Catholic Apologetics #54
Scapulars were originally part of the garment of monks. It began as something similar to an apron but evolved to be a mark of commitment to the religious Order. As lay people became dedicated to following some of the ways of the monks and religious, a smaller version of the scapular was used to signify this connection. The earliest religious Orders with lay “Confraternities” were the Servites, Carmelites, Trinitarians and Mercedarians. The Franciscans, Benedictines, and Dominicans also developed Third Order lay groups.
The scapulars are blessed, and the lay faithful are “invested” (enrolled) in the wearing of the scapular by a Catholic priest with an expectation that the recipient(s) will pray and perform acts of charity and devotion as a part of the investiture and relationship to the particular religious Order. The blessing and investiture (enrollment) of scapulars are done only once. It is best if they are worn constantly, even during daily personal care. They are not ‘good luck charms’ or ‘magical artifacts,’ as the Church opposes all forms of superstition.
In the course of time, other Orders received the faculty of blessing small scapulars and investing the lay faithful, although such scapulars were not always connected with a confraternity. Pope Leo XIII approved several new Scapulars in the early 1900s, including one dedicated to St. Michael the Archangel. The additions of these Scapulars brought the total number to seventeen.
The seventeen approved Scapulars are the following:
- Brown Scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel
- Green Scapular
- Black Scapular of the Passion
- Black Scapular of the Seven Dolors of Mary
- Blue Scapular of the Immaculate Conception
- Red Scapular of the Passion
- Scapular of the Blessed Virgin Mary
- Scapular of the Most Precious Blood
- Scapular of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary
- Scapular of St. Benedict
- Scapular of St. Dominic
- Scapular of St. Joseph
- Scapular of St. Michael the Archangel
- White Scapular of the Immaculate Heart of Mary
- White Scapular of the Most Blessed Trinity
- White Scapular of the Mother of Good Counsel
- White Scapular of Our Lady of Ransom
The Five-fold Scapular
Five of the earlier Scapulars to be approved are often grouped together on one shared string and, as such, is referred to as the Five-fold Scapular.
“The five are: the Scapular of the Most Blessed Trinity, that of the Carmelites, of the Servites, of the Immaculate Conception, and the Red Scapular of the Passion. When the scapulars are joined together, the bands must be of red wool, as required by the Red Scapular; it is customary to wear the Red Scapular uppermost and that of the Most Blessed Trinity undermost, so that the images specially prescribed in the case of the Red, and the small red and blue cross on the Scapular of the Blessed Trinity, may be visible.” (“New Advent,” Catholic Encyclopedia)
The White Scapular of the Blessed Trinity was approved when Pope Innocent III, having previously authorized the Trinitarian Order in 1198, had a vision of an angel wearing a white garment with a cross of blue and red on the chest. This garment became the habit of the Order and the design of the scapular.
The Brown Scapular of the Carmelites is the most widely known scapular and was given to St. Simon Stock by Our Lady while he was at Aylesford, England in 1251. The Blessed Virgin promised to grant special aid at the hour of death to those wearing this scapular.
The Black Scapular comes from the Servite Order which began in 1255 and was authorized by Pope Alexander IV. This scapular honors the Seven Sorrows of Mary.
The Blue Scapular is based on a vision of Venerable Ursula Benicasa (in 1617), who founded the Order of Theatine Nuns. She saw Jesus and begged Him to grant favors to all who wore the Blue Scapular in honor of the Immaculate Conception. Pope Clement X approved the blessing and investing of this scapular in 1671 and Clement XI granted certain indulgences for the wearing of it.
The Red Scapular of the Passion is based on a vision by a Sister of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul in 1846. In that vision, Jesus promised an increase in faith, hope and charity to all who wear this scapular on Fridays. In the following year, this vision was reported to Pope Pius IX and he then granted the Lazarists Order the faculty of blessing the scapular and investing the faithful with it.
May more Catholics have recourse to the various Scapulars approved by the Catholic Church, as well as to all the Church’s sacramentals. Those unfamiliar with the purpose of sacramentals or their benefits should consult the Baltimore Catechism.
 The habits of some religious Orders, such as the Cistercians, still include the scapular. It is a long rectangular piece of cloth draping over the front and back of the person, with a hole in the middle for the head. It’s readily identifiable on Cistercians because their scapular is black while the rest of their habit is white. In Latin, scapula refers to the ‘shoulder-blades.’ Since this part of the habit hangs over the shoulder blades, it’s easy to see how it got this name. The common scapulars worn by lay faithful resemble these original scapulars but in miniature. They generally have two rectangular pieces of cloth connected by string (cloth) and hang over the shoulder blades, one on the front and one on the back. However, some scapulars, most notably the Green Scapular, only consist of one rectangular piece of cloth.
 When referencing a religious Order (such as the Dominicans or Franciscans), the term “First Order” refers to those members of the religious Order who are ordained priests, “Second Order” refers to religious, such as nuns and brothers, while “Third Order” refers to the lay members of the religious Order.
 For the proper investiture (enrollment) of the scapular, the priest follows the appropriate procedure, involving specific prayers and blessings.
 The faithful don’t need to be reinvested whenever a scapular becomes worn out; the scapular is simply replaced by a new one. Only the first scapular used for enrollment must be blessed by the priest doing the enrollment. Once enrolled, replacement scapulars do not need to be blessed because the blessing as well as the enrollment are attached to the enrollee for life. However, there is no harm in having a priest bless the new scapular.
 In order to receive Our Lady’s Scapular promise – “Whosoever dies clothed in this garment shall not suffer eternal fire” – Holy Mother Church teaches that a Catholic must be invested in the Confraternity of the Brown Scapular by a Catholic priest. In this ceremony, the person also makes the commitment to live chastely according to their state in life and to daily pray the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin. With papal approval, that duty of prayer may be commuted by the priest performing the investiture. It is common practice for priests today to commute that Little Office obligation to the daily recitation of the holy Rosary. Once a Catholic is enrolled in the Confraternity, he is enrolled for life. Although anyone can wear the Brown Scapular, only Catholics may be officially enrolled in the Confraternity. For more information about the Brown Scapular, see https://fatima.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/brown_scapular_2019.pdf
Want to read more?
Latest Articles by Matthew Plese