The Brown Scapular of Our Lady:
Its Origin and Promise


To understand what Grace is we might consider the difference between man's power of moving a corpse and God's power.

Man can lift a corpse and move its arms; he cannot make it lift itself and move its own arms. However, God, Who controls the inward springs of life, can so touch the dead body that what was a corpse begins to move itself and becomes a living thing.

Now, Grace is the life of the soul. It is that awakening touch of the Divinity upon inward springs which gives to the soul the power of spiritually moving itself, of responding to the love of its God. When the soul is in mortal sin and grace is gone, the soul is dead. Only God can give it life again because He alone is the Source of Grace.

All Grace comes, therefore, from the Holy Trinity. The Triune God-father, Son and Holy Ghost-----is the One Source of Grace. from this Triune Source, Grace is communicated to man through the Man-God, Christ: He descended from the Trinity, through Mary, to make us participators in the Divine Nature. He brought our souls to life. Scripture says that while He was on earth "Grace went out from Him." If He touched a man, grace flowed through His human nature from His Trinity with the Father and the Holy Ghost. But, since before He ascended into Heaven He established the seven Sacraments, we still receive Grace through Him. Those Sacraments are like physical extensions of Himself, the hands of His mystical Body in the dispensation of Grace from His Trinity with the Holy Ghost and the Father.

The Divine Plan can thus be summarized: Grace, the spiritual life of the soul, flows to man, from the Trinity, through Christ.

Mary in the Divine Plan

But do not the Saints and Doctors of the Church say that all Grace comes through Mary? The Divine Plan seems quite complete without Her: God is the only Efficient Cause of Grace and Christ is its Channel . . .

Well, if someone asks another to perform a certain action, the one who asks is by his request or persuasion the indirect cause of the thing which is then accomplished at his bidding. Thus if the reader were asked by a friend to close this book and he did so, his friend would be the indirect and secondary cause of the book being closed. So, in the Divine Plan just outlined above, although the direct and efficient cause of Grace is God, Mary, in Her way, is the indirect cause.

She asks Her Divine Son to dispense the life and the impulse of Grace, and it is at Her bidding that He chooses to do so. Hence we say that all Grace flows through Mary because, in His exaltation of His holy Mother, God has deigned to make Her prayer an indirect cause of Grace.

Material examples of deeply spiritual truths cannot but be jarring on our appreciation of their sublimity. However, an example is but a means of rising to the simplicity of the abstract. To show how all Grace flows through Mary, we might liken the human nature of Our Lord to a conduit of Divine Life in which a spring-fitted valve has to be continually held open to allow the continued flow of that life. Mary is that valve and it is Her prayer which must take place to allow the flow of Grace. Thus does She continually cooperate with Her Divine Son in His eternal mission. In this Office She is called "Mediatrix of All Graces."

But we must not forget that Mary is totally dependent on Her Divine Son. From Him She receives all that She possesses. If Her prayers are a necessary condition for the flow of Grace, it is only because He has so willed it. Hence there can be no question of who is more merciful, Jesus or Mary. Mary is nothing without Him and Her mercy is but a sweet manifestation of His mercy; He not only died to save us but even gave us this most perfect, most lovable, and most glorious Mother.

On the other hand, although Mary would be nothing without Jesus, Jesus has made Her by participation [i. e., by the Grace of which Mary is "full"] what He is by nature [somewhat as a reflector can be made as bright as the light which it reflects].

Hence Mary is, in a dependent way, all-powerful. No one can think of any non-contradictory possibility which Her prayers cannot resolve. Neither can anyone measure the depth of Her heart ; Her maternal love is beyond the cognitive power of human intellects.

