The Scapular Devotion

Christian P. Ceroke, O. Carm

The most highly developed of Marian Scapular devotions is that of the Brown Scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. Since the seventeenth century, the Brown Scapular has been a universal Catholic devotion, considered to be, together with the rosary, a customary form of Marian devotional practice. The popularity of the Scapular devotion was due to the sixteenth and seventeenth century popes, who promulgated the so-called Sabbatine Privilege and who approved the Confraternity of the Scapular for every diocese throughout the Catholic world. The growth and development of the Scapular devotion reached its culmination in 1726 in the extension to the universal Church of the feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel for July 16.(1)

The wearing of the Scapular fosters a true devotion to Mary that is based on her supernatural mission in the redemption of mankind. Two Marian doctrines are proposed in the devotion of the Brown Scapular: Mary's Spiritual Maternity and her Mediation of Grace. The Scapular teaches a practical confidence in the intercession of the Blessed Virgin to obtain for its wearer the grace of final perseverance, or a happy death. The two general conditions to obtain this benefit are that one must honor Mary by wearing the Scapular faithfully until death and endeavor sincerely to lead a Christian life. This reliance on Mary's intercession for the gift of final perseverance derives historically from the belief that the Blessed Virgin promised in an apparition to St. Simon Stock, Prior General of the Carmelites (1247?-1265), that all who die wearing the Scapular will not suffer the eternal flames of hell. This tradition has become known as the "Scapular promise."

The devotion also teaches that the aid of Mary may be confidently expected in purgatory by all those who have faithfully worn the Scapular and have fulfilled two other conditions: the practice of chastity according to one's state of life and the daily recitation of the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin.(2) This privilege of the Scapular devotion has been thought to stem from an apparition of Mary to Pope John XXII, who then promulgated this spiritual benefit to the faithful in 1322. According to the copies of the Bull of promulgation attributed to John XXII, the devotee of the Scapular would be released from purgatory on the Saturday after death. Because of the allusion to Saturday, the document of John XXII has been called the "Sabbatine Bull" and its Marian privilege the "Sabbatine Privilege."

The Origin of the Scapular Devotion

Historically, the devotion of the Scapular among the Catholic laity originated from the tradition of the Marian apparition and promise of the Scapular to St. Simon Stock.(3) From about 1400, Carmelite authors allude to the wearing of the Scapular by the laity in reliance on the Virgin's promise of eternal salvation. Carmelite authors of the fifteenth century begin to record a devotional view of the Scapular, insinuating its heavenly origin. According to Grossi (ca. 1411), Mary <gave> the Scapular to St. Simon Stock. According to Bradley (ca. 1450), in bestowing the Scapular Mary changed the Carmelite habit.(4) Still later authors added new motives for the wearing of the Scapular by the laity. Calciuri (1461) alluded to miracles that had been worked through the Scapular; and Leersius (1483) added that the Scapular had been worn by saints.(5) This tradition of the fifteenth century, which began to develop the devotional value of the Scapular and of its promise, culminated in 1479 in a work by Arnold Bostius, a Belgian Carmelite of Ghent. His manuscript work, De patronatu et patrocinio B. V. M., formulated the solid basis of Marian doctrine on which the Scapular devotion was founded. Bostius explained how the Scapular promise of eternal salvation was a concrete illustration of the doctrine of Mary as Mediatrix of all Graces. The reception of the Scapular as the pledge of Mary's promise of eternal salvation placed the obligation upon the members of the Confraternity to imitate Mary in her practice of virtue. Bostius' work was popularized by John Paleonydor, a Flemish Carmelite, in a book entitled Fasciculus Tripartitus. Published in 1495, the book was frequently reprinted in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. By the end of the fifteenth century, the theological structure of the Scapular devotion had been essentially outlined: its doctrinal foundation was the cult of Mary as Mediatrix of all Graces; its motive was the tradition of the apparition of Our Lady to St. Simon Stock with the promise of the Scapular.(6)

The Scapular Promise and Historical Criticism