The Brown Scapular of Our Lady:
Its Origin and Promise
THE READER has probably come to a certain conclusion about the Scapular. He probably feels that the number of values in these two pieces of cloth bewilders him and that there must be an explanation for them deeper than the simple fact that the wearing of the Scapular is a true devotion to Mary. This conclusion is both logical and accurate. There is indeed more in the wearing of the cloth Scapular than the practice of a true devotion. Mary is there.
In presenting to us Her Scapular, Mary gave us Herself. In the Preface of a special Mass, the Church sings on the Scapular Feast: "Through the Holy Scapular She has taken to Herself sons of choice:" Per sacrum Scapulare filios dilectionis assumpsit. And a mother belongs to Her children. When she gives them birth she becomes their mother, when she becomes their mother she becomes their nurse and protector, and thus she belongs to them. Thus, too, in the very act of taking us under Her mantle to pledge our salvation we see Mary giving Herself, opening Her arms out for us.
The whole meaning of the Scapular derives from this, Mary's gift of Herself to us in the words of its promise. When She descends, surrounded by the pomp of Heaven, to say that whosoever dies under Her mantle shall be saved, does She not clearly mean that while She has brought us all forth to Divine Life in the pains of Her Son's Crucifixion She has come down mystically to retake us into Her womb that She may bring us forth at death to an eternal life?
The deep significance of being special children of Mary is something which every Marian book since the dawn of our Christian era would like to describe. But since all the books about Mary that have ever been written are professedly not adequate to express the value of having the Queen of Heaven for a nursing mother, of being united to Her by bonds that are stronger than death and as permanent as Her own promises, how could this book possibly set about to describe it? Should one insert Saint Alphonsus' Glories of Mary-----the library which its quotations indicate, together with the eleven large volumes of Jourdain's Somme des Grandeurs de Marie? No, for although the books on Mary are today so numerous that they form an actual literature, all of them are inadequate to discover Mary to us.
However, though an exposition of its excellence is beyond us, we can at least state the fact: Mary has made Herself a Mother to Her Scapular-children to such an extent that they cannot be lost. Once She appeared to Blessed Angela de Arena, clothed in the Carmelite Habit and surrounded by Saints who were particularly devoted to Her during life. There were no Carmelites there. "Dear Mother, where are your Carmelites?" exclaimed Blessed Angela. And Mary, quickly pulling back the edges of the white cloak which hung over Her breast, showed her a bunch of roses saying: "Here are my Carmelites." [Pulpito de la Virgen del Carmen, Vol. I, pg. 38.]
Hence, in the whole exposition of the Scapular Promise-----its origin, its meaning and historicity, its donor-----Mary-----in the Divine Plan, how it unites us to Mary, how it gives rise to "Her Sacrament", the Sabbatine Privilege, mystical prayer, union-----the reader beholds an exposition of Mary giving Herself to us by means of that Promise. Probably by now he is almost astounded at never having realized what a real Mother Our Lord gave us on Calvary or that there could be such greatness in a devotion to which he rarely gave a thought. He is probably totally unprepared for more. However, in an appendix to his Commentary on the Acts of the Apostles, Sylveira reminds us that "In the holy Scapular, the supreme Queen of Carmel administers to us a Heavenly Garment, gives us a Sign of Victory over our enemies, and leads us to the Blessed Eucharist!" These three aspects of the Scapular Devotion still remain to command our wonder.
A few years ago, two pilgrims conversing with Brother Andre, the miracle-man of Montreal, snipped off the tassels of his cincture and carried them away as prized treasures. We all prize relics, especially if they are those of currently popular Saints or ones to whom we have a special devotion. And it is probably in recognition of this devotion which we have to relics of those in the other world which impels the Mother of God to give Her children, as it were, a relic of Herself.
