One day, while walking through a wet grocery store parking lot in Los Angeles, I spied a couple of green fabric squares on the ground that had pictures on them.
Reaching down and picking them up, I realized the squares were joined by a green double thread. One square had an embroidered picture of Our Lady of Guadalupe, and the other had a picture of what I thought was Christ, but which I learned while researching this post is actually St. Jude.
I figured it was some sort of Catholic thing, so the next time I was at Mass, I showed it to a friend. The exchange went something like this: “Do you know what this is?” “Oh, that’s a scapular. You wear them.” “Why?” “I don’t know, you just do.” “Do you?” “No.” “Why not?” “I don’t know, but my mother does.” “Why?” “I don’t know. It’s a thing she does.”
That’s one of the fun and frustrating parts about being a Catholic – there are so many official and personal devotions, but lots of people don’t know anything about them, and even if they do them, they still may know very little about them.
But, armed with the word “scapular,” at least now I could Google. The green Guadalupe scapular was probably made in Mexico, but it’s not the same as a “Green Scapular,” which depicts the Immaculate Heart of Mary. And besides, even though the Green Scapular is called a scapular and looks like a scapular, it’s not actually a scapular.
It was created after an apparition of the Virgin Mary appeared on Sept. 8, 1840, the Feast of her Nativity, and entrusted the Green Scapular of her Immaculate Conception to Sister Justine Bisqueyburu of the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul. Our Lady promised it would contribute to the conversion of souls, especially those lacking faith, and help them to a happy death.
Pope Pius IX approved the devotion in 1863 and 1870, and he urged the sisters to make and distribute the scapulars. But, it’s not a traditional scapular, because those are a significantly modified and abbreviated version of a particular monastic scapular, a panel of cloth put over the head and worn atop the front and back of a monastic habit.
There’s the Brown Scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, which tradition says the Virgin gave to St. Simon Stock at Cambridge, England, on Sunday, July 1, 1251. She told him it would help the wearer to heaven (by enhancing prayer and devotion to Our Lady, and therefore, to Christ; it’s not a free pass to Paradise) and offer special protection for members of the Carmelite Order.
Click here if you want to rest of this story and the ones behind the Red Scapular of Christ’s Passion, the Black Scapular of the Seven Sorrows of Mary, the Blue Scapular of the Immaculate Conception, the White Scapular of the Holy Trinity, and the Green Scapular that is indeed green, but not exactly a scapular.
There are many more kinds of scapulars, some with long cords, some with short cords, some with crucifixes and medals, and some not. Along with fabric (usually wool), there are enameled ones, heart-shaped ones, laminated ones, metal ones, wood ones and ones that are basically just necklaces with scapular-shaped pendants.
Each one is attached to a particular devotion and offers various indulgences for the wearing of it and for prayers. But treating them like magic talismans or using them as objects of superstition is wrong and sacrilegious. Like wearing a perpetual Post-It note, the presence of the scapular refocuses the mind from everyday concerns to spiritual ones, and is a visual reminder to stop and spend time in prayer.
And they’re not just for women. Lots of men also wear scapulars.
If you watch this trailer for a proposed Web series called “Father Dangerous: Bionic Priest,” you’ll see that Kaiser Johnson, the actor playing the title role of a kind of clerical “Six Million Dollar Man,” wears a scapular (a devout Catholic, he wears one in real life, too, and he contributed insights for this piece).
I haven’t been able to find much detail on the origins of my Guadalupe scapular. Some sites list a description for it that resembles the Green Scapular, while some relate it to the Brown Scapular. So, it’s either about conversion or getting to heaven, or both. Don’t know, though, if it does anything special for Carmelites.
But I do know that Our Lady of Guadalupe is the “Patroness of the Americas” and the “Protectress of Unborn Children” (two of the three names given to her by Pope John Paul II in 1999), and St. Jude is the patron saint of desperate cause.
So, considering the state of our nation and the rampant evil of abortion, it could be just the ticket for our times – if I wore it, that is.
The scapulars worn by lay people, like rosaries, are devotions that can deepen faith and encourage discipline and prayer, but they’re not necessary to the practice of the Catholic Faith or to achieving salvation.
It took me a while as a revert to the Faith to warm up to the rosary. I’m over the moon that the free Laudate app (available for Android and iOS) has just added a beautiful interactive version of my favorite, the seven-decade Franciscan Crown, complete with a San Damiano crucifix.
So, perhaps I’ll find a home for my Guadalupe scapular with someone eager to wear it and keep looking until I find one that speaks to me. Then we’ll see about the actual wearing and praying.
One step at a time …