Fr. Ed Dougherty, M.M., The Christophers’ Board of Directors
Through the Heart of Mary
An ancient history of the Carmelite Order recounts a statement made by St. Dominic in 1208 A.D. in which he declared, “One day, through the Rosary and the Scapular, she [Mary] will save the world.” What a profound statement about the powerful intercession of our Blessed Mother that Saint Dominic made years before the introduction of the Brown Scapular into popular devotion.
The Brown Scapular of the Carmelite Order first appeared in a Marian vision to St. Simon Stock on July 16, 1251. In that apparition, Mary said of the scapular, “Take this scapular, it shall be a sign of salvation, a protection in danger and a pledge of peace. Whosoever dies wearing this scapular shall not suffer eternal fire.”
The Brown Scapular has been associated with special graces ever since. The small version that many wear under their clothing dates as far back as 1276, the year that Pope Gregory X died. We know this because 554 years after his death, an opening of Pope Gregory’s tomb revealed that the little Brown Scapular he wore during his lifetime was still intact.
Mary’s final apparition at Lourdes occurred on July 16, 1858, the anniversary of her presentation of the Brown Scapular to St. Simon Stock, and she appeared on that day as Our Lady of Mount Carmel. Mary also appeared as Our Lady of Mount Carmel in her final apparition at Fatima, on October 13, 1917, holding a rosary in one hand and a Brown Scapular in the other.
While miracles abound relating to the Brown Scapular, our devotion to this sacramental and to Our Lady of Mount Carmel should not be reduced to superstition or an expectation of favors simply for wearing the scapular. Like all sacramentals, these devotions are intended to draw us closer to an authentic relationship with Jesus Christ. For instance, wearing the Brown Scapular entails investiture by a priest, wherein prayers are recited and a pledge is made to live a holy life. Thereafter, the scapular serves as a reminder of that pledge and of the powerful intercession of Mary, who constantly beckons us to follow Christ.
The initial Carmelite Rule was established by St. Albert in the early part of the thirteenth century, but the order claims spiritual lineage with the Prophet Elijah and a succession of hermits who followed in his footsteps, residing on Mount Carmel for centuries both before and after the life of Christ. Pious tradition holds that a group of these hermits came down from Mount Carmel and converted to Christianity on the day of Pentecost.
It is no wonder that Mary chose to appear as Our Lady of Mount Carmel in such dramatic fashion in the last apparitions at Lourdes and Fatima—or that she revealed the Brown Scapular as a significant source of grace for those who commit themselves to the promises of investiture. Devotion to Our Lady of Mount Carmel connects us with the Judaic roots of the Holy Family and of Christianity and reminds us of Mary’s paramount mission in the story of salvation.
Towards the end of his passion, Jesus looked to Mary and said, “Woman, here is your son.” Then he looked to John and said, “Here is your mother.” We understand this to mean that Jesus presents Mary to all of humanity in spiritual adoption, so we should look to the Blessed Mother for guidance and undertake pious acts of devotion, because the surest way to Christ is through the heart of Mary.
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