With this new year of Divine Mercy, I thought it appropriate to ask a question about Brown Scapulars. I heard that you can’t wear one unless you have been to a special Mass. Is this true? Also, are there different color scapulars and what are their meanings? Thank you for your help, Father.
First of all, for those unfamiliar with the Brown Scapular, it is a lay devotion to Mary under the title of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel and brings one into a spiritual affiliation with the Carmelite Order and the good fruit of all of that religious order’s spiritual works and prayers. The scapular itself is made of two small squares of brown cloth joined by string usually and it is worn over the shoulders (think yoke of Christ) as a miniature representation of the larger scapular/apron portion of the Carmelite habit that laypeople could wear under their civilian clothing. Spiritually it is meant to represent Mary as protector and benefactor of all who wear it much like the colorful overlays medieval knights used to wear over their armor (think “I am a knight/servant of Mary’s house”). Now, in answer to your first question, a special mass is not required in order to wear the brown scapular. However, in order to receive the fullest spiritual benefits promised to those who wear it, one is asked to be enrolled or invested in the scapular the first time you wear it. As scapulars wear out and are replaced in the future they no longer need to be blessed after that and no reinvesting is required. Previously only a Carmelite priest was allowed to offer this blessing but the Magisterium has extended the faculty to any ordained Catholic priest. It is done through a brief prayer and blessing. I would recommend printing the enrollment prayer off of the internet and just approaching a priest after mass to ask them to extend this simple blessing to you. As an aside, scapulars preceded holy medals but the custom of holy medals came about in tropical regions where cloth scapulars simply did not last. They essentially serve the same function as a sign worn over the shoulders. In regard to your second question, Carmelites were the first to offer this devotional innovation with brown scapulars but later, due to the devotion’s popularity, other scapulars have crept up over the centuries. They can be categorized into two groups. The first represents scapulars worn by lay members of religious orders (i.e. oblates, 3rd Order members). The two most common apart from the brown Carmelite one are black for St. Benedict and white for St. Dominic for lay Benedictines and Dominicans respectively but there are others. The second group centers around devotional themes, many but not all of which are Marian. This list seems impossible to capture in its entirety due to the rate at which new ones develop but here are a few of the most popular: a) White with blue and red – Trinity, b) Black – Seven Sorrows of Mary, c) Blue, green or white – Immaculate Conception, d) Purple – St. Joseph, e) White – Holy Face of Jesus, Immaculate Heart of Mary, Sacred Heart of Jesus, f) Blue and black – St. Michael the Archangel, g) Red – Passion of Christ, Precious Blood of Jesus. The general idea of each, again, is that medieval concept of a knight or servant invested to a particular house. You are essentially saying, “This is my favorite devotion or saint and I will dedicate my prayers and works to it in a particular way.”