July 16 is the feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, a solemnity for Carmelites. In statues of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel (like the one shown here from the El Carmelo Carmelite Retreat Center), Mary and Jesus are depicted holding small scapulars -- smaller versions of the scapular worn as part of the Carmelite habit. The day is particularly remembered for Mary as the patroness of the Carmelite family, with particular devotion to Our Lady for her protection and the long history of particular devotion to her by Carmelites.
The devotion is rooted in Scripture and in the Carmelite history going at least back to hermits who lived on Mt. Carmel during the Crusades, who dedicated their oratory to Mary, and who were known as the Brothers of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mount Carmel.
According to tradition, moreover, Mary gave the scapular to St. Simon Stock in a vision in the thirteenth century. That tradition, and related legends, are the subject of this post, which will look at the views of recent Carmelite historians and the Church's present stand on them. This post will also consider the present day sacramental of the brown scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel and its deep and continuing significance to those within and outside of the Carmelite orders.
In the "Carmelites: History" category of this blog, you will find a series of posts begun a year ago about the stories and legends of Mount Carmel. Each post considers a legend found here or there and considers how much historic fact there is within the story. An earlier post last year spoke of Carmel as the Order of Our Lady, looking more particularly at the life of Mary as known from Scripture and her connection to Mount Carmel in the Holy Land and to the Carmelite hermits and saints.
This post will consider legends mentioned briefly in that earlier post: the stories of visions of St. Simon Stock and Pope John XXII and the Sabbatine privilege.
The Story of St. Simon Stock -- and the Historical Evidence
The legend of St. Simon stock's vision of the Blessed Virgin giving him the scapular, and related legends giving a special indulgence to Carmelites and those who wear the scapular (including the Sabbatine Privilege) are probably the best known of all Carmelite stories.
However, the stories involve a combination of fact and fiction. Simon Stock was a real person whose feast day has been approved by the Holy See as an optional memorial for Carmelites. Pope John XXII was of course also a real person. As recently as 2001, Pope John Paul II mentioned St. Simon Stock's vision in which the Blessed Mother is said to have given him the Carmelite habit. However, the Sabbatine Privilege is based on an apocryphal papal bull that has been found by the Holy See to be wholly unfounded, and Carmelites have been admonished not to spread that belief since the 17th century.
Nonetheless, the stories remain among the most widely known and treasured of the stories of Mt. Carmel. Indeed, a search of the web today would probably turn up more sites that report the Sabbatine Privilege as doctrine than sites that report it as legend. You will find the legend here, here, here, and here, among the various websites that record it.
In contrast, the Carmelite Website (O.Carm.) reports that Simon Stock was an English prior general who died in Bordeaux around 1265. Stories of miracles he performed date back to soon after his death. However, it was not until around 1400 that the story sprang up in the Low Countries that Our Lady had visited him and given him the scapular. In the story, she said to him, "This is a privilege for you and your brethren: whoever dies wearing it, will be saved." Within a few years, two versions of the story had developed. In time, it was elaborated with details about his life: He was said to have been born in Kent, to have lived as a hermit in a tree, and to have written the Flos Carmeli. In fact, those stories originated in the fifteenth century, while the Flos Carmeli can be found in the fourteenth century and thus pre-dates the legend.
As the story spread, the memorial of St. Simon Stock became part of the Carmelite Order's liturgical calendar, celebrated on May 16. It was removed from the calendar in the reforms following Vatican II, but has since then been restored and authorized by the Vatican as an optional memorial for both O. Carm. and OCD. St. Simon Stock has never been formally canonized or beatified, nor is there likely to be adequate historical documentation to warrant a future beatification.
