As I was preparing to enter the Order of Preachers, I asked my Dominican confessor a question: should I still wear my brown scapular after I became a Dominican?
I started wearing the scapular when, as a high school student, I rediscovered the faith I had been raised in. I immediately looked for some sort of sensible sign that would express and nourish my new devotion—and I found the brown scapular that I had been enrolled with in preparation for my first communion.
The brown scapular was given to St. Simon Stock from the Bl. Virgin Mary for the entire Carmelite Order. Mary’s special promise is that whoever wears it will be preserved from the fires of hell. The laity grasp this promise by wearing a modified, smaller version: two small squares of woolen cloth connected by cords and worn about the shoulders. Everyone who is enrolled with the scapular, by becoming affiliated with the Carmelite Order, receives Mary’s special maternal affection towards that Order.
Mine was one of those super-cheap versions with a plastic sheath, and I couldn’t stand wearing it—so one day, I took out a pair of scissors to do surgery on it. Instead of taking off the plastic, I sheared the cord straight off. Then I was in need of a new scapular.
The new scapular that I finally acquired arrived in the mail just before I was about to leave for college—too late to bring to my local pastor, so late that I resolved to track down the first Dominican friar I saw when I got to Providence College. And so it happened that I called out to a Dominican friar who was walking several paces ahead of me on the campus. After a short walk to the chapel, he blessed it. I had never met him before, but right then and there he told me something I wasn’t ready to hear: that I had a Dominican vocation, and that I would become a Dominican friar! This was the same confessor I mentioned above. This wasn’t part of my plan, but it seems it was part of Our Lady of Mount Carmel’s plan.
So here I was, asking him about the same scapular he had blessed almost four years earlier, and without really thinking about it, pondering the Providence which had placed her as a protectress in my life. This friar answered that Dominicans also wear a scapular.
At the beginning of the Order, a well known cleric—Master Reginald of Orleans— desired to please the Lord by living a new and more fervent way of life. After he suddenly became gravely ill, St. Dominic met with him several times, until Master Reginald resolved to enter the Dominican Order. As St. Dominic’s successor narrates, “after that, he recovered from his serious illness, but only in virtue of a miracle occurring after his condition had become desperate” (Libellus, #57). What happened?
During the height of one of his fevers the Queen of Heaven and Mother of Mercy, the Virgin Mary, visibly appeared to him and anointed his eyes, nose, ears, mouth, chest, hands, and feet with a soothing ointment and said these words, “I anoint your feet with a holy oil in preparation for the Gospel of peace.” Then she showed him the complete habit of the Order. At once he became well…
Formerly, the Dominican habit lacked a scapular. But through this vision the Blessed Virgin Mary gave the Dominican Order our white scapular as a special sign of her maternal favor. She showed Bl. Reginald how she wanted him to live a new and more fervent way of life by showing him the complete habit of the Dominican friars, where he would be a fiery preacher for the salvation of souls. And as all the early stories of the Order attest, the special maternal attention of our Lady extended in a special way over us, she who opened up so many doors to our friars, dispelled attacks of the devil, and confirmed wearying friars in their vocation.
Our Lady of Mount Carmel had watched over me closely since I had returned to the faith—not just with her scapular, but also with popularized Carmelite spirituality, which gave me a desire to grow in holiness. What I came to realize is that Our Lady of Mount Carmel is not jealous of Our Lady, Queen of Preachers, and that she would not begrudge me any of her maternal affection under the white of the Dominican scapular. Rather, she had shown me the white scapular of the Dominican friars as the new way of life in which she wanted me to follow her.
Five years ago, as I prepared for my vestition with the habit of the Order of Preachers, I left my brown scapular in the drawer. I knew that, within the next hour, I would be handed off from her protection to her protection—under the scapular.
Image: Blessed Fra Angelico, Vision of the Dominican Habit