Authoritative writers and Saints speak of the Scapular as "Mary's garment." Now, they do not mean by this that it is Mary's garment solely because it is the sign of Her Promise. They mean that ordinary cloth, when assumed by us as the vehicle of Her Promise, can be said to be Her garb, because it has come to us from Her sacred hands and is hallowed by its intimate association with Her.
Objects that have been associated with Saints become sacred in that they seem to make a Saint more real to us and to give us a special claim to his intercession. We use them at prayer and touch them to the sick with assurance. Those relics which are the vehicles of most miracles and favors are the most desired and most cherished. Thus, the relics of the "Little Flower of Carmel" are today venerated throughout the whole Church and highly prized.
A relic given by the Queen of Heaven has naturally been the vehicle of more miracles than any other relic the world has ever possessed. It is a relic so unique that each and every one of Mary's children can possess it, and it has been hallowed by seven centuries of continuous wonders in every part of the world. Miracles similar to those worked by Our Lord in His public life, Our Lady has wrought in the Scapular. And besides such wonders-----the raising of the dead, the restoring of lost senses, delivering from demoniacal possession, etc.-----there are wonders proper to the Scapular itself, such as remaining intact after being flung into a raging fire or remaining incorrupt in the decay of tombs. In a work that drew forth high praise from the Sovereign Pontiff, M. D'Arville, an apostolic prothonotary, sketched some of the great Scapular miracles that were worked solely before large crowds of people and then exclaimed: "What a host of prodigies present themselves to my gaze! Not miracles attested by one or two persons, whose testimony might be held in doubt, but by many witnesses, by whole nations who cannot be suspected of having acted in concert to impose on the whole world . . . " And at the risk of poor form, we call upon the full pen-picture of the power in Mary's Garment as copied, from more ancient writers, in the rough and heavy lines of this Frenchman's vigorous style. In its achievement, the picture is classical.
"One beholds all Provence ravaged by a terrible pestilence," he begins, "and Marseilles, alone, putting its trust in the Scapular is saved. Then it consecrates the memory of that signal favor by a monument worthy of the greatness of Mary and the piety of its inhabitants.
"In Spain, the heavens are closed up, as in the days of Elias; there is a dearth as in the days of Joseph. Mary is appealed to, Her Habit is carried in procession. The sky, before of brass, melts into water, and the people find granaries more abundant than those of Egypt.
"At the siege of the island of Malta, in 1565, and at that of the city of Gueldres, in 1597, nations were seen armed against nations, breathing naught but blood and carnage. Mary is invoked, the Scapular is borne in procession. At sight of that new standard the people are disarmed, the torch of war is extinguished, and the charms of peace appear once more.
" All nature, all the elements, seem to respect the virtue of that Holy Habit. Maladies before unknown, defying the skill of the physicians, depopulate the cities and towns of the province of Anjou. The Scapular appears; the mortality ceases. The powers of the air have formed a frightful tempest, which threatens to devastate, far and wide, the plains of Savoy and Sardinia. By virtue of that celestial Habit, the unchained winds, the hail, the lightning and thunder are instantly dispelled. The sea dares to cross the boundaries that the finger of God has marked out for it. The Scapular is the dyke opposed to it. The pride of the waves is instantly broken, and they retire within their usual limits.
"But if from the miracles operated by virtue of the Holy Scapular; in favor of cities, provinces, and entire kingdoms, we pass to the marvels wrought in favor of individuals, it would require all the tongues that Saint Jerome wished to possess that he might celebrate the virtues of Mary. In truth, the earth, is but one vast stage upon which Heaven seems to delight in manifesting the power of this Habit of the Mother of God. Conflagrations extinguished! shipwrecks avoided! bullets flattened out! swords blunted! blind restored to sight! cripples and paralytics cured! dead brought back to life!"
When Elias ascended into Heaven, he let fall his mantle. Overflowing with gratitude, Saint Eliseus hastened to pick it up; it was a relic of his master, the founder of Mary's Carmel. And that action seems to have almost been prophetical of Mary, the true foundress of Carmel, who was to come later, when Her family needed Her, and let fall Her mantle of Salvation.
