What is a Scapular?

– Answered by Father Johann Roten, S.M.

Q: What is a scapular?

A: A scapular is part of a monk's or nun's habit: a strip of fabric protecting back and front of their habit. A hole is inserted in the middle so that it could hang over the shoulders. It got its name precisely from the Latin scapula, meaning 'shoulder.' It came to symbolize the gentle yoke of Christ. Third Order members (fifteenth century) were required to wear the scapular. Since they were lay people living in the world and did not wear a habit, the scapular was reduced in size, and eventually miniaturized (sixteenth century). It is made up of two small double squares of cloth (sometimes only one) of two-three inches square, suspended from the shoulders by two strings. It is usually the same color as the habit of the congregation the Third Order members (lay people affiliated to religious orders) belong to. The scapular has the image of Our Lady or a symbol or aspect of the particular devotion it recalls. Scapulars are sacramentals giving the wearer God's protection through the intercession--in the name and merits of Christ--of the church and its Saints. Presently there are approximately twenty scapulars, among them eight Marian. Here is the list of the Marian scapulars. Most of them have their origin in a vision.

1) Scapular of the Hearts of Jesus and Mary (white color)

2) Scapular of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (white)

3) Scapular of Our Lady of Good Counsel (white)

4) Scapular of Our Lady of Ransom (white)

5) Scapular of the Immaculate Conception (blue)

6) Scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel (brown)

7) Scapular of Our Lady of Sorrows (black)

8) The Green Scapular (single square and single string based on the appearances of Our Lady to Sister Justine Bisquey-buru of the Daughters of Charity.

St. John Paul II on March 25, 2001 issued a Message to the Carmelite Family for the 750th anniversary of the appearance of Our Lady of Mount Carmel to St. Simon Stock and the bestowal of the Scapular. In this message, he says:

"The sign of the Scapular points to an effective synthesis of Marian spirituality, which nourishes the devotion of believers and makes them sensitive to the Virgin Mother's loving presence in their lives ... Therefore two truths are evoked by the sign of the Scapular: on the one hand, the constant protection of the Blessed Virgin, not only on one's life's journey, but also at the moment of passing into the fullness of eternal life; on the other, the awareness that devotion to her cannot be limited to prayers and tributes in her honor on certain occasions, but must become a 'habit,' that is, a permanent orientation of one's own Christian conduct, woven of prayer and interior life, through frequent reception of the sacraments and the concrete practice of the spiritual and corporal works of mercy ... I have worn the Scapular over my heart for a long time! Out of love for our common heavenly Mother, whose protection I constantly experience."

Image shown: woodcut, Our Lady of Carmel, from a Spanish pamphlet published in 1758 by Jaime Esteva under the title Jesus, Maria, Joseph: El mistico tri-estrellado Monte del Carmelo. Imprenta de San Juan de Bezares, Barcelona. Artist unknown.

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