The Brown Scapular of Our Lady:
Its Origin and Promise


PRESENTING the Scapular to Saint Simon for the world, Our Lady makes but one condition to Her promise of Salvation: "Whosoever dies clothed in this Habit shall not suffer the fires of Hell." She promises that anyone who enters Her family of Carmel, and dies there, shall not be lost.

Seven centuries have passed over that promise and its exact meaning, which is anything but obscure, seems to have troubled hundreds of speakers and writers almost to the point of obsession. "Satan perceived what a great multitude of souls the Scapular was going to snatch from him," remarks a modern writer. "He groaned with rage and swore to avenge himself of this recent, other most terrible blow that the Immaculate had just given him. In his fury he declared war to the death on this sacred Habit, especially attacking the unusual privilege with which it is endowed, and hence one soon saw arising from all parts, even from the bosom of the Church, a cloud of specious objections against the remarkable promise attached to Mary's Scapular. Some denied its existence; others saw in it a direct contradiction to the Divine teaching; it was combatted, mal-interpreted, and even denatured." [T. Savaria, Le Scapulaire [Montreal, 1898], pg. 110. N. B.: This author, an honorary canon of the Cathedral of Montreal, was at once learned and spiritual. His book is prefaced by four Archbishops and eight Bishops.] So probably the first thing we will ask ourselves on hearing Mary's remarkable words is: "What did Our Lady mean?"

First, Mary does not mean by Her promise that anyone dying even in mortal sin will be saved. Death in mortal sin and damnation are one and the same thing. Mary's promise naturally rewords itself: "Whosoever dies clothed in this Habit shall not die in mortal sin." To make this clear, the Church often inserts the word "piously" into the promise: Quicumque in hoc "pie" moriens, aeternum non patietur incendium, i. e., "Whosoever is clothed in this, dying piously shall not suffer eternal fires." [Le Scapulaire, Les Chroniques du Carmel, IV, 105, 246, 4, 287, 421. N. B.: This book-length study dwells largely on the theology of the Scapular and is fully explanatory of the "pie" found in the Liturgy.]

Catholic theologians and authorities like Vermeersch, Saint Robert Bellarmine, Beringer, Benedict XIV, etc., explain the promise to mean that anyone dying in Mary's family will receive from Her, at the hour of death, either the grace of perseverance in the state of grace or the grace of final contrition.

To die in the membership of Mary's family is the one condition. Now, in order to so die, having been validly enrolled in the Confraternity by a Carmelite or a duly authorized priest, one must die clothed in the sign of membership. This Sign of membership may be the large Scapular of the religious Habit, the small Scapular, or the Scapular Medal; all have been recognized by the Sovereign Pontiffs as valid signs of that membership which the Mother of God rewards by an absolute assurance of final contrition and perseverance.

Hence the main requisite is valid enrollment. One must voluntarily join Mary's great confraternity

through the hands of an authorized priest. A priest obtains his faculties from the Carmelite Order or from the Holy See. When he enrolls anyone, unless he has the special privilege of enrolling without the obligation of inscribing the names, he must see that the name of the one whom he enrolls is duly inscribed in the confraternity register. If he does not, the one invested is deprived of many benefits of the Scapular. [P. S. Besalduch, O. Carm.: Enciclopedia del Escapulario del Carmen, nos. 241 to 253; Barcelona, 1931.]

There are a few instances when the names need not be entered on the register. Missionaries have the power, at times, to enroll many people at one time by the recitation of one single formula. In this case, technically known as magnus concursus fidelium, those enrolled are really members of the Confraternity without the inscription of the names because the Holy See has so willed. Pope Pius X granted to soldiers at war the unusual privilege of enrolling themselves. In such a case, however, the Scapular, or Scapular medal, must have been previously blessed and, while clothing himself, the soldier must recite some prayer to the Blessed Virgin, be it only three Hail Marys.

Many have not understood Mary's Promise exactly. On hearing the importance of enrollment and inscription of names, a doubt arises in their minds as to whether they may have been validly invested. Due to the bounty of the Popes, however, there need be no such worry. Pius X, on January the twentieth, nineteen hundred and fourteen, officially validated, with his Sovereign power, the admission of any of the faithful into the Confraternity that had been invalid for any cause whatsoever. Pius XI renewed that validation in 1924, 1928 and 1939. [Ibidem. nos. 281-286; Analecta, X, p. 217.] Anyone enrolled before April, 1939, is therefore sure that he is a member of Mary's family.

