It was today in 1251 that Our Lady gave the Brown Scapular to St. Simon Stock in Aylesford, Kent.
This is the story of the scapular
Old Testament History
On the northwestern coast of Palestine is a mount called Carmel. The Hebrew word for Carmel means 'Beautiful Garden Land'. It is fittingly named for here Our Lady lived as the beautiful garden that brought forth Jesus Christ, Our Saviour.
The Origin of Carmel goes back to about 860 B.C. to the time of the prophet Elijah and his victory over the pagan prophets and their god, Baal. The account of this event is given in 1 Kings 18:19-40.
The Jewish people had taken to worshipping false gods, especially the god Baal. Their evil King Ahab had married the gentile, Jezebel, who worshipped Baal. The king built a temple to this pagan deity. When the prophets denounced him for this, he had them killed. Elijah stood firm and challenged the prophets of Baal to gather on Mount Carmel to determine which God, Baal or the Lord was the true God. Each built a stone altar with firewood and a sacrificial bull upon it. The "God" who would send fire from Heaven upon the altar would be accepted as the true God.
The prophets of Baal prayed and danced and chanted all day to no avail. Elijah, though before beginning his prayer poured gallons of water over his sacrifice, making it humanly impossible to light the fire. Elijah called upon the Lord and immediately a bolt of lightning came down from heaven consuming the sacrifice and the stones of the altar. The pagan prophets were killed and Elijah went into hiding on Mount Carmel. Later a community of prophets joined him. They dwelt in caves, praying to God, living in peace.
Brothers of Our Lady of Mount Carmel
At the base of this holy mountain is the little village of Nazareth. The Blessed Virgin Mary, there in the shadow of Mount Carmel, uttered her sublime “fiat” thus enabling the second Person of the Blessed Trinity to become Man for our salvation.
To the wondrous delight of the hermits, Our Lady with Saint Joseph and the Child Jesus visited Mount Carmel upon returning from their two years of exile in Egypt. As a result of this visit the contemplatives of Carmel professed their unqualified belief in Jesus as the long awaited Messiah, the Saviour of the World. Tradition assures us that, because of their childlike faith, the Carmelites were among the first to be baptized by the Apostles after Pentecost. Moreover, as a reward for their devotion to Mary, the Carmelites were the first to be entrusted with the guardianship of the Holy House of Nazareth, following Our Lady’s death and Assumption into Heaven.
So great was their Love for Our Blessed Mother that the Carmelites were known as the "Brothers of Our Lady of Mount Carmel".
Many of the holy Carmelites were forced to leave Palestine because of the Saracen invasion. St. Louis IX of France conducted them to Europe. As they were leaving they sang the Salva Regina and Our Lady appeared to them and promised to be their Star of the Sea. Along the way some stayed in Cyprus, others in Naples. Still some went to France to live. A few went on to England. Lord Richard de Grey gave them Alyesford in Kent.
St. Dominic’s Prophecy, AD 1208
In the pages of an ancient history of the Carmelite Order (written in mediaeval Latin by a priest named Fr. Marianus Ventimiglia), published in 1773 in Naples, we find this historical account:
Three famous men of God met on a street corner in Rome. They were Friar Dominic, busy gathering recruits to a new Religious Order of Preachers; Brother Francis, the friend of birds and beasts and especially dear to the poor; and Angelus, who had been invited to Rome from Mount Carmel, in Palestine, because of his fame as a preacher.
At their chance meeting, by the light of the Holy Spirit each of the three men recognised each other and, in the course of their conversation (as recorded by various followers who were present), they made prophecies to each other. Saint Angelus foretold the stigmata of Saint Francis, and Saint Dominic said:
"One day, Brother Angelus, to your Order of Carmel the Most Blessed Virgin Mary will give a devotion to be known as the Brown Scapular, and to my Order of Preachers she will give a devotion to be known asthe Rosary. ONE DAY, THROUGH THE ROSARY AND THE SCAPULAR, SHE WILL SAVE THE WORLD."
St. Simon Stock, Vicar General of the Carmelite Order
It was in England that Simon Stock joined the group, later to be elected their first Vicar General. Many problems plagued the new order. The people made fun of the 'striped bedouin mantle'. Others felt there were enough religious orders already. To make matters worse there was internal strife and bickering between the older and younger monks.
