Pondering over the Scapular
One of the foundational devotions that the Carmelites are known for is the brown scapular. Many things have been written and said about it through the history of the religious order. I hope this little article’s factual information about the brown scapular helps everyone know why we Carmelites stand behind and support it.
Who are the Carmelites?
Who founded the Order? It is essential to know that the Carmelite Order began over 800 years ago on Mount Carmel. We are not sure of the individuals, but we know that the Order was started by a group of hermits who had a life of prayer together on Mount Carmel and cared for pilgrims in Holy Land.
The brown scapular is a piece of clothing that is worn around the neck. It has two brown strands of cloth attached at each end by a piece of square brown fabric. Usually, one of the brown squares has an image of Our Lady of Mount Carmel giving the brown scapular. Also, on the other brown square is an image of Our Lady embracing her child, Jesus Christ.
As the Order teaches in our catechesis and ritual of the scapular, this brown scapular is understood as a habit. What is a habit in the Church? In our context, a habit is a form of clothing that a religious institute prescribes. So, the brown scapular is like a mini habit people receive from the Order. Thus, those that want to receive the brown scapular and wear it devotionally through reception of it enter into a relationship with the Carmelite Order. As the brown scapular catechesis teaches, this relationship is to help the bearer to live in allegiance with Jesus Christ. The call to allegiance being the opening hallmark of the Carmelite Rule. The Rule is the document by which the Carmelite life is shaped and understood in the Church and the Order.
Old Testament Insight
A habit is nothing new with the Order nor with Christianity. A foundation for a habit is offered through the Old Testament. Unique clothing has a variety of meanings in the Old Testament depending on the circumstances of the passage. In the book of Genesis, Joseph's coat was a symbol of fondness (Gn. 37). Why fondness? Joseph's father favored him over all his other sons, and his act shows that God has also placed his favor upon Joseph. Then there is the famous moment between the Prophets Elijah and Elisha. The moment I refer to occurs around 2nd Kings 2: 14, where Elijah gives over his mantel to Elisha. The mantel fell from the hands of Elijah for Elisha, and that moment symbolizes the spirit of the master being passed on to protégé. Through that moment in the 2nd Book of Kings, the Carmelites understand the relationship of the Order's spirit with the brown scapular. Thus, the process of being enrolled in or receiving the brown scapular is like being Elisha, who received the mantel from Elijah and entered into the spirit of his master.
Journeying with Mary
Again, The Christian life is about being conformed to Jesus Christ. In the land of Carmel, that process of being conformed is done through allegiance to Christ by having a stout conscience. How are these things to be done? One way is through the spirit of Mary. Our Lord's blessed mother is also our mother and sister in the faith. Mary brought Jesus to all. First, and obviously, through her birth. Secondly, we see this act of bring through many moments of her life with Jesus, like the wedding feast of Cana and when his family members came to him during his ministry. Mary wants us to be with her son, now and for all eternity. So, for the Carmelite to grow in one's relationship with Mary helps them become carried by the heart and gave birth to the Saviour. By allowing oneself to be carried by Mary, which shapes a life of docility, one's heart learns to be open to Jesus.
Finally, Mary's life was a life of one who kept the word of God in her heart (Lk. 2: 19, 51). The Carmelite brown scapular is a physical means that supports this desire to a heart like her for the sake of our life in Christ. Thus, to live in the presence of God is not something that only occurs in the life to come but is something we can begin to taste in the present. The Virgin Mary helps us with having a life in the presence of her son, and a gift she has given to help with this is her brown scapular.
Written by Fr Nicholas Blackwell aka thefrankfriar.com