THE STORY OF THE SCAPULAR
It is not generally recognized but the Scapular of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel originated, as did so many of our Catholic customs and liturgical actions, in our historical beginnings among the Hebrew people.
Chapter 15 of the Book of Numbers (“bemidbar” i.e. “in the wilderness”) as well as Chapter 22 of Deuteronomy (“Sefer Devarim”) enjoins the Israelites to wear tassels on their garment. This traditionally has been fulfilled by the wearing of the prayer shawl which every male Hebrew receives at his Bar Mitzvah and which he wears during the liturgical payers prescribed for him. This garment (“ tallit”, meaning “garment) is called the “Tallit Godol” (“large garment”). The Chapter cited enjoins the Israelite to have fringes on the Tallit that are tied on with knots that symbolize the 613 prescriptions of the Law.
Orthodox Jews, also wear a Tallit Katan , or a “small garment”, under their clothes and over their innermost garments. This tallit, unlike the Prayer Shawl is supposed to be worn always and it too has on it the tassels known as “Tzitzis”
Why two tallitot and why all Jews do not wear both has to do with the history of the Jews as a people.
The Torah is probably the first book ever written by man; certainly it is the first using an alphabet. The alphabet was given to Moses by the Angels ( i.e. The Creator’s agents) on Mount Sinai. As a matter of fact the earliest alphabetic use as an inscription was found in a mine in that area and it dates to the time of the Exodus.
Moses wrote the Torah ( or it was done under his direction) not only as a history of the Israelites, but also as God’s Word to Mankind, instructing us about Himself and how we are to serve him.
For a thousand years the customs and prescriptions of The Law were observed by Hebrews as they were instructed by the priests at the Temple.
After the destruction of Solomon’s Temple and during the Babylonian exile, a new problem arose. Since there was no longer a Temple, the liturgical prescriptions of The Law could not be observed. No sacrifices could be made since the Temple was the only place in the entire world where The Creator would accept sacrifices.
The Lord inspired the leaders of the Jews residing in Babylon to develop Sabbath prayer meetings at which the Scriptures (especially the Torah) were studied with a teacher whose function was to study all the scriptures and the commentaries. This prayer meeting became the “Synagogue” and the unifying feature of the Diaspora.
Under the Chaldeans, the Israeli became essentially merchants and spread our to all the centers of the buying and selling of merchandise. For example, the Jewish community in Kerala, India, had been there for five hundred years when St. Thomas visited them on his apostolic journey.
Thus, although under the Persians (successors to the Chaldeans) travel was possible, the distances were very great and the communities had a tendency to be united only by merchants and visiting Rabbis. It was very difficult to go to Jerusalem for the prescribed holidays.
As the Bible records, seventy years after the destruction of the Temple, the Priests and many Jews returned to Jerusalem and rebuilt the Second Temple and instituted again the customary prescription of the Law with regard to the Sacrifices and the worship at the Temple.
The collapse of the Hellenic conquest of the Middle East with the death of Alexander in 323 B.C. threw the Middle East into a period of almost constant wars between the competing Grecian Warlords vying to re-unite the conquests of Alexander , each seeking to be the ruler . Thus, for almost 300 years it was virtually impossible for the Jews of the Diaspora, even once in a lifetime to go to Jerusalem to celebrate the prescribed Pilgrim Feasts. There was no protection for the travel
The result was different theological concepts developing in the environs of Jerusalem from the Jews of the Diaspora. The people of the land of Judah were taught by the Priests and those who followed their teachings were called the “Sadducees”.
Certainly by the inspiration of the Lord, the Rabbis of the Diaspora made every effort to keep the Jews separated from the surrounding environment. Thus the Pharisees (=”separate”) developed. The leaders helped the people to remain separated from the pagans especially by developing laws that acted as a fence around the Jewish home. Thus the relatively straightforward laws of the Torah were enveloped with so many secondary laws that keeping them was a total preoccupation of the observant Jew and kept him from absorbing the pagan ideas around him. Remember that the book of Acts records that even Paul complained about the difficulty of observing all the laws of the Pharisees.
For example, it was among the Pharisees of the Diaspora that the exclusive nature of the Jewish Home developed. As you know, an observant Orthodox Jew will not willingly enter into a Gentile home nor invite a Gentile into his home. The many laws surrounding the Sabbath rest and the service of prayer in the synagogue also were a real fence for the Jew.
We know that the Jewish religion as practiced today reflects the Diaspora, not the Sadducees. An Orthodox Jew today is one who observes the prescriptions of the Rabbis.
One of the customs developed, under divine inspiration, by the Rabbis of the Diaspora was the Tallit Katan — meant to be worn always and not only during prayer as was the Tallit Godol. It was worn under the outer clothing so the Jew would always remember that he was chosen by the Creator to serve Him and this extended to every part of his life, not just prescribed prayer times. It reminded him of his need to keep himself pure.
The Tallit Katan consists of two unadorned cloths one covering the back and the other the front of the torso with two shoulder straps. The result is a poncho-like garment that has tassels at the four corners ( the Tzitzis) to remind him of the Law of the Lord. It was a sign of divine predilection and protection.
Jesus, as you remember, although born in Bethlehem of Judea, was raised in Nazareth of Galilee. Galilee was part of the Diaspora and so the teachers in the Synagogues were the rabbinical Pharisees. Thus he would have worn the Tallit Katan .
After the destruction of the Temple by the Romans and the dispersal of all the Jews into the Diaspora , in the year 70, the Orthodox Jew always wore this Tallit Katan. The Mother of Jesus, gave this garment to those Gentiles entering into the New Covenant with Jesus, because we who are baptized are adopted as His Brothers and so are chosen people dedicated to do God’s work in bringing the Nations to Christ. Thus the Scapular (as it is called by the Romans) also carries with it the concept of being protected.
The Scapular promises and the Blessings and Indulgences given this garment by the Church are signs of the protection promised by the Blessed Virgin Mary.
The Scapular entered the general world of the Gentiles through the monks who lived on Mt. Carmel for millennia and who were observant Jews of the Diaspora. It is well documented that the reconquest of the Holy Land by the Turks during the Crusades brought them to Europe; and the Scapular with them.
The promises of Our Lady regarding her special protection for those who wear the Scapular have been atttested to by many miracles historically verified.
She has promised, for example, that anyone dying with the Scapular on will not suffer the pains of Hell. This has led to miraculous conversions of people accepting the scapular. Hospital Chaplains who confer the Scapular on patients find that they invariably accept the Sacraments and prepare for eternal life with God.
The Catholic Church owes a great debt of gratitude to the Jewish people of the Diaspora for this gift from Our Lady. WE must be very grateful to God for this wonderful gift.