Friday, July 20, 2018

The Brown Scapular: It's Modern Day Significance

Carmelite tradition holds that Our Lady appeared to Saint Simon Stock in 1251 and gave him the brown scapular as a sign of Mary’s unceasing pledge of protection upon the Order of Carmel. The Brown Scapular is a “garment of salvation” and all who wear it “will not suffer the flames of eternal fires.” This privilege was extended to all the faithful, not just Carmelites, and the Brown Scapular of Carmel became a favorite sacramental in the Church, along with the Rosary.

Authorities in Carmelite spirituality and history remind us that the Brown Scapular is not an amulet one wears around one’s neck to obtain spiritual favors. It is not a thing to be acquired, only to be worn then forgotten. It is not a “membership card” to an elite organization or club.

What is it?

The Brown Scapular is a miniature form of the habit worn by Carmelites. The significance of the Scapular to Carmelites is very much tied up to the place of Mary in the Order. It summarizes Marian devotions and piety. The Scapular does not have any value or meaning, if it is not contemplated in relation to Mary. This is because this sacramental of the Church came to us through the initiative of Mary. To understand Mary’s role and place in our modern day existence is to understand well the significance of the Brown Scapular of Carmel in our lives and the world.
What does this tiny, brown piece of cloth, have anything to do with our Christian life?

The Brown Scapular embodies Mary’s spirit. In our world of noise and frenzied activities, the Scapular invites us to remember our origin and roots as Carmelites. Anyone who wears the Brown Scapular implicitly ties him or herself to the spirit and life of Carmel. We should remember that we were founded in the caves of Mount Carmel, in the spirit of Elias, to contemplate God “in whose presence we stand.” The Brown Scapular calls us to silence and contemplation and intimacy with God. This intimacy must be sought not just by the “contemplatives” of the Order but by anyone who wears the Carmelite scapular.

In our world of consumerism and materialism, the Brown Scapular reminds us of the simplicity of Mary in Nazareth, content with what God had to offer. The simple brown cloth worn as an apron should remind us of the Gospel call to service and humility. At the Last Supper, our Lord put on an apron and began to wash the apostles feet. It should be a constant reminder to us of an interior disposition to make ourselves available in any way we are called upon to serve. The brown color of the Scapular reminds us of earth from which we were formed in creation and a reminder that it is through our frail humanity that we ascend to God. The Scapular, which is worn over the shoulder, is a “yoke” that we put on. Once we put on this yoke, we freely commit ourselves to a “way of life” that will lead us to the mountain of Carmel which is Christ. I emphasize "way of life" because the Brown Scapular should signify a life- changing commitment. We try to re-orient our life and gear it to the Gospel ideals embodied by the Scapular, daily, and with determination. It is not just the act of wearing it but a firmness of purpose to live out the challenge. It is entering into a covenant.

The Brown Scapular, being totally Marian, symbolizes the virtue of chastity. We are "clothed in the habit of our Lady", as St. Teresa of Avila loved to remind her nuns. How can we worthily wear the Scapular of Mary Most Pure, if we don't shun impurity in all shapes and forms? In this modern culture glamorizing sex and the idolatrous worship of the body, we have the work cut out for us. We do not mean to be prudish here since we acknowledge the fact that we are not angels but endowed with a human body, with all of its normal operations, desires and processes. But the virtue of chastity is first of all born in the will. "It is not what enters a man's heart from the outside which renders him impure, but rather what comes out of him," as Jesus wisely stated. We must try to shun occasions against the virtue of chastity but it may happen that a situation beyond our control presents itself. We must simply turn our heart away from it and invoke Mary's help to keep us pleasing to God, and remain at peace. Temptations against chastity are often better dealt with flight than fight. It is not worth our time fighting it in its face but to simply ignore it and to elevate our intentions to a higher level.

In our modern age, there is a growing fascination with different schools of spirituality. More and more people show a growing thirst for spiritual things. I believe that there is a richness to be re-discovered in the Brown Scapular. There is a growing awareness , even within the Order, of the great treasure we have in the Scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. A final document pertaining to this topic was published by the Order. This document is named "The Official Teaching of the Church and of Carmel on the Scapular Devotion." This document was released by the Congregation for Worship in Rome and was published in “Carmel in the World,” a publication of the Order.

And lastly, the Brown Scapular is a constant reminder to us of our heavenly Mother's companionship and attentiveness to our needs. She is the Mother for all generations. She is the one who comes to our aid in times of trouble. She did it to Saint Simon Stock over 750 years ago and she still does it to you and me in our day.


  1. Dear Sister Helena,
    Our community is having a retreat this Saturday, May 16th 2015 and I plan on sharing this image with them. Do you know who the artist is and where the original resides? Thank you for your time.
    Prayers and Blessing for you in your work.
    Barbara Steele, OCDS
    Our Lady Queen of Carmel - Baltimore Carmel

  2. I'm also curious of the name of the artist of the painting above.
    My email is

  3. Dear Sister Helena,
    I am doing a Seminary Term Paper Work on the Carmelite Brown Scapular. Please help me with information and materials to develop and build upon.
    Thanks in anticipation.
    Patmaria Peter-Donders Njim, C.Ss.R
    Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer,
    Vice Province of Nigeria.