It behooveth thee to grant a favor and confirmation to my holy and devout Order of Carmel
For centuries the faithful who held a pious devotion to the Brown Scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel believed in an apparition of the Blessed Virgin to Pope John XXII in Avignon. Based on that supposed apparition, the sovereign pontiff issued a Papal Bull, Sacratissimo uti culmine, dated 3 March 1322 from Avignon; it is in the text of the Bull that the pope mentions the apparition. The historical difficulty with this document lies in the fact that the Bull is mentioned nowhere prior to 1752, according to Joseph Hilgers.
A modern-day spiritual descendant of St. Simon Stock, former Carmelite prior general Father Joseph Chalmers, O.Carm. writes, “In any case, the symbolism of the scapular as a sign of consecration to Mary, the Mother of Carmel, was and remains very important.” Citing the Carmelite friar, Mathias of St. John, Father Chalmers adds one important qualifier: “It would be far better to have holiness under a worldly habit than a worldly heart under a holy habit.” He concludes, “wearing the scapular is intended to be an outward reminder of what should be going on within.”
“It would be far better to have holiness under a worldly habit than a worldly heart under a holy habit. Wearing the scapular is intended to be an outward reminder of what should be going on within.”Tweet
Discalced Carmelite scholar Father Kieran Kavanaugh, O.C.D. discusses the historical problems head-on in his article, Brown Scapular: a Silent Devotion. He reviews the scapular as the habit of the Carmelites from their humble beginnings in the Holy Land to their spread throughout western Europe. In particular, Father Kieran describes the painstaking research undertaken by the Discalced Carmelites in defense of Carmelite Marian devotion following the Second Vatican Council, and how their careful documentation led to the restoration of the feast day of Saint Simon Stock to the Church’s liturgical calendar in 1979 (God reward you, Father Nilo).
But more important, Father Kieran explains with great precision where the Church stands today in regard to the Brown Scapular devotion: “No mention is made of the vision of St. Simon Stock or of that of Pope John XXII in relation to the Sabbatine privilege, which promises that one will be released from Purgatory on the first Saturday after death.”
Nonetheless, the Carmelites have also been authorized to freely preach to the faithful that they can piously believe in the powerful intercession, merits, and suffrages of the Blessed Virgin, that she will help them even after their death, especially on Saturday, which is the day of the week particularly dedicated to Mary, if they have died in the grace of God and devoutly worn the scapular. But no mention is made of the “first” Saturday after their death.Kieran Kavanaugh, O.C.D.
Brown Scapular: A Silent Devotion
One particular reflection that this great Discalced Carmelite scholar offers is rather consoling:
If some day an historian were to prove beyond any reasonable doubt that there are no grounds to the Marian apparition to St. Simon Stock or the scapular promise, the scapular devotion would still maintain its value. The Church’s esteem of it as a sacramental, her appreciation of its meaning and of the good that has come about through its pious use on the part of the faithful is all that is needed.Kieran Kavanaugh, O.C.D.
Brown Scapular: A Silent Devotion
Perhaps Saint John Paul II summarized the Church’s teaching and the Carmelite scapular catechesis best in his 2001 Message to the Carmelite Family. The saint wrote, “the scapular is essentially a habit.”
“The scapular is essentially a habit” (St. John Paul II).Tweet
For our readers who are history buffs, we have researched the Bull Sacratissimo uti culmine and found the text in Satolli’s Dictionnaire de Droit Canonique, which we present to you sans scrupule. An English translation is found here.
SACRATISSIMO UTI CULMINE
JOANNES EPISCOPUS SERVUS SERVORUM DEI,
Universis et singulis Christifidelibus, tam praesentibus quam futuris, praesentes literas inspecturis, salutem et apostolicam benedictionem.
Sacratissimo uti culmine Paradisi angelorum tam suavis et dulcis reperitur melodia, modulamine visionis, dum paterno Jesus Numini circumspicitur adumatus, dicendo: Domine, Ego et Pater unum sumus, et qui videt me, videt et Patrem meum, et angelorum chorus non desinit dicere: Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus; ita Synodus non cessat laudes effundere celsæ Virgini, dicendo Virgo, Virgo, Virgo, sis speculum nostrum pariter et exemplum. Quoniam munere munitur gratiarum, sicut sancta cantat Ecclesia: Gratia plena et Mater misericordiae. Sic ille mons reputatur de Carmelo Ordine cantibus extollendo, et hanc gratiarum Genitricem commendando et dicendo: Salve Regina, Mater misericordiæ et spes nostra.
Sic mihi flexis genibus supplicanti Virgo visa fuit Carmelita, sequentem effata sermonem: 0 Joannes, o Joannes, vicarie mei dilecti Filii, veluti a tuo te eripiam adversario, te Papam facio solemni dono Vicarium, meis coadjuvantibus supplicationibus, a dulcissimo meo Filio petens, quod gratiose obtinui, ita gratiam et amplam meo sancto ac devoto Carmelitarum Ordini confirmationem debeas praeconcedere, per Eliam et Eliseum in Monte Carmeli inchoato. Quod unusquisque professionem faciens, Regulam a meo servo Alberto, patriarcha, ordinatam observabit et inviolatam obtinebit, et per meum dilectum filium Innocentium approbatam, ut veri mei Filii Vicarius debeas in terris assentire, quod in cœlis meus statuit et ordinavit Filius; quod qui in sancta perseverabit obedientia, paupertate et castitate, vel qui sanctum intrabit Ordinem, salvabitur; et si alii, devotionis causa, in sanctam ingrediantur Religionem, sancti Habitus signum ferentes, appellantes se Confratres et Consorores mei Ordinis prænominati, liberentur et absolvantur a tertia eorum peccatorum portione, a die quo præfatum Ordinem intrabunt, castitatem, si vidua est, promittendo; virginitatis, si est virgo, fidem præstando; si est conjugata, inviolati conservationem matrimonii adhibendo, ut sancta mater imperat Ecclesia. Fratres proféssi dicti Ordinis supplicio solvantur et culpa, et die quo ab isto se culo recedunt, properato gradu accelerant purgatorium, ego Mater gratiose descendam sabbato post eorum obitum, et quot inveniam in purgatorio liberabo, et eos in Montem sanctum vitæ æternæ reducam. Verum quod ipsi Confratres et Consorores te neantur Horas dicere Canonicales, ut opus fuerit, secundum Regulam datam ab Alberto; illi, qui ignari sunt, debeant vitam jejunam ducere diebus quos sacra jubet Ecclesia, nisi, necessitatis causa, alicui essent traditi impedimento; mercurio ac sabbato debeant se a carnibus abstinere, præterquam in mei Filii Nativitate. Et hoc dicto, evanuit ista sancta visio.
“So let the professed members of the said Order be freed from punishment and from guilt on what day they go from this world; so that with hastened step they shall pass over Purgatory, I, the Mother of Grace, shall descend into Purgatory on the Saturday after their death…”Tweet
Istam ergo sanctam Indulgentiam accepto, roboro et in terris confirmo, sicut, propter merita Virginis Matris, gratiose Jesus-Christus concessit in coelis. Nulli ergo omnino hominum liceat hanc paginam nostræ Indulgentiæ, seu statuti, et ordinationis irritare, vel ei ausu temerario contraire. Si quis autem hoc attentare præsumpserit, indignationem Omnipotentis Dei, et Beatorum apostolorum Petri et Pauli se noverit incursurum.
Datum Avenione, tertia die Martii, Pontificatus nostri anno sexto