Skip to comments.Essays for Lent: Scapulars Medals and Relics
Posted on 03/29/2012 8:05:11 PM PDT by Salvation
Scapulars Medals and Relics
by Sebastian R. Fama
Many non-Catholics view the use of scapulars, medals and relics as idolatrous. They liken them to talismans or good-luck charms. Unfortunately this notion comes from a serious misunderstanding of what the Church teaches about the use of these articles.
The scapular was originally a part of a monk's habit. It was a narrow piece of cloth that was worn over the shoulders. In the 13th century lay people began placing themselves under the spiritual direction of the different monastic orders. They were called Third Order members. To show that they were associated with a particular community (Franciscans, Dominicans etc.) they would wear the scapular of that order. It was not always practical or convenient to wear the full scapular in daily life. Hence, the smaller modern day version came into being. This consists of two small squares of woolen cloth joined by strings and hung around the neck.
In one way, having a scapular devotion is similar to being a sports fan. A sports fan will often wear clothing with the colors or logo of his favorite team. Wearing the team's colors is not an act of idolatry. It is an act of devotion to the team it represents. Likewise wearing a scapular is not an act of idolatry. It is an act of devotion to the spirituality of the monastic order it represents.
Those who wish to wear the scapular should be enrolled in it by the proper religious authority. Upon enrollment, members agree to a particular prayer discipline. As a result they share in the prayers of the community.
But critics will point to Mary's promise concerning the brown scapular of Mount Carmel as proof of idolatry. However, they only quote it in part and thus miss its meaning. They focus on the line that reads: " Whoever dies in this garment, will not suffer everlasting fire." The promise must be read in its entirety and in the light of Catholic teaching. The full text is as follows: "Take, beloved son, this scapular of thy order as a badge of my confraternity and for thee and all Carmelites a special sign of grace; whoever dies in this garment, will not suffer everlasting fire. It is the sign of salvation, a safeguard in dangers, a pledge of peace and of the covenant."
Note that Mary refers to the scapular as a "special sign of grace." The individual, as a result of prayer, receives grace. It is grace that enables us to live the Christian life and attain our salvation. Thus, whoever dies in this garment [assuming he remains faithful due to the grace received] will not suffer everlasting fire.
The Church has always been careful to point out that no religious article is miraculous in itself and that salvation always depends upon the life of the wearer. Christians have been using medals since the earliest centuries. A second century medal has been found with the images of the apostles Peter and Paul. Examples of other holy medals have been found in the catacombs. Medals are coin-like objects made to commemorate persons, places, historical events or the mysteries of the faith. Medals serve as reminders of what they portray. They serve much the same purpose as the reminders of God worn by the Israelites in Numbers 15:37-40. There we read; "The Lord said to Moses, 'Speak to the people of Israel, and bid them to make tassels on the corners of their garments throughout their generations, and to put upon the tassel of each corner a cord of blue; and it shall be to you a tassel to look upon and remember all the commandments of the Lord'."
Relics are the remains or personal belongings of saints. From the earliest times, miracles have been associated with their use. God chooses to work through them to testify to the holiness of the individuals they came from. The use of relics is firmly rooted in Scripture. In Mark 5:25 the woman with the hemorrhage was cured after touching Jesus' garment. In Acts 19:12 we see that aprons and handkerchiefs touched by Paul were used to perform healings and exorcisms. Finally in 2 Kings 13:20-21 we find a dead man coming to life after touching the bones of the prophet Elisha.
The early Church also venerated relics. In The Martyrdom of Polycarp, written around 155 AD, we see how Polycarp, the bishop of Smyrna, was arrested and martyred for the Faith. After his martyrdom the authorities sought to deny the Christians his remains. Paragraph 17 relates it this way: "He [Satan] therefore proceeded to do his best to arrange that at least we should not get possession of his mortal remains, although numbers of us were anxious to do this and to claim our share in the hallowed relics."
When used properly, scapulars, medals and relics can become a means of enriching our spiritual life and bringing us closer to God. Copyright © 2001 StayCatholic.com
Copyright © 2001 StayCatholic.com
For Further Study
Books - The How-To Book of Sacramentals by Ann Ball
Essays for Lent: The Assumption
Essays for Lent: The Immaculate Conception
Essays for Lent: Mary Ever-Virgin
Essays for Lent: Praying to Saints
Essays for Lent: Indulgences
Essays for Lent: Purgatory
Essays for Lent: Confession
Essays for Lent: The Eucharist
Essays for Lent: The Mass
Essays for Lent: Baptism
Essays for Lent: Justification
Essays for Lent: Tradition
Essays for Lent: Scripture Alone
Essays for Lent: The Canon of Scripture
Essays for Lent: Papal Infallibility
Essays for Lent: The Pope
Essays for Lent: The Church
Essays for Lent: The Bible
Essays for Lent: The Trinity
Essays for Lent: Creationism or Evolution?
Wearing my Dominican “scapular medal” as we speak, uh, write.
When I made my final promises (remember when I asked for prayers when I became a novice 4 years ago?) I was vested in a more or less knee-length scapular which I will not wear again until I croak, barring unforeseen circumstances.