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What is a scapular?

A scapular (from Latin, scapula, "shoulder") is a religious pendant of cloth worn under the clothing, which are usually adorned with the picture of a saint as a part of Roman Catholic devotion.

Scapulars have their historical origins in larger, tunic-like garments that were once worn by Roman Catholic monks, which were adapted for the use of the Roman Catholic laity.

The scapular in its original sense forms a part of the habit of many monastic orders. Other orders and numerous religious congregations (both male and female) have also adopted the scapular from the monastic orders. It is usually worn over the habit or cassock.

Reduced versions of these scapulars are worn by lay persons with a certain degree of connection to the spirituality of a certain religious order. These are typically worn under the clothing. By far the most common scapular is the Brown Scapular of Mount Carmel.

Origins and History of the Scapular

This monastic scapular, like the whole monastic habit and indeed the liturgical vestments of the priest, developed from the ordinary clothing of the laity. And, just as the stole is the special sign of the priestly dignity and power, the scapular became the sign of the monk.

In the West, in the case of St. Benedict, the scapular was at first nothing else than a working garment or apron such as was then worn by agricultural laborers. Thus, in the Rule of St. Benedict, it was expressly termed scapulare propter opera ("scapular for work").

From this developed the special monastic garment, to which a hood could be fastened at the back. In fact, the original scapular of the Dominican Order was so made that it acted also as a covering for the head, and thus as a hood. The scapular of the West corresponded to the analabus of the East.

Monastic formulas of profession of the West from the ninth century do not mention the scapular. It was only gradually that it became one of the important part of the monastic habit. Later, like the analabus, it was solemnly presented during ordination and the symbolism of the scapular was emphasized in the ceremony.

Especially the analabus but also the scapular was often called simply crux ("cross") on account of its shape, and symbolism was introduced accordingly. It was thus natural to call the scapular jugum Christi ("the yoke of Christ"); it was also called scutum ("shield"), as it was laid over the head, which it originally covered and protected with one portion (from which the hood afterwards developed).

Many monastic orders (sometimes called "first orders") attract groups of lay people who wish to involve themselves in the spirituality of the congregation to various degrees. Most of these use some sort of scapular as a sign of that connection.

Early in the Middle Ages numerous lay persons had already joined the Benedictine Order as oblates. These often received the entire monastic habit which they wore either constantly in the world or at least during Divine Service. It was regarded as a great grace and privilege to be able to die and be buried in the monastic habit, which was frequently given to the dying or placed on the deceased before burial.

The Oblates of the Benedictine Order, confirmed in 1891 and 1904, include the provision: "The Oblates may be buried in the black habit of the order, with scapular and girdle, wherever the conditions allow the fulfillment of this pious wish". In the first Rule of the Third Order of St. Francis of 1221 (also in that of 1289), the investment is fairly exactly described, but there is no mention of a scapular. The first Rule of the Third Order of St. Dominic in the first half of the thirteenth century prescribed likewise a formal and complete investment. Here also there is no mention of the scapular. As in the case of the other third orders this made its appearance later, until finally it became usual to wear the scapular under one's ordinary clothing instead of the full habit of the order. Later, the wearing of the special habit of an order became unusual, and the constant wearing of such was regarded as a privilege.

Gradually, however, rather than the full habit, the most distinctive article of the monastic habit, the scapular, was given. The size has been greatly reduced as well. It has thus come to pass that the third orders for the laity, such as those of the Franciscans, Servites and Dominicans, wear today as their special badge and habit a "large" scapular, consisting essentially of two segments of woolen cloth (about 4-1/2" L by 2-3/8" W in the case of the Franciscan scapular, much longer and broader in the case of the Carmelite) connected with each other by two strings or bands. It is especially necessary that persons who desire to share in the indulgences and privileges of the third orders wear the scapulars constantly. However, the Vatican expressly declared on 30 April, 1885, that the wearing of the scapulars of smaller form and of the same size as those of the confraternities entitled one to gain the indulgences of the third order (cf. Pope Leo XIII, Misericors Dei Filius, 30 May, 1883; "Acta S. Sed.", XV, 513 sqq.).

Like the large scapulars, the first and oldest small scapulars originated to a certain extent in the real monastic scapular. It is probable that many of those who could not be promoted to the third order or who were special benefactors of the first order received the habit of the order or a large scapular similar to that of the oblates, which they might wear when dying and in which they might be buried. It was only later and gradually that the idea developed of giving to everyone connected with the order the real scapular of the order in miniature as their badge to be always worn day and night over or under their ordinary clothing.

