Rosary and scapular

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Statue of the Virgin Mary giving the Scapular to St. Simon Stock, Santa Maria della Vittoria Basilica, Rome, by Alfonso Balzico, 19th century

"The Rosary and the Scapular are inseparable" was a sentiment expressed by Lucia Santos, one of the three children who reported the Marian apparitions of Our Lady of Fátima (Portugal) in 1917, and later the Pontevedra apparitions (Spain) in 1925.[1] In these apparitions, the Virgin Mary reportedly called herself The Lady of the Rosary and in one of the final Fátima appearances on October 13, 1917 had a brown scapular in one hand and a rosary in the other. The Lady of the Rosary, reportedly encouraged the praying of the Rosary and the wearing of the brown scapular.[2] One author states that the Fatima messages do not just prophesy dangers, but include a package of solutions in which the Rosary and the scapular are revealed as "mystical weapons of defense".[3]

As for all Sacramentals, the use of the Rosary and the Scapular are optional for Roman Catholics. They have been supported, encouraged and linked by a number of Catholic figures such as popes, saints and cardinals. Specific indulgences have been associated with them.[4][5]

While the exact origins of both the Rosary and the Scapular are subject to debate among scholars, Catholic traditions maintain that both Sacramentals were given by the Virgin Mary to Saints during the 13th century.[6][7][8] Historical records document their growth during the 16th and 17th centuries in Europe. By the early 20th century they had gained such a strong following among Catholics worldwide that the Catholic Encyclopedia of 1914 stated: "Like the Rosary, the Brown scapular has become the badge of the devout Catholic."[9] This article reviews the history, Mariology and the parallel development of the Rosary and the Scapular as key Sacramentals in the Roman Catholic Church.

Devotions and promises[edit]

Although the Rosary and the Scapular are primarily viewed as devotional elements of Catholicism, traditions and beliefs on the power of Sacramentals have associated specific promises and indulgences with each one. Some historians suggest that the combined effect of the devotional elements and the benefits of salvation associated with them made the Rosary and the Scapular favored Sacramentals among Roman Catholics.[10] However, although many of the faithful choose to pray the Rosary and wear the scapular, and various Catholic figures encourage these sacramentals, the linking of the Rosary and the Scapular is not formally reflected in Church doctrine.

Carmelite tradition has held that in 1251 the Virgin Mary made the "Scapular Promise" to St. Simon Stock regarding the Brown Scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, namely: "whoever dies clothed in this habit shall not suffer the fires of Hell."[11][12] The Sabbatine privilege, was associated with an apocryphal Papal Bull allegedly by Pope John XXII. The Vatican has denied the validity of this document[13] but has given the Carmelites permission to preach that Mary's merits and intercession would help those "who have departed this life in charity, have worn in life the scapular, have ever observed chastity, have recited the Little Hours of the Blessed Virgin, or, if they cannot read, have observed the fast days of the Church, and have abstained from flesh meat on Wednesdays and Saturdays." [14][15]

Catholic tradition holds that the Blessed Virgin Mary made fifteen specific promises to Christians who pray the rosary.[16][17][18] The fifteen rosary promises range from protection from misfortune to meriting a high degree of glory in heaven. Lucia dos Santos, one of the three children who reported the Our Lady of Fátima messages stated that: "There is no problem, I tell you, no matter how difficult it is, that we cannot resolve by the prayer of the Holy Rosary."[19]

In his book, The Power of the Rosary, Rev. Albert Shamon discusses the promises attributed to the rosary in various reported visions such as Our Lady of Fátima and Međugorje.[20]

Parallel histories[edit]

Blessed Jacinta Marto, one of the three children who reported the Fátima visions in 1917

Scholarly debates on the origins of these Sacramentals are not conclusive. For instance, while Richard Copsey questioned the fact that any apparition took place with respect to the Scapular,[21] Benedict Zimmerman proposed that an apparition did take place in the 13th century, but was to another Carmelite brother and it was later attributed to St. Simon Stock, and that the vision was not of the Virgin Mary, but of a recently deceased Carmelite.[22] The Carmelite Order states on their website "Although the historicity of the scapular vision is rejected, the scapular itself has remained for all Carmelites a sign of Mary's motherly protection and as a personal commitment to follow Jesus in the footsteps of his Mother, the perfect model of all his disciples." [23]

Some scholarly sources question the authenticity of the apparition to Saint Dominic[24][25] but others lend their support.[26][27]

Regardless of the scholarly debates about the exact date of the first appearance of either the Rosary or the Scapular, historical records indicate that devotions to both Sacramentals followed specific historical stages which included initial pre-Reformation introductions, promotion and growth as a response to the challenges of the Reformation and entertwined incidents such as being jointly recommended by the Marian apparitions of Our Lady of Fátima.

