Our Lady of Mount Carmel is the name given to the Blessed Virgin Mary as patroness to the Carmelite order, a religious order in the Catholic Church. Hermits are recorded to have lived on Mount Carmel; they had a chapel dedicated to Our Lady and by the 13th century, they became known as “Brothers of Our Lady of Mount Carmel.” The brown scapular, a popular sacramental among Catholics both laity and religious, comes from this Marian order.
Where is Mount Carmel?
Mount Carmel is a beautiful mountain range that peeks out from vibrantly green woods. It is located in North Western, Israel. It was on Mount Carmel that Elijah prayed for the salvation of Israel during a severe drought. He kept sending his servant up to check for rain. By the seventh time, his servant returned with good news, saying he saw a cloud rise out of the sea like a man’s foot and there soon fell a great rain.
To Elijah, this cloud his servant saw was a symbol of the Virgin mentioned in the prophecies of Isaiah: “Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign. Behold a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and his name shall be called Emmanuel” (Isaiah 7:14).
Even after Elijah’s ascent to heaven, his disciples remained on the mountain and continued to follow his example and pray for the coming of the Virgin who would bear the Son of God. These disciples became known as the Carmelites.
St. Simon Stock
Born in 1165, Saint Simon was said to have been specially devoted to God even as a youth. At twelve, he left home to live as a hermit. After two decades of fasting and penance in the wilderness, he returned to society to study for the priesthood. He eventually joined the Carmelite Order and at 1215 was appointed their vicar general.
He is the famous saint who the giving of the brown scapular, the habit of the Carmelite order, was attributed to. On July 16th, 1251, Our Lady appeared to him with the brown scapular in her hand. She said to him:
“Receive, My beloved son, this habit of thy order: this shall be to thee and to all Carmelites a privilege, that whosoever dies clothed in this shall never suffer eternal fire…It shall be a sign of salvation, a protection in danger, and a pledge of peace.” )Emmons. History of our Patron
After becoming the order’s general superior in 1247, Simon Stock helped better establish the order, building monasteries in places of learning such as a Oxford, Paris and Cambridge. He died in France in 1265 and his feast day is May 16th.
What is the Brown Scapular?
The brown scapular is a sacramental; for the laity, it is a miniature version of the scapular that is worn by those in the Carmelite religious orders. It must be in a square shape, and made of woven wool of a dark color. The strings can be of any material or color.
Brown Scapular Enrolment
The scapular must be blessed and placed upon the person who is to be invested by a priest. A layperson cannot invest himself, but a priest with faculties to do so can invest himself. It was once customary that only the Carmelite Fathers were allowed to enroll the laity, and permission was needed for another priest to do so. However, now the Church has given permission to all priests to invest the lay faithful in the Brown Scapular.
When blessing the scapular, the prescribed form must be used. It is not valid simply to bless the scapular with the sign of the cross. ). This form consists of a few prayers, one of them being:
“I, by the power vested in me, admit you to participate in all the spiritual benefits obtained through the mercy of Jesus Christ by the Religious Order of Mount Carmel. In the name of the Father + and of the Son + and of the Holy Ghost. + Amen.Rev. Heuser, American Ecclesiastical Review, 1889 Vol I, pg. 133
May God Almighty, the Creator of Heaven and earth, bless + you, He who has deigned to join you to the Confraternity of the Blessed Virgin of Mount Carmel; we beseech Her to crush the head of the ancient serpent so that you may enter into possession of your eternal heritage through Christ our Lord.”Sisters of Carmel
According to Rev. Heuser, every person needs to be separately invested, but the blessing may be made in community.
If a person properly invested in a brown scapular replaces their scapular with a new one, the new one does not need to be blessed since the blessing has been imparted to all in the first one.
How to Wear the Brown Scapular
The brown scapular should be worn draped over the shoulders so that the squares are touching front and back. It may be worn either under the clothes or over. One is allowed to fasten the scapular to their clothes if desired.
For serious reasons such as an allergy to wool, one can wear the scapular medal as a replacement. This has been allowed by numerous popes including Pope St. Pius X. This being said, one should not replace the wool scapular with such merely for the sake of convenience or vanity.
You may ask, “Can a non-Catholic wear the brown scapular?” A non-Catholic is strictly speaking able to wear the brown scapular, but anyone not properly enrolled is of course at risk for not receiving the special privileges attached. Also, the blessing of the scapular is “predominately given to the person who is invested in the Scapular” so to merely wear the scapular when not invested is not the same thing as wearing it if properly invested. This being said, Our Lady is a most generous mother and so it is unlikely, in my opinion, it would carry no benefit whatsoever if worn with good intentions.
The Sabbatine Privilege
According to Rev. Eamon R. Carroll, O. Carm., S.T.D, the Sabbatine Privilege was derived from the bull “Sacratissimo uti culminate”. In it John XXII claimed Our Lady appeared to him and promised to those who follow certain conditions that she will promptly deliver them from purgatory, particularly the Saturday after their death, hence the word “Sabbatine” which comes from the Latin word for Saturday. This bull has been contested as inauthentic; regardless, many of the popes such as Clement VII, St. Pius V, and Gregory XIII later gave it their seal of approval.
Those who wish to gain the Sabbatine Privilege must wear the scapular constantly and observe chastity according to their state in life; they need to daily recite the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary (of course those obliged to recite the Canonical hours don’t need to recite the Little Office).
“The obligation to read the Little Hours and to abstain from flesh meat on Wednesday and Saturday may on important grounds be changed for other pious works; the faculty to sanction this change was granted to all confessors by Leo XIII in the Decree of the Congregation of Indulgences of 11 (14) June, 1901.”New Advent: Sabbatine Privilege
Brown Scapular Prayers
There is no special obligation to recite certain prayers attached to wearing it. However, there are many prayers associated with the brown scapular, such as the morning offering which includes kissing your brown scapular. To kiss your brown scapular by itself carries a 500 day indulgence. To even simply hold your scapular could be a prayer and a very beneficial one at that.
Our Lady’s Helping Hand
Many miracles have been attributed to the brown scapular. One miracle took place relatively recently. It was a plane crash in Guatemala in 1955. There was only one survivor: a young girl, who claims that when the plane was going down, she gripped her scapular and prayed to Our Lady. She suffered burns, and her clothes were likewise burnt, but, unlike the other 27 passengers, she was overall unharmed and her scapular free of any burns.
It is important to remember, however, that the scapular is not like a talisman and the promises of Our Lady will not apply to those who wear it while in the state of mortal sin. It may mark us Our Lady’s children, but we must also prove to be such while wearing it, otherwise we will only insult her and her son.
***If you LOVE Carmelite spirituality, the The Carmelite Directory of the Spiritual Life is a must-have!
Where to Get Brown Scapulars
More on the Carmelite Order
- The Carmelite Directory of the Spiritual Life
- Ascent of Mount Carmel by St John of the Cross
- Our Lady’s Garment-The Brown Scapular: A Sign of Salvation and Protection
- The Scapular
- Hilgers, J. (1912). Sabbatine Privilege. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.
- Rev. Heuser, American Ecclesiastical Review, 1889 Vol I (1890). Fr. Pustet & Company.
- Sisters of Carmel. The Brown Scapular. (n.d.).
- Vatican Site Pro Life. (2017, July 26). 7 Things You Didn’t Know About the Brown Scapular.
- Carroll, R. (n.d.). An Explanation of the Sabbatine Privilege. Retrieved September 16, 2020.
- The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. (2007, July 26). Mount Carmel.