Form and Use of Scapulars

Small scapulars consist essentially of two quadrilateral segments of woolen cloth (about 2.75" long by 2" wide), connected with each other by two strings or bands in such a manner that, when the bands rest on the shoulders, the front segment rests before the breast, while the other hangs down an equal distance at the back. The two segments of cloth do not need to be equally large. Some scapulars have the front segment of the above dimensions with a much smaller back segment.

The material of these two essential parts of the scapular must be of woven wool; the strings or bands may be of any material, and of any one color. The color of the segments of woolen cloth depends on the color of the monastic habit, which it to a certain extent represents, or on the mystery in honor of which it is worn. Here, however, it must be remarked that the so called Brown Scapular of the Carmelites may be black, and that the bands of the Red Scapular of the Passion must be of red wool. On either or both of the woolen segments may be sewn or embroidered becoming representations or other decorations (emblems, names etc.) of a different material. It is only in the case of the Red Scapular that the images are expressly prescribed.

Several scapulars may be attached to the same pair of strings or bands; each scapular must of course be complete, and must be attached to both bands. In many cases the five best-known of the early scapulars are attached to the same pair of bands; this combination is then known as the "fivefold scapular".

The five are: the Scapular of the Most Blessed Trinity, that of the Carmelites, of the Servites, of the Immaculate Conception, and the Red Scapular of the Passion. When the scapulars are thus joined together, the bands must be of red wool, as required by the Red Scapular; it is customary to wear the Red Scapular uppermost and that of the Most Blessed Trinity undermost, so that the images specially prescribed in the case of the Red, and the small red and blue cross on the Scapular of the Blessed Trinity, may be visible.

Only at the original reception of any scapular is either the blessing or the investment with such by an authorized priest necessary. When a person needs a new scapular, he or she can put on an unblessed one. If the investment with a scapular be inseparably connected with reception into a confraternity, the reception and enrollment must take place on the same occasion as the blessing and investment. To share in the indulgences and privileges of a scapular, one must wear it constantly; it may be worn over or under one's clothing and may be laid aside for a short time, if necessary. Should one have ceased wearing the scapular for a long period (even through indifference), one gains none of the indulgences during this time, but, by simply resuming the scapular, one again participates in its indulgences and privileges. Every scapular that is not merely an object of private devotion (for there are also such) but is also provided with an indulgence, must be approved by the ecclesiastical authorities, and the formula of blessing must be sanctioned by the Congregation of Rites.

Medals as Scapulars

Since 1910 it has been permitted to substitute a medal for one or more small scapulars. This medal must have a representation of Jesus Christ with His Most Sacred Heart on one side and an image of the Mother of God on the other. All persons who have been validly invested with a blessed woolen scapular may replace such by this medal, which is commonly called the Miraculous Medal.

The medal must be blessed by a priest possessing the faculty to bless and invest with the scapular or scapulars which the medal is to replace. The faculties to bless these medals are subject to the same conditions and limitations as the faculties to bless and invest with the corresponding scapulars. If the medal is to be worn instead of a number of different scapulars, it must receive the blessing that would be attached to each of them, i.e. as many blessings as the number of scapulars it replaces. For each blessing a sign of the Cross suffices. This medal must also be worn constantly, either about the neck or in some other seemly manner, and with it may be attained all the indulgences and privileges of the small scapulars without exception. Only the small (not the large) scapulars may be validly replaced by such medals.

Important Specific Scapulars

Though many different specific scapulars are recognized by the Church, the best known is the Scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, also known as the Brown Scapular or even "the Scapular." It is probably the oldest scapular and served as the prototype of the others. According to Catholic tradition, the Blessed Virgin appeared to St. Simon Stock at Cambridge, England, on Sunday, 16 July, 1251. In answer to his appeal for help for his oppressed order, she appeared to him with a scapular in her hand 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".

The Brown Scapular thus carries with it the promise never to die without the opportunity to confess or otherwise achieve forgiveness of sins. It also carries the second promise of being freed from Purgatory on the first Saturday (the day of Mary) after death. Like the rosary, the Brown Scapular has become the badge of the devout Catholic and the true servant of Mary. Any priest can invest a layperson with this scapular.