As the reader will understand more fully later, the whole meaning of the Scapular Promise derives from the fact that the wearing of the Scapular is a true devotion to Mary. Hence, that the Scapular-wearer have his name on the confraternity register is not enough to obtain the benefits of the Scapular. True devotion to Mary always has three notes: homage, confidence and love; and to be a sign of Salvation those three notes must be practiced perseveringly. When we invest ourselves in the Scapular we practice the homage of becoming members of the Queen's battalion, we profess confidence in Her promises, and we become Her special children of love. But in order to be assured of Salvation, we must persevere in those sentiments and it is only by wearing the Sign of membership until death that we can continually show the Mother of God that we venerate Her, believe in Her, and love Her. Hence it is not enough to be a member of Mary's family; we must profess our membership. Only he is sure of Mary's great promise who has validly entered the Society gathered 'neath Her mantle and dies actually clothed in the Sign of that membership.

Much discussion has arisen in recent years as to just what is validly a Sign of Membership in the Carmelite Confraternity. There are undoubtedly three valid signs; but just how must they be worn and when may one or the other be worn?

The large habit of the Carmelite Order offers no difficulty. The small habit, known commonly as the "Brown Scapular," is likewise clearly defined. It differs from the large habit only in size. After he is enrolled, therefore, a member of the Confraternity can renew his own Scapular even as a religious, once invested, can make his own habit. It must, however, be like the large one. It must be of woven wool, of a color somewhere between brown and black [preferably brown, of course], and of rectangular shape. It must be so made that it can hang over the shoulders and thus rest at once against the front and back of the body. New Scapulars need not be blessed once the wearer has been enrolled; they derive their excellence from the fact that they are a Sign of that membership which Mary rewards with an assurance of Salvation; they become such a sign the moment that a duly enrolled member of the Confraternity assumes them.

In 1910, Pope Pius X made an astounding legislation. He declared that the cloth Scapular, after the enrollment, could be replaced by a medal which bore on one side an image of the Sacred Heart and on the other an image of Our Lady. [S. Congregatio S. officii, Dec. 16th, 1910; cf. Analecta Carm., vol. II, pg. 3 and 4.] The missionaries in torrid zones had besought him to authoritatively make such a mutation of the Sign of membership because cloth Scapulars were so inconvenient for the natives. With no outer clothing to protect those two little pieces of cloth joined by strings, the Scapulars soon became ragged and knotted; due to the heat and frequent uncleanliness of the natives, they also became nesting places for vermin; smelly, curled and unsightly. Surely what Our Lady had made a Sign of membership in Europe was not appropriate in the tropics.

So the Vicar of Christ changed it, as Mary undoubtedly wished. And if ever an act was providential, it was this very legislation! Four years later the World War broke out and literally millions would have had to face death without Mary's assurance of Salvation had it not been for the Scapular Medal. Not only did it become difficult to obtain the cloth Scapulars in that terrible war but something more drastic happened. In the filth of the trenches the Scapulars, which the soldiers would never take off, became nests for vermin and soldiers were officially deprived of them! But the medal was then to be had.

It is apparent that the Holy Father did not change the Sign of Mary's Confraternity in order to truckle to the fashions of the day. During the several days in which His Holiness was deliberating about conceding the Scapular Medal, one of the Cardinals approached him with what he thought to be a very strong objection. "Your Holiness," he said, "to grant the Medal would seem an admission to objectors that the Blessed Virgin never appeared to Saint Simon Stock." [E. P. Magennis, O. Carm.: The Scapular Devotion, Dublin, 1923, pg. 86.]

Probably the Cardinal did not understand the real meaning of the Scapular Promise but the Pope simply turned and said brusquely: "But I believe in the Scapular Vision!" And, as the Vicar of Christ, in granting the Medal he said: "I desire most vehemently that the cloth Scapulars be worn as heretofore." [Cum sacra; quae vacant, scapularia ad fidelium devotionem fovendam sanctiorisque vitae proposita in eis excitanda maxi me conferre compertum sit, ut pius eis nomen dandi mos in dies magis invalescat, SSmus. D. N. Pius divina providentia PP. X, i vehementer exoptet ut eadem, quo hucusque modo consueverunt, fideles deferre prosequantur, plurium tamen ad Se delatis votis ex animo obsecundans, praehabito Emorum." cf. Enciclopedia, no. 287.]