Early history[edit]

Carmelite tradition holds that the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to St. Simon Stock at Cambridge, England in 1251 in answer to his appeal for help for his oppressed order and recommended the Brown Scapular to him.[28] The Brown Scapular has clearly been a key element of Carmelite history since the late 13th century, for the Carmelite Constitution of 1294 considers it a serious fault to sleep without the scapular and the Constitution of 1369 stipulates automatic excommunication for Carmelites who say Mass without a scapular.[29]

According to some Catholic tradition, the rosary was given to Saint Dominic in an apparition by the Blessed Virgin Mary in the year 1214 in the church of Prouille, the Marian apparition receiving the title of Our Lady of the Rosary.[30] However, many scholarly researchers suggests a more gradual and organic development of the rosary, and some even attribute it to Bl. Alanus de Rupe.[31]

Madonna with the Rosary by Murrillo, 1650.

A key element in the spread of the Rosary in 16th century Rome was the Battle of Lepanto (1571), in which the Christian side included the Papal States. Pope Pius V ordered Catholics to pray the Rosary prior to the battle, held a rosary procession in St. Peter's Square and then instituted the feast of "Our Lady of Victory" to commemorate the victory. Two years later Pope Gregory XIII changed the title to "Feast of the Holy Rosary". Pope Paul VI later changed the name of the feast to Our Lady of the Rosary.[32]

The introduction of the feast (and the accompanying implicit papal approval) allowed Catholic artists to depict the Rosary and in the 17th century, the Rosary began to appear as an element in key pieces of Roman Catholic Marian art, often in art that depicts the Virgin Mary, e.g. Murrillo's Madonna with the Rosary at the Museo del Prado in Spain.

Other Scapulars and accompanying promises began to appear in the 16th and 17th centuries. The Blue Scapular of the Immaculate Conception that dated to 1617 was eventually granted a significant number of indulgences, and many graces were promised to those who would honor the Immaculate Conception by wearing the Blue Scapular and live chastely according to their state in life.

The Carmelite tradition of the Sabbatine Privilege in the 16th century, coincided with the challenges faced by the Church in Rome with respect to the Protestant Reformation which had started in the early part of the 16th century. The Sabbatine Privilege's focus on the Purgatory, was viewed favorably by a number of Catholic preachers for it clarified the concept of Purgatory for the ordinary Catholics in Italy and was viewed as anti-Protestant.[33] The introduction of the Sabbatine Privilege had a positive impact on the popularity of the Scapular, and the growth of the Carmelites, and over the centuries helped the devotion to the Scapular reach a height that the Encyclopedia of the Middle Ages called it "one of the main Marian devotions of Christendom".[34]

18th and 19th centuries[edit]

Both the Rosary and the Scapular increased in popularity from the beginning of the 18th century, as Roman Catholic Mariology as a whole grew. In 1708, Pope Clement XI ordered the feast of the Immaculata for the whole Church and the feast of the Rosary was introduced in 1716, with the feast of the Seven Sorrows following in 1727.

This period also witnessed a significant amount of growth in Marian confraternities. The approval of the Confraternity of the Scapular for every diocese throughout the Catholic world helped the spread of that devotion, reaching its culmination in 1726 via the extension of the feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel (July 16) to the universal Church. Not only the Carmelites, but other orders such as the Servite established Scapular confraternities and received papal support for indulgences. These confraternities led to much popular support for the Scapular.[35][36]

The beginning of the 18th century was also an important period for the future of the Rosary. Louis-Marie Grignion de Montfort was ordained to the priesthood at 27 years of age. His writings in the remaining 16 years of his life had a significant impact on the spread of the Rosary and influenced the Marian views of several popes who later continued to quote him in their encyclicals. Montfort's philosophy outlined in his book God Alone and his approach to the Rosary discussed in his book Secret of the Rosary have been considered key elements of Marian spirituality by several popes.

The Confraternities of the Rosary also enjoyed a period of growth in the 18th century. A small number of such confraternities had started sometime in the 15th century, through the preachings of Blessed Alan de Rupe. Their numbers began to grow in the 18th century, largely under the supervision of the Dominicans, which also helped create a more uniform format for the Rosary. An important Apostolic Constitution on the Rosary Confraternity was issued by Pope Leo XIII in 1898.[37]

In the 19th century, the reported Marian apparitions of Our Lady of Lourdes (who carried a Rosary, and asked for the praying of the Rosary) gathered significant attention, and provided momentum for the spread of the Rosary.

