AYLESFORD, ENGLAND (1251, 1322) “Our Lady of Mt. Carmel”
For the noble task of giving us Her Scapular, Mary selected the great Carmelite Order of contemplative religious, whose sacred tradition of devotion to Her goes back to the Old Testament Prophet Elias – and to the holy Mount Carmel on which he and his followers dwelt, by the sea, not far from Mary’s home in Nazareth. In the Bible, the third book of Kings describes a terrible drought afflicting Palestine. On Mount Carmel, Elias prayed seven times for rain, and finally “a little cloud arose out of the seas the heavens grew dark with clouds and wind, and there fell a great rain and the hand of the Lord was upon Elias.” Elias was also shown a mystical vision – a prophetic vision of the Virgin who was destined to give to the world the Messiah, who would save men from the drought of sin. Elias therefore instructed his disciples to pray for the coming of this Virgin Mother. During her life, Mary did visit this holy mountain. Our Lord has called the Carmelites “The Order of My Mother.”
Even as a child, Simon Stock had an unusually intense devotion to Mary. While still in his teens, he became a hermit and lived in the hollow trunk of a great tree. A small dog used to bring him crusts of bread. Simon would compose poems to Mary and carve her name on trees. He would make pilgrimages to shrines of Our Lady. Often she appeared to him in visions, guiding and advising him. On one occasion, the Blessed Virgin revealed to him that some holy hermits would come from Mt. Carmel in a few years, and that he should join their Order, which was especially dedicated to Her service.
St. Simon Stock became ordained as a priest at age forty. Having met some of the Brothers of Carmel, he lived their strict penitential lifestyle for several years. He left his homeland of England for the Holy Land, but he returned when Muslims invaded. Upon his return, he joined the Carmelite Order and was eventually elected Prior General. He found the task of organizing a group of contemplative hermits into an order of friars in Europe almost beyond his capacities. When disruption and ruin threatened his beloved Order in the summer of 1251, the aged St. Simon withdrew to his monastic cell. He appealed to the patroness of the Order, Our Lady of Mount Carmel, on July 16, 1251, with this prayer that is still recited frequently by members of the Order:
“Flower of Carmel, Blossom-laden Vine, Splendor of Heaven, Mother Divine, none like to thee, peerless and fair, to Thy Children of Carmel, grant favors, O Star of the Sea.”
Suddenly, a great flood of supernatural light filled his cell. In the company of many bright angels, the Blessed Virgin appeared with the Child Jesus on her arm, living and moving in dazzling splendor. She presented the Brown Scapular to him with this promise:
“Receive, my beloved son, this habit of thy Order. This shall be the privilege for you and for all Carmelites — that whoever dies piously wearing this scapular, shall not suffer eternal flames.”
As Blessed Mary and the Child Jesus vanished, the Saint was filled with joy and gratitude on seeing himself clothed in the Scapular which Our Lady had just given him. He thanked her profusely for this garment of grace and her marvelous promise. He hastened to assemble his brethren and tell them what had happened. The scapular consisted of two lengths of fabric, joined at the shoulders, with a hole in the center for the head, so that the scapular lies front and back. With this recognition given by the Queen of Heaven, this Scapular or monastic apron became a permanent and much respected addition to the Carmelite habit. A smaller form of this exists today and is more familiar to Catholics as two small panels of cloth joined by string and worn over the shoulders. The Church considers the Scapular a miniature religious habit and a highly indulgenced sacramental.
After this apparition, and after numerous appeals for protection against the Order’s antagonists, Pope Innocent IV sent a letter of protection that secured the Order from the problems they encountered. The King of England also issued letters of protection and favor for the Carmelite Order. The Scapular was also officially adopted as the regular habit of the White Friars.
Some years later, when St. Peter Thomas was engaged with important missions of the papal court, Our Lady of Mount Carmel again favored Her Order. Concerned about the Order, he heard these words:
“Have confidence, Peter, for the Carmelite Order will last until the end of the world. Elijah, its founder, obtained it a long time ago from My Son.”
Many were attracted to this Order during the fourteenth century and became members by way of confraternities. They then participated in the graces, benefits, and observances of the Order, and were properly enrolled in the Third Order.
On March 3, 1322, another apparition occurred – this time to Pope John XXII. Now known as the Sabbatine Privilege, Our Lady revealed,
“I, the Mother of Grace, shall descend into Purgatory on the Saturday after their death and whomsoever I shall find in Purgatory, I shall free.”
St. Robert Bellarmine explains the promise to mean “that anyone dying in Mary’s family will receive from Her, at the hour of death, either grace of perseverance in the state of grace or the grace of final contrition.” On learning of this vision, Pope Benedict XV encouraged all to wear this “common armor which enjoys the singular privilege of protection – even after death.”
Sixteen popes have given their approval to this Privilege, including Pope Paul V, who issued a decree on its behalf. Many saints have also added their approval.
Six hundred years after the apparition with Pope John XXII in which the Sabbatine Privilege was revealed, Pope Pius XI observed the occasion by writing in 1922:
“It surely ought to be sufficient to merely exhort all the members of the confraternities and third orders to persevere in the holy exercises which have been prescribed for the gaining of indulgences to which they are entitled and particularly for the gaining of the indulgence which is the principal and the greatest of them all, namely, that called the Sabbatine.”
Many saints have spoken highly of the Scapular, including St. Alphonsus Liguori and St. Claude de la Colombiere, who announced:
“I aver without a moment’s hesitation that the Scapular is the most favored of all.”
It is regarded as the most indulgenced of all sacramentals. It is of interest to realize that the scapulars of St. Alphonsus and St. John Bosco were found intact during their exhumations and are still preserved in reliquaries today. Pope Saint John Paul II joined the Third Order of Mount Carmel as a young man and always wore the scapular – even when in the hospital after the attempt on his life. Pope John Paul II said,
“Through the Scapular, those devoted to Our Lady of Mount Carmel express their desire to mold their existence on the example of our Mother, Patroness, Sister, Most Pure Virgin, to accept God’s word with a purified heart and devote themselves to the zealous service of others.”
We wear Our Lady’s Scapular as a loving “yes” to her desire that we keep Jesus as the center of our lives and bring Him to others. At the First Communion, we usually add a “new cloak” – that of Our Lady’s Brown Scapular. The beautiful custom of enrolling children in the Scapular puts them, in their innocence, under the tender care of their Heavenly Mother. Mary wants to draw all of humanity under her protecting and sanctifying mantle by means of her Brown Scapular. She has solemnly promised us that if we sincerely fulfill the conditions of this beautiful devotion, we shall not only be saved, but she will see to it that we do not remain long in Purgatory before joining her in Heaven!
Pope Pius X concluded, “Can anyone fail to see that there is no more direct or surer way than Mary to unite all mankind in Christ?” And the Catholic Encyclopedia states, “Like the Rosary, this Scapular has become the badge of the devout Catholic and the true servant of Blessed Mary.”