Many did not see, or at least professed not to see, that the Sovereign Pontiff only willed the Medal to take the place of the Scapular in case of necessity or for very serious reasons. The Medal became widespread, not without some injury to the devotion. However, the actions of the successors of Pius X leave no doubt that we should not wear the Medal in place of the Scapular without sufficient reason, and since no official pronouncement has been made, one who does wear the Medal without sufficient reason runs the danger of not receiving the Promise. Mary cannot be pleased with one who changes Her gift out of vanity or fear to make open profession of his affiliation to Her. Moreover, the cloth Scapular has seven centuries of sacred tradition behind it. It has become redolent of the fragrance of Our Heavenly Mother. Not only was it by that Habit that She originally took unto Herself "special children of love," [Per sacrum Scapulare filios dilectionis assumpsit . . . In Missa Votiva of the Carmelites and for the Mass of July 16th. Missale Carmelitarum; Rome, 1935.] as the Church sings in the Preface of Her special Mass for July l6th, but it has been the vehicle of numerous miracles. Those two bits of cloth have extinguished tremendous fires and then have been taken intact from the glowing embers! They. have been found miraculously preserved in the tombs of Saints where everything else had turned to dust! Often people miraculously preserved from a watery grave have found their little habits perfectly dry, the added miraculous touch of a Mother who not only protects us but wants to show us that She does so, because She loves us as Her special children. The Medal has never seen any of these things; it is sure that, as a substitute for the Habit, it can mean as much as the cloth Scapular only to one who cannot wear the cloth Scapular.

But Pope Pius XI has made it possible for everyone to wear the cloth Scapular. By a decree of May 8, 1925, this great Pontiff approved what is known as the "protected Scapular". Instead of just the two pieces of brown cloth joined by string or cord, one may wear the two pieces of cloth joined by chains and enclosed in cases. [Enciclopedia, no. 268.]

There are, consequently, few remaining reasons for Americans or Europeans to be without the cloth Scapular. To prevent being conspicuous, one may sew or pin the Scapular to an undergarment so that it cannot rise and show about the neck. To prevent irritation of sensitive skin one may resort to some sort of covering over the Scapular, perhaps of oil silk or of cellophane. Moreover, as was stated previously, not only may the Scapular be encased but the strings may be white or blue, satin or cotton . . . of any color and of any material. Consequently it should certainly be no more difficult to wear the small Scapular than it is to wear any other undergarment.

The first successor of Pius X, His Holiness Pope Benedict XV, declared on July 8, 1916: "In order that one may see that it is Our desire that the Brown Scapular be worn, We concede to it a grace that the Scapular Medal shall not enjoy." And the Pontiff proceeded to grant an indulgence of five hundred days for each time the Scapular is kissed! [Ibidem, no. 302.]

After the Scapular Medal legislation, Cardinal Mercier wrote: "It is so popular among us to wear the Scapular that we should see with the greatest disgust that, without any foundation, so laudable a custom might be lost; let us use the medal only when we have some real inconvenience in wearing the Scapular." [Vic. Dioces. de Malinas; cf. Encicl., no. 299.] And Father Vermeersch, S. J., said: "I would prefer that, in order to honor the principal Scapular which is that of Carmel, the Brown Scapular be worn in the accustomed form and the medal only as a substitute for the other scapulars in order that one may not have to wear too many." [Analecta Ord. Carm., II, 65.]

Hence it would be wise never to use the Scapular Medal in place of the Brown Scapular but only together with the Brown Scapular as a substitute for the less important scapulars.

We have summarily analyzed, therefore, the meaning of those first words of the Promise: "Whosoever dies clothed in this Habit: Our Lady made a Promise of Salvation to all who die in Her Family of Carmel; so to die, one has to be validly enrolled in the Habit of that family and perseveringly wear it.

Now we turn to understand a little more fully the most astounding promise itself, viz., that those who die in Mary's family shall not suffer the fires of Hell.

As was said in the beginning of this chapter, Our Lady's Promise does not mean a removal of God's sanction of the moral law, i. e., that regardless of what we do we shall not be eternally punished. Saints and Pontiffs often warn us of the foolhardiness of abusing Mary's Promise. At the same time that he joyfully professed: "I learned to love the Scapular Virgin in the arms of my mother," Pope Pius XI warned all the faithful that "although it is very true that the Blessed Virgin loves all who love Her, nevertheless those who wish to have the Blessed Mother as a helper at the hour of death, must in life merit such a signal favor by abstaining from sin and laboring in Her honor." [Letter of His Holiness PP XI on the occasion of the Centenary of the Sabbatine Privilege, cf. P. E. Magen, The Sabbatine Privilege of the Scapular, New York, 1923. ] One can take it as certain that if he continually sins because of Mary's Scapular Promise, he shall not die in the Scapular. To lead a sinful life while trusting in the Scapular Promise is to commit a sin the horror of which borders on sacrilege; its punishment will not only be eternal but far worse than if one had led a sinful life without making the Mother of God an excuse for crucifying Her Son.

