On the Brown Scapular around my neck it reads, “Whosoever dies wearing this Scapular shall not suffer eternal fire.” What a promise Our Lady of Mount Carmel made to St. Simon Stock in 1251!
On July 16, 2015, the Memorial of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, more than 50 people at St. Elizabeth of Hungary Catholic Church in Pflugerville made a vow to enter the Confraternity of the Brown Scapular.
After having a couple of smaller investiture ceremonies over the past few years, St. Elizabeth started a ministry of the Brown Scapular which coordinated last week’s enrollment Mass followed by a reception and Marian art show. Several Austin and Georgetown Lay Carmelites attended as special guests.
This confraternity is under the authority of the Carmelite Orders; however, it doesn’t make you a member of the orders. It is a nearly 800-year-old private devotion that is a sign that you trust Our Lady to take you to her Holy Son.
Those who have such trust are willing to pray, and so there is a daily requirement of prayer – as little as three Hail Marys or up to a daily rosary or the Divine Office. There is also the requirement that you wear the Scapular in both your waking and sleeping hours with one tab of wool over your chest and the other over your back. Keeping it in a purse, wallet or somewhere else doesn’t count because it wasn’t the agreement Our Lady made with St. Simon Stock. You can, however, remove it for bathing.
The Catechesis of the Brown Scapular by the North American Province of Carmelite Orders says a person invested in the Scapular must be in good standing within the Church, practice chastity according to one’s state in life, and make frequent reception of the sacraments. One must strive to be like Mary: having a love of holy scripture, an active prayer life and an openness to God’s will.
To wear the scapular and say the accompanying prayers is very highly recommended in the Church – in fact 16 popes have given their recommendation to this private devotion. But there is a difference between wearing it privately and being “enrolled” or “invested.” Those taking that next step should very seriously consider the vow just like contemplating the vows of Holy Matrimony.
The promise of the Scapular is not a guarantee. It’s not a good luck charm. To wear the Scapular without an interior disposition to live in the faith is a kind of superstition. As it says in the Catechism of the Catholic Church:
2111 “Superstition is the deviation of religious feeling and of the practices this feeling imposes. It can even affect the worship we offer the true God, e.g., when one attributes an importance in some way magical to certain practices otherwise lawful or necessary. To attribute the efficacy of prayers or of sacramental signs to their mere external performance, apart from the interior dispositions that they demand, is to fall into superstition.”
Instead, the Scapular becomes a reminder in what otherwise could be a forgetful moment to look upward. When someone comes up behind you and says there’s a brown tag sticking out of the back of your shirt, or when you are getting dressed for the day and you see it or after you bathe and you put it back on, you are reminded of the promise that you made to wear it and Mary’s promise to help you.
The ministry of the Brown Scapular at St. Elizabeth is so new that there isn’t officially a plan of when another enrollment will take place. But if you are interested, you should start with prayer to ask for God’s will. You can wear the Scapular on your own and ask your priest or deacon if he is willing to enroll you. Or stay tuned for when St. Elizabeth will have another service.
I made the decision to wear the Scapular in 2012 after my wife started wearing it. To think of that heavenly promise on this piece of brown wool drew my attention to the fact that this life is temporary and I needed to look beyond to what will last. As the writer of the book of Revelation said in 21:1, “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away.”
I had lived most of my life without God and saw how empty it was. Now I am aware that the rest of my earthly existence is a path to get me to the Heavenly one, and I know I need as much help as I can get. It is a blessing to have a Mother in Heaven who wants to help.