Our Lady of Mount Carmel appeared to Carmelite monk Saint Simon Stock in 1251 and presented him with a brown wool scapular, saying, “Whoever dies invested with this Scapular shall be preserved from the eternal flames. It is a sign of salvation, a sure safeguard in danger, a pledge of peace and of my special protection until the end of the ages.”
The Brown Scapular is a popular devotion across the world. “The word in Latin, scapulae, means shoulders. So a scapular … is a piece of cloth that is worn over the shoulders by Carmelite sisters and priests, and other religious orders will have a scapular. And regular folk, laypeople, can wear a kind of stylized version of the scapular which is typically two squares of cloth at either end of two long [cords], so one piece of the cloth is in the front and one piece of the cloth is in the back,” explained Patrick Madrid of The Patrick Madrid Show.
Any Catholic can be enrolled in the Brown Scapular. Many children are enrolled after their First Communion, although there is no age requirement. In order to gain the promises of the Brown Scapular, one must be enrolled or invested in the Brown Scapular by a Catholic priest or deacon. According to the North American Provincials of the Carmelite Order in their Catechesis and Ritual for the Scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, “The Scapular medal can be worn in place of the cloth scapular for good reason but is not the preferred form—precisely because the sacramental link—the visible link—with the cloth panels of the Carmelite habit has been lost.”
In following this devotion, we gain graces and grow in relationship with Our Lady. “The Brown Scapular is technically the scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, so once we place it on it is a way for people who are not Discalced Carmelites or regular Carmelites to participate in the graces and life of the Carmelite order … it’s sort of like wearing a little bit of the habit of that particular spiritual tradition,” said Msgr. Stuart Swetland, host of Go Ask Your FatherTM.
A person who wears the Brown Scapular “should certainly reflect upon the teachings of the great Carmelite saints,” says the North American Provincials of the Carmelite Order. To wear the scapular without practicing the Carmelite spirituality or accepting the responsibilities attached to it “would be to reduce this precious sacramental to the status of a charm or good-luck piece.”
In addition to wearing the Brown Scapular, the Carmelites recommend following the practices of Carmelite spirituality, which include—on a basic, introductory level—frequent participation in Mass and Holy Communion, meditation on Sacred Scripture, devotion to Mary, prayer, practice of the virtues, charity, obedience to God, and chastity according to one’s state of life.