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History of the Scapular

 

Mount Carmel, located in the Holy Land, has traditionally been celebrated as the dwelling place of Elias, the great Old Testament prophet, and his disciples. Elias was the prophet who defended the true God of Israel against the prophets of the false god Baal. The prophets of Baal had convinced many of the Hebrews to abandon the worship of the true God in order to embrace the religion and worship of Baal. Elias confronted them personally in order to prove that the God of Israel is the only true God.


The account of this event is given thus in 3 Kings 18: 21-40


And Elias coming to all the people, said, "How long do you halt between two sides? If the Lord be God, follow him: but if Baal, then follow him." And the people did not answer him a word. And Elias said again to the people, "I only remain a prophet of the Lord: but the prophets of Baal are four hundred and fifty men. Let two bullocks be given us, and let them choose one bullock for themselves, and cut it in pieces and lay it upon the wood, but put no fire under: and I will dress the other bullock, and lay it on the wood, and put no fire under it. Call ye on the names of your gods, and I will call on the name of my Lord: and the God that shall answer by fire, let him be God." And all the people answering said, "A very good proposal."


Then Elias said to the prophets of Baal, "Choose you one bullock and dress it first, because you are many: and call on the names of your gods, but put no fire under." And they took the bullock which he gave them, and dressed it: and they called on the name of Baal from morning even till noon, saying, "O Baal, hear us." But there was no voice, nor any that answered: and they leaped over the altar that they had made. And when it was now noon, Elias jested at them, saying, "Cry with a louder voice: for he is a God, and perhaps he is talking, or is in an inn, or on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep, and must be awaked." So they cried with a loud voice, and cut themselves after their manner with knives and lancets, till they were all covered with blood.


And after midday was past, and while they were prophesying, the time was come of offering sacrifice, and there was no voice heard, nor did any one answer, nor regard them as they prayed: Elias said to all the people, "Come ye unto me." And the people coming near unto him, he repaired the altar of the Lord, that was broken down ... And when it was now time to offer the holocaust, Elias the prophet came near and said, "O Lord God of Abraham, and Isaac, and Israel, show this day that thou art the God of Israel, and I thy servant, and that according to thy commandment I have done all these things. Hear me, O Lord, hear me: that this people may learn, that thou art the Lord God, and that thou has turned their heart again." Then the fire of the Lord fell, and consumed the holocaust, and the wood, and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench. And when all the people saw this, they fell on their faces, and they said, "The Lord he is God, the Lord he is God." And Elias said to them, "Take the prophets of Baal, and let not one of them escape." And when they had taken them, Elias brought them down to the torrent Cison, and killed them there.


Tradition teaches that when our Lord began His public ministry, the Carmelites, i.e., the descendants of the prophets Elias and his disciples, accepted the Gospel at once and embraced the Christian faith. The Roman Breviary, in the Office of July 16th, feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, says that they were the first who carried veneration for the Blessed Virgin to the extent of erecting a chapel in her honor, where they joined in singing her praises. We may, therefore, trace the origin of the title of our Lady of Mount Carmel, as well as the famous Order of the Carmelites, back to this remote period of Christian antiquity.


Many of the holy Carmelites settled in England about the middle of the 13th century. And it was in England, and the Monastery of Cambridge, that the memorable event took place when gave rise to the devotion of the Brown Scapular of Mount Carmel. It was on Sunday, July 16th, 1251, while Saint Simon Stock, superior general of the Order of Carmelites was imploring with extraordinary fervor the protection of the most Holy Virgin against the violent persecution being waged against his Order, that our Blessed Mother appeared to him, holding in her hand the brown scapular, and addressed to him this gracious words: "Receive, my dear son, this scapular of your Order, in token of the privilege which I have obtained for you and for the children of Carmel; he who at his death shall be found clothed in this habit shall be preserved from the eternal flames; it is a sign of salvation, a safeguard in time of danger, and a pledge of special protection."


The learned and illustrious Pontiff, Benedict XIV, in his Treatise on the Feasts of the Blessed Virgin (II, Book, c.vi.) declares that he fully believes in the vision of Saint Simon, as well as in the revelation by which, half a century later, the Holy Virgin promised Pope John XXII "that she would rescue from Purgatory as quickly as possible, and especially on the first Saturday after their decease, the members of the Confraternity of the Brown Scapular."


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