The following catechesis was prepared in the year 2000 under the direction of the North American prior provincials of the Carmelite Order and the Order of Discalced Carmelites as the Carmelite Family prepared to celebrate the 750th anniversary of the Brown Scapular. The draft was prepared by Father Sam Anthony Morello, O.C.D. and Father Patrick McMahon, O.Carm. and was then submitted to the Archdiocesan authorities in Washington, D.C. for the imprimatur of the then archbishop, Cardinal James Hickey. After several minor modifications, the Imprimatur was granted. The following is the revised and approved text. It was published as part of The Scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel: Catechesis and Ritual. We share the preamble; the full text may be found here and here. The publication of the text for the 750th anniversary follows the 5 December 1994 decision in a joint meeting of the Discalced Carmelite General Definitory and the General Council of the Ancient Observance to prepare a new scapular catechesis that would become a common text for both orders. Today marks the 25th anniversary of that decision, which was significant in the life of the Carmelite family.
The Brown Scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel is best understood in the context of our Catholic faith. It offers us a rich spiritual tradition that honors Mary as the first and foremost of her Son’s disciples. This scapular is an outward sign of the protection of the Blessed Virgin Mary, our sister, mother, and queen. It offers an effective symbol of Mary’s protection to the Order of Carmel its members, associates, and affiliates as they strive to fulfill their vocation as defined by the Carmelite Rule of Saint Albert: “to live in allegiance to Jesus Christ.”
While Christ alone has redeemed us, the Blessed Virgin Mary has always been seen by Catholics as a loving mother and protector. The Blessed Virgin has shown her patronage over the Order of Carmel from its earliest days. This patronage and protection came to be symbolized in the scapular, the essential part of the Carmelite habit.
Stories and legends abound in Carmelite tradition about the many ways in which the Mother of God has interceded for the Order, especially in critical moments of its history. Most enduring and popular of these traditions, blessed by the Church, concerns Mary’s promise to an early Carmelite, Saint Simon Stock, that anyone who remains faithful to the Carmelite vocation until death will be granted the grace of final perseverance. The Carmelite Order has been anxious to share this patronage and protection with those who are devoted to the Mother of God and so has extended both its habit (the scapular) and affiliation to the larger Church.
Private revelation can neither add to nor detract from the Church’s deposit of faith. Therefore, the Brown Scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel echoes the promise of Divine Revelation: The one who holds out to the end is the one who will see salvation (Matthew 24:13), and Remain faithful unto death and I will give you the crown of life (Revelation 2:10). The Brown Scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel is a reminder to its wearers of the saving grace which Christ gained upon the cross for all: All you who have been baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves in him (Galatians 3:27). There is no salvation for anyone other than that won by Christ. The Sacraments mediate this saving grace to the faithful. The sacramentals, including the scapular, do not mediate this saving grace but prepare us to receive grace and dispose us to cooperate with it. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches:
Sacramentals do not confer the grace of the Holy Spirit in the way that the sacraments do, but by the Church’s prayer they prepare us to receive grace and dispose us to cooperate with it. For well-disposed members of the faithful, the liturgy of the sacraments and sacramentals sanctifies almost every event of their lives with the divine grace which flows form the Paschal mystery of the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Christ. From this source all sacraments and sacramentals draw their power. (CCC 1670)
We see, therefore, that the Church clearly teaches that all grace, including that of final perseverance, is won for us by the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of the Lord. Simply wearing the Brown Scapular does not confer that same result.