We see, then, that the Blessed Virgin is different from all other inhabitants of Heaven. Rising above Saints and Angels, as the Immaculate Mother of God and of Eve's redeemed children, She enters into the very plan of God's relation to His creatures. Pope Leo XIII described Her mediation in our regard as a function Divinely assigned to Her, like the natural duty of mothers toward their children. As Mother of God, from Her exalted position in union with Her Divine Son, She beholds the souls of each and everyone of us; in Her place as Mother of mankind, seeing each and every one of our needs, She asks Her Divine Son to give us Grace. Her prayer is an infallible power that continually pours grace at the doors of our souls, where we may accept or reject it.

Now, let us especially notice that Mary is not in the Divine Plan to draw souls to Herself. She is there to draw them to Her Divine Son, the Source of Eternal Life. In this function of Mary we recognize a great truth: Not only is Mary the way by which God has come to us but She is also the way by which He wills us to come to Him. This is why Pope Pius X expostulated: "Can anyone fail to see that there is no more direct or surer way [than Mary] to unite all mankind in Christ and to obtain through Him the perfect adoption of sons that we may be holy and immaculate in the eyes of God?" [Encyclical on the Jubilee of the Immaculate Conception.]

Hence we see the tremendous significance of the fact that this Blessed Virgin, this Mediatrix of All Graces, has promised salvation to anyone who wears Her Sign of Alliance. It is with awe that we picture to ourselves Her descent to Saint Simon Stock, surrounded by the pomp of Her Heavenly Court, to clothe us in Her garment, to proclaim Her Motherhood even as at Lourdes She has proclaimed Her Immaculate Conception. Moreover, we see the explanation of the Scapular.

In considering Mary from any angle we are struck with particular force by two prerogatives: Her power and Her love-----the one omnipotent [with God], the other fathomless. It is because of Her love that She made the Scapular Promise and it is by Her prayer-power that She keeps it.

Theology of the Scapular

It is everything but a dogma of our Catholic Faith that anyone who practices true devotion to Mary perseveringly will infallibly be saved. Moreover, not only is true devotion to Mary, perseveringly practiced, a Sign of Predestination, remarks a certain theologian, but "even sinners can have true devotion to Her." [R. P. Petitalot: The Virgin Mother according to Theology; London, 1889, pp. 409-429.]

True devotion to Mary consists in only three things: homage, confidence, and love. Anyone who comes to death with the surety that he has faithfully praised, trusted and loved Mary, can be also sure that he will not be eternally lost. Such is the doctrine of the Church because, says Saint Alphonsus, one who is thus a true devotee of Mary is protected at death by Her over whom Satan has never had empire and who vanquishes and crushes him by Her presence. [S. Alphonsus Liguori: Glorie di Maria [Rome, 1932], t. I, pg. 317, 349.] Quoting and explaining Saint Bernard, Saint Alphonsus says further: "If we follow Mary we shall never err from the paths of Salvation. Imploring Her thou wilt not despair [St. Bernard]. Each time that we invoke Her aid, we shall be inspired with perfect confidence. If She supports thee thou canst not fall; if She protects thee thou hast nothing to fear, for thou canst not be lost: with Her for thy guide, thou wilt not be weary: for thy salvation will be worked with ease." [Ibid., t. II, pg. 374.]

Now, when we take the Scapular, says Saint Alphonsus, we render homage to the Mother of God: "Just as men take pride in having others wear their livery, so the most holy Mary is pleased when Her servants wear Her Scapular as a mark that they have dedicated themselves to Her service and are members of the family of the Mother of God."Moreover, we show that we believe in Her power to save us and in Her promises; that is confidence. Finally, in making ourselves in a special way Her children, thus rendering to Her the homage of membership in Her family and confiding in Her power and affection, we show that we love Her that we desire to have Her for a Mother.

Containing the three elements of a true Marian devotion, the wearing of the Scapular is by its very nature a Sign of Salvation.

It might seem, as a consequence, that our Heavenly Mother has not really done anything very remarkable in making the Scapular Promise. However, what is more remarkable than a true devotion to Her that is by its nature perpetual? What is more wonderful than an absolute assurance at death that we have always loved the Blessed Virgin, always had confidence in Her, had always rendered homage at Her shrine of devotion? And yet, such an assurance is the Scapular. Indeed, there is no sweeter nor more complete assurance at the death of "every man" than the presence upon him of this Sign of true devotion to Heaven's Queen.

