Sacramentals are holy things or actions of which the Church makes use to obtain for us from God, through her intercession, spiritual and temporal favors. Unlike sacraments which actually deliver grace, sacramentals prepare us to receive grace.
The chief kinds of sacramentals are: first, blessings given by priests and bishops; second, exorcisms against evil spirits; third, blessed objects of devotion.
The blessed objects of devotion most used by Catholics are: holy water, candles, ashes, palms, crucifixes, medals, rosaries, scapulars, and images of Our Lord, the Blessed Virgin, and the saints.
We will talk now about one of the most extraordinary sacramentals — yet little known by so many Catholics — the Brown Scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel.
A scapular is a shoulder width outer garment. It is worn over the shoulders front and back as part of a religious habit. When laypersons wished to share in the spiritual works of the Order, a much smaller sized scapular was made with two small pieces of cloth that are joined by straps or string so the scapulars could be worn over the shoulders under their clothes.
The Brown Scapular of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel was a garment given by Our Lady herself to St. Simon Stock, General of the Carmelite Order, at Aylesford in Kent, England, on July 16, 1251, with this promise: "Whosoever dies wearing this Scapular shall not suffer eternal fire. It shall be a sign of peace and a safeguard in times of danger."
The privilege was later extended to lay persons who were duly installed by a priest into the confraternity of Mt. Carmel. This promise is called the Sabbatine Privilege because in it the Blessed Virgin is said to have promised that She would free any Carmelite or Confraternity member from Purgatory on the first Saturday after death.
In his bull "Sacratissimo uti culmine", dated March 3, 1322, Pope John XXII claims that the Blessed Virgin appeared to him on behalf of the Carmelites and their associates, asking that he, as Vicar of Christ on earth, should ratify the indulgences which Christ had already granted in Heaven. Our Lady informed the Pope that She Herself would graciously descend into Purgatory on the Saturday after their death and bring to Heaven all Confraternity members She would find there.
The conditions for the Sabbatine Privilege are: 1. Wear the Brown Scapular faithfully; 2. Observe chastity according to one's state; 3. Say five decades of the Rosary daily, when substitution of the daily Rosary has been granted in place of the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
The Scapular of Mount Carmel consists essentially of two quadrilateral panels of woolen cloth (about two and three-quarter inches long by two inches wide), connected with each other by two strings or bands in such a manner that, when the bands rest on the shoulders, the front segment rests before the breast, while the other hangs down an equal distance at the back.
In the last apparition at Fatima during the Miracle of the Sun on October 13, 1917, Mary appeared as Our Lady of Mt. Carmel and held out the Brown Scapular. Lucia, the eldest of the three children interpreted it as Our Lady's desire that we wear the Brown Scapular. Later on, Lucia was to state that the Rosary and the Scapular are inseparable.
People are enrolled in the Scapular by a priest only once. Worn Scapulars are simply replaced. The Scapular requires us to live as authentic Christians in line with the teaching of the Gospel, to receive the sacraments, to profess our special devotion to the Blessed Virgin, which should be expressed each day through penance, prayer and chastity in accordance with one's state in life.
Two great founders of the Religious Orders, St. Alphonsus, of the Redemptorists and St. John Bosco of the Salesians, had a very special devotion to Our Lady of Mount Carmel and both wore Her Brown Scapular. When they died, each was buried in priestly vestments and Scapular. Many years later their graves were opened, the bodies and sacred vestments in which they were buried were decayed-dust! But the Brown Scapular which each was wearing was intact. The Scapular of St. Alphonsus is on exhibit in his Monastery in Rome.
Here are some of the reported miracles due to the Scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel:
You will understand why the devil works against those who promote the Scapular when you hear the story of Venerable Francis Ypes.
One day his Scapular fell off. As he replaced it, the devil howled, "Take off the habit which snatches so many souls from us!" Then and there Francis made the devil admit that there are three things which the demons are most afraid of: the Holy Name of Jesus; the Holy Name of Mary and the Holy Scapular of Carmel. To that list we could add the Holy Rosary.
The Great St. Peter Claver was another of God's heroes who used the Scapular to good advantage. Every month a shipment of 1000 slaves would arrive at Cartegena, Colombia, South America. St. Peter used to insure the salvation of his converts. First, he organized catechists to give them instructions. Then, he saw to it that they were baptized and clothed with the Scapular. Some ecclesiastics accused the saint of indiscreet zeal, but St. Peter was confident that Mary would watch over each of his more than 300,000 converts!
On day in 1944, a Carmelite missionary in the Holy Land was called to an internment camp in order to give the Last Rites. The Arab driver made the priest get off the bus four miles from the camp because the road was dangerously muddy. After two miles, the missionary found his feet sinking deeper and deeper into the mire. Trying to get solid footing he slipped into a muddy pool. Sinking to his death this desolate place, he thought of Our Lady and Her Scapular.
He kissed his great Scapular — for he was wearing the full habit — and looked toward the holy mountain of Carmel, the birthplace of devotion to God's Mother. He cried out, "Holy Mother of Carmel! Help me! save me!" A moment later, he found himself on solid ground. Later he said, "I know I was saved by the Blessed Virgin through Her Brown Scapular. My shoes were lost in the mud, and I was covered with it, but I walked the remaining two miles praising Mary."
