“The scapular is essentially a habit.* Whoever receives it, is, by virtue of such reception, associated more or less intimately with the Order of Carmel.” The scapular or habit is, in fact, a habit in miniature of the order that, in order to live “in allegiance to Jesus Christ,” has chosen the spiritual experience of familiarity with Mary, sister, mother, and model.
Association with the Carmelite family and familiarity with Mary take on a character that is fundamentally communitarian and ecclesial, because Mary “helps all her children—wherever and whenever—to find in Christ the way to the house of the Father.” Thus the scapular is the small “sign” of the great ideal of Carmel; intimacy with God and friendship among the disciples.
In the Old Testament, a habit–especially a mantle—was the symbol of divine benefits, of protection from on high, of power transmitted to one of God’s messengers.
The special coat of Joseph was a symbol of predilection (cf. Gn 37:3); the gift of Jonathan’s mantle to David was a symbol of friendship (I S 18:4). In Isaiah we read: “I exult for joy in Yahweh, my soul rejoices in my God, for he had clothed me in the garments of salvation, he has wrapped me in the cloak of integrity” (Is 61:10). When the prophet Elijah was taken up to heaven, his mantle fell on his disciple Elisha, thus passing on to him the spirit of the master (cf. 2 K2:14ff).
In the New Testament, even the hem of the cloak of Jesus, if touched with faith, communicated his healing power (cf. Mk 5:25ff). St. Paul more than once talks of life in Christ in terms of putting on Christ (Rm 13:14; Ga 3:27); to put on the same attitude as Jesus, that is, the life of filial grace of the Christian, is described by the image of clothes. The religious habit, of which the scapular is a part and symbol, signifies, in a special way, this following of Jesus.
In the Trinity with Christ
Mary, the blessed among women, is the masterpiece of the Most Blessed Trinity who united her to itself, bringing the feminine to its greatest possible realization in her, like an icon of the Trinity’s tenderness, and of is saving will. Mary is the Lady in whom “all is related to Christ and all depends on him; foreshadowing the Son, God the Father, from all eternity, chose her to be the all holy Mother and adorned her with gifts of the Spirit, granted to no one else.” Our Lady is for the whole Church the model of that “praise of the glory of the Most Blessed Trinity” to which we are all called to be.
The scapular is a symbol of filial and grateful recognition of the mission that the Most Blessed Trinity willed to confide to Mary in the history of salvation, “mystery of mercy” (1 Tm 3:16). These truly significant words were placed on the lips of Mary: “I bring you a scapular as a sign of my blessing and my love and, at the same time, as a sign of the mystery, which will be accomplished, in you. I come to fully “clothe you in Jesus Christ” (Ga 3:27) so that you may be “rooted in him” (Col 2:7), “the royal way”, in the depths of the abyss, with the Father and the Spirit of love.”
Through space and time, and especially through the history of human kind, Mary is present as “she who has believed” (cf. Lk 1:45), as she who goes forward on the pilgrimage of faith, partaking in the mystery of Christ above all other creatures.
The Church on her faith pilgrimage finds its best model in our Lady. The example of the Blessed Virgin leads the faithful to conform themselves to the Son. But it also leads them to celebrate the mysteries of Christ with the profound attitude that the Virgin had when she was by her Son at his birth and at the Epiphany, at his death and resurrection. That is, it urges them to guard zealously the word of God and to meditate on it lovingly, to praise God with exultation and to thank him joyfully; to serve God and neighbor faithfully and to offer generously for them even life itself, to pray to the Lord perseveringly and to implore confidently; to be merciful and humble; to “wait vigilantly for the coming of the Lord.”
Carmel has followed this way, suggesting to its members to become like Mary in order that, following her example, they may dwell in the divine intimacy. The three phases of this ascent of Mount Carmel are: limitation, union, and likeness to Mary.
THE SCAPULAR OF OUR LADY OF MOUNT CARMEL