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  • BROWN SCAPULAR

    The Brown Scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel
    PART II: The Scapular after Vatican II
     
    The most recent and authoritative Marian document for the Catholic Church today is the eighth chapter of Lumen Gentium – the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church – issued by the Second Vatican Council on November 21, 1964. One notices that the notion “spiritual motherhood” of Mary is referred to in almost every one of the 17 numbers of this chapter . This notion is also a central theme in the Carmelite tradition. In this conciliar document, it took precedence over the language of mediatrix and its cognates, which had become common from the early twenties. Mary is our mother because of her role in the transmission of divine life. It is a maternal task to conceive, nurture and foster life. She is concerned that the life of Jesus be extended into the life of his mystical body the Church. The universal role of motherhood of Mary as understood in John 19:25-28, especially in the choice of Jesus’ addressing her as “Woman” instead of “Mary” or “Mother”, is of great importance. Since our theologians and spiritual writers spoke «easily of Mary as Mother of Carmelites», it will not be difficult to place Carmelite tradition on Mary as spiritual mother within the Church’s development of this understanding. We continue to deepen this theme in the next point on the Scapular.
    One of the most challenging questions was the historicity of the Scapular vision of St. Simon Stock. For this reason, it attracted a lot of attention in the area of Marian devotion in Carmel after the Council. At first, it seemed to cause confusion and embarrassment. The present situation does not provide us with enough evidence to prove it false or authentic. This detail seems to be similar to many other Marian devotions. Basically, one finds it hard to prove or disprove them, if at all. That leaves space for faith and mystery which are real in a much deeper sense.
    The Prior General Healy saw it important to emphasize the Christocentrism of all our devotions including the Scapular, particularly in the context of the years right after the Council. Thus he wrote in 1969: «The Scapular must bring us to Christ. We insist on repeating this because we want to avoid any danger of leaving the impression, sometimes falsely given, that Mary is a loving, forgiving mother whose role is to temper the severe justice of her Divine Son, who is our Judge. Nothing could be farther from the truth. The mercy of Jesus does not need to be tempered by Mary. Her mercy is really only a manifestation of the mercy of Christ. All that Mary has, including her own redemption, is from Christ. Hence, the loving mercy of Mary toward us is simply a reflection and expression of the merciful love of Jesus for us. It is Jesus who has redeemed us and who pours forth his love through grace into our hearts, and who chose Mary to cooperate with him in the work of salvation» (HEALY, Devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary in Carmel).
     
    Then examining recent papal teachings, particularly of Pius XII in 1950 about the Scapular, and doing more careful and honest reflective research, our theologians have been approaching it from an angle of the dimension of “sacramental” and able to distill and attach the most basic meaning of the Scapular devotion to the significance of consecration which is theologically sound in the modern context. Indeed, the practice of consecration of individuals and the world to Mary has come very much to the fore. We can quickly recall this from the time of Pius XII to John Paul II (especially on March 25, 1984). It’s worth noting that the term “consecration” is first of all an act toward God alone, and so this term is used only in an analogous sense to Mary. There is a preferred interpretation of consecration as entrustment in the case of Mary. Consecration to Mary hence can be viewed as «a recognition of the full implications of her motherhood […]. As she is the Mother who intercedes, it is natural that we entrust ourselves to her. As she is exemplar, she forms our response to God in discipleship of her Son. Since she is our Mother, and an abiding presence in our lives, we are right to commit ourselves to her care» (C. O’DONNELL, Loving Presence). In brief, there are various reasons to hold that «the Scapular devotion is valid for the future [and]… has a sound doctrinal basis in the spiritual motherhood of Mary» (HEALY). As a sign of consecration or entrustment, this devotion fits in with the true Marian devotion of the Church demanded by the Second Vatican Council. There can be no true devotion without imitation, and the Scapular is a continual reminder that we must imitate the faith humility, purity, obedience and love of Mary. Only in this way will we share her life with Christ (Cf. HEALY). The Carmelite Marian Commission gives a conclusion for the Carmelite application of the notion of “consecration”, especially found in the active and loving action of God to us through the gift of Mary: «Hence our Carmelite “consecration” has two focal points: we consecrate ourselves to God in the spirit of Mary, symbolized by the Scapular, because the goal of consecration is God himself. And more profoundly, God consecrates us through giving us Mary, Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, as our patroness, mother and sister – we are consecrated in the receiving of this great gift. The gift must mean for us what it meant for the beloved disciple on Calvary – that we take Mary “unto our own,” both the person of Mary and the concrete community of which she is the full embodiment, that is, the Church, the body of Christ, and more specifically our Carmelite family. Renewal of Carmelite dedication, of Scapular consecration, involves both deeper acceptance of the gift of his Mother from the Savior and deeper commitment to the community she represents» (CARMELITE MARIAN COMMISSION, Interim Report)
                Pope John Paul, in his message on March 25, 2001 to the whole Carmelite Family, on the 750 th anniversary of the bestowal of the Scapular, revealed that he had been wearing the Scapular of Carmel over his heart for a long time. In the spirit and language of Vatican II and its Mariology, he reminded us Carmelites of our rich Marian tradition that has honored and imitated the Blessed Virgin Mary as our loving spiritual Mother, Patroness, Model, Sister, Most Pure Virgin,… He affirmed: “the rich Marian heritage of Carmel had become, through the spread of the Holy Scapular devotion, a treasure for the whole Church…. The sign of the Scapular points to an effective synthesis of Marian spirituality, which nourishes the devotion of believers and makes them sensitive to the Virgin Mother's loving presence in their lives. The Scapular is essentially a "habit". Those who receive it are associated more or less closely with the Order of Carmel and dedicate themselves to the service of Our Lady for the good of the whole Church… and the whole of humanity» (JOHN PAUL II, Letter of His Holiness Pope John Paul II for the Carmelite Marian Year).
     
    The Pope gives us a succinct presentation on the meaning of the Scapular devotion in the context of the world of today, the world in the new millennium: «Therefore two truths are evoked by the sign of the Scapular: on the one hand, the constant protection of the Blessed Virgin, not only on life's journey, but also at the moment of passing into the fullness of eternal glory; on the other, the awareness that devotion to her cannot be limited to prayers and tributes in her honour on certain occasions, but must become a "habit", that is, a permanent orientation of one's own Christian conduct, woven of prayer and interior life, through frequent reception of the sacraments and the concrete practice of the spiritual and corporal works of mercy. In this way the Scapular becomes a sign of the "covenant" and reciprocal communion between Mary and the faithful:  indeed, it concretely translates the gift of his Mother, which Jesus gave on the Cross to John and, through him, to all of us, and the entrustment of the beloved Apostle and of us to her, who became our spiritual Mother» (Ibid.)
    Joseph Viet Dinh, O.Carm.
     
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