Definition: In its original form, the scapular is a part of the monastic habit (the outfit that monks wear). It is composed of two large pieces of cloth, connected in the middle by narrower strips of cloth. The narrower strips provide an opening through which the monk places his head; the strips then sit on his shoulders, and the large pieces of cloth hang down in front and in back.
Today, the term is used most often to refer to a sacramental (a religious object) that has essentially the same form as the monastic scapular but is composed of much smaller pieces of cloth (usually only an inch or two square) and thinner connecting strips. Technically, these are known as the "small scapulars" and are worn by lay faithful as well as those in religious orders. Each small scapular represents a particular devotion and often has a certain indulgence or even a revealed "privilege" (or special power) attached to it.
The most famous of the small scapulars is the Scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel (the "Brown Scapular"), revealed by the Blessed Virgin Mary herself to St. Simon Stock on July 16, 1251. Those who wear it faithfully as an expression of devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, it is said, will be granted the grace of final perseverance.
MARY'S PROMISE TO THOSE WHO WEAR THE SCAPULAR
Our Lady gave St. Simon a scapular for the Carmelites with the following promise, saying : Receive, My beloved son, this habit of thy order: this shall be to thee and to all Carmelites a privilege, that whosoever dies clothed in this shall never suffer eternal fire .... It shall be a sign of salvation, a protection in danger, and a pledge of peace.
Another important aspect of wearing the Scapular is the Sabbatine Privilege. This concerns a promise made by Our Lady to Pope John XXII. In a papal letter he issued, he recounted a vision that he had had. He stated that the Blessed Virgin had said to him in this vision, concerning those who wear the Brown Scapular: "I, the Mother of Grace, shall descend on the Saturday after their death and whomsoever I shall find in Purgatory, I shall free, so that I may lead them to the holy mountain of life everlasting."
I believe it was a brown scapular. I still have it or part of it anyway in a box with a cufflink and a watch of my fathers as well. I also have, believe it or not part of his police hat. The visor part is missing but I have the rest of it. He was in the police reserves and my, was he handsome in his uniform and sunglasses. I haven’t looked at these things in a very long time but remember them well.
Even though I sensed my father wasn’t well, I didn’t realize the significant gesture of Sister Mary Wilma giving that scapular to my father until I was a little older and after his passing. Our beliefs are that if a person dies wearing the scapular we will surely go to heaven. Just as I remember being told that if we were about to die, we should pray something like this, “Jesus, Mary and Joseph pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death” or something like that and repeat it three times. Can you imagine, you are about to die or you think you might pass away and trying to manage repeating this prayer three times all with the promise that you could go to heaven because you said this prayer and three times at that. You don’t know how many times as a child I practiced repeating this prayer all the while envisioning myself dying in a car wreck or in military battle so that I would be preconditioned to do it correctly.
I say military battle because as a child in the fifties and on the east coast, we had air raid drills. When the sirens went off everyone was supposed to get off the streets. We were instructed to get indoors, turn off the lights and pull the blinds. It was the Russians then that we were to fear. So I often had dreams about the Russians coming to get us and sometimes I was a soldier in my dreams and got shot in the back more than once.
One time my brother Don and I ran upstairs to our apartment over our grandparents’ restaurant when the sirens went off. We sneaked over to the window on our hands and knees and looked out the window down onto what was usually a very busy street. No cars were driving by but we saw one old man walking slowly down the street. We were both very concerned for his safety.
I do remember wearing a scapular as a child and I did some while an adult also. I still think about putting it over my head and let it drape my shoulders but sometimes I just put it in my pocket. I have a metal scapular also but fail to wear it. I do wear a crucifix though constantly. Never take it off. It was my favorite Aunt Bea’s. My cousin sent it to me after his mama passed away. I understand it was given to her when she got confirmed. She was a convert so I think she may have been in her twenties so I think the crucifix is about sixty years old. I wear it to honor God. It is my sign of true faith, true belief in God, Jesus and the forgiveness of sin.
There was another nun, who thank goodness I didn’t have in any of my classes. I think her name was Sister Mary Garcia or Gracias. She was very old, short and heavy and you could hear her yelling at her students occasionally and I heard she would throw things towards the students onto the floor.
The only other nun that I remember quite well was my seventh grade teacher, Sister Mary Ellen. She was young and quite pretty with a plain face. Because she was young she enjoyed playing ball with us and I saw her dancing with the boys at the only school dance I remember at the Catholic School.
Other than these few nuns, I can recall a very tall, thin and pale nun, whose walk seemed more like a gliding as she moved through the halls, her veil following her. I thought how angelic she seemed. The principle, Sister Mary Richards seemed kind but stern. There was an assembly one day and the whole school watched in horror as she held this one boy with one hand and whipped him with the long thick belt that usually hung in her office. He was screaming and trying to get away but he lost the battle. I don’t recall what he did but he sure took a beating that day. That was Catholic school in those days. The nuns and priest were respected and you held a kind of reverence for some of them, or at least I did.
(ref., about.comCatholicism – the congregation of the Apostolic Carmel)