The Green Scapular is connected with devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Strictly speaking, this is not a scapular, because it is not connected with the habit of a religious congregation, but it has the same form as a scapular and is perhaps the second-most popular such devotional object after the brown scapular. There is no investiture for this scapular, but each scapular must be blessed by a priest. The person wearing the scapular must daily pray, "Immaculate Heart of Mary, pray for us now and at the hour of our death." The promises connected with this scapular are almost identical with the brown scapular.

Other specific scapulars include the following:

  • The Scapular of the Most Blessed Trinity
  • Form: Small white scapular with a blue and red cross
  • Order: Confraternity of The Most Blessed Trinity (Trinitarians)
  • Origin: To Innocent III, who sanctioned the Order of the Trinitarians on 28 January, 1198, an angel is said to have appeared wearing a white garment and on his breast a cross of which the transverse shaft was blue and the longitudinal shaft red.

  • The Scapular of our Lady of Ransom (B. Maria V. de Mercede redemptionis captivorum)
  • Form: White cloth with an image Our Lady of Ransom on the front and a smaller segment of white cloth in the back.
  • Order: Fathers of the Order of Our Lady of Mercy for the Ransom of Prisoners
  • Origin: The order was founded by St. Peter Nolasco (1256).

  • The Black Scapular of the Seven Dolours of Mary
  • Form: black cloth, usually with an image of the Mother of Sorrows on the frong
  • Order: Servite Order (sanctioned by Alexander IV in 1255); Confraternity of the Seven Dolours of Mary
  • Origin: Gradual tradition
  • Use: This scapular must be worn constantly if one wishes to gain the indulgences of the confraternity. Priests may obtain from the General of the Servites the faculty to receive the faithful into the confraternity and to bless and invest with the scapular.

  • The Blue Scapular of the Immaculate Conception
  • Form: Blue cloth, which normally has a symbolization of the Immaculate Conception on one side and the name of Mary on the other.
  • Order: Order of Theatine Nuns
  • Origin: Vision of the Venerable Ursula Benicasa, foundress of the Order of Theatine Nuns, in which Jesus Christ had promised great favors for her order. She begged the same graces for all the faithful who should devoutly wear a small sky-blue scapular in honor of the Immaculate Conception and to secure the conversion of sinners, and her request was granted.

  • The Scapular of the Most Precious Blood
  • Form: Red cloth scapular or a red girdle. The scapular as used in Rome bears on one portion a representation of the chalice with the Precious Blood adored by angels; the other segment which hangs at the back is simply a smaller portion of red cloth.
  • Order: Confraternity of the Precious Blood
  • Use: No special indulgences are connected with the wearing of this scapular, and the wearing of it is left optional to the members of the confraternity.

  • The Black Scapular of the Passion
  • Form: Black cloth bearing bears an exact replica of the badge of the Passion, namely a heart above a cross, on which is written "Jesu XPI Passio" and below "sit semper in cordibus nostris". The back portion consists simply of a small segment of black woolen cloth.
  • Order: Congregation of the Passionists
  • Origins: It is related in the life of St. Paul of the Cross that before founding the Congregation of the Passionists he received in apparitions the black habit of the order with the badge on the breast.
  • Use: At various times indulgences have been granted to the faithful who wear this scapular. The Superior-General of the Passionists communicates to other priests the faculty to bless and invest with the scapular.

  • The Red Scapular of the Passion
  • Form: The scapular and bands must both be of red woolen material. On one woolen segment Jesus Christ is represented on the Cross; at the foot of the Cross are the implements of the Passion, and about it are the words: "Holy Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ Save us." On the other are represented the Hearts of Jesus and Mary, and above these a cross with the inscription: "Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary, protect us."
  • Order: Sister of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul
  • Origins: a vision of a Sister of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul in 1846 in which Jesus Christ showed the sister the scapular and promised to all who should wear it on every Friday a great increase of faith, hope, and charity.

  • The Scapular of the Blessed Virgin Mary under the title of "Help of the Sick"
  • Form: Black woolen cloth, with the a copy of the above picture of the Mother of God and at her feet Sts. Joseph and Camillus, the two other patrons of the sick and of the confraternity, on the front. On the small segment at the back is sewed a little red cloth cross; although this receives separate and special blessing for the sick, it does not constitute an essential portion of the scapular.
  • Order: Order of St. Camillus; Confraternity of the Mother of God for the Poor Sick, founded 15 June, 1860.
  • Origins: Based on a painting in the Church of St. Magdalen at Rome of the Blessed Virgin, which is specially venerated under the title of Help of the Sick.