There are times when a person is tempted to some great sin, such as impurity or theft, that the suggestion comes: "Why not do it? You wear the Scapular and after this moment is passed you will still have no fear about your eternal Salvation." It is Satan using the Scapular Promise to draw a soul to sin, a worse sin than the objective act itself. Like all sin, it can become a habit. A typical and warningful example is found in a certain well-testified Scapular miracle. A man openly excused a wicked life by boasting that he wore the Scapular; he claimed surety of salvation while he disedified his neighbors by abominable excesses. In this presumptuous belief he persevered until death overtook him. Then those whom he had disedified became witnesses to an event that has not been uncommon in the years that men have sought to realize Mary's promise. As death approached, the poor wretch thought that the Scapular was the cause of his agony. He cried out painfully that it was burning him. In a last supreme effort, tearing it off, he flung it from him . . . and went to meet a Divine Judge. [P. Huguet: La Devotion a Marie en exemples, t. II, 62.]

Mary's promise is the masterpiece of Her motherly love. It was made to be a source of hope and confidence to us. In the supreme moment of our lives-----the moment when we feel this earth slipping away with all that it has meant to us while a strange life yawns at our feet into eternity, we need a mother. Probably it was at the foot of the Cross, the moment when Her Divine Son made Her our Mother in a gesture of death-parting, that Mary thought to assure us of a Mother's love at our dying moment. Soldiers cast lots over the earthly garments She had made for Her crucified Redeemer; She would make a Heavenly garment for Her Blood-purchased redeemed.

"Whosoever dies clothed in this Scapular shall not suffer the fires of Hell." Savaria remarks that it is these words, so very extraordinary, that comprehend the full value of the Brown Scapular. "One cannot descend too far into their depths," he says. "It is only by penetrating beyond the sensible that one comes to know the spiritual treasures which this Heavenly Garment conceals. Especially today, with the power of Satan threatening to shake the very foundations of the world, we need a rational knowledge of our devotions and above all of Her who crushes the head of the infernal serpent." [Savana, op. Cit. pg. XVIII.]

Yes, we need Mary today with Her Satan-crushing prayer. Her great promise must be understood because we also need the union that it has established. We need "Her family," both as corporate members of a militant Church against Satan and as individual warriors with a private battle. Pope Benedict XV, addressing the seminarians of Rome one July 16th, said: "Let all of you have a common language and a common armor: the language, the sentences of the Gospel; the common armor, the Scapular of the Virgin of Carmel, which you all ought to wear and which enjoys the singular privilege of protection even after death." [P. S. Besalduch, O. Carm.: Pulpito de la Virgen del Carmen, Vol. I, pg. 6; Barcelona, 1928.]

Hence it is only natural that we seek to have a rational knowledge of the Scapular Promise. And although the words of Our Lady's Promise are clear, how sure are we that She spoke them? And how can it be that for wearing two pieces of cloth, She saves us? What is the meaning of that denomination of the Scapular, which one hears so often, Mary's Sacrament? Is the wearing of Mary's Sign really a devotion? Is it really an armor that should be as common in the Church as the language of the Gospel? Does it really assure salvation and, then, aid us even after death?

These are a few apparent questions that probably flock to the reader's mind upon understanding the meaning of Mary's words and hearing that they have some very deep significance. And as he looks further at the Scapular, further questions will arise until he will, most probably, find himself mute before the overwhelming magnificence of Mary's gift.

"In admitting me into her Family of Carmel, Mary promises me three great favors. She will protect me in danger, She will help me to die well, and She will promptly aid me after death. It is She Herself who has assumed all these obligations in my regard. [R. P. Chaignon, S.J., Meditations (tr.) New York, 1916: sub festo 16 July.]

----------FR. CHAIGNON, S.J.

"We believe that all those who have the happiness of wearing the Scapular while dying, obtain Grace before God and are preserved from the fire of Hell, because we believe that Mary, to keep her promise, draws forth for them from the Divine treasures of which She is the depository, the graces necessary for their perseverance in justice or their sincere conversion. And thus fortified, and reconciled with God through the Sacraments of perfect contrition, the associates of the Scapular, dying in this Holy Habit, do not fall under the blows of an inexorable justice." [Die Ablasse (tr.) Paderborn, 1886. Sub festo.]

------R. P. MAUREL, S. ].


HOME---------------MARY'S INDEX