By 1251, St. Simon realized that Our Lady was his only hope. With tears in eyes, he saluted her as the Flower of Carmel and the Star of the Sea. He prayed fervently for her "privilegium". The special protection a lord gave to his vassals. The lord would protect his life and property, in return for the loyalty of the one making the request.
Our Lady appears to St Simon Stock
While praying, Our Lady appeared to St. Simon Stock, giving him the Brown Scapular and making this promise:
"Take this Scapular, it shall be a sign of salvation, a protection in danger and a pledge of peace. Whosoever dies wearing this scapular shall not suffer eternal fire."
After Our Lady appeared to Saint Simon, almost immediately a miraculous change took place in the Order. The order was saved, its Marian character confirmed and Mary became as much a Mother as a Queen to it.
In the beginning only the Carmelites wore the scapular. But by the 14th century the privilege of wearing the scapular extended outside the order. Lay groups and third orders were formed. Some of these groups were called confraternities. Still Our Lady continued to favour the Carmelite Order and her scapular with further blessings and promises.
In 1321, St. Peter Thomas was told by Our Heavenly Mother that 'the Order of Carmel is destined to exist until the end of the world'.
What exactly is the scapula?
What is it made of?
The Scapular consists of two small pieces of brown wool connected by string and worn over the shoulders. The Scapular must be brown, rectangular in shape and made of 100 percent lamb's wool (symbolic of Jesus, the Lamb of God). The strings connecting the pieces of wool may of any colour or material and pictures on the scapulars are optional.
The Scapular must, however, be worn over the shoulders, one part in front and one in back. (NB. Medals are only efficatious if there is a good reason why a wool scapular cannot be worn - not fashion, fear of ridicule etc.).
What actually is it?
The Brown Scapular is a sacramental which is an object or act to which is accorded special graces by the Church (e.g, Holy Water, the Sign of the Cross, the Confiteor). It is a sign of:
- a religious habit
- a submission to the sweet yolk of God's Law (humility, religious service)
- hard work
It is essentially a prayer
What is it for?
The scapular has two privileges attached:
- Eternal Life :
- Conditions: Imposition by the Church; to be worn with true veneration and love for the Blessed Virgin in a spirit of fidelity and confiding faith (not as an amulet or charm).
- Effect: "whoever wears the scapular until death, will be preserved from hell". A soul falls under the special protection of the Mother of God (becomes a Child of Mary), shall enjoy this special protection in the matter and crisis which most concerns them for time and eternity (even those who are currently sinners). A soul may securely hope that Mary will through her powerful and motherly intercession procure for him all the necessary graces (nb. shared graces of all those enrolled throughout the Church militant) for true conversion and for perseverance in good.
- Sabbatine Privilege:
• chastity according to one’s state in life,
• have recited the Little Hours [of the Blessed Virgin], or, if they cannot read, have observed the fast days of the Church,
• and have abstained from flesh meat on Wednesdays and Saturdays (except when Christmas falls on such days),
- Effect : may derive after death — especially on Saturdays, the day consecrated by the Church to the Blessed Virgin — through the unceasing intercession of Mary, her pious petitions, her merits, and her special protection.
- Special Protection In Times of Crisis
There are many miracles associated with the wearing of the scapular as the following stories relate.
A Priest’s Life is Saved
Still another Scapular miracle concerns a French priest who had gone on pilgrimage. On the way to say Mass, he remembered that he had forgotten his Scapular. He knew he would be late if he went back to retrieve it, but he could not envision offering Mass at Our Lady’s altar without Her Scapular. Later, as he was offering the Holy Sacrifice, a young man approached the altar, pulled out a gun, and shot the priest in the back. To the amazement of all, the priest continued to say the prayers of the Mass as though nothing had occurred. It was at first presumed that the bullet had miraculously missed its target. However, upon examination, the bullet was found ADHERING TO THE LITTLE BROWN SCAPULAR, which the priest had so obstinately refused to be without.
