"I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, and my soul shall be joyful in my God: for he hath clothed me with the garments of salvation." Isaias, 61:10.
On July 21, 1906, Bill Reilly, an eighteen-year old Catholic soldier, was decorated by the President of the United States. He owes his decoration to the scapular which he wore constantly. On the night of April 10 of the previous spring the two regiments of General Wood were resting after routing a band of Filipinos. After this short rest they were to resume the march. They were already folding their tents, when a wounded horse galloped into the camp. They examined the animal and found under the saddle a message:
"Don't depart before daybreak; the Filipinos are lying in ambush."
General Wood took the advice. In the morning his men found fourteen of his messengers horribly mutilated. Among them was Bill Reilly. He was still living, though unconscious. His life had been spared by the Filipinos. Why?
About his neck Reilly wore his scapular. The Catholic Filipinos out of respect for the scapular spared his life. Reilly was thus enabled to get the message through that saved the entire regiment of 2,500 Americans.
The scapular is much more important as a means of saving souls. It is a popular and powerful sacramental. The scapular is a badge of religious membership. It consists of two pieces of cloth, one of which is worn on the breast and the other on the back. The two pieces are joined by bands or strings passing over the shoulders. The word is derived from the Latin "scapula" which means shoulder-blade.
A scapular gives its wearer a share in the merits, prayers and spiritual benefits of the group whose badge it is. In some cases it makes the wearer a sort of lay member of some great religious order.
In some religious orders like the Benedictines and Carmelites an outer or additional garment is worn. It is called a scapular. It is a long, wide piece of cloth hanging from the shoulders before and behind to the shoetops. In the Middle Ages devout lay people were allowed to become oblates of these orders. That meant they remained in the world but assisted in many of the monastic services and shared in the benefits of the order. As a pledge of this privilege they were permitted to wear the scapular. With time, and for convenience, this was made smaller.
Today we have the large and small scapular. The former is about 5 by 2-1/2 inches and is worn, for example, by the world-wide Third Order of St. Francis. The small scapular is about 2 by 2-1/2 inches. The scapular of Mount Carmel is about that size.
There are many general regulations with regard to the wearing of this spiritual garment:
1. The scapular may be given to any Catholic, even to a baby.
2. It may be given in any place, even in a sick room.
3. It must be worn in such a way that one part hangs on the breast, the other part on the back. Over the shoulders must be bands connecting the two pieces of cloth. If worn or carried in any other way, the indulgences are not gained. It may be worn under or over all the clothing, or between the under and outer clothing.
4. When a person has been invested, it is not necessary to bless a new scapular in case the old one is worn out or lost. The wearer simply secures a new one and puts it on. However, one usually has it blessed.
5. The scapular must be worn constantly to share in certain spiritual benefits. Putting it aside for a short time, like an hour or a day, will not deprive of the blessings. If put off for a longer time, one loses all the benefits during that time. The scapular medal has the same indulgences.
There are about sixteen approved scapulars. The more common are the white, representing the Most Holy Trinity; the red, emblematic of the Passion of our Lord; the brown or Mount Carmel scapular in honor of our Blessed Mother; the black, in honor of the Seven Sorrows of Mary; the blue of the Immaculate Conception; the brown of the Franciscan Third Order.
Aptly has the scapular been called "The Queen's Uniform." If earthly kings and queens honor their deserving subjects by investing them in special orders and companies, if membership in these orders carries with it special privileges and the right to wear the distinctive badge of that group, and if that badge or uniform is respected by all the king's men and all the queen's women, surely it is most proper and reasonable that the glorious Queen of heaven and earth, our Blessed Mother, should have special groups of her faithful children on earth who become members officially and thus obtain the right to many spiritual privileges and the right to wear some distinctive garb.
Some idea of the favors possible can be gathered from the prayer as the priest invests with the scapular of Mount Carmel:
"Receive this blessed habit; praying the most holy Virgin that by her merits thou mayest wear it without stain; and that she may guard thee from all evil, and bring thee to life everlasting.... By the power granted me, I admit thee to the participation of all the spiritual good works, which through the gracious help of Jesus Christ are performed by the Religious of Mount Carmel.... May the Creator of heaven and earth. Almighty God, bless (cross) thee; who hath deigned to unite thee to the confraternity of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mount Carmel. We beseech her, in the hour of thy death, to crush the head of the old serpent; so that thou mayest in the end win the everlasting palm and crown of the heavenly inheritance. Through Christ our Lord. Amen."
May many of you be like Bill Reilly. May you wear the Queen's uniform--the scapular--faithfully and thoughtfully. May it be a means of many graces, the means also of the greatest grace everlasting life. Amen.
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