Fr. Bloomfield's Blog

I am a Roman Catholic Priest of the Archdiocese of Detroit, currently assigned to Divine Child Parish in Dearborn, Michigan. When I manage to keep the page updated, hopefully something interesting can be found here!

Monday, July 17, 2006

Faith Seeking Understanding for July 16, 2006

Today, apart from the Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, is also the memorial of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel. Having grown up at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel parish in Wyandotte, this feast-day was a celebration for the whole parish. Honoring Mary under the title of “Our Lady of Mt. Carmel” is a devotion that has grown from the Carmelite tradition since the 14th century; in particular, this Marian devotion is best known by the wearing of the Brown Scapular.

Many of us remember being “enrolled” in the confraternity of the Brown Scapular at the time of First Communion, and wearing the itchy pieces of brown wool around our necks throughout our childhood. But what exactly is the Scapular of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, and why was it worn? Is it still worn today?

A scapular, in general, is the name for a shoulder-width piece of cloth (usually from the monastic habit) that is placed over the shoulders and extends to the floor in front and back. Originally distinctive to monks, the scapular became known for its symbolism as the “yoke of Christ” (since it is worn over the shoulders, or scapula in Latin) and the armor of Christ (since it covered the habit).

As monastic orders grew, the practice of “third orders” developed, in which laymen and laywomen were invited to participate in the life of the monastic community, while still living a life in the world. These third-order members were married, had families, and worked at ordinary jobs. They were, however, also bound to the monastery with certain requirements; they received a monastic scapular as a sign of this bond, and then also received the privilege of being buried in the full monastic habit when they died.

Many scapulars exist, each associated with a particular religious community. The Brown Scapular, however, is the oldest and remains the most popular; this is the scapular of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, and its use and devotion are also recalled on today’s feast. According to Carmelite tradition, the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to St. Simon Stock, a Carmelite priest, in Cambridge, England, on July 16, 1251. He had begged her to provide protection for the Carmelites, who were suffering persecution at the time. The legend tells us that our Lady appeared to him and gave him the Brown Scapular, and promised that whoever wore the Scapular faithfully would receive special graces and in particular, her assistance at the moment of death.

There are particular indulgences attached to the Scapular even today, and the pious custom of wearing the scapular is common in many places. The Scapular, however, is not a magic talisman, charm, or amulet; it is, rather, a sacramental of the Church which acts as a means for grace. When we wear the scapular, we should be devoutly committed to daily prayer, regular reception of the Sacraments (particularly of the Eucharist and Penance), and to a life of a charity.

The Great Pope John Paul II wrote a letter to all Carmelites in 2001, on the 750th anniversary of the giving of the scapular. He reminds us:

“The Scapular represents a synthesis of Marian spirituality. It nourishes the devotion of believers, making them sensitive to the loving presence of the Virgin Mother in their lives. The Scapular is essentially a ‘habit’. …Those who put on the Scapular are introduced into the land of Carmel so that they might ‘eat its abundant fruit’ (cf. Jer. 2,7), and experience the tender and maternal presence of Mary, as they commit themselves daily to put on Christ and to make his presence manifest in their lives for the good of the Church and of the whole of humanity.”

Scapulars are still sold in religious goods stores (like Mateja’s on Ford Rd. in Westland, or Our Lady of Grace bookstore at Domino’s farms, or even online); once purchased, the scapular should be blessed and then the person should be enrolled in the Scapular by a priest. Put putting on the Scapular, we are reminded to “put on the mind of Christ,” and live as his faithful sons and daughters.

Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, pray for us!