While the website just mentioned would acknowledge that Simon Stock was once a Carmelite prior general, even that fact, or at least the timing, may be fictional. In his Introduction to The Foundations, Fr. Kieran Kavanaugh, O.C.D. wrote this:
The order's devotion to our Lady grew stronger through another tradition that in 1251, a time of hardship for Carmelites, she appeared to the prior general, Simon Stock, to encourage him and give him the scapular as a pledge of her protection. The oldest written account of this vision comes 150 years after the alleged event, a gap considered too wide for certainty especially in light of the medieval fondness for clothing a spiritual or theological belief in a story. What is more, it now appears certain that the prior general from 1247 - 1256 was not Simon Stock, but a certain Godfrey, whose name appears as prior general on recently discovered legal documents. . . . Not until the nineteenth century did historians begin to stress the necessity of establishing facts through meticulous research and discriminating criticism.
Fr. Patrick McMahon, O.Carm., in writing about The Scapular suggested that the Carmelite hermits on Mt. Carmel would not have worn a scapular, and that the scapular may have been introduced to the order in 1247 when two Dominicans were asked by the Pope to help Carmelites adjust to urban life. He mentions that the constitutions of the late 13th and 14th centuries had to insist that Carmelites wear their scapulars. Fr. McMahon comments, "This would be, of course, very strange, if the Blessed Virgin Mary had indeed appeared to Saint Simon Stock in 1254 as the legends tell us."
The Story of the Sabbatine Privilege -- and Its Rejection by the Holy See
Beyond the story of St. Simon Stock's vision, there is a further legend of papal approval by Pope John XXII, who is said to have had an appearance of the Blessed Mother. That pope is said to have issued a papal bull granting the "Sabbatine privilege" -- a special indulgence for Carmelites and the Confraternity of the Blessed Scapular. However, the bull is apocryphal. The legend of papal approval of the Sabbatine privilege has been specifically rejected by the Church since 1613, when the Holy See determined that the supposed decree was unfounded and admonished the Carmelite Order not to preach the Sabbatine Privilege. The unfounded story was that Pope John XXII had issued a papal bull dated 1322 in which he had said that the Blessed Mother had appeared to him asking that he grant an indulgence for the Carmelite Order and the Confraternity of the Blessed Scapular remitting a portion of the temporal punishment for their sins, and saying that the Blessed Mother would descend on the Saturday after their death to liberate them from purgatory and lead them to heaven.
The Present Day Rite for Enrollment in the Scapular and the Teaching of Carmelite Provincials
Both the message given in Simon Stock's vision (that those who die wearing the scapular will be saved) and the Sabbatine privilege (that Mary will come to lead them out of purgatory on the Saturday after their death) are problematic in that they suggest that wearing the scapular can have a role in eternal salvation and the forgiveness of sins.
The present day Carmelite Catechesis and Ritual for the enrollment in the Scapular of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mount Carmel relies, instead, on Biblical symbolism, using a Rite of Blessing of and Enrollment in the Scapular issued by the Congregation for Divine worship and for the Discipline of the Sacraments on November 29, 1996. That Rite mentions the tradition of St. Simon Stock,reporting that it has existed since the end of the fourteenth century, with the tradition of the Sabbatine privilege developing later, and acknowledges that the approach to such popular devotions has changed:
The scapular of Carmel, or the habit (also called by other names in different places), is one of the devotions most loved by the people of God. The great diffusion of the scapular seems to have been due to the tradition of a vision of Our Lady, documented at least since the end of the fourteenth century.
4. During one of its difficult times, the order asked to get full recognition and stability within the Church. Mary, Patroness of Carmel, seemed to have answered this plea with a vision to the English Carmelite, St. Simon Stock. She held in her hand the scapular and assured the holy prior general, saying:
"This is a privilege for you and the order: whoever dies wearing this Scapular will be saved. Later, it was widely believed that the Virgin would deliver from Purgatory, on the first Saturday after death, the Carmelites and people associated with them who observed chastity according to their state, recited prayers, and wore the habit of Carmel. This is the so-called Sabbatine Privilege. . . .
More recently, thanks to a deeper understanding of our tradition and the fruit of research and of the process of renewal in the whole Church, the approach to popular devotions and, therefore, to the scapular, has changed.
Accompanying the Rite, a letter from the Carmelite Provincials in North America and Pastoral Comments by the North American Carmelite Provincials discuss the legends and the present day devotion to the scapular.
