed by the Church itself with this habit or badge under the special protection of the Mother of God, shall enjoy this special protection in the matter and crisis which most concerns them for time and eternity. Whoever, therefore, even though he be now a sinner, wears the badge of the Mother of God throughout life as her faithful servant, not presumptuously relying on the scapular as on a miraculous amulet, but trustfully confiding in the power and goodness of Mary, may securely hope that Mary will through her powerful and motherly intercession procure for him all the necessary graces for true conversion and for perseverance in good. Such is the meaning and importance of the first privilege of the Carmelite Scapular, which is wont to be expressed in the words: “whoever wears the scapular until death, will be preserved from hell”. (Catholic Encyclopedia, emphasis added)
A “habit” in more ways than one
St. John Paul II exhorted those who wear the Brown Scapular to take part in the special graces involved with wearing it:
Therefore two truths are evoked by the sign of the Scapular: on the one hand, the constant protection of the Blessed Virgin, not only on life’s journey, but also at the moment of passing into the fullness of eternal glory; on the other, the awareness that devotion to her cannot be limited to prayers and tributes in her honour on certain occasions, but must become a “habit”, that is, a permanent orientation of one’s own Christian conduct, woven of prayer and interior life, through frequent reception of the sacraments and the concrete practice of the spiritual and corporal works of mercy. In this way the Scapular becomes a sign of the “covenant” and reciprocal communion between Mary and the faithful: indeed, it concretely translates the gift of his Mother, which Jesus gave on the Cross to John and, through him, to all of us, and the entrustment of the beloved Apostle and of us to her, who became our spiritual Mother. (Message to Carmelite Community)
Suffice to say, the Brown Scapular is a powerful aid to those who devoutly wear it and call upon Our Lady’s help in time of need. There are numerous stories that attest to the miraculous nature of the Brown Scapular. In particular, there is one story that show how much Satan hates the Brown Scapular:
You will understand why the devil works against those who promote the Scapular when you hear the story of Venerable Francis Ypes. One day his Scapular fell off. As he replaced it, the devil howled, “Take off the habit which snatches so many souls from us!” Then and there Francis made the devil admit that there are three things which the demons are most afraid of: the Holy Name of Jesus, the Holy Name of Mary, and the Holy Scapular of Carmel. To that list we could add: the Holy Rosary.
The great St. Peter Claver was another of God‟s heroes who used the Scapular to good advantage. Every month a shipment of 1000 slaves would arrive at Cartegena, Colombia, South America. St. Peter used to insure the salvation of his converts. First, he organized catechists to give them instructions. Then, he saw to it that they were baptized and clothed with the Scapular. Some ecclesiastics accused the Saint of indiscreet zeal, but St. Peter was confident that Mary would watch over each of his more than 300,000 converts! (Garment of Grace, emphasis added)
However, we must not believe that simply wearing the Brown Scapular without a strong commitment to following God will someone protect us from all harm and the eternal fires of Hell. Here is a short story that shows how if we wear the Brown Scapular and are refuse to lead a holy life, we will not be found wearing it when we die:
During the Spanish civil war in the 1930‟s, seven Communists were sentenced to death because of their crimes. A Carmelite priest tried to prepare the men for death; they refused. As a last resort, he brought the men cigarettes, food and wine, assuring them that he would not talk religion. In a short while, they were all friendly, so he asked them for one small favor: “Will you permit me to place a Scapular on each of you?” Six agreed; one refused. Soon all Scapular wearers went to confession. The seventh continued to refuse. Only to please them, he put on a Scapular, he would do nothing more. Morning came, and as the moment of execution drew near, the seventh man made it clear that he was not going to ask for the priest. Although wearing the Scapular, he was determined to go to his death an enemy of God. Finally, the command was given, the firing squad did its deadly work, and seven lifeless bodies lay sprawled in the dust. Mysteriously, a Scapular was found approximately 50 paces from the bodies. Six men died WITH Mary‟s Scapular; the seventh died WITHOUT the Scapular. Blessed Claude gives us the solution to the mystery of the missing Scapular: “You ask, ‘What if I desire to die in my sins?’ I answer, ‘Then you will die in your sins, BUT YOU WILL NOT DIE IN YOUR SCAPULAR.’” Blessed Claude tells the story of a man who tried to drown himself three times. He was rescued against his will. At last he realized that he was wearing his Scapular. Determined to take his life, he tore the Scapular from his neck and leaped into the water. Without Mary‟s protective garment he accomplished his wish, and died in his sins. (Garment of Grace, emphasis added)
So yes, the Brown Scapular is a powerful weapon against Satan and can help us along the road to holiness, but it is not “magic” and if we refuse to lead a life divorced from sin, the Scapular will not be found on us when we die.
We must devoutly wear it, and choose to serve God and the Blessed Virgin Mary. The Brown Scapular can amplify our spiritual life and help us in our time of greatest need.
[As a practical note, the Brown Scapular must be 100% brown (or black) wool. There is no particular requirement in terms of the image or words on the scapular, just that the fabric be wool. If you are looking to buy a scapular, try out these handmade scapulars, made by Carmelite nuns. If you need to be enrolled into the Brown Scapular, any priest has the authority to do it. Here are the enrollment prayers. After enrollment, there is no need for additional blessings for future replacement scapulars.]