The reader has probably begun to recognize the Scapular Devotion not only as a true devotion to Mary but as the best one. In no other devotion has Mary unconditionally promised Salvation, or made us special children "brought forth by Her and nourished at Her breasts" [Greg. XIII], or given such a Sign of perpetual homage that it even makes us members of Her first and most dear family. It is little wonder that Blessed Claude de la Colombiere said:

"I would reproach myself were I to weaken your confidence in those other practices of devotion to Mary which are approved by the Church. They are all salutary and cannot fail to touch H er maternal heart. But if She graciously accords Her favor to those who avail themselves of those devotions, how much more propitious will She not be to all who clothe themselves in Her holy livery?" [ Serm. pour la Fete, Oeuvres [Lyons, 1702], t. III.]

Now, let us notice a unique and glorious character of this childlike, simple devotion: that it is wordless. The wearing of the Scapular gives rise to a mystical union between the soul and Mary where not a word is spoken. "I am the City of Refuge," says Saint John Damascene in Mary's name, "for all who fly to me."

And Saint Alphonsus comments: "It is sufficient to have recourse to Her, for whoever has the good fortune to enter this city need not speak to be saved. Assemble yourselves and let us enter the fenced city and let us be silent there [Jeremias VIII, 14] , to speak in the words of Jeremias . .  . It will suffice to enter this city and be silent because Mary will speak and ask all that we require. For this reason a devout author [Bl. Fernandez] exhorts all sinners to take refuge under the Mantle of Mary, exclaiming: 'Fly, O Adam and Eve and all you their children who have outraged God; fly and take refuge in the bosom of this good Mother; know you not that She is our only city of refuge?' " [B. Fernandez: In Gen. c. 3, a. 22.]

By way of parenthesis, let us remark that Saint Alphonsus says: "It will suffice to keep silent;" he wishes to indicate that it is profitable to do more than fly under Mary's mantle, viz., not only to show our confidence, homage and love by just being there. . . but to practice that fourth and perfecting element of Marian devotion: imitation. By rendering homage to Mary we give Her our minds; by confidence we give our wills; by love we give our hearts. Such is true but not perfect devotion. To be perfect we must sell all and follow Mary; we must give Her our whole selves by imitation. [R. P. Tanquerey: The Spiritual Life [Phila., 1930], pg. 86. N. B.: Reader will profit by starting at pg. 80 and reading through to pg. 95, in this connection.] Later the reader will see how the Scapular renders this perfection of devotion to Our Lady very easy; he is now concerned with what is sufficient and we return to the consideration of Mary's Promise only in so far as it is a means of salvation.

"I made that in the Heavens there should rise light that never faileth" [Ecclus, 24, 6], says Scripture, and Cardinal Hugo comments in Mary's name: "I have caused as many lights to shine eternally in Heaven as I have clients." Now, if we wonder how Mary does this, we have the explanation again from Saint Alphonsus: "By Her powerful intercession She led them thither." [Glorie, t. I, pg. 310.] When heeding the cry of her children, voiced in the infancy of the Church by Saint Ephrem: "O most holy Virgin, receive us under thy protection if thou wilt see us saved for we have no hope of salvation but through thy means," the Blessed Virgin came down and actually spread a mantle over us. In thus making us Her clients and promising to cause us to shine in Heaven, She made the Scapular the Sign of Her intercession.

