The word "scapular" means an apron or protective cloth worn by monks over the shoulders during manual work. Traditionally it has been part of the habit of nearly all monastic orders. In course of time a symbolic meaning was attached to it and, since it naturally suggested a cross or yoke, it quickly became identified with taking up one's cross each day and accepting the yoke of Christ. The scapular thus came to signify the following of Christ and became a sign of consecration and dedication to Him. In some Orders it also became a sign of their own particular charism or title. Thus, for example, among the Carmelites the scapular also represented the patronage and the protection of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, Queen and Patroness of the Order.

During the thirteenth century, with the spread of the Mendicant Orders, Franciscans, Dominicans, Carmelites and Augustinians, more and more people wished to be associated with one or other of these great religious families, either as lay members or as member of a Confraternity. It became customary to give such people some part of the religious habit as a token of this affiliation and participation in the apostolate of the Order. For the Camelite Order the brown scapular - reduced in size - very soon became the most important sign and outward expression of this affiliation.

The Brown Scapular A Way Of Life

For Carmelites, then, the brown scapular represents the following of Christ and the consecration of oneself to His service in a response modeled on the life and virtues of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It is an acknowledgment of Mary's universal motherhood and of the central role she plays in the continual unfolding of the saving mystery of Christ. It is a sign, too, of the spiritual bond that unites all who wear the brown scapular in her honor into the one great religious family of Carmel. It helps to keep before our minds the ideals, traditions and spirit of the Order and places before us the example and inspiration of the countless saintly men and women who have worn the Carmelite habit down through the ages: St. Simon Stock, St. Andrew Corsini, St Mary Magdalen de Pazzi, St Teresa of Jesus, St. John of the Cross. St. Therese of Lisieux. Under the patronage of our Blessed Lady of Mount Carmel, the scapular becomes a sign of an ever more generous commitment to the living of a full Christian life, encouraged by the tradition of the Carmelite Order and supported by the intercession of Mary herself and the example of her own life of faith and loving service.

Over the centuries certain spiritual benefits and privileges have been attributed to the wearing of the brown scapular. According to a tradition, Our Lady appeared to St. Simon Stock in Cambridge in 1251 and, showing him the brown scapular, promised that all who wore it during their life "would not suffer everlasting fire". Some years later another favor known as the Sabbatine privilege was also attributed to the scapular, namely that all who wore it would be delivered from purgatory on the first Saturday after their death.

Unfortunately, scapular devotion has all too often been presented as totally dependent on elements that were miraculous or extraordinary, claiming for the scapular an almost magical efficacy in itself. The scapular is not a talisman or a charm and there is no shortcut along the gospel path. Every Christian must work out his or her salvation "with fear and trembling", striving to serve God with a pure heart and a good conscience. Though salvation is ultimately God's gift through faith in Jesus Christ, it is a gift to which we ourselves must respond with faithfulness and perseverance. The frequent use of the Sacraments, especially the Eucharist, prayer, and apostolic service are the means by which this life of grace is nourished into the fullness  of Christian living. It is by this purity of heart and right intention of mind and soul that we make our journey to God, and no devotion can ever dispense with or bypass this fundamental Christian response.

The scapular is a sacramental, it leads us to the Sacraments and to an ever deeper participation in the life of the Church, if worn with faith and purity of intention.

Source: The Teresian Carmelites.