"Signs' in ordinary life
The world in which we live is full of material things which have symbolic meaning such as light, fire and water...
There are also everyday life experiences of relationships between human beings which express and symbolize deeper realities, such as sharing a meal (as a sign of friendship), taking part in a protest march (as a sign of solidarity), joining together in a national celebration (as a sign of identity).
We need signs and symbols to help us understand what is happening at present, or what happened before, and to give us an awareness of who we are as individuals and groups.
"Signs' in the Christian life
Jesus is the great sign and gift of the Father's love. He founded the Church as a sign and instrument of his love. Christian life also has its signs. Jesus used bread, wine and water to help us understand higher things which we can neither see nor touch.
In the celebration of the Eucharist and the other sacraments (baptism, confirmation, reconciliation, matrimony, holy orders, the sacrament of the sick) the symbols (water, oil, the laying on of hands, the rings) all have their own meaning and bring us into communion with God present in each of them.
As well as liturgical signs, the church has others related to some event, to some tradition, or some person. One of these is the brown scapular of our Lady of Mt. Carmel.
The Scapular is a "Sign of Mary"
One of the signs in the tradition of the church from many centuries ago is the brown scapular of our Lady of Mt. Carmel It is a sign approved by the church and accepted by the Carmelite Order as an external sign of love for Mary, of the trust her children have in her, and of the commitment to live like her.
The word scapular indicates a form of clothing which monks wore when they were working. With passage of time, people began to give symbolic meaning to it: as like a cross to be borne everyday as disciples and followers of Christ. In some religious orders, such as the Carmelites, the scapular turned into a sign of their way of life. The scapular came to symbolize the special dedication of Carmelites to Mary, the Mother of God, and to express trust in her motherly protection as well as the desire to be like her in her commitment to Christ and others. Thus it became a sign of Mary.
From Religious Orders to the People of god
In the middle ages many Christians wanted to be associated with the orders founded at that time: the Franciscans, Dominicans, Augustinians and Carmelites. Groups of lay people began to emerge in associations such as confraternities and modalities.
All the religious orders wanted to give these lay people a sign of affiliation and of participation in their spirit and apostolate. That sign was often a part of their habit: a cloak, a cord, a scapular.
Among the Carmelites, the stage came when a smaller version of the scapular was accepted as the sign of an expression of its spirituality.
The value and meaning of the Scapular
The scapular finds its roots in the tradition of the Order, which has seen in it a sign of Mary's motherly protection. It has, therefore, a centuries-old spiritual meaning approved by the Church.
|It stands for a commitment to follow
Jesus like Mary, the perfect model of all the disciples of Christ. This commitment finds
its origin in baptism by which we become children of God.
The Blessed Virgin teaches us:
... to be open to God and to his will shown to us in the events of our lives;
... to listen to the word of God in the Bible and in life, to believe in it and to put into practice its demands;
....to pray at all times as a way of discovering the presence of God in all that is happening around us;
... to be involved with people, being attentive to their needs.
It leads us into the community of Carmel, a community of men and women which has existed for over eight centuries. It calls on us to live out the ideal of this religious family: intimate friendship with God.
It reminds us of the example of the saints of Carmel, with whom we establish a close bond as brothers and sisters to one another.
It is an expression of our belief that we will meet God in eternal life, aided by the intercession of Mary.
Some practical rules
1. People are enrolled in the scapular only once, by a priest or another authorized person.
2 . The scapular may be replaced afterwards by a medal which has on one side the image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and on the other the image of Mary.
3. The scapular holds us to live as authentic Christians in line with the teachings of the Gospel to receive the sacraments, to profess our special devotion to the Blessed Virgin, which should be expressed every day, at least by saying the Hail Mary three times.
A short form for giving the scapular
"Receive this scapular, a sign of your special relationship with Mary the Mother of Jesus, whom you pledge to imitate. May it be a reminder to you of your dignity as a Christian, in serving others and imitating Mary. Wear it as a sign of her protection and of belonging to the family of Carmel, voluntarily doing the will of God and devoting yourself to building a world true to his plan of community, justice and peace.'
What the Carmelite scapular is not -
- a magical charm to protect you;
- an automatic guarantee of salvation;
- an excuse for not living up to the demands of the Christian life.
What the Carmelite scapular is -
A Sign which...
- has been approved by the church for over seven centuries;
- stands for the decision to follow Jesus like Mary:
* open to God and his will,
* guided by faith, hope and love,
* close to needs of people,
* praying at all times,
* discovering God present in all that happens around us; introduces people into the family of Carmel; points to a renewed hope of encountering God in eternal life with the help of Mary's protection and intercession.
(The above message is the text of a
folder prepared by Camilo Maccise, Superior General
of the Discalced Carmelites as approved on Dec. 9, 1994.)
