What Is a Scapular?

A Popular Sacramental

Our Lady of Mount Carmel
This image of Our Lady of Mount Carmel giving the brown scapular to the Carmelite Ss. John of the Cross, Teresa of Avila, and Therese of Lisieux is in the church of Santa Maria della Victoria in Rome. Fr. Lawrence Lew, OP (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

The Monastic Scapular

In its original form, the scapular is a part of the monastic habit (the outfit that monks wear). It is composed of two large pieces of cloth, connected in the middle by narrower strips of cloth, much like an apron that covers both the front and the back of the wearer. The narrower strips provide an opening through which the monk places his head; the strips then sit on his shoulders, and the large pieces of cloth hang down in front and in back.

The scapular gets its name from the Latin word scapulae, which means "shoulders."

The Devotional Scapular

Today, the term scapular is used most often to refer to a sacramental (a religious object) that has essentially the same form as the monastic scapular but is composed of much smaller pieces of wool cloth (usually only an inch or two square) and thinner connecting strips. Technically, these are known as "small scapulars," and they are worn by lay faithful as well as those in religious orders. Each small scapular represents a particular devotion and often has a certain indulgence or even a revealed "privilege" (or special power) attached to it.

The Brown Scapular

The most famous of the small scapulars is the Scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel (the "Brown Scapular"), revealed by the Blessed Virgin Mary herself to St. Simon Stock on July 16, 1251. Those who wear it faithfully as an expression of devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, it is said, will be granted the grace of final perseverance—that is, to remain firm in the faith even in the moment of their death.

Pronunciation: ˈskapyələr

Common Misspellings: scapula

Examples: "Every year, on the Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, Father blesses Brown Scapulars and distributes them to the parishioners."