The letter from the Carmelite Provincials, dated Easter, 2000, includes the following:
Well-meaning people have often spread the devotion with extravagant claims that have no historical background and which sometimes are difficult to reconcile with sound Christian Doctrine. In our catechesis of the Brown Scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, we Carmelites accept the mandate to clearly teach the doctrine that Church teaches and our Carmelite Rule affirms so well -- that Jesus Christ is the only one who liberates us from our sin. The Universal Church has entrusted the Carmelite Order with the responsibility for guaranteeing the authenticity of this devotion as it has been revised by the Holy See. Information offered by other groups is not necessarily in harmony with the approved practice of the Church.
The Provincials' Pastoral Comments also say
Stories and legends abound in Carmelite tradition about the many ways in which the Mother of God has interceded for the Order, especially in critical moments of its history. Most enduring and popular of these traditions, blessed by the Church, concerns Mary's promises to an early Carmelite, Saint Simon Stock, that anyone who remains faithful to the Carmelite vocation until death will be granted the grace of final perseverance. The Carmelite Order has been anxious to share this patronage and protection with those who are devoted to the Mother of God and so has extended both its habit (the scapular) and affiliation to the larger Church.
Private revelation can neither add to nor detract from the Church's deposit of faith. Therefore, the Brown Scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel echoes the promise of Divine Revelation: "The one who holds out to the end is the one who will see salvation" (Matthew 24:13) and "Remain faithful unto death and I will give you the crown of life" (Revelation 2:10). The Brown Scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel is a reminder to its wearers of the saving grace which Christ gained upon the cross for all: "All you who have been baptized into Christ have clothed yourself in him" (Galatians 3:27). There is no salvation for anyone other than that won by Christ. The Sacraments mediate this saving grace to the faithful. The sacramentals, including the scapular, do not mediate this saving grace but prepare us to receive grace and dispose us to cooperate with it. . . .
We see, therefore, that the Church clearly teaches that all grace, including that of final perseverance, is won for us by the Passion, Death and Resurrection of the Lord. Simply wearing the Brown Scapular does not confer that same result.
Discussing the official status of the Sabbatine Privilege, the Provincials went on to say:
Historical research has shown that the alleged fourteenth century appearance of the Blessed Mother to Pope John XXII is without historical foundation. As a matter of fact, in the year 1613, the Holy See determined that the decree establishing the "Sabbatine Privilege" was unfounded and the church admonished the Carmelite Order not to preach this doctrine. . . .[T]he Holy See acknowledged that the faithful may devoutly believe that the Blessed Virgin Mary by her continuous intercession, merciful prayers, merits, and special protection will assist the souls of deceased brothers and sisters and members of the confraternity, especially on Saturday, the day which the church dedicates to the Blessed Virgin.
Pope John Paul II, the Tradition of St. Simon Stock, and the Brown Scapular
Today, Catholic devotion to the Carmelite brown scapular is still strong. Pope John Paul II acknowledged that he had worn a scapular over his heart for a long time as a form of Marian devotion.
While the Sabbatine Privilege is not taught, the tradition of Mary's appearance to St. Simon Stock has never been prohibited. There is simply too little historical evidence for it to be certain, and Carmelite historians regard it as a legend. However, on the 750th anniversary of the traditional year of that vision, John Paul II supported the tradition of Simon Stock's vision as the source of the Carmelite scapular.
In Pope John Paul II's Message to the Carmelite Family, dated March 25, 2001, he mentioned the tradition of the vision favorably:
I therefore learned with deep joy that the two branches of the Order of Carmel, the ancient and the reformed, intend to express their filial love for their Patroness by dedicating the year 2001 to her, invoked as the Flower of Carmel, Mother and Guide on the way of holiness. In this regard, I cannot fail to stress a happy coincidence: the celebration of this Marian year for the whole of Carmel is taking place, according to a venerable tradition of the Order itself, on the 750th anniversary of the bestowal of the Scapular. This celebration is therefore a marvellous occasion for the entire Carmelite Family to deepen not only its Marian spirituality, but to live it more and more in the light of the place which the Virgin Mother of God and of mankind holds in the mystery of Christ and the Church, and therefore to follow her who is the "Star of Evangelization" (cf. Novo millennio ineunte, n. 58). . . .