The Carmelite Scapular Today
Symbol of Order's relationship with Mary sums up hundreds of years of tradition; reminder of our 'putting on the Lord Jesus Christ'
Sam Anthony Morello, OCD, first got involved in working on the new catechesis on the brown scapular when he served on the General Council of the Discalced Carmelites in Rome from 1986-1991.
Fr. Morello says that the Holy See had been anxious to have an update on the scapular from the Carmelites for years, especially since Vatican II. "Well, an awful lot of work has been done on the project in Rome by friars of both Observances (O. Carm. and OCD). The great historians Luigi Saggi, O. Carm., and Valentino Macca, OCD, had collaborated for some years to gather the basic historical facts and come up with a sound orientation for the future partoal update of the scapular.
He added "That material and the historical work of Joachim Smet, O. Carm., in Rome have greatly re-educated me!"
Both the Holy See and the Carmelites knew that it was time to set in place in relation to the scapular devotion what some theologians call the "Mariological correctives" of Vatican II. That is what the original Roman commission, and the successive commission, then the joint Councils of the Carmelite Generalates have been up to till now.
Some might feel that anything new or different about the scapular is a diminishing of that Marian spiritual tradition. But Fr. Morello puts that fear to rest, "The Church, over the centuries, has sponsored the scapular so consistently as an authentic expression of Marian devotion, except for the sabbatine privilege, That there can be no reason to lessen our respect for and use of this sacramental."
"The new catechesis presents the scapular more in the framework of our baptism in and allegiance to Jesus Christ. We wear the scapular as a reminder of our having 'put on the Lord Jesus Christ,'" said Fr. Morello. "The origin of the scapular as a monastic work apron is significant here. It is a symbol of being in the service of Christ. And the Carmelites have always seen themselves as disciples of Jesus Christ in the company of his first and most perfect of followers, the Virgin of Nazareth."
"She is his mother, the Lady of the Place - St. Mary of Mount Carmel, to whom the Order dedicated itself by naming its first church. The Order has long looked upon Mary as its 'sister in faith and prayer and virtue.' Carmelites identify with her and want to imitate her. We Carmelites both honor and imitate her in terms of co-discipling Jesus Christ with her."
The Dogmatic Constitution of the Church of Vatican II, Lumen Gentium, in its famous Chapter VIII on Mary, speaks, lithe the Scriptures, of our having only one Mediator, Jesus Christ. Thus everyone in the communion of saints, especially Mary as first and foremost in association with Christ, participates in the one role of the Mediator who makes constant intercession for us. The Council goes on to clarify the role of Mary "as handmaid of the Lord, to the person and work of her Son, under and with him, serving the mystery of redemption, by the grace of Almighty God (#56).
Mary's function as mother of mankind in no way obscures or diminishes the unique mediation of Christ, but rather shows its power (#60). All of this re-educates us and helps us purify our notion of the role of the saints.
"We do well to strengthen our notion of Christ as the one and only Mediator. It is in him and through him that we have access to God the Father in the Spirit. It is in and through him that we have access to one another, for he mediates between you and me in many and varied ways," said Fr. Morello. "And it is in and through him that we have access to the communion of saints. Jesus is our link with all spiritual reality. There is no mediator with the mediator. Rather in Christ we live with this 'great cloud of witnesses" that spurs us on, Mary being the first and most prominent."
"So it is in Christ and through him that we enjoy the company of our Mother Mary and all the saints, in heaven and on earth. So the new catechesis shifts gears and presents the scapular in this light, more faithful to scripture and liturgy and patristic thought."
"It is important that we register the ecumenical times we live in. They purify our notions of God and religion. We are solidly re-established in Scripture and liturgy since the Council. We take advantage of our having direct access to the authentic sources of spirituality. And liturgy is the primary school of all spirituality. The liturgical way the Church prays in relation to Mary is the way we should pray and think and talk. That is the way we should also approach the scapular," explained Fr. Morello.
St. Therese has once and again caught our special attention with the conferral of the doctoral title on her and the international tour of her relics. When John Paul II declared her a Doctor of the Church, he made special mention of her Marian orientation. He stated that she came to similar conclusions as of the Second Vatican Council. This is a remarkable thing. St. Therese only wanted to know the biblical Mary, Mary of the Gospels, woman of faith that we can imitate even more than admire at a distance from our own experience and condition.
Fr. Sam chuckles as he states his opinion that "had Therese known the older Carmelite tradition of Mary our Sister and the Marian slant of the Second Vatican Council she would have danced for joy! Yes, she would have been delighted with what's going on. All of us can rest confident that the new way is more spiritually mature and on target. And it is a matter of Carmel's integrity to realign and adjust to the lead of holy Church."
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