The Catholic Church celebrates the Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel every year on July 16 in honor of the Blessed Mother’s appearance to Saint Simon Stock in the year 1251. But what exactly was so important about this apparition that the Church continues to commemorate it almost 800 years later? Well, aside from the fact that the Mother of the living God appeared to humanity accompanied by throngs of angels in a glorious beam of light (you know, the usual), Mary made a significant promise to Saint Simon Stock, now known as the Scapular Promise, that still holds implications for the faithful around the world to this day.
The Brown Scapular as we know it can be found pretty much wherever Catholic novelties are sold, whether online, in religious stores, or in church gift shops. They can be given in commemoration of special milestones like First Holy Communions and Confirmations, or simply as everyday gifts to support someone along his or her faith journey.
The Scapular that Our Lady of Mount Carmel bestowed unto Saint Simon all those centuries ago recently played a crucial role in my own family’s journey, revealing to us the powerful intercession of our Heavenly Mother at a moment when it was most desperately needed. Through a series of what many might consider “coincidences,” we managed to adorn a family member who lived a particularly troubled life with the Brown Scapular and invoke the corresponding prayers just moments before she passed away.
While there is much more to this story, there is no doubt in my mind that our Blessed Mother was present with us and especially with this family member in her final hours, lovingly leading her to salvation. We wholeheartedly believe that our merciful Lord did not call her home until it was safe for her to go. (How precious each and every soul is to our God!) Having witnessed firsthand the miraculous nature of this sacramental when it is worn in good faith, I urge you to learn more about the Brown Scapular and how it can bring you and your loved ones into closer communion with Christ through his mother and ours, the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Before we delve into the specifics of the Brown Scapular, let’s take a look at some background information:
Simon Stock was a member of the Carmelite Order who migrated to England and upheld the traditional hermit way of life established by the Old Testament prophet Elijah. (Read more about the Carmelites’ history here). Simon’s nickname “Stock” actually derives from the “stock” or “stump” of a hollowed-out oak tree in which he spent many years of his religious life as an ascetic. This saint eventually became the head of the Carmelites in London and guided them in their shift from living as secluded hermits to housed communities of friars.
On July 16, 1251, Simon Stock was praying to the Blessed Virgin Mary for her help in shepherding his order when she appeared to him in a miraculous vision. It was on this day that Mary bestowed upon Simon the Brown Scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel and established the Scapular Promise, saying, “Whosoever dies clothed with this habit shall be preserved from eternal fire. It is the badge of salvation, a shield in time of danger, and a pledge of special peace and protection.” The Scapular – a long sleeveless garment attached at the shoulders that was typically already worn by Carmelites during acts of labor – was adopted as a permanent symbol of the Carmelites’ devotion to Mary and a sign of her extraordinary protection.
Decades later, Our Lady of Mount Carmel appeared again in 1322 to Pope John XXII, vowing additionally of those who wear the Scapular, “I, the Mother of Grace, shall descend on the Saturday after their death and whomsoever I shall find in Purgatory, I shall free, so that I may lead them to the holy mountain of life everlasting.” This became known as the Sabbatine Privilege. As you can imagine, based on the significance of these promises, the Scapular became popular amongst the laity over time. It was reduced in size to two small, square-shaped pieces of brown wool – one to be worn at the chest and the other at the back – attached by strings or cords.
So, how can the faithful partake in Our Lady’s Scapular Promise today? Obtaining this special protection of the Mother of God requires that one be enrolled in the Brown Scapular Confraternity by a Catholic priest – a simple ritual including prayers and blessings. Thereafter, the enrolled are called to honor the Blessed Mother by continually wearing the Brown Scapular, living chastely according to whether they are single or married, and reciting special daily prayers or fasting in accordance with the Church. More information about these requirements and other specifics can be found here.
The heavenly gift of the Brown Scapular calls us to reflect on how we devote ourselves to living righteously in Christ and honoring Mary as our Mother each day. Through my own experience of wearing Our Lady’s Scapular, the spiritual benefits that a genuine devotion to this sacramental can impart have become quite clear to me. In a practical sense, it serves as a constant reminder for those who wear it to uphold Catholic virtues, pray, and avoid temptations that harm our relationship with God. It encourages us to focus our attention on the coming Kingdom of God rather than allowing ourselves to be troubled by the many evils of the present age. I have also learned that regularly wearing this symbol of belonging to the Church and entrusting ourselves to Mary’s special protection can actually deepen our sense of identity as Catholics, further encouraging us to represent Christ through our lives as he calls us to do.
Let us also take a moment to recognize how Mary’s obtaining the grace of the Brown Scapular from her son for our sake highlights an incredible privilege that we have as Catholics. Mary, having been assumed into heaven, has direct access to the throne of God. At the same time, she also has an incomprehensible love for all of us as her children. (Remember that Christ gave his own mother to those who believe in him when he spoke to his disciple at the foot of the cross, “Behold, your mother!” (John 19:27).) This makes Mary a uniquely powerful intercessor for Catholics everywhere. What loving mother would not be moved with compassion for the needs of her children who cry out to her? And what devoted son, being Christ, would not be moved with compassion for the desires of his beloved mother’s heart? In praying to Mary, we can be certain that she will not
only hear us with the tenderness and concern of a faithful mother, but also make haste to carry our prayers directly to the throne of God.
Wearing this symbol of our Holy Mother’s love, may we always keep in mind the beautiful words of Saint Francis de Sales: “Let us run to Mary, and, as her little children, cast ourselves into her arms with a perfect confidence.”