This intense Marian life, which is expressed in trusting prayer, enthusiastic praise and diligent imitation, enables us to understand how the most genuine form of devotion to the Blessed Virgin, expressed by the humble sign of the Scapular, is consecration to her Immaculate Heart (cf. Pius XII, Letter Neminem profecto latet [11 February 1950: AAS 42, 1950, pp. 390-391]; Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen gentium, n. 67). In this way, the heart grows in communion and familiarity with the Blessed Virgin, "as a new way of living for God and of continuing here on earth the love of Jesus the Son for his Mother Mary" (cf. Angelus Address, in Insegnamenti XI/3, 1988, p. 173). Thus, as the blessed Carmelite martyr Titus Brandsma expressed it, we are put in profound harmony with Mary the Theotokos and become, like her, transmitters of divine life: "The Lord also sends his angel to us ... we too must accept God in our hearts, carry him in our hearts, nourish him and make him grow in us so that he is born of us and lives with us as the God-with-us, Emmanuel" (From the report of Bl. Titus Brandsma to the Mariological Congress of Tongerloo, August 1936).
Over time this rich Marian heritage of Carmel has become, through the spread of the Holy Scapular devotion, a treasure for the whole Church. By its simplicity, its anthropological value and its relationship to Mary's role in regard to the Church and humanity, this devotion was so deeply and widely accepted by the People of God that it came to be expressed in the memorial of 16 July on the liturgical calendar of the universal Church.
In his general audience of September 21, 2001, John Paul II said further:
I greet with special affection the Carmelite Family, gathered here with a large group of pilgrims from many nations on the occasion of the meeting that commemorates the 750th anniversary of the giving of the Scapular. Dearly beloved, this happy event involves not only those devoted to Our Lady of Mt Carmel, but the whole Church because the rich Marian heritage of Carmel has become in time, thanks to the spread of devotion connected with the Scapular, a treasure for the entire People of God. Draw constantly from this wonderful spiritual patrimony in order to be credible witnesses to Christ and to His Gospel in daily life.
With the Letter that I wrote last 25th March to the Superiors General of the Order of the Carmelites and of the Order of the Discalced Carmelites, I invited you to this special dedication. In it, among other items, I wrote that the Scapular is essentially a habit which evokes the protection of the Blessed Virgin Mary in this life and in the passage to the fullness of eternal glory. The Scapular also reminds us that the devotion to her must become a "uniform", that is a Christian life-style, woven of prayer and interior life. I hope that this anniversary may be for each one of you an occasion for personal conversion, for community renewal, in which we will respond to the divine grace which fortifies us on the path to holiness.
Thus, while reliable historical evidence for the tradition is lacking, the tradition of the Virgin's appearance to St. Simon Stock is still accepted by many people, and the tradition was given support as recently as 2001 by Pope John Paul II. Where honored, it needs to be distinguished from the later story of the Virgin's appearance to Pope John XXII, and the story of the Sabbatine Privilege, which the Holy See has rejected.
The Stories and Church Teaching
Section 67 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church says the following about private revelations in general:
Throughout the ages, there have been so-called "private" revelations, some of which have been recognized by the authority of the Church. They do not belong, however, to the deposit of faith. It is not their role to improve or complete Christ's definitive Revelation, but to help live more fully by it in a certain period of history. Guided by the magisterium of the Church, the sensus fidelium knows how to discern and welcome in these revelations whatever constitutes an authentic call of Christ or his saints to the Church.
Christian faith cannot accept "revelations" that claim to surpass or correct the Revelation of which Christ is the fulfillment, as is the case in certain non-Christian religions and also in certain recent sects which base themselves on such "revelations."
