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Devotion: Our Lady of Mount Carmel’s Brown Scapular

July 18, 2011
The Sabbatine PrivilegeThe Sabbatine Privilege is a special promise extended to all who wear the scapular and are enrolled in the scapular. The privilege was approved by Pope John XXII, and was later confirmed by Pope Gregory XIII, Pope Clement VII, and Pope St. Pius V. The privilege states that those souls who keep the necessary requirements of the privilege will be released from purgatory by Our Lady the Saturday after they die. The requirements are: 1.The scapular must be worn and the wearer must be enrolled in the scapular. 2. Chastity to one’s state in life must be observed. 3. One must fast from meat on Wednesdays and Saturdays. 4. You must recite the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin or the rosary everyday.


History of the Brown Scapular


In its origin as a practical garment, a scapular was a type of work apron, frequently used by monks, consisting of large pieces of cloth front and back joined over the shoulders with strips of cloth. It forms part of the habit of some religious orders including the Brothers of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mount Carmel, the Carmelites. The first Carmelite hermits who lived on Mount Carmel in the Holy Land in the 12th century are thought to have worn a belted tunic and striped mantle typical of pilgrims; when the Carmelites moved to Europe in the mid 13th century and became a mendicant order of friars they adopted a new habit that included a brown belted tunic, brown scapular, a hood called a capuche, and white mantle.[3]

According to traditional accounts, the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared at Cambridge to St. Simon Stock, who was Prior General of the Carmelite Order in the middle of the 13th century.[4] The earliest reference to this tradition, dating from the late 14th century, states that “St. Simon was an Englishman, a man of great holiness and devotion, who always in his prayers asked the Virgin to favor his Order with some singular privilege. The Virgin appeared to him holding the Scapular in her hand saying, ‘This is for you and yours a privilege; the one who dies in it will be saved.'”[5]

In the Middle Ages, a habit was a very essential part of the identity of members of religious orders. To remove one’s habit was tantamount to leaving the Order.[3] The Carmelite Constitution of 1369 stipulates automatic excommunication for Carmelites who say Mass without a scapular, while the Constitutions of 1324 and 1294 consider it a serious fault to sleep without the scapular.[6]

According to Hugh Clarke, O.Carm, “The origins of the Scapular devotion are to be found in the desires of lay people during the Middle ages to be closely associated with the Carmelite Order and its spirituality.”[7] It was customary for laypeople who belonged to confraternities, sodalities, or third orders affiliated with the religious orders to wear some sign of membership, frequently some part derived from the religious habit such as a cord, cloak or scapular.[8] During part of their history, the lay affiliates of the Carmelites wore the white mantle which the friars wore, or even the full habit.[3] The small brown scapular and Mary’s promise of salvation for the wearer, began to be promoted to the laity in the form we are familiar with today by Giovanni Battista Rossi, prior general of the Carmelites from 1564-1578.[9]

The Carmelite scapular is said to have been very widespread in European countries at the end of the 16th century.[10] In 1600, the Carmelite Egidio Leoindelicato da Sciacca published a book called “Giardino Carmelitano” which includes the formulas of blessing for the Fratelli and Sorelle della Compagnia della Madonna del Carmine (laypeople who received the complete habit of the order) and the formula for the blessing of the scapular for the Devoti della Compagnia Carmelitana. This is the earliest apparent form of blessing for the small scapular. It is also noteworthy that the formula for the sisters contains no reference to the scapular, while in that for the brothers there is a special blessing for the scapular.[11]

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