On July 17th, the Church celebrates Our Lady of Mount Carmel. This statue, done in the full Italian baroque style, is in the church of Santa Maria in Traspontina near the Vatican. It is made to be carried on the shoulders of men in a procession. I like the way that, despite the rather distracting opulence of the artistic style, Our Lady mostly seems concerned about her children who come to pray in front of her.
Our Lady of Mount Carmel is the patroness of the Carmelite Order, which is why Mary is not wearing her usual blue and red but a brown robe with a white mantle, which is the form of the Carmelite habit. Mary and the Baby Jesus are holding out the Brown Scapular, a devotion with a very interesting history.
The scapular is a traditional piece of clothing worn by monks and nuns; it is a long piece of cloth that hangs over the shoulders and comes down in the front and the back. Members of the Carmelite Order wear a brown scapular, and it was traditionally made out of wool. Lay people are invited to participate in the Order’s special dedication to Mary by wearing a version of the scapular that has been “cut back”, to two small pieces of cloth that hang, one in the front and the other in the back.
A scapular is a wonderful devotion, and it should be worn as a declaration of entrusting yourself to Mary and accepting her motherhood for you. Articles I have read mention that it is an important part of the devotion to protect your chastity and to pray every day to Mary.
Prayer to Mary can be confusing if we think of prayer only as a form of worship. However, for Catholics, prayer is a form of communion, so prayer to Mary means allowing yourself to be in communion with her. Each Christian, by being in communion with the Father and the Son, is also in commuion with every other Chrisitan, and this means Mary and the saints as well as our neighbors in the pews. +