The Sabbatine Privilege, and simpler legends attributing salvific power to the scapular run afoul of the Catechism in that they would attribute to a sacramental the grace that can only come from Christ. As the Provincials wrote in their Pastoral Comment quoted above, "The Sacraments mediate this saving grace to the faithful. The sacramentals, including the scapular, do not mediate this saving grace but prepare us to receive grace and dispose us to cooperate with it. . . ."
Moreover, as to the tradition of St. Simon Stock's vision, even if it were true, it would be a private revelation and not part of "the deposit of faith" according to the Catechism as just quoted.
In writing about The Message of Fatima, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (written by then Cardinal Ratzinger) set forth the teaching of the Church on private revelations including those at Fatima for which we have a record of the apparition from around the time it is said to have happened. He drew from the Catechism two principles concerning private revelations, which he defined as "all the visions and revelations which have taken place since the completion of the New Testament":
1. The authority of private revelations is essentially different from that of the definitive public Revelation. The latter demands faith; in it in fact God himself speaks to us through human words and the mediation of the living community of the Church. Faith in God and in his word is different from any other human faith, trust or opinion. The certainty that it is God who is speaking gives me the assurance that I am in touch with truth itself. It gives me a certitude which is beyond verification by any human way of knowing. It is the certitude upon which I build my life and to which I entrust myself in dying.
2. Private revelation is a help to this faith, and shows its credibility precisely by leading me back to the definitive public Revelation. In this regard, Cardinal Prospero Lambertini, the future Pope Benedict XIV, says in his classic treatise, which later became normative for beatifications and canonizations: “An assent of Catholic faith is not due to revelations approved in this way; it is not even possible. These revelations seek rather an assent of human faith in keeping with the requirements of prudence, which puts them before us as probable and credible to piety”. The Flemish theologian E. Dhanis, an eminent scholar in this field, states succinctly that ecclesiastical approval of a private revelation has three elements: the message contains nothing contrary to faith or morals; it is lawful to make it public; and the faithful are authorized to accept it with prudence (E. Dhanis,Sguardo su Fatima e bilancio di una discussione, in La Civiltà Cattolica 104 , II, 392-406, in particular 397). Such a message can be a genuine help in understanding the Gospel and living it better at a particular moment in time; therefore it should not be disregarded. It is a help which is offered, but which one is not obliged to use.
The last sentence just quoted is significant: "It is a help which is offered, but which one is not obligated to use." Thus, even if one assumes that St. Simon Stock's vision of the Blessed Virgin was an actual historic event, no one is obligated to use it. If authorized by the Catholic Church, one is authorized, but not required, to use private revelation.
Cardinal Ratzinger then wrote more:
The criterion for the truth and value of a private revelation is therefore its orientation to Christ himself. When it leads us away from him, when it becomes independent of him or even presents itself as another and better plan of salvation, more important than the Gospel, then it certainly does not come from the Holy Spirit, who guides us more deeply into the Gospel and not away from it. . . . We might add that private revelations often spring from popular piety and leave their stamp on it, giving it a new impulse and opening the way for new forms of it.
Thus, the truth and value of the story of St. Simon Stock's vision must be evaluated by whether it leads us to Christ or away from him. If interpreted to present another plan of salvation, it does not come from the Holy Spirit. Again, although Cardinal Ratzinger did not at all mention the Sabbatine Privilege in that document, the document supports the Church's rejection of the legend at least to the extent that it entails the Sabbatine Privilege. However, the story of St. Simon Stock's vision has indeed left its stamp on the scapular.
