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Blessing of Scapulars
Please note that,
effective August 6th, AD 2006
Today is the feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, the patroness of the Carmelite Order. It is the day on which we bless Brown Scapulars, the emblem by which we associate ourselves with the prayers and good works of that order. The history of the Carmelites is unique among the religious orders of Christendom, in that it has at least a tenuous claim to existence even before the time of Christ.
Carmel is a mountain situated on the peninsula overlooking the modern day Israeli port of Haifa. It is at roughly the same latitude as the Sea of Galilee, with our Lord’s hometown of Nazareth located about half way between the two,
Since the time of the Old Testament High Priest Samuel, there lived on the mountain, a group of men known as the “Sons of the Prophets”—the most famous of which is the Prophet Elias, whose exploits are narrated in the Third and Fourth Books of Kings. Carmelite tradition has it that these men dwelled as hermits on the mountain, even until the time of Christ. After hearing the preaching of Saint John the Baptist, they heard our Lord Himself, and were among the first of the new Christians. Living in close proximity to Nazareth, they were privileged to know the Blessed Virgin Mary, and erected a chapel or oratory in her honor on the mountain. In Saint Peter’s Basilica, where there are statues of the founders of the religious orders, there is a statue of the Prophet Elias, as the founder of the Carmelites.
Whether or not the tradition is correct, history has associated the mountain with hermits of one sort or another. “The Roman historian Tacitus mentions a sanctuary on Carmel, consisting "neither of a temple, nor an idol, but merely an altar for Divine worship"; and the Greek philosopher Pythagoras is said to have spent time on the mountain in meditation.
We know for certain that there were Western monks living on the mountain around the time of the Crusades (c. 1165), and that from about 1210 they lived as hermits under a Rule approved for them by Albert of Vercelli, the Patriarch of Jerusalem.
During the Crusader occupation of the Holy Land the Order grew to roughly fifteen monasteries, but the Moslems always made their existence insecure—the hermits of at least two houses were martyred. Foundations were made in other countries, including Cyprus, Sicily, England, Spain, and France, with the knowledge that Christian days in the Holy Land were numbered. In 1291 the monks of Mount Carmel were put to the sword while singing “the Salve Regina—the Hail Holy Queen” of the evening Office.
The Order was viewed with some suspicion in Europe, branded as an innovation, even though the Rule been granted by the Patriarch of Jerusalem and approved by Pope Honorius III on January 30, 1226. But, twenty years later, Saint Simon Stock, the Superior General at that time, received confirmation of the Order from Innocent IV in 1247.
The relaxation of the Rule was held to be necessary by some, for the friars now lived in the cold climate of northern Europe, and worked in the active ministry as priests and teachers. For others, including the fifteenh century General of the Order, Blessed John Soreth (1451-1471), a return to the primitive Rule remained an elusive goal. Soreth can be remembered as the General who included women in the Order for the first time—and it was from among the women—in the person of Saint Teresa of Ávilla (1515-1582), assisted by the Friar Saint John of the Cross—that a portion of the Order would return to more contemplative pursuits. The reformed branch of the Order is referred to as the “Discalced Carmelites,” for they wear no shoes, or only sandals.
Associated with the Carmelite Order, and of particular interest to us today, is their custom of wearing a Scapular over their tunic. A scapular in the classical sense is about fifteen inches wide, and extends from below the knees, over the shoulders (with and opening for the head), and down to the knees again in back. The Brown Scapulars we bless today are a sort of “miniature” of the Order’s garment, worn by those affiliated with it. The tradition of the Order is that this garment, as a sacramental, was given to Saint Simon Stock by our Lady Herself, as a symbol of Her protection both in this world and in eternity, delivering her faithful clients from the fire of hell. The tradition became even more explicit in a revelation said to have been given to Pope John XXII (1316-1334), referred to as the “Sabbatine Privilege.”
As I mentioned last week, this is one of those promises, associated with some of the sacramentals, which is contingent on our use of the sacramental in the attempt to develop dispositions of piety and holiness. The Scapular is not charm or an amulet; it works no magic. It is an item of clothing that associates us with the religious Orders of Mount Carmel—a uniform, if you will, that is to be worn to remind us of our own union with the Order’s purpose of forming souls for heaven. The are obligations to be assumed if we are to become holy, and the “Scapular promises” are to be effective for us.
In 1613, Pope Paul V issued a decree that we:
This pious belief is often understood to mean that those who have followed these disciplines of the Carmelite Order can look forward to being delivered from Purgatory, by the Blessed Virgin, on the Saturday following their death.
There is no magic here—indeed, it is hard to believe that God and His Blessed Mother would have it any other way! We are talking about a soul who dies after a life affiliated with a religious order, who dies in charity and chastity, after a life of prayer and self denial, an adopted son or daughter of the Mother of God. If the Carmelites did not already have it for us, surely someone else would have defined such a beautifully brief instruction for going to heaven!
But, we do have this instruction, and all that it implies in the Confraternity of the Brown Scapular, with which we associate ourselves by the wearing of the Scapulars we bless today. If anyone has not been enrolled in the Confraternity, I ask you to come to the altar rail this morning at the end of the blessing to be properly invested. I ask all of you to wear the Scapular faithfully, as an outward sign of your determination to become, and to be, people of holiness and piety—to be people of prayer, and charity, and chastity, and true devotion to our Blessed Virgin Mother, Our Lady of Mount Carmel.
 Catholic Encyclopedia, s.v. “Carmelite Order.” http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/03354a.htm
 Cf. Catholic Encyclopedia, ibid.
 Catholic Encyclopedia, ibid.
 Catholic Encyclopedia, s..v. “Sabbatine Privilege,” http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/13289b.htm.