LETTER OF HIS HOLINESS, PIUS XII
FOR THE OCCASION OF THE SEVENTH CENTENARY OF THE BROWN SCAPULAR
There is no one who is not aware how greatly a love for the Blessed Virgin Mother of God contributes to the enlivening of the Catholic faith and to the raising of the moral standard.
These effects are especially secured by means of those devotions which more than others are seen to enlighten the mind with celestial doctrine and to excite souls to the practice of the Christian life. In the first rank of the most favored of these devotions that of the Holy Carmelite Scapular must be placed a devotion which, adapted to the minds of all by its very simplicity, has become so universally widespread among the faithful and has produced so many and such salutary fruits.
Therefore it has pleased Us greatly to learn of the decision of our Carmelite Brethren, both Calced and Discalced, namely, to take all pains to pay homage to the Blessed Virgin Mary in as solemn a manner as possible on the occasion of the Seventh Centenary of the Institution of the Scapular of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel. Prompted therefore by our constant love for the tender Mother of God, and mindful also of Our own enrollment from boyhood in the Confraternity of this same Scapular, most willingly do We commend so pious an undertaking and We are certain that upon it will fall an abundance of divine blessings.
For not with a light or passing matter are we here concerned but with the obtaining of eternal life itself, which is the substance of that Promise of the Most Blessed Virgin which has been handed down to us. We are concerned, namely, with that which is of supreme importance to all and with the manner of achieving it safely. For the Holy Scapular, which may be called the habit or Garment of Mary, is a sign and a pledge of the protection of the Mother of God. But not for this reason, however, may they who wear the Scapular think that they can gain eternal salvation while remaining slothful and negligent of spirit, for the Apostle warns us: "In fear and trembling shall you work out your salvation" (Phil. 2:12).
Therefore all Carmelites, whether they live in the cloisters of the First and Second Orders, or are members of the Third Order Regular, or Secular, or of the Confraternities, belong to the same Family of our Most Blessed Mother and are attached to it by a special bond of love. May they all see in this keepsake of the Virgin Herself a mirror of humility and purity: may they read in the very simplicity of the Garment a concise lesson in modesty and simplicity; above all may they behold in this same Garment, which they wear day night and day, the eloquently expressive symbol of their prayers for the divine assistance; finally may it be to them a Sign of their Consecration to the Most sacred Heart of the Immaculate Virgin, which (consecration) in recent times we have so strongly recommended.
And certainly this most gentle Mother will not delay to open, as soon as possible, through Her intercession with God, the gates of Heaven for Her children who are expiating their faults in Purgatory--trust based on that Promise known as the Sabbatine Privilege.
Now, therefore, as a pledge of the divine protection and help, and as an assurance of our own special dilection, we most lovingly impart to you, Beloved Sons, and to the whole Carmelite Order, the Apostolic Benediction.
Given at Rome on the Feast of the Apparition at Lourdes, February 11. 1950.
THE ORIGIN OF THE BROWN SCAPULAR
It's no exaggeration to say that the Scapular devotion is as universal as the Church. It would be difficult to find a Catholic who has not at least heard of it for, as Pius XII says, it is in the "first rank" of popular devotions to the Blessed Mother. And yet how many there are who know little or nothing about the origin of the Scapular.
Like many good and holy things that have come down to us from the past, the Scapular (to be understood properly) has to be seen in the light of its historical setting; to take it away from the century of its origin is to deprive it of a great deal of its significance and to rob it of its value as a religious symbol.
Since the rise of monasticism a Scapular, consisting of two pieces of cloth joined at the shoulders and hanging down back and breast, has been a part of the monastic Habit. The fact that it hung from the shoulders immediately suggested a spiritual meaning, for Christ spoke of the faith in terms of a burden to be carried. " My yoke," He said, " is sweet and my burden light." As the monk rose in the morning to begin a new day, the putting on of the Scapular reminded him that he had taken the sweet burden of divine service upon him and that the day ahead was to be all for God.
When one is acquainted with the desire of the Church that we put our faith into our daily lives and sanctify even the little things of life, one can easily see how the wearing of a Scapular could be a strong incentive to faithful and generous service in the vineyard of the Master. Even the sight of it could be a reminder of a promise made but easily forgotten by the ordinary person.
The birth and ascendancy of the Mendicant Orders served to strengthen the spiritual significance of the religious Habit of which the Scapular was the principal part. Coming as it did in the thirteenth century, the Friar Movement was bound to be affected by the feudal system which was then at its height. The Friars were, by profession if not by origin, poor men who identified themselves with the poorer classes and worked among them. Their Habit, even though similar to that of the monk, was that of the common folk. It was inevitable that the relation of vassal to lord that dominated the whole economic, social and political life of the Middle Ages would affect their religious outlook and that the timeless relation of creature to Creator would be expressed in terms of it.
Living as we do in an age very different from that of the Middle Ages, we find it hard to visualize the dependence of the vassal upon his lord. While Feudalism held sway, it was a matter of life and death to belong to a lord. Before the rise of towns, commerce and industry, land was the only means of livelihood; and since it belonged to the lord, one had to have the right to till it in order to live. The vassal's act of homage gave him the right as well as that of protection, which was as important then as it is now.
Knowing how much faith and actual living were one in the Middle Ages, one can see how feudal ideas influenced religious ideas and practices and how the Habit, of which the Scapular is the principal part, took on a new meaning. Being a man of God, the Friar was keenly aware that God is our one and only Master but, after the manner of the time, he presented himself before his Divine Master as the vassal presented himself before his lord "to pay his homage" and to receive the investiture from his hands. The religious ceremony of receiving the Habit, although different in meaning, was the same as that of feudal investiture. Just as the vassal placed his hands in or between his lord's and pronounced his oath of fealty or homage, so did the friar present himself before a Superior, who took the place of God, to make his vows. The Scapular, hanging from the shoulders, was an outward sign that the friar was "God's man," that he belonged entirely to Him and that he would pay Him the homage of his whole life.