Drawing from St. Paul's First Epistle to the Thessalonians, Cardinal Ratzinger wrote further:
The Apostle says: “Do not quench the Spirit, do not despise prophesying, but test everything, holding fast to what is good” (5:19-21). In every age the Church has received the charism of prophecy, which must be scrutinized but not scorned. On this point, it should be kept in mind that prophecy in the biblical sense does not mean to predict the future but to explain the will of God for the present, and therefore show the right path to take for the future. A person who foretells what is going to happen responds to the curiosity of the mind, which wants to draw back the veil on the future. The prophet speaks to the blindness of will and of reason, and declares the will of God as an indication and demand for the present time. In this case, prediction of the future is of secondary importance. What is essential is the actualization of the definitive Revelation, which concerns me at the deepest level. The prophetic word is a warning or a consolation, or both together. In this sense there is a link between the charism of prophecy and the category of “the signs of the times”, which Vatican II brought to light anew: “You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky; why then do you not know how to interpret the present time?” (Lk 12:56). In this saying of Jesus, the “signs of the times” must be understood as the path he was taking, indeed it must be understood as Jesus himself. To interpret the signs of the times in the light of faith means to recognize the presence of Christ in every age. In the private revelations approved by the Church—and therefore also in Fatima—this is the point: they help us to understand the signs of the times and to respond to them rightly in faith.
Where the tradition of St. Simon Stock's vision of the Blessed Virgin giving him the scapular is taken as true, then, the vision must be scrutinized by the Church and then actualized as it concerns us at the deepest level, recognizing the presence of Christ in our own age, and responding rightly in faith.
Interestingly, St. Teresa of Avila expressed a similar view in the sixteenth century, such that there is no need to go outside of the Carmelite orders to find reason to question such visions. Although she accepted the common understanding of Carmelite history in her day, she expressed concern about the source of her own visions and those of other people. In Interior Castle, (VI:3), she wrote:
Now then, to return to what I was saying about locutions, all the kinds I mentioned can be from God or from the devil or from one's own imagination. If I can manage to do so, I shall give, with the help of the Lord, the signs as to when they come from these different sources and when they are dangerous: for there are many souls among prayerful people who hear them. My desire, Sisters, is that you realize you are doing the right thing if you refuse to give credence to them, even when they are destined just for you (such as, some consolation, or advice about your faults), no matter who tells you about them, or if they are an illusion, for it doesn't matter where they come from. One thing I advise you: do not think, even if the locutions are from God, that you are better because of them, for He spoke frequently with the Pharisees. All the good comes from how one benefits by these words; and pay no more attention to those that are not in close conformity with Scripture than you would to those heard from the devil himself. Even if they come from your weak imagination, it's necessary to treat them as if they were temptations in matters of faith, and thus resist them always. They will then go away because they will have little effect on you.
Similarly, in Chapter 25 of The Life she wrote:
If the soul does not discern this great strength in itself, and if the particular devotion or vision help it not onwards, then it must not look upon it as safe. For though at first the soul is conscious of no harm, great harm may by degrees ensue; because, so far as I can see, and by experience understand, that which purports to come from God is received only in so far as it corresponds with the sacred writings; but if it varies therefrom ever so little, I am incomparably more convinced that it comes from Satan than I am now convinced it comes from God, however deep that conviction may be. In this case, there is no need to ask for signs, nor from what spirit it proceeds, because this varying is so clear a sign of the devil's presence, that if all the world were to assure me that it came from God, I would not believe it.
Applied to the visions attributed to St. Simon Stock and Pope John XXII, related to the scapular, St. Teresa of Jesus would have rejected those visions as from Satan or human imagination, where they vary ever so little from the Scriptures, even "if all the world were to assure me that it came from God." Thus, there is no reason to believe that Church rejection of a legend that is inconsistent with Church teaching is in any way a reduction of Carmelite spirituality. Rather, the Carmelite saints would have rejected a vision on the same basis if shown that it was contrary to Scripture and Church teaching.
Moreover, although she repeatedly speaks of the Carmelite habit as Our Lady's habit, she does not specifically mention whether she derives that view from the vision of Simon Stock or, instead, from the Marian heritage of the early Carmelite hermits. Thus, although St. Teresa would have believed something of the story of St. Simon Stock's vision, she came close to the issue affecting the Sabbatine privilege and similar legends when she wrote about lessons learned from being stripped of what the nuns had left behind (III:2):
And believe me the whole affair doesn't lie in whether or not we wear the religious habit but in striving to practice the virtues, in surrendering our will to God in everything, in bringing our life into accordance with what His Majesty ordains for it, and in desiring that His will not ours be done.
