The Online Encyclopedia and Dictionary







A scapular (Latin, scapula, shoulder) is a Roman Catholic devotional artifact in the form of a cloth pendant, the wearing of which is believed by the faithful to confer a benefit to the wearer. The Church considers it a sacramental. It can also refer to the article of clerical vestments from which it evolved. For purposes of this article, "scapular" refers to the smaller version worn by the laity. The clerical vestment will be referred to as a "monastic scapular".

In its original form, the scapular is part of the habit of many monastic orders. Here it is a shoulder-wide length of cloth with a collar in the middle, worn over the traditional robe or cassock, almost like a sleeveless surcoat. It is the equivalent of the analabus worn in the Eastern tradition.

The modern "lay" form of the scapular (sometimes called the "reduced scapular", but this usage is archaic) is much smaller, designed to be unobtrusive and can be worn under regular clothing. It consists of two small squares of cloth, wood or laminated paper bearing religious images joined by two bands of cloth. It is worn so that one band is across each shoulder and that one square rests on the chest and the other on the back. Older forms of scapulae exist that have extra bands running under the arms and connecting the squares.



Just as the stole is the vestment that marked the office of a priest, the monastic scapular became the equivalent for those in monastic life, even those who had not been ordained. It became a symbol of the confraternal way, and so the form was later adopted by pious laity who wished to have an open sign of their devotion.

The monastic scapular appears to have originated in the Rule of Saint Benedict in which he calls for a scapulare propter opera ("surcoat for work") which appears to have been simply a tunic or apron designed to protect the monastic robes during manual labor. The Dominican Order added a hood, and even today, such garments mark the wearer as a member of a religious order.

In the Middle Ages it was common for laypeople to join monastic orders in an auxiliary sense, sometimes called the "third orders". Though they were permitted to wear the robes of the order (the "tertiary" habit), because they had not taken all the vows, they were not usually permitted to wear the higher vestments of the order such as the veil, pectoral, and the scapular. To grant such to a member of a third order was considered a high honor and great privilege.

More commonly, a smaller form (but still larger than the small scapulae available today) of an order's scapular would be bestowed upon the lay member. Rather than a full length of cloth, it consisted of two rectangles (approximately 2" x 3") of cloth joined by bands in some fashion. These are still worn today by the third order members of the Franciscans, Carmelites, and Dominicans. In order to gain the benefits of the order, the members must wear these scapulae constantly. However, in 1883 Pope Leo XIII declared in Misericors Dei Filius that wearing either these medium-sized scapulae of the third order or the miniature forms entitled the wearer equally to gain the indulgences associated with the order.

Today seventeen small scapulae are currently recognized by the Church. Few are associated with confraternities or orders; most are devotional only, such as the Scapular of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary.


Though they are descended from the monastic vestment bearing the same name, scapulae probably have more in common with the tefillin of Judaism. They are devotional objects designed to show one's pledge to a confraternity, a saint, or a way of life; as well as serving the wearer as a constant reminder of that vow. Many scapulae bear verses from scripture as well. In addition, Maimonides' Mishneh Torah has much to say on the wearing of tefillin that would seem familiar to Catholics who wear scapulae.

Through the history of their use, scapulae have been variously labelled jugum Christi ("yoke of Christ") or scutum ("shield"), calling to mind various scripture passages. Many types of scapulae (see below) promise benefits or indulgences to those who wear them faithfully.

Rules for use of scapulae

Though each scapular has its own particular qualifications and usage, the Church has set down certain rules that pertain to all types. A scapular must be in good repair with both bands intact. Multiple scapulae may be worn on the same bands, but the bands must be the color of those prescribed by the scapular with the most preeminence, and that scapular must be foremost with the others behind in order of precedence.

A scapular associated with a confraternity must be invested by an ordained representative of that group. A scapular associated with a mystery or devotion may simply be blessed by a priest and given to the wearer.

To receive the benefits or indulgences granted the scapular generally must be worn constantly. It may be placed aside for a time but during that period, the wearer does not receive the scapular's benefits. Should the wearer take up the wearing of it again, the benefits are again conferred.

If a scapular becomes damaged to the point where it cannot be in good repair, it must be replaced. However, it is not necessary for the wearer to be reinvested as it is the devotion of the wearer, not the object itself, that confers the benefit of the scapular.

Specific scapulae

Of all the types recognized by the Church the best-known, and perhaps the most popular, is the Scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, sometimes referred to as the "brown scapular" from the color of its bands. It is believed to have been originally given by the Blessed Mother to Saint Simon Stock when she appeared at Mount Carmel. The saint was told by Mary that those who wear the scapular faithfully would not die without the opportunity of receiving the Anointing of the Sick beforehand. It also carries the promise of being freed from Purgatory on the first Saturday after death.

The Scapular of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, which has green bands and thus is known as the "green scapular". To receive the indulgence and benefit of the scapular, the wearer must daily pray "Immaculate Heart of Mary, pray for us now and at the hour of our death." As with the brown scapular, the benefit is that the faithful wearer will not die without the opportunity to receive the Last Rites. The green scapular is traditionally worn by the terminally ill.

The Scapular of the Passion, called the "red scapular", is the only scapular for which the images are specifically prescribed. It also designates that the bands must be of red wool. It was revealed in 1846 to Sister Apollone Adreveau of the Sisters of Charity of Saint Vincent de Paul and approved by Pope Pius IX the following year.

Last updated: 05-07-2005 08:14:28
Last updated: 05-13-2005 07:56:04