July 16th is the feast of Our Blessed Lady of Mount Carmel, known in some places as Our Lady of the Scapular. It was on July 16, 1251, that Our Lady appeared to Saint Simon Stock, the prior general of the Order of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary of Mount Carmel, more commonly called the Carmelites, and gave him the Brown Scapular.
The Carmelites – and later also, the Discalced Carmelites – were and are the spiritual descendants of the Prophets Elias and Eliseus and the original hermits who followed these Prophets and lived on Mount Carmel. It was on the beautiful mountain of Carmel that Elias had gone to pray in solitude, and had his vision of the cloud prefiguring Our Lady (1 Kings 18:44). The meaning of this vision would eventually be described in the work on Carmelite history called “The Institutions of the First Monks.”
Pious tradition holds that after Our Lord’s Ascension, men who had been disciples of Saint John the Baptist embraced the Catholic Faith at Pentecost, and shortly thereafter began an eremitical life on Mount Carmel. There, they were later visited by the Blessed Virgin, for Whom they would dedicate their community and name their church, following Her Assumption. At the beginning of the 1200’s, these hermits constituted the Carmelite Order, following the Rule given them by Saint Albert of Jerusalem.
An Englishman named Simon Stock visited Mount Carmel as a pilgrim during the time of the Crusades, and there was received into the Order. But because of the Saracen threat, the religious left the Holy Land, transferring to Aylesford, England, where Father Simon was elected the prior general in 1247. The Order, now coenobitic instead of eremitical, found itself in difficulty for various reasons. Overwhelmed, Stock prayed to Our Lady for help. The Mother of God appeared to the Carmelite, bestowing the Brown Scapular, saying:
“Receive, My beloved son, this habit of your order: this shall be to you and to all Carmelites a privilege, that whosoever dies clothed in this shall never suffer eternal fire. It shall be a sign of salvation, a protection in danger, a pledge of peace and of My special protection until the end of the ages.”
The Brown Scapular, a kind of development of Elias’ mantle bequeathed to Eliseus, then became part of the Carmelite habit, and beyond being devoutly worn by its friars, nuns and tertiaries, was also extended to the faithful in general, who upon being invested or enrolled in the Scapular, became members of its Confraternity associated with the Order. The use of the powerful sacramental, and devotion to Our Lady of Mount Carmel in general, spread with the growth of the Carmelites throughout the world.
Granting a further incredible grace, the Blessed Mother returned, this time to Pope John XXII, announcing what is known as the Sabbatine Privilege: “As a tender Mother, I will descend into Purgatory on the Saturday after their death, and will deliver them into the heavenly mansions of life everlasting.” The Privilege was promulgated through the papal bull Sacratissimo Uti Culmine in 1322 and given definitive confirmation by the Holy See in 1908.
But the great promise of salvation is not the only benefit, or important part of wearing the Scapular. Wearing the Scapular is both an assurance and sign of Our Lady’s maternal protection and love for us, as well as a sign of our love for Her. By devoutly and habitually wearing the Scapular, close to our heart, we assure the Mother of God of our constant love, our veneration, our trust and hope in Her at every moment.
Kissing our scapular is an indulgenced practice, which is also an expression of this love and veneration of the Blessed Mother and Her great sacramental. Holding our Scapular as we pray, or in moments of temptation or anxiety is also a worthy custom.
The Scapular becomes a silent prayer on our part, and the answer to our prayer on Our Lady’s part. As the Scapular is the main part of the Carmelite habit, it is a reminder to us of our need to pray and do penance, in a spirit of reparation and union with God, as the religious of Carmel do.
While it is true that in the past, many Catholic children were enrolled in the Brown Scapular at the time of their First Holy Communion or Confirmation, that is sadly no longer the case in most places. The Scapular has been largely forgotten, and countless people are forgoing innumerable graces as well as Our Lady’s great promise, because they do not know or care about it. Perhaps foreseeing this sad situation, the Mother of God appeared as Our Lady of Mount Carmel during Her sixth and most significant visit to Fatima [the most important series of Marian apparitions] on October 13, 1917, highlighting the importance of wearing the Scapular, one of Her requests for us.
Some have doubted this, or are unaware of the Fatima-Scapular connection. That is why the late Fr. Howard Rafferty, O Carm., spoke to Sr. Lucy on August 15, 1950 about the matter. Fr. Rafferty travelled extensively to promote the Carmelite Third Order, the Brown Scapular, and Fatima. This is an excerpt from a talk he gave:
“During my many lectures on the message of Fatima and the Scapular, I usually have been able to hold most audiences spellbound with the details of Our Lady’s appearances and Her messages, until I came to this last vision. When I told how Our Lady came dressed in the Carmelite habit, holding Her Son in Her left arm, reaching out with Her Scapular in Her right hand, just as we always see here, I would say: ‘Now that is the final condition of the Fatima message – wear the Brown Scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel.’
Thinking I had convinced everyone – the question period would come, and usually it was one of the priests who would ask: ‘How do you know that Our Lady wants us to wear the Brown Scapular? She didn’t say anything about the Scapular at Fatima.’ I determined that I would have to go to Portugal to talk with Lucy, the only living seer of the Fatima Message, in order to settle the matter. I continued to pray and hoped that one day I would get to Fatima, a place I had never seen, and that I would be able to interview personally the only one who could give me the assurance that Our Lady wanted the wearing of the Brown Scapular.
My long-awaited opportunity came during the Holy Year of 1950. A friend of mine, Father Luis Gonzaga Oliveira, a fellow Carmelite, was able to make the necessary arrangements. Since he could speak both English and Portuguese, he accompanied me on the visit of the Feast of Our Lady’s Assumption, August 15th. When we arrived at the convent, we were admitted into the speaking room, where an iron grille separates the cloister from the outside world…I was about a foot and a half away from Lucy, Sister Mary Lucy of the Immaculate Heart and could see her face very clearly…
Question: “First of all, did Our Lady of Mount Carmel come at Fatima?”
Answer: “Oh, yes, Father, She came.”
Question: “How did you know it was Our Lady of Mount Carmel?”
Answer: “Oh, Father, I knew it was Our Lady of Mount Carmel because in September of 1917, Our Blessed Mother told me that She was going to come as Our Lady of Mount Carmel. There was no doubt in my mind that I was seeing what Our Lady told me I was going to see.”
Question: “Why did Our Lady come that way? What did She mean?”
Answer: “She meant that we should wear the Scapular.”
Question: “How do you know that?”
Answer: “Father, I SAW the Blessed Mother and I know what She meant! If I had misinterpreted Her Message or had a different idea than She wanted me to have, Our Lady would have spoken about the Scapular.”
To make sure, I tried to phrase the same question in different ways.
Question: “I am going back to America. Everyone in America believes that there are four conditions of the Fatima Message. First of all, we are to say the Rosary every day. Secondly, we are to offer the sacrifice of daily life. Thirdly we are to make the Communion of reparation on the First Saturdays. And finally we are to consecrate ourselves to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.”
Answer: “There is one more condition – the wearing of the Scapular, the symbol of our consecration.””
On this beautiful feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, let us thank Her for the powerful and undeserved gift of the Brown Scapular. Clothed in Her mantle, this garment of grace, let us recommit ourselves to wearing it always, and to lead others to wear and love it. Fulfilling this request of the Blessed Virgin, we will hasten in a small way the Consecration of Russia, and the Triumph of Her Immaculate Heart.
Flower of Carmel,
Splendor of Heaven,
None like to Thee,
Mother of our King,
Peerless and fair.
To Thy children of Carmel,
Favors grant ever,
Star of the sea!