It is in this medieval setting that one must see the brown Scapular that is the Habit of the Carmelite Friars in miniature form. Before they entered the European scene, the Carmelites were a group of hermits living on Mt. Carmel in Palestine. They believed themselves to be the spiritual sons of Elias the Prophet, and the life they led on Mt. Carmel was patterned on his life of contemplation. The Elian tradition, however, was not the only one to influence them, for, long before they came to Europe, they were known for their devotion to God's Mother. So devoted were they to Her that they became known as "The Brothers of Our Lady of Mount Carmel," a title they cherished and defended down through the years. The earliest documents we have bear eloquent witness to their love for Mary; for in Her they found the fulfillment of the Elian ideal. She, too, kept all the things that God said to Her, pondering them in Her heart and making Her life their incarnation; and it was by following Her that they found the clean heart that sees God even in this life. When they made their profession, they vowed their lives to God and to Her, and it was in Her honor that the homage of their lives of contemplation was offered to their Lord. Mary was the Queen and Mistress of the holy Mount; Carmel was Her land, Her vineyard, where they worked in the hope of Her guidance and protection.
As a result of the Saracen invasion the Carmelites finally decided to leave Mt. Carmel. It was a difficult decision to make for their ancient home had many memories for them. An old tradition holds that before their departure Our Lady appeared to them as they were singing the Salve Regina and promised to be their Star of the Sea. Fortunately they found staunch friends among the Crusaders who brought them with them on their return journey to Europe. Some settled in Cyprus, others in Italy, while others continued their journey to France and England. The English group found a benefactor in Lord de Grey, who gave them Aylesford in Kent.
Although the Carmelites found many favorably disposed to them in the West, they also encountered much opposition, so much so that, about the middle of the 13th century, it seemed as if their days were numbered as an Order. However, in 1246, at a Chapter held in Aylesford, they elected Simon Stock as their General. As he saw the waves of opposition mounting higher and higher, Simon realized that Our Lady was his only hope. The Habit he wore spoke for itself for it was in Her honor he had taken it. It had always reminded him that he was Hers, and the long years of his life were an act of homage to Her. Carmel was not his but Hers; and now that it was in danger of being destroyed for ever, he went to Her as the vassal would go to his lord and asked Her to give it Her protection. Saluting Her as the Flower of Carmel and the Star of the Sea he asked Her for the "privilegium," that is, the protection a lord would give his vassals. In answer to his fervent prayer She appeared to him, and giving him the Scapular of his Order She said: "This shall be a sign to you and to all Carmelites: whosoever dies wearing this shall not suffer eternal fire." The Promise Mary attached to the Scapular went far beyond Simon's expectations. It saved the Order, confirmed its Marian character and made Mary more a Mother than a Queen to it.
One has merely to glance at the history of the Order from the 13th century down to the present to see how the Scapular Vision served to strengthen its devotion to Mary. And the external sign of that love and devotion through the years has been the Brown Scapular.
Some people are inclined to exaggerate the importance of visions and private revelations and in assessing the spiritual value of the Scapular Devotion one must keep in mind the teaching of the Church regarding them. It is the constant teaching and practice of the Church that devotions must be founded on revealed truth and that visions and private revelations have relative value only; they serve to focus attention on some truth God has revealed and must be interpreted in the light of it. The popular devotion to the Sacred Heart is not based on the revelations to St. Margaret Mary but on the Incarnation of the Word. The same must be said about the Lourdes and Fatima devotions. The visions of Our Lady called attention to Her role in the economy of Redemption and to the old Christian doctrine of prayer and penance.
It is in this context that one must see the Scapular Devotion. It is based on the spiritual Motherhood of Mary in the setting of Carmelite history. The total dedication of the Order to Her made the Scapular a Sign of Consecration to Her. And what more fitting sign could one find of Her spiritual motherhood than a garment. When She brought forth Her Firstborn She wrapped Him up in swaddling clothes and it was She who wove the seamless Garment by which He was known. The Carmelite Habit has always drawn minds and hearts to Her and been a Sign of Her loving protection.
For a long time the Habit was the exclusive property of the Order, a sign of profession in it and of the life totally consecrated to Her but in the 14th century we find a bridge appearing between Carmel and the world. Pious people living in the world became anxious to live its Mari-form life and to share in its spiritual treasury of prayer and good works; and as a visible sign of their affiliation to the Order they were given the Scapular. This was the beginning of the Third Order of Carmel and of the Confraternity. These good people were often generous benefactors and in return for their help the Order granted them a share in all its masses, prayers and good works. With the lapse of time this participation was given without any financial assistance.
Here we find the two essential elements of the Scapular Devotion, Consecration to Mary in Carmel and participation in the spiritual life of the Order.
In a comparatively short time the wearing of the Scapular spread to the whole Church and became the unmistakable mark of the good Catholic. Popes, kings, princes, nobles and humble folk alike lived and died in the hope of the promise made to St. Simon, and the Scapular devotion grew to be one of the leading devotions to the Mother of God. As a Marian devotion it has stood the test of time, and the seven centuries that have elapsed since the Vision have served to reveal its beauty. It has kept generation after generation aware of its duty to call Mary blessed, and in the homage paid to Her, countless saints have come to realize that to find Her is to find life in Her Son and to draw salvation from Him.