The Continuing Value of the Scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel
Carmelites were devoted to the Blessed Virgin before the lifetime of St. Simon Stock, and devotion to the Blessed Virgin and the scapular derive their significance from Scripture and Church teaching separate and apart from Simon Stock's vision.
Concerning sacramentals such as the scapular, Sections 1667 to 1679 of Part II of the Catechism set forth the Church's teaching. Section 1670 is particularly applicable to how we view these stories today:
Sacramentals do not confer the grace of the Holy Spirit in the way that the sacraments do, but by the Church's prayer, they prepare us to receive grace and dispose us to cooperate with it. "For well-disposed members of the faithful, the liturgy of the sacraments and sacramentals sanctifies almost every event of their lives with the divine grace which flows from the Paschal mystery of the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Christ. From this source all sacraments and sacramentals draw their power. There is scarcely any proper use of material things which cannot be thus directed toward the sanctification of men and the praise of God."
Accordingly, a scapular may sanctify almost every event of our lives with the divine grace which flows from the Paschal mystery of the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Christ. But it draws its power only from that source, and not from an appearance of the Blessed Virgin in a private vision. Moreover, a scapular cannot confer the grace of the Holy Spirit in the way the sacraments do. By the Church's prayer, it can prepare us to receive grace from Christ and can dispose us to cooperate with that grace.
The continued importance of sacramentals today is shown by sections 60 and 61 of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy promulgated in 1963 by Pope Paul VI, Sacrosanctum Concilium:
60. Holy Mother Church has, moreover, instituted sacramentals. These are sacred signs which bear a resemblance to the sacraments: they signify effects, particularly of a spiritual kind, which are obtained through the Church's intercession. By them men are disposed to receive the chief effect of the sacraments, and various occasions in life are rendered holy.
61. Thus, for well-disposed members of the faithful, the liturgy of the sacraments and sacramentals sanctifies almost every event in their lives; they are given access to the stream of divine grace which flows from the paschal mystery of the passion, death, the resurrection of Christ, the font from which all sacraments and sacramentals draw their power. There is hardly any proper use of material things which cannot thus be directed toward the sanctification of men and the praise of God.
Section 205 of the Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy from the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments (December, 2001) specifically mentions the Scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel (footnotes omitted):
The history of Marian piety also includes "devotion" to various scapulars, the most common of which is devotion to the Scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. Its use is truly universal and, undoubtedly, its is one of those pious practices which the Council described as "recommended by the Magisterium throughout the centuries".
The Scapular of Mount Carmel is a reduced form of the religious habit of the Order of the Friars of the Blessed Virgin of Mount Carmel. Its use is very diffuse and often independent of the life and spirituality of the Carmelite family.
The Scapular is an external sign of the filial relationship established between the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother and Queen of Mount Carmel, and the faithful who entrust themselves totally to her protection, who have recourse to her maternal intercession, who are mindful of the primacy of the spiritual life and the need for prayer.
The Scapular is imposed by a special rite of the Church which describes it as "a reminder that in Baptism we have been clothed in Christ, with the assistance of the Blessed Virgin Mary, solicitous for our conformation to the Word Incarnate, to the praise of the Trinity, we may come to our heavenly home wearing our nuptial garb".
The imposition of the Scapular should be celebrated with "the seriousness of its origins. It should not be improvised. The Scapular should be imposed following a period of preparation during which the faithful are made aware of the nature and ends of the association they are about to join and of the obligations they assume".
The intercessions from the Ritual for the Enrollment in the Scapular include a prayer that those who wear the Scapular "may live their baptismal vow to be clothed in Christ", that they be "an extension of the love which Jesus had for his Mother", and that they "may clothe themselves with the virtues of the most pure Virgin," among other prayers. The significance of the scapular is thus not diminished by considering the tradition of Simon Stock to be a beloved legend rather than historic fact. Instead, it retains its deepest meaning as "a sign of the motherly love of the Virgin Mary" and a renewal of baptismal vows to "put on our Lord Jesus Christ."