“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 honor on certain occasions, but must become a "habit", that is, a permanent orientation of one's own Christian conduct…” – Message of St. John Paul II to the Carmelite Family, March 25, 2001
As the middle of the thirteenth century approached, the Carmelite Order found itself at a critical moment of its history. The Turks had re-invaded the Holy Land, making it necessary for the monks on Mt. Carmel to spread westward into Europe. However, difficulty in adapting to European living, disagreement within the Order, and the plague greatly diminished their numbers and demoralized the remaining members. In the midst of these circumstances, the General Chapter of 1247 elected Simon Stock Father General of the Carmelite Order. Realizing the dire state of his community, he had recourse to Mary. “Flower of Carmel, Blossoming Vine, Splendor of Heaven, Mother Divine, none like unto Thee, Mother of our King. To Your children of Carmel favors grant ever, Star of the Sea,” he prayed.
On July 16, 1251, Mary appeared to him surrounded by angels and holding in her hands the brown scapular of the Carmelite habit. “This shall be a privilege for you and for all Carmelites: whoever dies clothed in this shall not suffer eternal fire, rather, he shall be saved,” she promised.
With the help of Our Lady and under the leadership of Simon Stock, the Carmelite Order began to flourish. Mary would not abandon her sons and brothers. For the Carmelite Order, this was the confirmation of the special relationship it had had with Mary since its beginning.
Since the first monks ascended Mount Carmel during the time of the Crusades, Carmelite devotion to Mary has been marked by love, imitation, and dependence. As followers of Christ, the Carmelites knew that they were called to love and honor Mary in the same way that Jesus had during His life on earth. At the same time, their life of chastity, poverty, obedience, silence, and prayer was an almost perfect imitation of the life of Mary. In their imitation of her, Mary became for these monks the Queen and Flower of Carmel. Represented by twelve stars at the top of the Carmelite Coat of Arms, the virtues and love of God of the Immaculata were the Order’s sole treasure. Depending not on himself, but on the love and mercy of His Queen, the Carmelite received through the hands of Mary the grace and strength necessary to practice the virtues and accomplish the works that brought her honor.
Soon, others heard of the wonderful promise of Our Lady and wanted a share in these graces as well. The Church thus extended the promise to anyone who would wear the brown scapular. The scapular, a narrow, apron-like piece of cloth, that hung over the shoulders so as to fall evenly in the front and back, was already part of the Carmelite habit. For the purpose of wider devotion, small scapulars developed which today consist of two pieces of brown cloth joined together by string, cloth, or cord and are worn over the shoulders.
To wear the Scapular is to enter with all Carmelites into a special relationship with Our Lady. Arnold Bostius, a 15th century Carmelite, summed up the Scapular devotion with these words:
All Carmelites, encouraged by the dignity of the honor and the graces of Mary, rejoice to wear this gift of Our Lady night and day as an impenetrable shield. It reminds them that they always consider the holy life of Mary as their model, that they must engrave her image, along with her Son’s, on the shield of their faith, and that they must place all their trust in the all-powerful protection of this sovereign queen who is always ready to come to their aid. Happy are they who affectionately receive the gifts of Mary in the embrace of reciprocal spiritual love. They can look at this habit and joyfully remember the special love their most loving benefactor bestows on them, and thus know that they have been selected by her for so great an inheritance. (Patronatu, 1479).
The Brown Scapular is a sacramental of the Catholic Church. A sacramental is, by definition, “a sacred sign which bears resemblance to the sacraments, and by means of which spiritual effects are signified and obtained through the prayers of the Church.” (CCC 1667). In the case of the scapular, the sacred sign is the scapular itself and the spiritual effect is the protection of one’s souls through the prayers of Mary, as she promised in the vision to St. Simon Stock.
Blessed Claude De La Colombiere said, “I wanted to know if Mary really and truly interested herself in me. And in the scapular she has given me the most tangible assurance; I have only to open my eyes. (Sermon Pour Les Fete du Scapuliare: Oevers. Lyon, 1701)
R.P. Laselve, O.F.M also stated, “In the same way that Jesus wished that something visible would reveal in the Sacraments the invisible effects of His grace, so also has Mary wished that the more particular protection which she accords to all those who serve Her with fidelity would be marked by an exterior sign, the Scapular.” (Haeffert, John Mathias. Mary in her Scapular Promise. Sea Isle City, N.J. 1942).
The 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.