“The Scapular is essentially a habit which evokes the protection of the Blessed Virgin Mary in this life and in the passage to the fullness of eternal glory. The Scapular also reminds us that the devotion to her must become a ‘uniform,’ that is a Christian life-style, woven of prayer and interior life.”—Pope Saint John Paul II
Scapular Brings Us Closer to Christ, His Mother
People who have worn the scapular have long believed in the promise that the person who dies wearing it will not lose his or her eternal reward.
One of the very few things I have in common with Pope John Paul the Great, besides being a priest, is my love for the Carmelite order.
It was well known that John Paul had at different points in his life flirted with the idea of joining the Carmelites. Certainly if I were not a diocesan priest, I, too, would be a Carmelite. The spiritual giants of that order, like John of the Cross, Therese of Lisieux and Titus Brandsma, have always been very attractive to me, not to mention Carmelite spirituality in general.
July 16 is the memorial of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. Mt. Carmel is situated in northern Israel, the site where the prophet Elijah defended the Jewish faith against pagans. In the 13th century, the Carmelite order was established at this same site, under the title “St. Mary of Mt. Carmel.”
There is a part of popular piety that has been associated with the Carmelites since the beginning of the 16th century, and according to some accounts even earlier: the brown scapular. There have been several different types of scapulars throughout history, most often connected with different religious orders, but it’s the brown scapular from the Carmelites that has had real staying power in the spirituality of the Catholic faithful.
A scapular, strictly speaking, is a part of a religious habit. It is a full-length cloth worn over the shoulders, originally meant to be a type of apron that monks wore during manual labor. Eventually, symbolic meaning was given to the scapular as representative of the cross of Christ carried by the monk in his daily life.
Over time, as the lay faithful wanted to imitate elements of religious life, there formed “third orders,” in which lay people could be formally joined to a particular religious community without being bound by all the disciplines that went along with it. Out of these third orders came the Third Order Scapulars, which were very often two pieces of wool attached by cords, with one piece of wool to be worn over the chest and the other to be worn over the back. These scapulars were one way in which lay people could have a tangible connection to religious communities.
In 1910, Pope St. Pius X permitted the wearing of a medal instead of the wool scapular, provided the Sacred Heart was on one side and the Virgin Mary was on the other side. This was done primarily to benefit soldiers on the battlefield.
On July 16, 1251, according to Carmelite legend, the Virgin Mary appeared to St. Simon Stock, showing him a brown scapular and promising: “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 the covenant.” The church has never formally declared that Mary appeared to St. Simon Stock. What is important is that for centuries the brown scapular has played a part in the faith of countless people. (I’ve been wearing one since I was in grade school.)
People who have worn the scapular have long believed in the promise that the person who dies wearing it will not lose his or her eternal reward. This being said there waves a big red flag of caution. There is absolutely nothing in two small swaths of wool that can save a soul from damnation. To make this claim would be to raise the scapular to the level of being more powerful than any of the sacraments; this is where false Catholic piety walks dangerously close to superstition.
When it comes to any sacramental, such as medals, holy cards, relics or scapulars, their effectiveness depends solely on the spiritual disposition of the person using them. The wool of the scapular is only “remotely and instrumentally through the actual carrying of the scapular, that salvation is secured: (New Catholic Encyclopedia, volume 12, page 723).
So why is there a promise attributed to wearing the scapular, if it is not literally true? I will explain it the way my saintly grandmother did when I was a child, paraphrasing: The wool of the scapular is meant to irritate your skin. Wool scratches. Whenever it bothers you, you are supposed to think of Mary and imitate her, imitating her son. If you do this faithfully while wearing a scapular, there is no way you will ever go to hell. Now I must say, I have never read that anywhere, but it made a lot of sense to a young kid and still does today to a priest. The wearing of the scapular is meant to get us closer to Christ and his mother.
My grandmother’s advice brings into focus the true meaning and purpose of wearing a scapular.
Our Lady of Mount Carmel
“So Ahab sent to all the people of Israel, and gathered the prophets together at Mount Carmel. And Elijah came near to all the people, and said, ‘How long will you go limping with two different opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him;…’” 
Our Lady of Mount Carmel is the name given to the Blessed Virgin Mary in her role as patroness of the Carmelite Order. Mount Carmel is a mountain range along the northern coast of Israel. It’s here that God publicly answered the prophet Elijah’s prayer, consumed the offering, and confirmed He was a living God. Centuries later, in the 12th century after Christ, a group of hermits gathered on the mountain and committed their lives to prayer and penance, forming the Carmelite Order. The Carmelite Order encouraged devotion to the Blessed Mother as a model of ‘complete fidelity to the Lord.’ 
Written by Sarah Ciotti