Sacred Heart Cathedral

From the Rector, July 19, 2020, Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Recently, my parish bulletin had a short article on St. Simon stock and the scapular.

When I was growing up, I remember the brown scapular and the green one. Could you please tell where the scapular came from? Are there different kinds of scapulars?

A reader in Springfield: the scapular originates in the habits worn by the monastic orders, beginning with the Benedictines, and later adapted by many other religious communities. Basically, the scapular is a piece of cloth, about chest-wide from shoulder to shoulder, and drapes down the front and the back of the person with an opening for the head. At first, the scapular served more as an apron worn during work, especially farm work; consequently, in the Rule of St. Benedict identified it as the “scapulare propter opera” (the scapular because of works”).  After the ninth century, a monk received the scapular after the profession of vows, and it became known as “the yoke of Christ” (iugum Christi) and “the shield of Christ” (scutum Christi). While certain modifications were made by the various communities, the scapular was a distinctive part of the religious habit. Over time, pious lay people who worked closely with the monastic communities adopted a smaller version of the scapular. The small scapular consisted of two small pieces of cloth joined by two strings, and was worn around the neck and underneath a persons clothing. Eventually these smaller scapulars were marks of membership in confraternities, groups of laity who joined together, attaching themselves to the apostolate of a religious  community and accepting certain rules and regulations. Eventually, these small versions of the scapular became even more popular among the laity. To date, the Church has approved 18 different scapulars, distinguished by color, symbols, and devotion. Most scapulars still signify a persons affiliation with a particular confraternity, at least loosely. The following is a brief description of the six most popular ones: The brown scapular of Our lady of Mount Carmel: This scapular is the best-known and most popular of the different scapulars. According to tradition, our Blessed Mother appeared to St. Simon Stock at Cambridge, England on Sunday, July 16, 1251. (In our liturgical year, July 16 is the feast day for Our Lady of Mount Carmel.) She presented him with the scapular and said, “Take, beloved son, this scapular of thy order as a badge of my confraternity and for thee and all Carmelites a special sign of grace; whoever dies in this garment, will not suffer everlasting fire. It is the sign of salvation, a safeguard in dangers, a pledge of peace and of the covenant.” In this apparition and gift, our Blessed Mother promised a special protection for all members of the Carmelite Order, and a special grace at the hour of death to al who wear the scapular so that they would not perish in Hell but would be taken up to Heaven by her on the first Saturday after their death . (Note that the Church does not teach that wearing a scapular  is some sure ticket to Heaven; rather, we must strive to be in a state of grace, implore our Lords forgiveness, and trust in the maternal aid of our Blessed Mother all positive acts of a person who wears a scapular sincerely.) Perhaps the best way to appreciate the wearing of a scapular is to reflect on the Prayer of Blessing offered in the Roman Ritual: “O God, the author and perfecter of all holiness, you call all who are reborn of water nd the Holy Spirit to the fullness of the Christian life and the perfection of charity. Look with kindness on those who devoutly receive this scapular (in praise of the Holy Trinity or in honor of Christ’s passion or in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary). As long as they live, let them become sharers in the image of Christ your Son and, after they have fulfilled their mission on earth with the help of Mary, the Virgin Mother, receive them into the joy of your heavenly home”. The key to this devotion is not simply the wearing of a piece of cloth, but the spiritual conversion it signifies.

Fr. Saunders is a pastor of Our Lady of Hope Parish in Potomac Falls and dean of the Notre Dame Graduate School of Christendom College.

(Copyright 2002 Arlington Catholic Herald, all rights reserved) -Fr. Keller

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