With Elias' cloak, Eliseus struck the waters of the Jordan and they divided to make way for him. Mary's mantle has been raised against every kind of obstruction from fire and storm to the attacks of dumb animals, from physical attacks to those of temptation, and all have melted before it.
From the time of the miraculously empowered mantle of Elias, several garments are famous in sacred history. Who does not know the story of St. Martin's mantle? Or of the garment made out of palm leaves by Saint Paul, the first hermit, which was inherited by the great Saint Anthony and worn during the days of Pasch and Pentecost? One might also recall the example of Saint Francis de Paul's mantle which served him as a bark for crossing the sea, of the veil of Saint Agatha which was so powerful in stopping fires, or of the miraculous tunic of Saint Nicholas of Tolentino. Indeed, there are but few illustrious Saints in the Church whose garments have not been the instruments of brilliant and numerous miracles. Now, could one compare any of these garments to the garment of Our Lady of Mount Carmel? "It is no wonder," says a writer in Jourdain's Summa, "that the Scapular has been the instrument of miracles a thousand times more numerous." [ R. P. Bayrhamer, Sommes des Grandeurs de Marie, t. V, pg. 422.]
In 1656 a noteworthy miracle occurred at St. Aulaye, in France, at the occasion of a mission there. It came to be recorded because the missionary fathers related it to the celebrated Father Lejeune. It was their testimony that at ten o'clock, one evening during the mission, a house was discovered to be in flames. Each moment added new fuel to the fury of the flames. A missionary recalled that a similar fire that had raged at Periqueux, about twenty years before, was subdued when the Scapular was tossed into it, and he resolved to invoke the aid of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. Quickly, he called a boy whose faith and piety could not fail to be pleasing to the Queen of Heaven, and said: "Take your Scapular, cast it into the fire, and we will see that the fire will be extinguished through Our Lady's power as evinced by Her Garment." The young man felt so secure of the missioner's word that he immediately dashed off and, rushing through the crowd which parted to make way for him, he shouted lustily: "Pray to the Blessed Virgin! I am going to put out the fire!" Running near the soaring conflagration, he tossed his little scapular into it. At that instant, the whole crowd saw the fire rise like a whirlwind in an immense brazier, then slowly, slowly fall, to finally die away. The next day the Scapular was found in the debris perfectly intact and uninjured, though the pungent odor of smoke remained upon it. [Carm. Refl., II, 190. N. B. : This type of miracle is not uncommon. It was duplicated at Ballon, in 1789, and was then formally documented at /the chancery , signed and sealed by the Bishop himself. See R. P. Brocard: Instructions sur le Scapulaire, pg. 262; Savaria: Le Scapulaire, pg. 185.]
In Holland, Our Lady's garb was used to halt a flood. In the sight of the whole town of Roveredo, in 1647, the Prior of the Carmelite Convent cast a Scapular on the surging waters that had already destroyed the cattle and tolled several lives, and at the touch of Mary's Habit, the water receded. [Rev. Dom Joseph A. Keller, D.D., Maria Sanctissima, (London, 1930), ch. II.]
One of the most remarkable incidents to bring out the miraculous quality of the Scapular, not as a condition for gaining a Promise but merely as Our Lady's Habit, is the calming of a raging sea by the almost unseen action of a cabin-boy who tossed his Scapular into the seething waters. It was publicized in 1902 in an American Review and the author of the account had gone to great pains to verify it. [Carm. Refl., Vol. V, pg. 338. The author actually inter viewed Mr. James Fisher, two hundred miles from Sydney.]
In the year 1845, the King of the Ocean left the London docks with a full complement of passengers for the far-off land of South Australia. Amongst the passengers was a devout English Protestant clergyman, the Reverend James Fisher, and his wife and their two children, James and Amelia, aged respectively about nine and seven.