During the 19th century, a number of other Scapulars were approved. The white Scapular of the Immaculate Heart of Mary was approved by Pope Pius IX in 1877 and the white Scapular of Our Lady of Good Counsel received the approval of Leo XIII in 1893 for the purpose of invoking Mary's guidance upon its wearer. The black Scapular of Our Lady Help of the Sick, (for the Confraternity founded by St. Camillus de Lellis) was approved by Pius IX in 1860. In 1863 he also approved the Green Scapular, which is not from a Confraternity but an image inspired by a vision of the Blesed Mother experienced by Sr. Justine Bisqueyburu from the Daughters of Charity of Saint Vincent de Paul.

20th century[edit]

The beginnings of the 20th century witnessed growth for Catholic Mariology and was dominated by a genuine Marian enthusiasm both at the papal and popular levels. In 1904, in the first year of his Pontificate, Pope Pius X established the dogma of Immaculate Conception with the encyclical Ad Diem Illum. The papal enthuusiasm culminated in the Dogma of the Assumption by Pope Pius XII in 1950.

As the devotion to the Holy Rosary and its mysteries continued in this atmosphere, a number of other Rosary based prayers were introduced with different formats and with more of a Christocentric tone. The Rosary of the Holy Wounds which focuses on the Wounds of Jesus was introduced by Venerable Marie Martha Chambon, a nun in France who died in 1907, and who had reported visions of Jesus as early as 1866.[38][39][40] Another rosary based prayer that eventually gained significant following was the Chaplet of Divine Mercy by Faustina Kowalska who also reported visions of Jesus and Mary in 1935 and was later declared a saint.[41][42][43][44]

The spread of the devotion to both the Rosary and the Scapular was influenced by Marian apparitions of Our Lady of Fátima reported by three Portuguese children in 1917.[45] The reported Fatima messages place a strong emphasis on the Rosary and in them the Virgin Mary was identified as The Lady of the Rosary.[46] The visions and messages also encouraged the wearing of the Brown Scapular. When one of the Fátima visionaries Lucia Santos was later asked why the Virgin Mary had appeared with the Brown Scapular in the last public vision at Fátima, Santos replied:[47]

"She meant that all Catholics should wear the Scapular as part of the Fátima message. One could not follow this message unless he or she wore the Brown Scapular.

The Our Lady of Fátima Basilica attracts a large number of Catholics, and every year pilgrims fill the country road that leads to the shrine with crowds that approach one million on May 13 and October 13, the significant dates of Fátima apparitions.[48] The entrance to the Fátima Sanctuary, to the south of the rectory, is a segment of the Berlin Wall intended to emphasize the belief that the Rosary prayers influenced the fall of the Berlin Wall related to the Consecration of Russia based on the Fátima messages.[49]

In the 18th and 19th centuries, the Rosary and Scapular Confraternities with thousands of members grew the devotion to these Sacramentals. In the 20th century, Marian organizations with millions of members performed a similar task. The Legion of Mary was formed in Ireland in 1921 and currently has three million active members and ten million auxiliary members. Each meeting of the Legion includes praying the Rosary, and the Legion encourages members to partake in Marian prayers and increase their devotion to the Holy Spirit.[50] [51] The Blue Army of Our Lady of Fatima was formed in 1946 in the United States and through "Scapular Magazine" helped enroll one million Americans to pray the Rosary based on the Fátima messages regarding the Consecration of Russia. The Blue Army eventually reached a larger audience of several million members.[52][53][54]

The 20th century also witnessed unprecedented growth in the number of volunteer-based lay Marian devotional organizations for the free distribution of Sacramentals such as the Rosary. For example Our Lady's Rosary Makers which was formed with a $25 donation for a typewriter in 1949 now has about twenty thousand volunteers who have distributed hundreds of millions of free rosaries to Catholic missions worldwide.[55][56]

The only change to the fundamental structure of the Rosary in the last 1500 years happened in 2002 when Pope John Paul II introduced the Luminous Mysteries. The Luminous Mysteries consider Christ’s public ministry from the time of his baptism to his Passion and fill the gap in the previous mysteries.[57][58] To celebrate the 25th year of his papacy, John Paul II issued his encyclical Rosarium Virginis Mariae, encouraged Catholics to pray the Rosary more often and announced a "Year of the Rosary". He stated that he declared the twelve months from October 2002 to October 2003 The Year of the Rosary in order to: "Put my 25th anniversary under the contemplation of Christ at the school of Mary".[59]