Another Scapular story that bears repeating took place in 1845. In the late summer of that year, the English ship, "King of the Ocean" found itself in the middle of a wild hurricane. As wind and sea mercilessly lashed the ship, a Protestant minister, together with his wife and children and other passengers, struggled to the deck to pray for forgiveness and mercy, as the end seemed at hand. Among the crew was a young Irishman, John McAuliffe. On seeing the urgency of the situation, the youth opened his shirt took off his Scapular, and, making the sign of the Cross with it over the raging waves tossed it into the ocean.
At that very moment, the wind calmed. Only one more wave washed the deck, bringing with it the Scapular which came to rest at the boy's feet. All the while the minister, a Mr. Fisher, had been carefully observing McAuliffe's actions and the miraculous effect of those actions. Upon questioning the young man, he was told about the Holy Virgin and Her Scapular.
Nearer our own times, in May of 1957, a Carmelite priest in Germany published the unusual story of how the Scapular saved a home from fire. An entire row of homes had caught fire in Westboden, Germany. The pious inhabitants of a 2-family home, seeing the fire, immediately fastened a Scapular to the main door of the house. Sparks flew over it and around it, but the house remained unharmed. Within five hours, 22 homes had been reduced to ashes. The one structure which had the Scapular attached to its door. The hundreds of people who came to see the place Our Lady had saved are eye-witnesses to the power of the Scapular and the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
One of the most extraordinary of all Scapular incidents took place in the United States. It happened around the turn of the century in the town of Ashtabula, Ohio, that a man was cut in two by a train; he was wearing the Scapular. Instead of dying instantly, as would be expected he remained alive and conscious for 45 minutes — just enough time until a priest could arrive to administer the Last Sacraments. These, and other such incidents, tell us that Our Blessed Mother will take personal care of us in the hour of our death. So great and powerful a Mother is Mary that She will never fail to keep the Scapular contract, i.e. to see that we die in God's grace.
Still another Scapular miracle concerns a French priest who had gone on pilgrimage. On the way to say Mass, he remembered that he had forgotten his Scapular. He knew he would be late if he went back to retrieve it, but he could not envision offering Mass at Our Lady's altar without Her Scapular. Later, as he was offering the Holy Sacrifice, a young man approached the altar, pulled out a gun, and shot the priest in the priest in the back. To the amazement of all, the priest continued to say the prayers of the Mass as though nothing had occurred. It was at first presumed that the bullet had miraculously missed its target. However, upon examination, the bullet was found adhering to the little Brown Scapular which the priest had so obstinately refused to be without.
We should even give the Scapular to non-Catholics for Our Lady will bring conversions to those who will wear it and say one Hail Mary each day, as the following true story will show. An old man was rushed to the St. Simon Stock Hospital in New York City, unconscious and dying. The nurse, seeing the Brown Scapular on the patient, called a priest. As the prayers were being said for the dying man, he became conscious and spoke up: "Father, I am not a Catholic."
"Then why are you wearing the Brown Scapular?" asked the priest. "I promised my friends to wear it," the patient explained, "and also to say one Hail Mary a day." "You are dying," the priest told him. "Do you want to become a Catholic?" "All my life I wanted to be one," the dying man replied. He was baptized, received the Last Rites, and died in peace. Our Lady took another soul under her Mantle through the Scapular.
During the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s, Seven Communists were sentenced to death because of their crimes. A Carmelite priest tried to prepare the men for death; they refused. As a last resort, he brought the men cigarettes food and wine, assuring them that he would not talk religion, in a short while they were all friendly, so he asked them for one small favor: "Will you permit me to place a Scapular on each of you?" Six agreed, one refused. Soon all Scapular wearers went to confession. The seventh continues to refuse — only to please them he put on the Scapular, he would do nothing more.
Morning came, and as the time of the execution came near, the seventh man made it clear that he was not going to ask for a priest. Although wearing the Scapular he was determined to go to his death an enemy of God. Finally, the command was given, the firing squad did its deadly work, and seven lifeless bodies lay sprawled in the dust. Mysteriously a Scapular was found approximately 50 paces from the bodies. Six men died with Mary's Scapular; the seventh died without the Scapular.
A Jesuit missionary in Guatemala tells an incident of Our Lady's Scapular protection. In November of 1955 a plane carrying 27 passengers crashed. All died except one young lady. When this girl saw that the plane was going down, she took hold of her Scapular, and called on Mary for help. She suffered burns, her clothing was reduced to ashes, but her Scapular was not touched by the flames.
In the same year of 1955, a similar miracle occurred in the Midwest. A third-grader stopped in a gasoline station to put air in his bicycle tires, and at that moment an explosion occurred. The boy's clothing was burned off, but his Brown Scapular remained unaffected: a symbol of Mary's protection. Today, although he still bears a few scars from the explosion, this young man has special reason to remember the Blessed Mother's protection in time of danger.