What is a Scapular? Why Do Catholics Wear Scapulars?

What is a Scapular? Why Do Catholics Wear Scapulars?

By Karen Riobo


Have you ever wondered why some Catholics wear a brown cord around their neck? Perhaps, you thought it to be a new type of rosary, a baptismal keepsake, or a “trendy” catholic sacramental. But no, all these assumptions are far from the truth. A scapular is more than that! and its evolution will surprise you.

Let us go back in time to discover what this ancient tradition is all about.

What is a Scapular?

“Scapular” comes from the Latin scapula which means “shoulder”. Scapulars date back to the seventh century originally designed for monastic life. A scapular was a long piece of cloth that goes over one’s head, and hangs down the front and back to identify a specific religious order.

Around the ninth century, a monk received the scapular after the profession of vows, and it became known as "the yoke of Christ" (iugum Christi) and "the shield of Christ" (scutum Christi). Over centuries religious orders adapted the basic scapular as they considered appropriate for themselves, and as a result, we have a myriad of distinct designs, colors, shapes, and lengths.

Inspired by the original version, the scapular that the laity wears today is made out of two small pieces of wool, connected by a cord or ribbon, and hangs down one’s front and back. Some scapulars are made out of different materials ( precious metals) and represent devotions to The Virgin Mary, The Sacred Heart or St. Benedict. The most popular one is the brown scapular, known as the Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Scapular. The brown scapular was revealed to a Carmelite priest, St. Simon Stock in the year 1251 AD.

Eventually, these smaller scapulars were marks of membership in confraternities, groups of the laity who joined together, attaching themselves to the apostolate of a religious community and accepting certain rules and regulations. However, popularly you do not need to belong to a confraternity to wear one.

Why do Catholics wear a scapular?

One of the primary reasons Catholics wear a scapular today is the promises attached to it. They are guaranteed special protection, the loving intercession of Our Blessed Mother, and a special grace at the hour of death. Scapular wearers will not perish in Hell but would be taken up to Heaven by her on the first Saturday after their death.

Carmelites explain, “True devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary consists in three things: VENERATION, CONFIDENCE, AND LOVE. By simply wearing the Scapular, we can tell her every moment of the day that we venerate her, love her, and trust in her protection”.

An important distinction that must be made about the scapular is that it does not replace the active participation of the soul to collaborate with grace. One should strive for holiness every day.

 St. John Paul II was a faithful devout of the brown scapular. Here are his thoughts on it “Two truths are evoked by the sign of the scapular: on the one hand, the constant protection of the Blessed Virgin...on the other, the awareness that devotion to her cannot be limited to prayers and tributes in her honor on certain occasions but must become a “habit”, that is, a permanent orientation of one’s 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"...

As Catholics, we have been given "tools" and devotions to strive for the perfection and protection of our souls. Our Lady continuously shows us that she is walking with us and she will welcome us all into Heaven. Her faithful FIAT is everlasting.

After all, the brown cord is more than meets the eye. Do you wear one?


Karen Riobo is a copywriter who loves the Holy Spirit! She has worked in Catholic Ministry for over seven years, encouraging young adults to have an intimate relationship with Christ. Her favorite saints are Our Blessed Mother and Saint Francis of Assisi. She enjoys Coffee, learning and Fashion.


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