For most Catholics, the word ‘scapular’ brings to mind a small necklace with two wool patches. But scapulars were originally worn by members of religious communities as part of their habits. Scapulars didn’t originate as the small necklaces they are today – instead they were the size of a large work apron. It was often referred to as the yoke of Christ, and members of religious communities wore them at all times – even when they went to sleep!
During the Middle Ages, lay people wanted to associate themselves with religious orders, so they formed confraternities. Part of the requirements for belonging to the confraternity involved wearing the scapular. Because large wool work aprons were impractical to wear for the average lay person, the scapular begin its transformation into the smaller necklace size that we know today.
The most common scapular is the Brown Scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. Given to Saint Simon Stock by Our Lady herself, the scapular holds a series of special promises to the wearers of the sacramental. Today, there are many kinds of different scapulars, and not all of them are associated with a confraternity.
Here are ten scapulars you may not have heard of before. Want to know about the rest of the eighteen scapulars approved by the Catholic Church? Head over to the Catholic Encyclopedia for a full list.
1. The White Scapular of the Most Blessed Trinity
The Scapular of the Holy Trinity is a devotional scapular first developed by the Order of the Trinitarians. The religious order originally wore the scapular as part of their religious habit, and the scapular was approved by Pope Innocent III in 1198. It is a white scapular with a red and blue cross. Wearing the scapular is a sign of consecration to the Holy Trinity.
2. The Black Scapular of the Seven Sorrows of Mary
This scapular is connected to the Servite Order, which was founded in 1255. Members of the order wear a habit made of black cloth, so members of this confraternity wear a scapular made out of a similar black cloth. The Servite order is especially devoted to Our Lady’s sorrows, and her image is found on the scapular.
Enrollment in the confraternity includes the obligations of wearing the scapular, praying for 15 minutes a day for the Servite order and the church, praying at least one Hail Mary and one Hail Holy Queen, and performing works of mercy for suffering souls.
3. The Blue Scapular of the Immaculate Conception
This scapular, most commonly known as the blue scapular, traces its roots all the way back to Venerable Ursula Benincasa, the foundress of the Theatine order of religious sisters. The scapular consists of blue wool cloth and a depiction of the Immaculate Conception of Our Lady.
4. The Red Scapular of the Passion of Our Lord
In 1846, Sister Appoline, a member of the Congregation of the Daughters of Charity, had a vision. Christ appeared to her and asked her to wear this red scapular every Friday. Christ promised that those who wear the red scapular will be given an increase in faith, hope, and love. The scapular is made of red cloth, and the words “Holy Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ, save us” on one side. On the other side of the scapular, an image of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary and the words “Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary, protect us” are found.
5. The Black Scapular of Help of the Sick
In the Church of Saint Mary Magdalene in Rome, a picture of Our Lady is venerated under the title of ‘Help of the Sick’. The image is believed to be painted by Fra Angelico, the famous Dominican painter. Saint Pope Pius V is believed to have prayed before the image for the victory of the Christians during the Battle of Lepanto in 1571.
Devotion to this scapular originated in the 1860s. It consists of a picture of the Virgin Mary as well as Saint Joseph and Saint Camillus, two patrons of the sick. The reverse side of the scapular has an image of a red cross. Indulgences were granted to member of the confraternity, which is devoted to the Virgin Mary.
6. The Blue and Black Scapular of Saint Michael the Archangel
Pope Leo XIII (who introduced the Saint Michael Prayer) approved of this scapular in 1880. It’s associated with the confraternity of Saint Michael the Archangel. This scapular is uniquely shaped like a shield, calling to mind the role Saint Michael plays in spiritual warfare. One shield is black, and the other is blue. The scapular features an image of Saint Michael killing a dragon. The words ‘Quis ut Deus’, meaning ‘Who is like God’ – a translation of the Hebrew form of Saint Michael’s name – are also found on the scapular.
7. The Scapular of Saint Benedict
This scapular is often worn by oblates of the Order of Saint Benedict, but others can wear it as well. The front of the scapular usually has a depiction of Saint Benedict, but the picture isn’t necessary. The confraternity and the scapular were both endowed with indulgences in 1882, and again in 1883. Members of the confraternity who live in warmer climates are allowed to wear a medal of Saint Benedict instead of the scapular – although the scapular is preferred.
8. The White Scapular of Saint Joseph
This scapular was approved in 1890s by Pope Leo XIII. Devotion to the scapular was spread by members of the Capuchin Order. Although it was initially produced on white cloth, it can now be found in white, gold and purple. One side has an image of Saint Joseph and Jesus with the words “Saint Joseph, patron of the Church, pray for us”. On the other side, pictures of a dove, cross, and the keys of Peter are found along with the words “The Spirit of the Lord is his Guide”.
9. The White Scapular of The Most Sacred Heart of Jesus
This scapular has an image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus on one panel, and an image of Mary, Mother of Mercy, on the other panel. Devotion to this scapular was spread in the 1800s by Estelle Faguette, a French house servant. She claimed to have had a series of visions where the Blessed Mother showed her this scapular and asked her to spread a devotion to it.
10. The White Scapular of Saint Dominic
The scapular of Saint Dominic was approved by Saint Pope Pius X in 1903. Attached to the scapular is a 300 day indulgence to those who wear the scapular and devoutly kiss the sacramental. The scapular is white, and while no image is specifically found on all of them, usually one side of the scapular will depict Saint Dominic kneeling before the crucifix. The other side may have an image of Blessed Reginald of Orleans being given a religious habit by Our Lady.