The Scapular that Saved Two Lives
My battalion was a member of the Irene Brigade. We were just about to advance. After we passed Eindhofen, our trucks and tanks went through Uden. In the evening we encamped on an old farm near Nijmegen. Behind the house there was an old wooden pump surrounded by bricks, to wash away the sweat and dust of hours of fighting. You can well imagine that we made good use of this opportunity. I was one in the group and so I tossed my jacket on the ground and hung my Scapular on the pump while I washed.
An hour later we received orders to proceed about a mile and a half further and to occupy a trench there. We were looking forward to being able to get a peaceful night’s sleep in that trench. I was about to lie down and was unbuttoning my collar when to my horror I realized that I no longer had my Scapular. It had been a gift from my mother. I had it with me all during the war and now that we were approaching the lion’s den was I to be deprived of it? To go fetch it was unthinkable, so I tried not to think about it any more and to go to sleep. I pitched and tossed from side to side, but I couldn’t get to sleep.
All round me, my buddies were sleeping like logs even though from time to time shells fell dangerously close. Finally I was overcome by the desire to get my Scapular back and I crept out among my sleeping companions. It wasn’t so easy to get past the sentry but I managed to do it and ran back the way we had come. It was pitch dark, but nevertheless I had good luck and in a short time I was back on the farm and at the pump. My hands glided searchingly all over the pump but the Scapular was gone. I was just about to strike a match when there was the sound of a dreadful explosion. What was I to do? Was that the sign of an enemy attack? As fast as I could I ran back to our trench. Maybe I could do something for my buddies there.
Near the trench I saw the engineers busily removing piles of dirt and barbed wire. At the very spot where my companions had been sleeping there yawned a gigantic shell-hole. Before the enemy had vacated this trench the enemy had placed a time bomb in it and it had exploded during my absence. Nobody survived the explosion. If I had not set out to fetch my Scapular, I would have been buried under that rubble too.
On the following morning I went to the field kitchen and met a buddy there. He looked at me with astonishment. “I thought you were in that trench!” “And I thought you were buried there!”
My friend continued, “I was lying in the trench, but before I went to sleep I went looking for you. But I couldn’t find you. The corporal saw me hunting around and asked me what I wanted. When I told him what I was doing there he said, “Be sensible! Instead go to that inn nearby and get me a bottle of water.” And while I was on the errand the explosion occurred.
“Well, I escaped it by a hair’s breadth too, “I replied. “But why on earth were you looking for me so late at night?”
“To give you this,“ he replied, and handed me my Scapular, which he had taken from the old pump.
We should even give the Scapular to non-Catholics for Our Lady will bring conversions to those who will wear it and say one Hail Mary each day, as the following true story will show. An old man was rushed to the St. Simon Stock Hospital in New York City, unconscious and dying. The nurse, seeing the Brown Scapular on the patient, called a priest. As the prayers were being said for the dying man, he became conscious and spoke up: “Father, I am not a Catholic.” Then why are you wearing the Brown Scapular?” asked the priest. “I promised my friends to wear it,” the patient explained, ” and also to say one Hail Mary a day.” “You are dying” the priest told him. “Do you want to become a Catholic?” “All my life I wanted to be one.” the dying man replied. He was baptized, received the Last Rites, and died in peace. Our Lady took another soul under Her mantle through the Scapular!
Saved from the Sea
Another Scapular story that bears repeating took place in 1845. In the late summer of that year, the English ship, “king of the Ocean” found itself in the middle of a wild hurricane. As wind and sea mercilessly lashed the ship, a Protestant minister, together with his wife and children and other passengers, struggled to the deck to pray for forgiveness and mercy, as the end seemed at hand. Among the crew was a young Irishman, John McAuliffe. On seeing the urgency of the situation, the youth opened his shirt took off his Scapular, and, making the sign of the Cross with it over the raging waves tossed it into the ocean. At that very moment, the wind calmed.
Only one more wave washed the deck, bringing with it the Scapular, which came to rest at the boy’s feet. All the while the minister, a Mr. Fisher, had been carefully observing McAuliffe’s actions and the miraculous effect of those actions. Upon questioning the young man, they were told about the Holy Virgin and Her Scapular. Mr. Fisher and his family were so impressed that they were determined to enter the Catholic Church as soon as possible, and thereby enjoy the same protection of Our Lady’s Scapular.