Regína sacratíssimi Rosárii, ora pro nobis!

Ave Maria!
Seventh Sunday 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 miracles.

    Paradoxically, though, some of them did question His claim to more spiritual miracles.  He was accused of casting out devils by diabolical means.[1]  He was challenged and even accused of blasphemy when He forgave the sins of the penitent.[2]  People walked out Him when He spoke of giving His flesh to them as the food of everlasting life.[3]

    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.[4]  “Receive the Holy Ghost.  Whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven them”—forgiven through the power of God, conferred on men by Jesus Christ.[5]

    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 so forth.

    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.[6]  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 Sacraments.

    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 no magic!

    “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.”[7]  “We should make use of the sacramentals with faith and devotion, and never make them objects of superstition.”[8]  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 be true.

    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 Fridays.

    There is a little pamphlet 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.


[1]   Luke xi: 14-26;  Matthew xii: 22-37.

[2]   Matthew ix: 1-8.

[3]   John vi.

[4]   Luke xxii: 19.

[5]   John xx: 22-23.

[6]   Baltimore Catechism #2: Q. 471.

[7]   Baltimore Catechism #2: Q. 470.

[8]   Baltimore Catechism #2: Q. 474.


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