On July 16, 1251, Our Lady appeared to St. Simon stock in the town of Aylesford, England. St. Simon was a Carmelite who had been a hermit during the time of the Crusades. He was known for his holiness and miracles attested to this after his death. Eventually, he became Prior General and under his guidance the order spread throughout southern and western Europe, particularly in England. It was St. Simon who founded Carmelite houses at Cambridge, Oxford, Paris, and Bologna – part of the reason why the order grew so widely and quickly. He was very devoted to Mary, and always asked her to bestow a singular privilege on the Carmelites.
When Our Lady appeared to him, she granted his desire. She handed him a brown woolen scapular saying, “This shall be a privilege for you and all Carmelites, that anyone dying in this habit shall not suffer eternal fire.”
From that time, devotion to the Brown Scapular of the Carmelites increased and before long laypersons wished to participate also. The laity, rather than donning a full habit, embraced a smaller version of it. This scapular symbolizes an allegiance to the Order of Carmel. Whether it be the full habit or the smaller version worn by the laity, the promise remains the same:
Whosoever dies in this garment shall not suffer eternal fire.
The wearing of the Brown scapular is a reminder both to the person wearing it and to Our Lady that the wearer pledges to Marian devotion: veneration, confidence, and love. It’s like a silent prayer through which they’re drawn to the Sacred Heart of Jesus through his Mother Mary. It’s said that Satan hates the Brown Scapular and that evil spirits become utterly powerless when the wearer of a scapular faces temptation.
If Our Lady appeared to St. Simon stock in Ayelsford, England, then why do we call this feast day “Our Lady of Mount Carmel” rather than “Our Lady of Aylesford?
The reason for this lies in the origins of the order to which St. Simon belonged. The Carmelites were hermits who lived near the Fountain of Elijah in northern Israel in the 12th century. There they had a chapel that was dedicated to Mary. By the 13th century, they became known as Brothers of Our Lady of Mount Carmel because of their location and deep devotion to Mary. One of their devotions was to offer a special Mass and Office in honor of our Blessed Mother and, in 1726, this Carmelite custom became a celebration of the universal Church under the title Our Lady of Mount Carmel. Since their inception, the Carmelites have seen themselves as specially related to Mary and consider devotion to her primary to their mission.
Requirements of the Promise
There are certain requirements for the fulfillment of the scapular promise. First, one must be enrolled in the Brown Scapular Confraternity. As an aside, it used to be common practice for first communicants to be given a Brown Scapular and enrolled in the Confraternity. Some parishes still practice that custom today (perhaps it would be a good idea to re-initiate it, don’t you think?). There’s a simple ceremony that goes with the enrollment, which must be officiated by a priest. Currently, every priest has the right to invest the faithful in the Brown Scapular. Thesscapular itself must be 100% wool without plastic casing and should be worn over the head and under one’s clothes with one square of wool hanging on the chest and the other on the back. Pope Benedict XV granted 500 days indulgence for devoutly kissing the Brown Scapular.
Conditions of the Confraternity
Our Lady assigned certain conditions which must be fulfilled when one wears the Brown Scapular:
- Wear the Brown Scapular continuously.
- Observe chastity according to one’s state in life (married/single).
- Recite daily the “Little Office of the Blessed Virgin” OR observe the regular fasts of the Catholic Church together with abstaining from meat on Wednesdays and Saturdays OR (with permission of the priest) say five decades of the Rosary OR (with permission of a priest) substitute some other good work.
The Brown Scapular isn’t something that Our Lady just came up with out of the blue. It has biblical symbolism that goes back to the Old Testament. Back then, a habit – especially a mantle – was the symbol of divine benefits and protection and power given by God to one of his messengers. For example, the special coat of Joseph was such a symbol (Gen 37:3) and the gift of Jonathan’s mantle given to David (1 Sam 18:4). In the Book of Isaiah, we read “I exult for joy in Yahweh, my soul rejoices in my God, for he has clothed me in the garments of salvation, he has wrapped me in the cloak of integrity.” (Is 61:10). When the prophet Elijah was taken up to heaven, he is mantle fell on Elisha, representing the passing on of the spirit of the master to the disciple.
In the New Testament the helm of the cloak of Jesus, if touched with faith, transmitted his healing power (Mk 5:25). On a number of occasions St. Paul spoke of life in Christ in terms of “putting on Christ” (Rm 13:14; Ga 3:27). He used the image of clothes to portray the adopting of the attitude of Our Lord and the life of filial grace of the Christian. So, the Brown Scapular falls right into place as a symbol that signifies the following of Jesus.
The Morning Offering
There’s a certain morning prayer associated with the wearing and kissing of the Brown Scapular. Whether or not you are enrolled in the Confraternity, it’s a beautiful prayer with which to start your day, particularly on the Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel!
The Morning Offering
O my God, in union with the Immaculate Heart of Mary (kiss the scapular as a sign of your consecration), I offer Thee the Precious Blood of Jesus from all the altars throughout the world, joining with it the offering of my every thought, word, and action of the day. O my Jesus, my desire today is to gain every indulgence and merit I can and offer them, together with myself, to Mary Immaculate, that she may best apply them to the interests of Thy most Sacred Heart. Precious Blood of Jesus, save us! Immaculate Heart of Mary, pray for us! Sacred Heart of Jesus, have mercy on us! Amen.
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Image: National Shrine and Parish of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, New Manila, Quezon City, Judgfloro, CC