Historical Profile

Devotion to Our Lady of Mount Carmel is bound to the history and spiritual values of the Order of the Brothers of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mount Carmel and is expressed through the scapular.  Thus, whoever receives the scapular becomes a member of the order and pledges him/herself to live according to its spirituality in accordance with the characteristics of his/her state in life.

A Marian Plan of Evangelical Life

The order of the Brothers of the Blessed Virgin was born on Mount Carmel, in the Holy Land, in the twelfth century. A group of hermits who came from the west settled there to live after the example of Christ in his land.  At their request, the Patriarch Albert gave them a rule of life that demanded of then, among other things, to build an oratory among their cells, where they could gather for the celebration off the Eucharist. They dedicated the oratory to Mary, and thuys they were meant to bind themselves to her in a special way, so that they were identified, at first by the people, and later officially, as the “Brothers of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mount Carmel.”

Thus, the matter in which the Carmelites follow the gospel takes on a deeply Marian character, Mary:

  • Magnifies the Lord and exults in the wonders of his merciful love (cf. Lk 1:45);
  • Listens to and ponders in her heart all the things concerning Jesus (cf. Lk 2:19, 51);
  • Identifies herself with her people, especially those in need, the spiritually and materially poor, the marginalized (cf. Lk 1:52-53ff, Jn2:3); and
  • Is constant in prayer, open to the fire of the Spirit (cf, Ac 1:14; 2:1-4) who is the strength of all apostolic gifts.

In the Fraternity of Carmel

From of old, they were faithful who were attracted by this ideal way of life and its characteristics and asked to be able to share in it.  Their circumstances as family people who lived in the world were no obstacle to their sharing in the fraternity of Carmel.

The visible sign of reception to this fraternity was the habit (or part of the habit) of the order.  At first the special sign was the mantle, but soon after it became the scapular.

The scapular of Carmel, or the habit (also called by other names in different places), is one of the devotions most loved by the people of God. The great diffusion of the scapular seems to have been due to the tradition of a vision of Our Lady, documented at least since the end of the fourteenth century.

During one of its difficult times, the order asked to get full recognition and stability within the Church. Mary, Patroness of Carmel, seemed to have answered this plea with a vision to the English Carmelite, St. Simon Stock.  She held in her hand the scapular and assured the holy prior general, saying:

“This is a privilege for you and the order: whoever dies wearing this Scapular will be saved.”  Later it was widely believed that the Virgin would deliver from Purgatory, on the first Saturday after death, the Carmelites and people associated with them who observed chastity according to their state, recited prayers, and wore the habit of Carmel. This is the so-called Sabbatine Privilege.

The faithful then quickly understood that to wear the habit meant to enter into the fraternity of the order and of Mary.  By responding to the love of the Virgin, they lived secure under her protection in all the dangers of life and, at the hour of death, confident that even after death she would intervene on their behalf, she who “with her maternal love takes care of the brothers of her Son,.. until they are led to the blessed land.”

More recently, thanks to a deeper understanding of our tradition and the fruit of research and of the process of renewal in the whole Church, the approach to popular devotions and, therefore, to the scapular, has changed.

As a result of the history and evolution of devotion to Mary through the scapular, there are today several categories of devotees according to the degree of identification with and affiliation to the family of Carmel. These may be listed as follows:

  • The religious men and women.
  • The Secular Order (also called Third Order).
  • Those who belong to the Confraternity of the Scapular.
  • All those who receive the scapular and live according to its spirituality in various degrees of association with the order.
  • Those who receive the scapular and live according to its spirituality, but have no formal association with the order.
  • All are committed to put into practice the Marian characteristic of Carmelite spirituality wholly and fervently, but in forms which correspond to the nature of the bond that ties them to the family of Mary.

The Doctrinal Statement on the Brown Scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel