What is the History of the Scapular?
Originally scapulars were worn by religious to protect their habit while working. They were originally large squares attached by cords and worn over the shoulders, or "scapula" again, as a protection to the habit they were wearing. After an apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary to St. Simon Stock - Mary attached a promise to those who faithfully wore the Brown Scapular. This promise was initially and specifically for those of St. Simon Stock's order - the Carmelites.
What IS the Promise of Mary?
This is what bothers and even offends our Protestant/separated brethren. The promise is: "Those who die wearing this scapular shall not suffer eternal fire." Taken out of context, this sounds like a superstitious promise and practice of those who would wear the Brown Scapular. Context is important in all things, as I am sure our Protestant/separated brethren would agree. There's more to it than just wearing it! You wear it because you are devoted to the Blessed Trinity. You wear it as a reminder that the pains of hell await those who reject Jesus Christ and His Free Gift, or more importantly those who do not persevere in the Faith. The wearing of the the Brown Scapular does not give you a free pass to Heaven, or allow you to live a life of sin and heresy then show up at the Pearly Gates and just wave your scapular at St. Peter and he lets you in! However, THAT is the way many Protestant/separated brethren look at the sacramental of the Brown Scapular. They seem to think that we believe there is this superstitious "power" behind the mere wearing of the Brown Scapular. While this is NOT the official understanding of WHY we would wear it, there are some stories and/or private revelations which lend some credence to the Protestant/separated brethren concerns - but a closer look at those stories (again, context) reveals something deeper.
If you look at the link to Sr. Mary Agatha's blog (linked below under "Sources") you will see her responding that if one is unfaithful, but superstitiously wears the scapular - essentially, the Blessed Virgin Mary will not be tricked! If you lead a life of treachery and also wear the brown scapular, she relates, somehow that scapular will be removed from your shoulders prior to you dying. A nurse "caring" for you may remove it; you may stumble down a flight of stairs and in the process it falls off, landing beside you at the base of the stairs - and you see it laying there, off your neck, as you breath your last breath, etc.
I have also seen it argued that in wearing the Brown Scapular "faithfully" - that if you do so, you will be given the opportunity, even at the last moment, to repent of your sins and be saved.
In then end - the REAL IMPORTANT FACTOR IN WEARING THE BROWN SCAPULAR IS FAITH IN JESUS CHRIST. You don't get to Heaven by by-passing persevering in faith. The special devotion to wearing the Brown Scapular is really more than merely wearing it. There are prayers you agree to pray - DAILY - when you are invested into the community - and to NOT pray those prayers, you're not "faithfully" wearing the Brown Scapular. One would have to ask the question - why would anyone living a life of sin and treachery take the time and effort to not only wear the scapular, but to devote themselves, DAILY, to prayer and supplication to our Lord?
Another important factor to remember is that these ALL fall under the realm of "private revelation." Absolutely no Catholic is required to accept, believe or practice the sacramental of the Brown Scapular. One could be a completely faithful Catholic and never partake in or be invested in the Brown Scapular.
I hope this helps answer questions and/or concerns some of you may have had regarding the wearing of scapulars. The Brown Scapular is only one of several, the different colored scapulars carry different promises.
I may add to this blog as well, so I hope you refer back to it often when you have questions - and/or refer others to it.
Here's another excellent reference:
Order of Our Lady of Mount Carmel (Carmelites)
"The Brown Scapular of our Lady of Mount Carmel," associated with the Carmelite Order, is the most well-known. In A.D. 16 July 1251, Our Lady appeared to St. Simon Stock in Cambridge, England after he prayed for help for his Order. She appeared to him with the scapular and said, "Take, beloved son this scapular of thy order as a badge of my confraternity and for thee and all Carmelites a special sign of grace; whoever dies in this garment, will not suffer everlasting fire. It is the sign of salvation, a safeguard in dangers, a pledge of peace and of the covenant."
Whether this happened exactly in this way or not (St. Simon's original descriptions of the vision are not extant and the wording may not be exact), the Scapular was given to St. Simon Stock, and the devotion spread and was well-known by the 16th c. What can be safely believed because of papal decree is the promise known as the "Sabbatine Privilege." The Sabbatine Privilege is the promise that Our Lady will intercede and pray for those in Purgatory who, in earthly life:
* wore the Scapular in good faith;
* were chaste according to their state in life;
* daily recited the Divine Office or, with the permission of one's Confessor, the Little Office of Our Lady [a shorter form of the Divine Office in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary, used by certain religious orders and laity. It is similar to the Common of the Blessed Virgin Mary from the Roman Breviary] or the Rosary; and
* departed earthly life in charity.
You can be enrolled in the Confraternity of our Lady of Mount Carmel by any priest. Just obtain a scapular, take it to him to have it blessed, and express your desire for enrollment.
Warning: Some falsely believe that wearing the Brown Scapular offers some sort of guarantee of salvation because of the legendary words attributed to Our Lady. This is against Church teaching, is superstitious and a grave error. Sacramentals are not magical ways to manipulate God; they are Church-instituted rituals/objects that remind us of what we are supposed to be doing/thinking of, that depend on the faith, hope and love of the user, and which help prepare us to receive God's saving grace. One must do more than "wear the scapular"; one must wear it worthily.
An Interesting Response from Sister Mary Agatha Blog
Catholic Debate Forum (CDF)
Fisheaters Site on Brown Scapular