The weather was good until the ship arrived some five hundred miles west of Cape Agulhas, where the trade winds generally keep revel with the fierce undercurrents in that part of the Indian Ocean. The sun had scarcely sunk beneath the western waters when a wild tornado swept the ocean from the northwest. The waves were lashed into fury, the sails torn, and all the wooden structures on deck were only as reeds before the angry winds and waves on that memorable night. The passengers were sent below; the captain and crew, who had lashed themselves to the deck rigging, were unable to act. Moans of despair and cries for mercy, mingled with prayers, were heard alike from passengers and crew. Wave on wave washed over the apparently doomed boat, and nothing, short of the intervention of Divine Providence, could save her from a watery grave.
The Reverend Mr. Fisher, with his family and others, struggled to deck and asked all to join in prayer for mercy and forgiveness, as their doom seemed inevitable; but the prayers and cries for help seemed only to be mocked by the hissing and moaliing of the infuriated elements.
Among the crew was a young Irish sailor, a native of County Louth, named John McAuliffe, who opened his vest and took from his neck a pair of Scapulars. He waved them in the form of a cross and then threw them into the ocean.
Soon the waters abated their fury. The howling tempest calmed, as it were to a zephyr, but a wavelet washed over the side of the boat and cast near the sailor boy, the Scapulars he had thrown into the seething foam some minutes before!
All was now calm. Captain and sailors set about re-rigging their boat and steered her safely into Botany harbor. The only ones who happened to notice the sailor boy's action, and the return of the Scapular to the drenched deck, were the Fishers. They now approached the boy with deep reverence, and begged him to let them know what those simple pieces of brown braid and cloth, marked B. V. M., might signify. When told, they then and there promised to join the Faith which has for its protectress and powerful advocate the Virgin of Carmel. When they landed at Sydney, they repaired to the little wooden chapel of St. Mary, on the site of which now stands a magnificent church, and were duly received into the Church by the then Father Paulding, afterwards Archbishop.
A friend of the present author, in Vienna, is contemplating the publication of some thousand Scapular miracles; the author himself has gathered a variety great enough to produce a book: "Mary in Her Scapular Miracles." Hence, this short chapter cannot essay to do more than give the reader an indication, a general awareness of the Scapular as a sort of Marian "relic."
However, we cannot refrain from citing a final example which is so pointedly indicative of Mary's Scapular as a "Heavenly Garment". Saint John don Bosco was buried in the Scapular in 1888 and in 1929 the Scapular was found under the rotted garments and remains of that great apostle and incomparable educator of youth, in perfect preservation. [Monte Carmelo, XXI, Fasc. vii, pg. 147.]
"No devotion has been confirmed with so many authentic miracles as the Scapular," says Blessed Claude de la Colombiere. One need not consider himself unfortunate if he cannot go to Lourdes for its waters, nor to La Salette and other distant shrines for their Heavenly power and favors. Mary has given us a relic of Herself that is more powerful than all these, now hallowed by seven centuries of wonders in every comer of the earth. It is a tiny garment we can all wear, from God's Mother.
As Saint Basil of Seleucia remarks: if God granted to some who were only His servants such power that their shadows healed the sick, placed in the public streets for this very purpose, how much greater must be the power that He has granted to Her who was not only His handmaid but His Mother."
"For us who wear the Scapular, of what noble personage is it the livery! It is the livery of Mary, the Queen of the Universe, the Sovereign of more than the World. What an honor to belong to the Scapular Confraternity! It is so great an honor that we should be able to wear this Heavenly Sign openly, on our breasts, and not only under our garments. The Scapular is honored in the other life also, where the goods and glory of this world are nothing."
-------R. P. MESCHLER, S. J.
St. Teresa of Avila spoke to Our Lord of the Blessed Virgin as: ". .. Thy most holy Mother, whose merits we share and whose Habit we wear, unworthy though we be by reason of our sins."
"I will lead you into my Family of Carmel where
you will wear MY HABIT."
-----Our Lady to Blessed Anne of St. Bartholomew.