Thus the Scapular, a visible sign of Mary's invisible mediation, has come to be called Her sacrament in the dispensation of grace to special devotees. This arises from the fact that the Scapular unites us to Mary, where we cannot be lost. In giving us the Scapular, Our Lady does not force us to come under Her Mantle; She merely spreads it out and invites us to come within its folds where, as a member of Her family and as a privileged son, each one of us shall be saved. Hence the alliance is two-sided: Mary on Her part offers to be our Mother, we offer to be Her children; moral union is the result. Anyone who actually thinks of Mary with love, confidence and homage, is morally united to Her and, by the Scapular, this union is continual. Probably the greatest excellence of the Scapular derives just from this unbroken union effected between us and Mary, between the redeemed and the universal Mediatrix. It is the Sign of a bi-lateral contract and, on Her side, Mary assures us of Her intercession.

When we say that Mary is continually present to Her Scapular wearers by what is called "moral union," we simply mean that She is united to them by intention. When I think of someone whom I love while he thinks of me, he and I are united by common intention. If I wear the Scapular, Mary is continually thinking of me and loving me as Her special child and I, in turn, am thinking of Her and loving Her as my dearest Mother. I may not be actually thinking of Her, at the moment, but the Scapular proclaims that I think of Her and love Her at least by intention.

An understanding of the nature of a virtual intention is all-important to an understanding of the continual moral union with Mary that results from the Scapular Devotion. It is the virtual intention, of which the Scapular we wear gives testimony, that renders a perpetual moral union possible.

To understand the force of the virtual intention, let us take the example [though the reality would be most undesirable] of a priest who puts on the vestments in order to Baptize a child and, as he is about to leave the vestry, receives such very distressing news that he enters the baptistry to perform the ceremony totally distracted, even to the point of not adverting to the fact that he is administering the Sacrament. Is the child validly baptized? Yes, because although the priest had not at the moment an actual intention, nevertheless he did nothing to exclude the actual intention which he had when putting on the vestments. Thus he may be said to have had, throughout the ceremony, a virtual intention. In vesting himself he made the actual intention of administering Baptism, and the very vestments he wore during the ceremony showed that the Baptism was willed by him. So, too, the Scapular shows that we will to be united to Mary even when we do not advert to its presence. Consequently, Mary is always present to Scapular wearers in a special way: protecting, guiding, adorning, lavishing a Mother's love.

Hence the Scapular is a bond of union between Mary and the soul. The one who wears the Scapular enjoys Mary's presence by Her contract and his. The Scapular is but the symbol of that contract. And since Satan can do nothing against Mary, the Immaculate Conception, he can do nothing against us when She protects us. That is why one who practices true devotion to Her, and more particularly one who wears the Scapular, cannot be lost.

As a sort of consequence of all this, do we not see that Mary's Scapular alliance-----contracted by a Promise on the one hand, and an acceptance on the other-----has the power of drawing all mankind to union under Mary's mantle? Two things united to a third are united to each other. In entering the Scapular Confraternity we enter into union not only with Mary but with everyone similarly united to Her. Thus, here on earth, a tremendous Marian force is latent in the Scapular Confraternity wherein millions and millions of souls are each, to some degree at least, united to the Blessed Virgin.

It is indeed true that we cannot sound the depths of the Scapular Promise. We see it constituting a true Marian devotion. We see it spreading Mary's Mantle over the earth, under which we can enter and be allied in a special way to the invincible Queen of Heaven. We see it creating a great spiritual force among millions of souls, in a Confraternity of Mary which it will suffice to enter and be silent, "for Mary will speak and ask all that we require:" 

"The faithful so unanimously agree that devotion to the Mother of God is a mark of predestination that, independently of the reasons upon which this opinion is based, I think a concordance so general should cause it to be regarded as a truth of our holy religion . . . And because all the forms of our love for the Blessed Virgin, all its various modes of expression cannot be equally agreeable to Her and therefore do not assist us in the same degree to Heaven, I aver without a moment's hesitation that the Scapular is the most favored of all."


"We must not look on the Scapular as a talisman operating by some magic virtue of its own, but rather as a manifestation of devotion which derives all its benevolence from the Blessed Virgin and is the HOMAGE of respectful AFFECTION, of FILIAL CONFIDENCE, and CONTINUAL supplication."

------A.J. VERMEERSCH, S. J.


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