The Scapular of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel

This is a legacy post from the old website I didn’t want to lose, published July 16th, 2012.

Today is a very special day for me. It seems my entire life as a Catholic has revolved around our Lady under the title of Mt Carmel.  I was born on the feast day of St John of the Cross, and my patron saint is St Therese of Lisieux. I even began formation as a Secular Carmelite for a few years before I decided that road was not mine to travel. Truly, I deeply love Our Lady of Mt Carmel.

So today on her feast day, as I was preparing a reflection, I could not help but feel sad when I remember how few Catholics wear her scapular, sad to think of the many who do not even know of this powerful prayer. Rather than go through the trouble of explaining what the scapular is, if you are not familiar with it, I suggest you look here to find out all you need to know.

Now wearing the scapular is not really supposed to be just an act we perform, neither is it a mere devotion. While there are also promises of our Lady attached to the scapular, it is not a “get out of hell free” card either. The scapular, above all, is a prayer.

This can often be hard to understand at first. How can just wearing a couple of silly little pieces of cloth be a prayer? I mean, we are used to thinking of prayer as a conversation, often one-sided, between us and God. We think of prayer as our endless rattling off words and requests. This is not untrue, but this form of prayer is just one kind of prayer, the prayer of our active mind. Just as we are more than a collection of thoughts though, so should our prayer be.

A great example of this is the Sign of the Cross that we make as we begin every prayer in our daily lives. This is a prayer of the body, a prayer of identification with the Holy Trinity, and even though it’s words are few, its meaning is very deep and profound. When we make the Sign of the Cross, we are professing symbolically our very identity, marking ourselves as Christians, taking the cross of our Lord upon ourselves, and submitting ourselves to His rule in the Kingdom of God. Yes it is short, but its meaning transcends its mere words and gestures.

In a similar way, wearing the scapular is like wrapping yourself in Mary’s garments. It is accepting that you are a child, and not just any child, but HER child. It is physically taking a submissive role to our mother, and physically feeling her protective mantle around you. So it is less a prayer of words, and more a prayer of emotion, a prayer of solidarity.

As I go about my day, my scapular often gets in my way. I can feel it riding up towards my neck, or it will get twisted around. As I fix it, I remember that it is there, and that she is there, watching over me. When I take it off to hop in the shower, I again feel myself tugging at her skirts like a needy two-year old as I put it back on, and know that she is my Lady. These little actions, these little heartfelt remembrances call me home, and remind me of who I am. Not every prayer has to be wordy you see.

As a warning, beware of superstition. While the scapular is a wonderful devotion, I have noticed some people get very serious about never taking it off, almost as it were a magical talisman. It is not. For example, I take it off every night before I get in bed with a kiss, and kiss it again as a devotion to Mary every morning when I put it on. Carmelites do not sleep in their scapulars, so you should not feel obligated to either. Remember it is devotion to our Blessed Mother, not devotion to fabric!

If you wear the brown scapular of Carmel, wear it a little prouder today. Take the time to remember what it means in your life. If you don’t wear it, learn more about it, and see if this devotion is one for you. After all, one can never have enough connection to our Blessed Mother.

Also, today, say a special prayer for those who spend their lives praying for us, most especially that most blessed order of Carmelites.

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