His Devotional Practices

The Brown Scapular

Whoever dies clothed in this habit shall be saved.” That’s what Our Lady of Mount Carmel said to Carmelite Superior General, St. Simon Stock, in 1251. By saying, “this habit,” Our Lady meant the brown woolen scapular clothing of the Carmelite Order. Our Lady herself appeared to St. Simon Stock accompanied by a multitude of angels and held in her hand this scapular. Her promise has been extended to all those enrolled in the Brown Scapular. Obviously, simply wearing this Scapular does not save us, as if by magic. Jesus saves us through living our total consecration to Him. The Brown Scapular is a sign of our consecration.

Pope John Paul II Wore the Brown Scapular

Pope John Paul II sent a letter to the Carmelite order to mark the 750th anniversary of their reception of the Brown Scapular. He wrote, “I have learned that the Carmelite order wishes to express its filial love to its Patroness invoked as the Flower of Carmel, Mother and Guide in the Path to Holiness.” This Marian devotion, expressed “in the humble sign of the Scapular, consists in the consecration to her Immaculate Heart,” he stressed.

On her feast day in 2003, he said, “Even I, from my youngest days, have worn around my neck the Scapular of Our Lady and I take refuge with trust under the mantle of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of Jesus. I also carry the Scapular on my heart… for the love that it nurtures toward the common Heavenly mother, whose protection is continually springing forth.” He added: “I hope the Scapular will be for everyone, especially the faithful who wear it, a help and defense in times of danger, a seal of peace and a sign of Mary’s care.”

After the assassination attempt made against him on May 13, 1981, the Pope insisted that the doctors should not remove his Brown Scapular from around his neck. They left it on and he recovered from his wounds.

Saint John Paul II (then Karol Wojtyla) as a worker wearing his Brown Scapular

Popular Scapulars consist of two small squares of woolen cloth joined by strings and worn around the neck. (See the photo below). The original, large scapulars worn by the Carmelites were work habits that came to symbolize the Cross and yoke of Christ.

Almost six centuries after Our Lady appeared to St. Simon Stock, she appeared to Sister Lucia, Blessed Jacinta and Blessed Francisco on October 13, 1917 in the last vision at Fatima. Our Lady appeared as Our Lady of Mount Carmel with the Brown Scapular hanging from her right hand in the same way as it was held our for St. Simon Stock.

Sister Lucia said, “The Rosary and the Scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel are inseparable and the wearing of the Brown Scapular is the sign of our consecration.” When we wear the Brown Scapular, we are giving a sign of our consecration to Jesus through Mary by which we dedicate ourselves entirely to Jesus under her protection and imitate her virtues. This was Pope John Paul II’s personal spirituality. The motto of his papacy was Totus Tuus – Totally Yours.

The Rosary

Saint John Paul II had a great devotion to the Rosary and prayed it frequently. (See the photograph below). He proclaimed October 2002 through October 2003 as The Year of the Rosary to pray for peace and the stability of the family. He also added to the Rosary the Mysteries of Light (the Luminous Mysteries) that focus on the public ministry of Jesus and he gave us an improved method to pray it.

Our Lady asked St. Dominic to preach her Rosary at a time when the Church was in a critical battle against the Albigensian heresy. It was at Prouille in France in 1208 that Dominic suddenly experienced an apparition of the Blessed Mother, who said, “Wonder not that you have obtained so little fruit by your labors. You have spent them on barren soil, not yet watered with the dew of Divine grace. When God willed to renew the face of the earth, He began by sending down on it fertilizing rain of the Angelic Salutation (the Hail Mary). Therefore preach my Psalter composed of 150 Angelic Salutations and fifteen Our Fathers and you will obtain an abundant harvest.”

The Blessed Mother was referring to the ancient origin of the Rosary, which got its start with monks who recited the 150 Psalms and gave the laymen who wanted to participate (but couldn’t memorize the Psalms) pouches of 150 pebbles so they could recite an Our Father on each of them. The laity next developed a rope with 150 knots, then strings with fifty wood pieces, and soon the technique spread to other parts of Europe, where the faithful began to recite the Angelic Salutation – “Hail Mary full of grace” – with each piece of wood, until it took its present form with the Joyful, Sorrowful and Glorious Mysteries of the life of Christ.

The Pope wrote an Apostolic Letter, On the Most Holy Rosary. Below are edited excerpts from his Apostolic Letter.

On the Most Holy Rosary

The following are excerpts from his Apostolic Letter, On the Most Holy Rosary (October 16, 2002):

. . . In continuity with my reflection in the Apostolic Letter, At the Beginning of the New Millennium in which, after the experience of the Jubilee, I invited the people of God to “start afresh from Christ”, I have felt drawn to offer a reflection on the Rosary, as a kind of Marian complement to that Letter and an exhortation to contemplate the face of Christ in union with, and at the school of, his Most Holy Mother. To recite the Rosary is nothing other than to contemplate with Mary the face of Christ.

5. But the most important reason for strongly encouraging the practice of the Rosary is that it represents a most effective means of fostering among the faithful that commitment to the contemplation of the Christian mystery which I have proposed in the Apostolic Letter, At the Beginning of the New Millennium as a genuine “training in holiness”: “What is needed is a Christian life distinguished above all in the art of prayer“. 9

Prayer for Peace and for the Family

6. A number of historical circumstances also make a revival of the Rosary quite timely. First of all, the need to implore from God the gift of peace. The Rosary has many times been proposed by my predecessors and myself as a prayer for peace. At the start of a millennium which began with the terrifying attacks of 11 September 2001, a millennium which witnesses every day innumerous parts of the world fresh scenes of bloodshed and violence, to rediscover the Rosary means to immerse oneself in contemplation of the mystery of Christ who “is our peace”, since he made “the two of us one, and broke down the dividing wall of hostility” (Eph 2:14).

A similar need for commitment and prayer arises in relation to another critical contemporary issue: the family, the primary cell of society, increasingly menaced by forces of disintegration on both the ideological and practical planes, so as to make us fear for the future of this fundamental and indispensable institution and, with it, for the future of society as a whole. The revival of the Rosary in Christian families, within the context of a broader pastoral ministry to the family, will be an effective aid to countering the devastating effects of this crisis typical of our age.