Our Lady of Mount Carmel statue in Chile with a Brown Scapular, an example of the use of the Scapular in Marian art

While a number of Scapulars (e.g. the Holy Face Scapular) are entirely Christocentric, the most widespread Scapulars such as the Brown Scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel and the Blue Scapular of the Immaculate Conception relate to Marian devotions and consecrations.[60]

The official teachings of the Catholic Church indicate that the Brown Scapular of Mount Carmel is one of the most highly recommended Marian devotions. This has been the case through the centuries, and more recently with popes such as Paul VI and John Paul II. Devotion to the Virgin Mary expressed by wearing the Brown Scapular developed over time and has proven to be resilient through the centuries. It has resisted attempts made in various points in history to diminish its value, and the faithful have kept coming back to it. Although the Carmelite constitution of 1281 prescribed that the Scapular should be worn to bed under penalty of a serious fault, the initial reason was not entirely Marian. At the time, the Scapular was seen as signifying the "yoke of Christ" which signified obedience and removing it was like removing the yoke of Christ, i.e. rebelling against authority. However, over time the Scapular took an increasingly Marian tone, became identified with Carmelite piety toward The Virgin Mary and the feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel began to be called the Scapular feast. .[61]

Basis and grace[edit]

The Mariological basis of the Scapular devotion is effectively the same as Marian consecration, as discussed in the dogmatic constitution Lumen Gentium of Pope Paul VI, namely the role of the Virgin Mary as "the mother to us in the order of grace" and Mediatrix of all graces which allows her to intercede for "the gift of eternal salvation".[62][63] Pope Leo XIII, also known as the Rosary Pope, presented a similar Mariological view in his encyclicals Supremi Apostolatus Officio and Octobri Mense, that were devoted to the Rosary, in which he called the Virgin Mary the mediator of peace with God and stated that she was the "dispenser of all Heavenly graces."[64][65][66]

As stated by Christian P. Ceroke:[67]

"The wearing of the Scapular fosters a true devotion to Mary that is based on her supernatural mission in the redemption of mankind. Two Marian doctrines are proposed in the devotion of the Brown Scapular: Mary's Spiritual Maternity and her Mediation of Grace."

In his 2002 Apostolic letter, Rosarium Virginis Mariae, Pope John Paul II expressed a similar Mariologiical sentiment with respect to the grace obtained from the Rosary:[68]

"Through the Rosary the faithful receive abundant grace, as though from the very hands of the Mother of the Redeemer."
Pope Leo XIII

Papal endorsements[edit]

The Rosary and the Scapular have received papal endorsements through the centuries. Pope Leo XIII (the Rosary Pope) was concerned about attempts to destroy the faith in Christ, and, if possible, to ban him from the face of the earth.[69] The destruction of the ethical order would then lead to disaster and war, so Leo XIII dedicated the human race to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. But in his analysis (based on the writings of Louis de Montfort who was beatified by Leo XIII) the re-Christianisation was not possible without Mary. So Leo XIII promulgated Marian devotions via ten encyclicals on the Rosary and instituted the Catholic custom of daily rosary prayer during the month of October. In 1883 he also created the Feast of Queen of the Holy Rosary.[70]

Leo XIII also approved a number of Scapulars. In 1885 he approved the Scapular of the Holy Face, (also known as The Veronica) and elevated the Priests of the Holy Face to an archconfraternity.[71] He also approved the Scapular of Our Lady of Good Counsel and the Scapular of St. Joseph, both in 1893, and the Scapular of the Sacred Heart in 1900.[72]

Pope Pius XI encouraged the wearing of Scapulars and said: "The Sabbatine Privilege is the greatest of all privileges of the Mother of God, even extending after death"[11]

Saint Teresa of Avila wearing the monastic Carmelite Brown Scapular, depicted by Rubens, 1615.

Pope John Paul II stated that: [73]

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.

