Brown Scapular Q&A

Brown Scapular Questions & Answers

What is the relationship of the Carmelite Order to the Brown Scapular?

The Brown Scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel is the habit of the Carmelite Order.  For the religious members of the Order it takes the form of two long, undecorated panels of brown cloth joined at the shoulders and falling, one to the front and one to the back.  For the laity it takes the form of two smaller pieces of brown or dark cloth, preferably plain, joined over the shoulder by ribbons, and falling, one to the back, the other to the front. As the Order’s habit, the scapular signifies some degree of affiliation to the Carmelites.

Six practical ways of affiliation are recognized by the Carmelite Order:

  1. The religious men and women of the Order and aggregated institutes.
  2. The Secular/Lay Order (Third Order).
  3. Members of public associations and confraternities of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, such as active communities of the Scapular Confraternity.
  4. Those who have been invested in the scapular, practice the Order’s spirituality, and have been granted some association with the Order.
  5. Those who wear the scapular out of devotion, practice the Order’s spirituality, but who have no formal association to the Order.
  6. Those who are committed to practice the Marian characteristics of Carmelite Spirituality but use outward forms other than the Brown Scapular to express this devotion.

The Brown Scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel is the common habit of all branches of the Carmelite Family and a sign of unity of that family.  For that reason the Scapular Confraternity and similar associations of the faithful centering around this sacramental belong not to any one branch of Carmel, but to the entire Carmelite family.  Thus, there is only one common public association of the Scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel.

If a person wears the scapular, but has no formal association to the Order, does that person still gain the benefits associated with the scapular?

A person who wears the scapular and practices the spirituality of the Carmelite Order has an affiliation, loose as it may be, to the Carmelite family and so shares in the graces traditionally associated with the Brown Scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel.  However, simply to wear the scapular without accepting the responsibilities attached to it would be to reduce this precious sacramental to the status of a charm or good luck piece.

What is this Carmelite spirituality that one must practice in order to  have an affiliation with the Carmelite Order?

The spirituality of the Carmelite Order is one of the preeminent spiritual traditions of the Catholic Church.  It is difficult to reduce this spirituality to a few sentences.  One who wears the scapular should certainly reflect upon the teaching of the great Carmelite saints, three of whom are doctors of the Church.

A few basic introductory principles of Carmelite spirituality would be:

  1. Frequent participation in the Mass and reception of Holy Communion;
  2. Frequent reading of the meditation on the Word of God in Sacred Scripture;
  3. The regular praying of at least part of the Liturgy of the Hours;
  4. Imitation of and devotion to Mary; the woman of faith who hears the Word of God and puts it into practice;
  5. The practice of the virtues, notably charity, chastity (according to one’s state of life), and obedience to the will of God.

What is the official status of the Sabbatine Privilege?

Historical research has shown that the alleged fourteenth century appearance of the Blessed Mother to Pope John XXII is without historical foundation.  As a matter of fact, in the year 1613 the Holy See determined that the decree establishing the “Sabbatine Privilege” was unfounded and the Church admonished the Carmelite Order not to preach this doctrine.  Unfortunately, the Order did not always comply with this directive of the Holy See.

At the time the Carmelites were instructed to stop mentioning the “Sabbatine Privilege” the Holy See acknowledged that the faithful may devoutly believe that the Blessed Virgin Mary by her continuous intercession, merciful prayers, merits, and special protection will assist the souls of deceased brothers and sisters and members of the confraternity, especially on Saturday, the day which the church dedicates to the Blessed Virgin.

Consistent with the Catholic tradition, such favors associated with the wearing of the Brown Scapular would be meaningless without the wearers living and dying in the state of grace, observing chastity according to their state in life, and living a life of prayer and penitence. The promises traditionally tied to scapular offer us what the Second Vatican Council says about the role of the Blessed Virgin Mary: “By her maternal love, Mary cares for the brothers and sisters of her Son, who still make their earthly journey surrounded by dangers and difficulties, until they are led to that happy fatherland.”

Who may invest people with the Brown Scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel?

According to the Rite for the Blessing of and Enrolment in the Scapular of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mount Carmel, approved by the Holy See in 1995, any priest or deacon has the faculties for blessing the scapular.  A person given authority to act in the name of the Order may receive people into the confraternity of the scapular.  The official ritual provided by the Holy See makes no provision for someone other than a priest or deacon to bless the scapular.

Is it necessary to enroll people in the Scapular Confraternity for them to share in the spiritual benefits attached to the scapular?

No, those who wear the scapular out of devotion, practice the Order’s spirituality, yet who have no formal association to the Order share in a spiritual affiliation to the Carmelite Order. It gives them the assurances of the graces pertinent to this sacramental.  Indiscriminate enrolment in the Scapular Confraternity or other such associations weakens the purpose and mission of those associations and should be avoided.