April 18, 2019

The Brown Scapular Dubium

Years ago, during the period in between my two times in religious life, I was enrolled in the Brown Scapular at some kind of youth event. If memory serves, it was animated by the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate and at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel in Hamden, Connecticut. Given certain Carmelite tendencies, such as my gratefulness for John of the Cross and Edith Stein, I was always happy to have this special association with Our Lady of Mt. Carmel and the Carmelite family.

However, at some point after I had landed in the Capuchins and my second (and current) time in religious life, I began to be troubled by a certain doubt. The Scapular is a sort of a habit, after all, so did my investiture in it remain after I was invested in the Franciscan habit? Surely a person can't be invested in two different religious habits. On this point it occurred to me somewhere along the way that the reception of the Scapular, in English anyway, is not called an investiture but an enrollment.

Canon 685 § 2 is part of the section of Canon Law that treats of the transfer of a religious from one institute to another. It reads, [t]hrough profession in the new institute, the member is incorporated into it while the preceding vows, rights, and obligations cease.

Now I knew this didn't exactly apply to my case, because I had never been a member of a Carmelite religious institute, but I wondered if, in the spirit of the canon, my full incorporation into a Franciscan institute nullified the obligations and benefits of the Carmelite belonging I had received with the Scapular.

I read whatever documents I could find that seemed related to the matter in one way or other, but I wasn't able to decide for myself. I didn't lose sleep over it, but I continued to hope for a solution, because if I continued to wear the Scapular for which my enrollment had been dissolved, that could be superstition, and if I didn't wear it even though my enrollment remained, that would be impiety.

I asked everybody I had access to whom I thought might have some pertinent expertise; Carmelites, canonists, even a member of the International Theological Commission. Some gave me good points to consider, but mostly I felt like my dubium wasn't being taken seriously, which, as a Catholic, really pushes my buttons as they say.

Finally, one day I thought of writing to the Holy See to ask for a definitive answer. Probably I would never get a reply, I said to myself, but even this would be an answer in the sense of a sort of permission to make up my own mind. If the Holy See didn't want to give me an answer, then I supposed I would be free to decide for myself.

So, in the quieter time in the office around the new year, I wrote a letter to the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments.

Imagine my surprised excitement when, on Holy Thursday morning, the Brother Porter brought me their reply:

Reverend Father, 
There arrived at this Congregation the letter of January 4 in which you ask for information on the compatibility between your religious vows in the Order of Friars Minor Capuchin and the Carmelite Scapular previously received. 
The two things present themselves on completely different levels. Can. 685 § 2, which governs the transitus ad aliam religionem, is not pertinent in your case inasmuch as you never professed vows in a Carmelite religious community. The Scapular is a sign of Marian devotion, in the sense of a more vigilant closeness to the baptismal commitment, and formalizes the belonging to a confraternity. This belonging is compatible with the religious vows, as has been, moreover, witnessed to by the example of many saints. 
In communicating this you, I take the opportunity to extend my sincere regards. 
Most devotedly in the Lord,

So there you have it.

All those saints, pray for us!
Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, pray for us!


Anonymous said...

Have followed your blog and kept you in my prayers for many years, from interest in your journey into Franciscan life and where that has lead you and for your sensible insights on life in Christ. Your Dubium was a good case in point.

Jim McCullough, retired DRE, Greensboro, NC

Brother Charles said...

Thank you for your prayer and for the comment. Happy Easter!

Louis M said...

Thanks for clearing that up, Father!
Buona Pasqua!

Brother Charles said...

Altrettanto! Cristo รจ risorto!