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Promises attached

Scapulars, like the Our Lady of Mt. Carmel scapular (pictured above), are worn as a reminder of a person's fidelity to Christ. In a Marian apparition, Mary attached special graces to the brown scapular and promised to save those who wore it from the fires of hell and to shorten their stay in purgatory.

By Lisa Schulte
The Catholic Voice

Greg and Tracie Youell dress for the Lord.


For the past year, the Omaha couple have included a brown scapular as part of their daily attire. The modern scapular, made of two two-inch squares of cloth connected by cords and worn over the head, serves as a reminder of their commitment to Jesus and of the love of his mother, Mary.

The Youells, members of St. Stephen the Martyr Parish, became familiar with scapulars when they were preparing to join the Catholic Church in Lawrence, Kan.

"When we were first coming into the church, I thought this was something that all Catholics did, that everbody knew about it," Greg, 27, said.

He was suprised to learn that many Catholics are unfamiliar with the cloth sacramentals.

Scapulars were first worn by religious orders as part of their habit. They hung to the bottom of the habit and protected it from getting dirty during work. Eventually, spiritual significance became attached to the scapular and people who had special ties with particular religious orders would be buried with smaller scapulars as a sign of their spiritual unity.

In the 13th century, Mary appeared to St. Simon Stock, a Carmelite monk, and promised to save those who wore the Carmelite Order's brown scapular from the fires of hell. She also promised to shorten their stay in purgatory.

But, certain conditions must be followed to receive the protection by Mary. One must wear the brown scapular continuously, observe chastity according to one's state in life and recite daily a Marian devotion, like the "Little Office of the Blessed Virgin" or the rosary.

As the scapular gained popularity in the 16th and 17th centuries, Popes John XXII, Gregory XIII, Clement VII and Pius V attached special graces to wearing a scapular.

For example, they said Mary would greet those who die in the state of grace and take them from purgatory to heaven the first Saturday after their death.

Those in that state of grace would have been faithful to the promises made when the scapular was conferred and would have trusted in the mercy of God.

"Scapulars are a sign of our fidelity to Christ and a miraculous gift to us from his mother," said Father Damien Cook, pastor at St. Peter Parish in Omaha, who has worn a scapular for years. "As any sacramental, it's something that is instituted by the church that has blessings or graces attached to it and serves as a reminder and a teaching tool to ourselves."

There are several types of scapulars, but the most popular one and the oldest one is the brown scapular – the Our Lady of Mt. Carmel scapular.

A scapular must be conferred by a priest or deacon before a person can begin to receive the graces attached to it. During the conferral ceremony, a rite outlined in the Catholic Church's book of blessings, a person joins the confraternity of the religious order associated with the particular scapular and promises to share in that order's spirit.

Once admitted into the confraternity, a person can wear new scapulars without having them conferred or blessed.

"You are the one who is in this confraternity. It's not the object itself," Father Cook said.

The Youells, had their scapulars conferred by now Bishop William J. Dendinger of Grand Island. They promised to pray the rosary daily and to hope in Mary's promises.

"The scapular reminds me to ask for Our Lady's intercession throughout the day," Greg said. "I think it's a very powerful means of grace given to us by God."

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