  • The Scapular of the Immaculate Heart of Mary
  • Form: The scapular is of white woolen cloth; on the front is represented the burning heart of Mary, out of which grows a lily; the heart is encircled by a wreath of roses and pierced with a sword.
  • Order: Sons of the Immaculate Heart of Mary
  • Origins: This scapular originated with the Sons of the Immaculate Heart of Mary in 1877, and was sanctioned and endowed with indulgences by Pius IX on 11 May of that year. The scapular was later approved by the Congregation of Rites in 1907, and its form more exactly decreed; in the same year it was assigned new indulgences.
  • Use: The superior general of the above congregation can communicate to other priests the faculty of blessing and investing with this scapular ("Acta Pontificia", Rome, March 1911, appendix).

  • The Scapular of St. Michael the Archangel
  • Form: In outward form this scapular is different from the others, inasmuch as the two segments of cloth have the form of a small shield; of these one is made of blue and the other of black cloth, and of the bands likewise one is blue and the other black. Both portions of the scapular bear the well-known representation of the Archangel St. Michael slaying the dragon and the inscription "Quis ut Deus".
  • Order: Archconfraternity of the Scapular of St. Michael
  • Origins: While this scapular originated under Pius IX, who gave it his blessing, it was first formally approved under Leo XIII. In 1878 a confraternity in honour of St. Michael the Archangel was founded in the Church of St. Eustachius at Rome, and in the following year in the Church of Sant' Angelo in Pescheria (Sancti Angeli in foro Piscium). In 1880 Leo XIII raised it to the rank of an archconfraternity, which was expressly called the Archconfraternity of the Scapular of St. Michael.
  • Use: The scapular is so associated with the confraternity that each member is invested with it.

  • The Scapular of St. Benedict
  • Form: A small blessed piece of black cloth. One of the segments usually has a picture of St. Benedict but no picture is necessary.
  • Order: Benedictine Order; Confraternity of St. Benedict
  • Origins: To associate the faithful, who were not Oblates of St. Benedict, in a certain measure with the Benedictine Order, a confraternity of St. Benedict was founded in the second half of the nineteenth century, at first by the English Congregation. The confraternity was endowed with indulgences in 1882 and 1883.

  • The Scapular of the Mother of Good Counsel
  • Form: Two segments of while woolen cloth, usually with white bands. The front segment bears the image of the Mother of Good Counsel (after the well-known picture in the Augustinian church at Genazzano) with the inscription: "Mother of Good Counsel". The back segment has the papal arms (i.e., the tiara and the keys of Peter) with the inscription: "Son, follow her counsel. Leo III".
  • Order: Augustinian Order
  • Origins: At the petition of the Augustinian monks this scapular was approved and endowed with indulgences by Leo XIII in a Decree of the Congregation of Rites of 19-21 December, 1893.
  • Use: The faculty of blessing and investing with the scapular belongs primarily to the Augustinian monks, but the General of the Augustinians communicates this privilege to other priests.

  • The Scapular of The Most Sacred Heart of Jesus
  • Form: White woolen cloth, on which is embroidered or sewed in red a picture of the Heart of Jesus.
  • Order:
  • Origins: The constant wearing of a small picture of the Heart of Jesus was already recommended by Blessed Margaret Mary Alacoque, who herself made and distributed them. This badge was especially employed during the plague at Marseilles as a protection against the pest. During the terrors of the French Revolution it also served as a safeguard for the pious faithful.
  • Use: Although this badge is often called a scapular, it is not really such; consequently the conditions governing scapulars do not apply to it. It was only in 1872 that an indulgence was granted by Pius IX for the wearing of this badge.

  • The Scapular of St. Dominic
  • Form: It is made of white wool, but the bands, as in the case of so many other scapulars may be of another material. No image is prescribed for the scapular, but the scapular given in the house of the Dominican General at Rome has on one side the picture of St. Dominic kneeling before the crucifix and on the other that of B. Reginald receiving the habit from the hands of the Mother of God.
  • Order: Dominican Order
  • Origins: Approved on 23 November 1903 by Pius X.
  • Use: On 23 November, 1903, this scapular was endowed by Pius X with an indulgence of 300 days in favor of all the faithful who wear it, as often as they devoutly kiss it. The General of the Dominicans communicates to other priests the faculty of blessing and investing with the scapular.

Sources - "Scapular." Wikipedia, 2005. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scapular>;