after Pentecost—15 July AD 2007
The Brown Scapular
[ Ordinary of
the Mass ]
[ English Text ]
[ Latin Text ]
Blessing of Scapulars ]
[ Scapular Leaflet ]
During our Lord’s brief public
life he worked a very great number of miracles. From the changing of water
into wine at Cana in Galilee, to the healing of the sick, to feeding multitudes
in the wilderness, on up to raising a few people from the dead, He demonstrated
miraculous power that was not questioned. People flocked to Him as their
only hope, for the science and medicine of the time could work none of these physical
Paradoxically, though, some of
them did question His claim to more spiritual miracles. He was
accused of casting out devils by diabolical means.
He was challenged and even accused of blasphemy when He forgave the sins of the
People walked out Him when He spoke of giving His flesh to them as the food of
In retrospect, since we can look
back over the entirety of our Lord’s life and revelations, we know that Jesus
was able to do all of these things—both physical and spiritual—because He is
God. And as God, He is the Lord of all creation, and is not subject to the
laws that He imposed on the universe when He made it. His miracles are not
“blasphemy,” which would suggest the usurping of the prerogatives of God.
His miracles are not “magic,” for that term suggests either
illusion, or resort to the powers of the devil to do physical things not
normally possible (perhaps illusions in themselves).
Those who are not of the Faith
sometimes criticize us for pretending to work magic. How can the parish
priest—who is certainly not God—how can the parish priest forgive our sins,
or give us the body and blood of Christ? We even have a word or two in the
English language coined by non-believers, who speak of “priest craft,” or
“hocus-pocus” as synonyms for “magic.” The latter,
“hocus-pocus” was originally intended as a blasphemous mispronunciation of
the words of Consecration.
But the priest—who certainly is
not God—works no magic in conferring the Sacraments. He is simply doing
what Christ did, and doing what Christ commanded him to do in His place.
“This is My body which is being given for you; do this in remembrance of
Me”—do what I have done.
“Receive the Holy Ghost. Whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven
them”—forgiven through the power of God, conferred on men by Jesus Christ.
The theologians have a technical
term, in Latin, which describes how the Sacraments work. They are said to
work “ex opere operato—they operate from the work itself,”
which means that the grace of God flows automatically and infallibly when the
proper minister of the Sacrament “performs the outward sign, that was
instituted by Christ.” The priest or other minister of the Sacrament
serves only as a channel, through which Christ Himself sends the graces of the
Sacrament. Whether the priest is a saint or a sinner makes no difference,
for, in either case, it is Christ speaking through Him: “This is My
body....” “I absolve you of your sins....” This
is not a narrative, but the action of Christ Himself. This
is something which we experience only in the seven Sacraments.
Today we are going to bless one
the more well known “sacramentals”—the Brown Scapular of Our Lady of Mount
Carmel. Most of what I am going to say applies as well to the other
sacramentals offered by the Church: blessings; exorcisms; and
various objects of devotion like blessed palms, candles, medals, rosaries, and
In general, we can say that all of
the sacramentals, to a greater or lesser degree, bring us actual graces, the
forgiveness of venial sin, the remission of temporal punishment, material well
being, and protection from the works of the devil.
It is quite reasonable to ask: “How can this be? How will a few pieces
of brown wool, or a candle, or a medal do these things for me?” The
answer is that the sacramentals work a little bit differently from the
Like the Sacraments, there
is no magic in the sacramentals. It is important to emphasize this
because the sacramentals must not be treated as though they some
sort of magic charm. They must not be treated as though
their mere possession guarantees the favor of God. You can
own a drawer full of rosaries, or have all the medals in the world around your
neck, die in the state of mortal sin, and face eternal perdition! There is
“The sacramentals obtain favors
from God through the prayers of the Church offered for those who make use of
them, and through the devotion they inspire.”
“We should make use of the sacramentals with faith and devotion, and never
make them objects of superstition.”
Those two sentences from The Baltimore Catechism contain quite a lot:
The sacramentals operate
“through the prayers of the Church” (ex opere operantis Ecclesiæ),
which in this case must be thought of both as the Institution designated to
represent Christ in the world; and as all of Her members, the clergy and
the laity, who are united in prayer for one another, the living and the dead.
(Which, incidentally, should remind us that our prayers ought always to be
unselfish in requesting goods and graces for all of those around us.)
The sacramentals operate, as well,
“through the devotion which they inspire.” Blessed palms, for example,
should remind us of our Lord’s entry into Jerusalem, where the fickle crowd
would call for His crucifixion only a few days later. Holy water might
remind us of our Baptism, and of the promises we made. A medal, a statue,
or a picture of a saint ought to remind us of that saint, and move us to imitate
the holy qualities of the one portrayed. A crucifix ought to call to mind
the fact that our sins will cause Jesus Christ to suffer even more. All of
these things should inspire faith—the belief in what God has revealed to us to
We must “never make [the
sacramentals] objects of superstition.” They must be used in good faith.
It is the sin of presumption to think that God will grant us the
favors of the sacramentals, even though we are living lives in direct
contradiction of the graces they are intended to bring. All of the
sacramentals which have a promise associated with them come with at least the
tacit condition that we do our best to respond to the graces offered by God.
It is very reasonable to believe in the promises made to those who
wear the scapular, or say the rosary, of make the first Fridays and first
Saturdays—but not if we go about living our lives with
indifference to God, or as though we were disciples of the devil himself!
Investiture with the Brown
Scapular associates us with the prayers of all others who wear it, and
particularly with those who more formally belong to the Carmelite Order.
It is a miniature of the much larger scapular worn by the Carmelites, and every
time we kiss it and put it on, we should be reminded to emulate the religious
ideals of Carmel. And we must do more than wear it: we are required
to observe chastity according to our state in life; and daily to pray the
Office of the Blessed Virgin (or the Roman or Monastic Office, or the Rosary
with the permission of your confessor). Those unable to read, substitute
fasting and abstinence on Wednesdays and Saturdays in addition to the usual
There is a little
packaged with each scapular, which I ask you to read. It tells something
of the history of the Carmelite Order, and reminds us of the duties of those who
ask to be associated with it by means of the Brown Scapular.
Remember that the Scapular, and
all of the other sacramentals, operate through the prayers of the Church, and
the faith and devotion which they inspire. So, as we prepare to bless new
Scapulars and to receive new members into the Confraternity of the Scapular;
as we prepare to celebrate the feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel tomorrow;
let us renew our resolve to honor Her with faith and devotion—united with her
devotees here on earth, so that one day we will be united with Her and with Her
divine Son in heaven.