July 17, 2011
Due to an error in the bulletin last week, part of Fr. De Celles’ letter was inadvertently omitted. The following is his complete letter from July 17th.
Yesterday, Saturday July 16, was the feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, memorializing the apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary to St. Simon Stock, a Carmelite priest, and her gift to him of the “Brown Scapular” on July 16, 1251.
The origins of the Carmelites (The Order of Our Lady of Mount Carmel), are somewhat uncertain, but it seems the order originated when certain devout souls came together after the third crusade in the late 12th century in the Holy Land to live as hermits near Mount Carmel, where the Old Testament Prophet Elijah had defeated the priests of Baal with signs of the great power of the God of Israel (1 Kings 18). There they built a chapel dedicated to “Blessed Mary of Mount Carmel,” indicating their dedication to the Mother of Our Lord. After the Holy Land was reconquered by the Muslim armies in the early 13th century most of the friars returned to their homelands in Europe, where they established new Carmelite monasteries.
St. Simon Stock entered the order as it first took root in his native England, and was eventually elected to head the order in 1247, at the age of 82. During a time of great tribulation in the order St. Simon appealed to Our Lady, and she in turn appeared to him with words of consolation and hope. At that time she also gave to him the Brown Scapular, a long piece of fabric, as wide as the shoulders, worn down the front and back (reaching down to the feet) with a hole in the center where the head passes through. In giving him the Scapular Our Lady said: “Take, beloved son, this Scapular of your order as a badge of my confraternity and for you and all Carmelites a special sign of grace; whoever dies in this garment, will not suffer everlasting fire. It is the sign of salvation, a safeguard in dangers, a pledge of peace and of the covenant”. The Carmelites immediately began to wear this Scapular as part of their regular habit, and it seems that very soon afterward many non-Carmelites, both lay and cleric, also began to wear it, usually in a smaller form of a two small pieces of cloth held together by two strings, worn around the neck, hanging down in front and back. This practice continues to this day.
It should be noted, however, that the promise of Our Lady was to “all Carmelites,” so, from the beginning of this devotion, or “sacramental,” in order to participate in her promises it has been necessary for the wearer of the Scapular to, in some way, be officially associated with the Carmelite order. With this in mind the Carmelites established the “Confraternity of the Blessed Virgin of Mount Carmel,” which any Catholic may be enrolled in through a short ceremony and blessing conducted by a priest.
It must be understood that the Scapular is in no way a “a good luck charm.” Rather, as Pope Pius XII wrote on the 700th anniversary of the Scapular, it “is a sign and a pledge of the protection of the Mother of God.” Moreover, it should be a sign of the wearer‟s true devotion to her. As Bd. John Paul II wrote on the 750th anniversary, the Scapular is a sign that evokes “the awareness that devotion to her cannot be limited to prayers and tributes in her honour 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. In this way the Scapular becomes a sign of the „covenant‟ and reciprocal communion between Mary and the faithful…”
Nor is the promise of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel without conditions—it is not a “get-out-of- hell-free card.” As Pope Pius XII tells us, a person wearing the Scapular may not “think that they can gain eternal salvation while remaining sinful and negligent of spirit, for the Apostle warns us: ‘In fear and trembling shall you work out your salvation.'” One may not presume to live a sinful life while having confidence that the Scapular will miraculously erase all sins on one‟s death bed. Rather, the Scapular is more a pledge of the Blessed Mother‟s intercession on our behalf, at the moment of death, to obtain for us from her Son the grace that is necessary to repent of any mortal sins. Even so, grace is not magic, and it is not forced on us: it is a gift and so we must accept it. The soul that lives a life of sin is less disposed to accept that gift, and the soul immersed in years of mortal sins is strongly disposed to reject that gift. So that in some cases the wearing of the Scapular can become a mockery of Our Lady, a contradiction of it‟s true meaning and gain the wearer no benefit whatsoever.
We should also remember that the apparition of Our Lady to St. Simon Stock is private revelation, and therefore is a not a matter of faith, and may be understood only in the light of the teaching of the Church. Even so, the wearing of the Scapular, as well as confidence in her promises (rightly understood in the light of Church teaching) has been strongly promoted by scores of popes.
Finally, some will say that Scapulars went out with Vatican II. Not so; for example in 1965, as that Council was coming to an end, Pope Paul VI wrote: “Let the faithful hold in high esteem the practices and devotions to the Blessed Virgin approved by the teaching authority of the Church. It is Our conviction that the Rosary of Mary and the Scapular of Carmel are among these recommended practices. The Scapular is a practice of piety, which by its very simplicity is suited to everyone.”
Enrollment and Investiture with the Brown Scapular next weekend. Acknowledging the importance of this devotion, I invite anyone who wishes to place themselves under the protection of Our Lady of Mount Carmel to be enrolled in Confraternity of the Blessed Virgin of Mount Carmel and invested with the Brown Scapular at short ceremonies I will conduct next weekend after the 9am Mass on Saturday, July 23, and after both the 8:45 and 10:30 Mass on Sunday, July 24. There is no sign up, and no specific preparation required. You may bring your own Scapular or receive one provided by the parish.
Oremus pro invicem, ad Jesum per Mariam. Fr. De Celles