Pope John Paul II stated that he received his own first Brown Scapular of Mount Carmel at age ten when his Marian devotion was taking shape and he continued to wear it into his papacy. When he gained consciousness before being operated on to remove the bullet that wounded him in St. Peter's Square on 13 May 1981 he instructed the doctors not to remove his Brown Scapular during the operation.[74][75][76]

Role of the saints[edit]

A number of saints have been associated with the Rosary and the Scapular. St. Louis de Montfort, who in the 18th century was but an unknown young priest, is widely known for his promotion of the Rosary, and his influence on the Mariological thinking of popes such as Leo XIII, Pius XII and John Paul II. His books God Alone and the Secret of the Rosary are classics in Marian spirituality and are referred to in papal encyclicals. St. Louis de Montfort developed specific methods of praying the rosary to help the meditative process and emphasized the need for purity of intention, attention and reverence in prayers.[77][78] [79][80]

St. Theresa of Avila, St. Thérèse of Lisieux and St. John of the Cross were all Carmelites and wore the monastic Brown Scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. St. Alphonsus Liguori of the Redemptorists and St. John Bosco of the Salesians had a very special devotion to Our Lady of Mount Carmel, and were both buried wearing their Brown Scapulars. St. John Bosco's Brown Scapular was later exhumed in very good condition and is kept as a relic at the Basilica of Our Lady Help of Christians, Turin.[81]

Saint Claude de la Colombière, the confessor of Saint Margaret-Marie Alacoque, had a strong devotion to the Brown Scapular and considered it one of the most favorite and effective Marian devotions. He also stated that:

"If a person wants to die in his sins, he will die in his sins, but he will not die wearing the Brown Scapular"

suggesting that stubborn sinners will somehow be separated from their Brown Scapulars.[82][83]

In the 20th century, St. Faustina Kowalska introduced a new Rosary form with the Chaplet of Divine Mercy and is also quoted by the Vatican and John Paul II.[84]

Meditative basis[edit]

St. Dominic receiving the Rosary from the Virgin Mary by Caravaggio, 17th century

Saints and popes have emphasized the spiritual and meditative benefits of the Rosary and the Scapular. Pope Pius XII said of the Brown Scapular: "Let it be your sign of consecration to the Immaculate Heart of Mary".[85] And in his encyclical Ingruentium Malorum on the Rosary Pius XII stated:[86]

"And truly, from the frequent meditation on the Mysteries, the soul little by little and imperceptibly draws and absorbs the virtues they contain, and is wondrously enkindled with a longing for things immortal, and becomes strongly and easily impelled to follow the path which Christ Himself and His Mother have followed."

Although Pope John Paul II is best known for his devotion to the Rosary, he also wore a Brown Scapular since age ten and stated that he viewed the Scapular as a "habit" to orient one's Christian life:[87]

"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... 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 own Christian conduct."

Author Mark Miravalle relates the meditative and devotional aspects of the Rosary and the Scapular via Montfortian spirituality. He states that the Scapular is an external and physical symbol of perpetual Marian devotion that acknowledges her intercessory role throughout this life and in purification in Purgatory. He thus views the Scapular as a physical symbol of Marian consecration, based on the Montfortean formula:[88][89]

" do all our actions by Mary, with Mary, in Mary and for Mary so that we may do them all the more perfectly by Jesus, with Jesus, in Jesus and for Jesus..."

The wearing of a Scapular has been viewed as constant meditation by Bishop Leo De Goesbriand:[90]

"Wherever I am, whatever I am doing, Mary never sees me without seeing upon my body an evidence of my devotion to her."

From a venerative viewpoint, Father Etienne Richer points out that the Rosary and the Scapular as the key Sacramentals that harmonize with Catholic Liturgy in the meditative process of the veneration of the Blessed Virgin Mary.[91]


See also[edit]


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  82. ^ Claude de la Colombière, 1997, Spiritual Direction of St. Claude de la Columbiere, Ignatius Press ISBN 978-0-89870-682-6
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  87. ^ John Paul II Scapular Message at the Vatican website
  88. ^ Mark Miravalle, 1993, Introduction to Mary, Queenship Publishing ISBN 978-1-882972-06-7 page 175
  89. ^ Handbook of Spirituality of Louis de Montfort at EWTN [15]
  90. ^ L. De Goesbriand 2008, Meditations for the Use of the Secular Clergy ISBN 978-1-4086-8655-3 page 408
  91. ^ Raymond Burke, 2008, Mariology: A Guide for Priests, Deacons,seminarians, and Consecrated Persons, Queenship Publishing ISBN 1-57918-355-7 page 667


  • Garry Wills, 2005, The Rosary, Viking Press, ISBN 0-670-03449-5
  • Augusta Drane, 1998, The Life of St. Dominic, TAN Books, ISBN 0-89555-336-8
  • Kevin Johnson, 1999, Rosary: Mysteries, Meditations, and the Telling of the Beads Pangaeus Press ISBN 0-9653660-1-4
  • John Paul II, 1999, Mysteries of Light, Meditations on the Mysteries of the Rosary Ligouri Publications, ISBN 0-7648-1060-X
  • John Paul II, 2002, The Rosary Hour Simon and Schuster, ISBN 0-7434-7061-3