Saturday, February 22, 2020


The Catholic Church has many things that they call “sacramentals.”  These are not sacraments as the Catechism of the Catholic Church explains (CCC #1667), but sacramentals are associated with the Church’s rituals and are said to put the user of the sacramental in the right frame of mind to receive the sacraments.  One type of sacramental is the scapular, which comes in different sizes, shapes and colors.  Probably the most popular one is the brown scapular.

What is the brown scapular?  It is made up of two small pieces of rectangular brown (sometimes black) pieces of wool cloth connected by a cord or string, worn by Catholics over their shoulders (thus the name “scapular,” which means “shoulder blade”).  One piece is placed in the front on the chest and the other to the back.  This scapular is said to ensure its wearer that he will make it to Heaven if he dies with it on.

Enter Simon Stock

This story of the brown scapular begins with an interesting but little known character, one “Saint” Simon Stock.  He was given the name Stock (which means “tree trunk”) because when he was twelve years old he began living as a hermit in a hollow tree trunk.  Many years later, on July 16, 1251, in Cambridge England, he allegedly received a vision from Mary, the mother of Jesus Christ, and claimed that she appeared to him, holding a brown scapular in her hand and she said to him:

“Take this Scapular, it shall be a sign of salvation, a protection in danger and a pledge of peace.  Whosoever dies wearing this Scapular shall not suffer eternal fire.”  

See here:

The Pope’s Vision

According to another source, Mary also later appeared to Pope John XXII, and told him:

“I, the Mother of Grace, shall descend on the Saturday after their death and whomsoever I shall find in Purgatory I shall free so that I may lead them to the holy mountain of life everlasting.” (Sacratissimo Uti Culmine, a papal bull [i.e., an official public decree] of Pope John XXII, in 1322)

And this source also claimed:

“The Blessed Virgin of Mount Carmel has promised to save those who wear the scapular from the fires of hell; She will also shorten their stay in Purgatory if they should pass from this world still owing some debt of punishment.”  

See here:

This promise from Mary to release Catholics from Purgatory on the first Saturday after their death (for those who have faithfully worn the scapular) became known as the “Sabbatine Privilege.”

Entrust Yourself Totally to Mary?

According to the Vatican’s Congregation for Divine Worship, the brown 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.” (Emphasis added)

See here:

One source says that the scapular is used as a silent prayer and that “[A] prayer offered while holding the Scapular is as perfect as a prayer can be.” It also states that “[T]he evil spirit is utterly powerless when the wearer of a scapular faces temptation…”  

See here:


There are also indulgences (ways to reduce the amount of punishment for one’s sins) connected with the wearing of this scapular. 

On the day that the scapular is received, there is a plenary (full) indulgence if one goes to Confession and Communion in the Catholic Church.
One is promised a plenary indulgence at the moment of death if he has gone to Catholic Confession and Communion and if he devoutly utters the name of Jesus.

Devoutly reciting the prayer known as the “Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary,” gets one a 100 day indulgence. 

And each time the scapular is kissed one gets a 500 day indulgence!  See here:

Ratified by Popes

The New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia (online) admits that the bull of Pope John XXII containing the Sabbatine Privilege was later ratified by some popes in the sixteenth century.  See here:

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines “ratify” as “to approve and sanction formally; to confirm.”

One source says that the Sabbatine Privilege was “approved and confirmed” by sixteen different popes.

At least one source says that the Sabbatine Privilege was an official teaching of the Catholic Church until 1613:

“Pope John XXII claimed that the ‘Blessed Virgin’ came to him in Rome in the year 1322, confirming to him the scapular promise made to Simon Stock and adding the ‘Sabbatine Privilege’ in which she promised to personally descend into purgatory every Saturday and free those who had died wearing her scapular.  This was an official church doctrine until the year 1613.  At that time Pope Paul V modified the Sabbatine Privilege, saying that Mary did not necessarily free the souls in purgatory on Saturday but only aided them and eased their suffering.” (Emphasis added)

Tell Me It Aint So!

But there are some sources that say that the Sabbatine Privilege and Pope John XXII’s bull was a forgery. 

According to the Catholic Dictionary (online):

“There was an earlier version of the Sabbatine Privilege that is now considered certainly erroneous, based on an alleged bull of Pope John XXII, supposedly published in 1322.  This apocryphal document has the Pope say that Carmelites and others who wear the scapular would be delivered by the ‘Blessed Virgin’ from Purgatory on the Saturday after their death.”

According to the New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia (online), the Sabbatine Privilege is “universally regarded by scholars as inauthentic.”

Concluding Thoughts

Ok, so there seem to be some conflicting ideas, even among Catholics, concerning the brown scapular and its “Sabbatine Privilege.”  What should be far more worrisome for our Catholic friends is the fact that none of this is biblical, including the concept of indulgences, Purgatory and the supposed visions of “Mary” (2 Corinthians 11:14). 

The doctrine of Purgatory denies the sufficiency of the perfect and finished work / suffering of the Savior on the cross (John 19:30, Hebrews 10:10).  There is no need for Christians to suffer any kind of punishment after this life is over.  And if there is no Purgatory, there are no indulgences.
Also, special articles of clothing do nothing to help save us.  God looks at the heart.  We are saved by grace, through faith, not by any works of righteousness (Ephesians 2:8-9; Titus 3:5).  The term “grace” screams UNMERITED favor from God (Matthew 18:23-27; Romans 4:4-5; Galatians 2:21).

There is a definite link between the asceticism (severe religious self-discipline) in the early life of “Saint” Simon Stock (who lived in a hollow tree) and the wearing of the brown scapular.  They are both an intrinsic part of a works-based salvation and God will have no part of that.

Concerning the Sabbatine Privilege, if it was indeed a forgery, or an “un-Catholic” idea, how could it be ratified and endorsed by multiple popes over such a long period?  Does not the Catholic Church have the knowledge or the resources to detect forgeries within a short time?  What happened to those poor souls who believed Pope John XXII until 1613 who expected to be released from Purgatory on the first Saturday?  Did all those popes ratify a false teaching?  If yes, then what does this say about truth in the Catholic Church?  If no, then why did they change the teaching in 1613?

The story of the brown scapular is one containing ridiculous concepts like perfect prayer while holding the scapular, rendering demons powerless in the face of temptation while wearing it, and obtaining time off from Purgatory by kissing this inanimate object. 

Who does the scapular glorify the most?  The whole emphasis of this teaching of the brown scapular seems to be that Catholics must entrust themselves to Mary.  It is (supposedly) Mary that introduced it, and it is Mary who “sustains” it.  It is about her, not about Jesus.  Mary is the star in this story, but let us learn a critical lesson from John the baptist, who said, “He [Jesus] must increase, but I [John] must decrease” (John 3:30).  It appears here (as it often does in the Catholic Church) that, in the teaching of the brown scapular, Jesus has taken a back seat to Mary.