Last spring I blessed a First Communion kit for a little girl. It was just like the one I received 80 years ago: a rosary, a prayer book, and a scapular.
Although you seldom see a Catholic wearing a scapular today, its use by Catholics has a long heritage. It originated as a spinoff from the apron or hooded monastic robe. Probably the first religious scapular came from Our Lady of Carmel to Saint Simon Stock in the 12th century.
Some of the great saints have worn scapulars: Saint Benedict, the black scapular, and Saint Theresa of Liseaux, the brown one. They wore them as identification, as signs of their trust and faith, and as a protective shroud. For practical reasons the scapular eventually evolved into small cloth patches worn around the neck.
For use today in the midst of this worldwide pandemic, I suggest the mask as the needed scapular for our times. Masks should be seen as holy objects, and I provide a special blessing for masks below.
A mask is a close companion that provides the blessing of protection to all our neighbors. The historic purpose of scapulars and medals has always been for identification as a person of faith and trust, and for protection of the wearer. Note the widespread use of Saint Christopher medals for protection. But a mask ups the ante and offers protection to the neighbor as well as to the self.
Resistance to masks is not unusual. Why? Perhaps because we live in a culture that values individualism rather than community concern. Masks may be seen by some as an infringement on personal freedom. If we so choose, we may feel we are making a political statement by not wearing a mask. However, the virus has no concern for political affinities. It is an Independent. Like the scriptural roaring lion, it “goes about seeking whomever it may devour.” Mask refusal is its bait. It invites the lion out of its lair. And the Covid lion is an unaffiliated stalker who offers death regardless of political stances of any kind.
Of course, masks have been worn for wide uses beyond religious ones. Desperados wear them to rob banks. Wild revelers wear them during Mardi Gras. Clowns wear them at circuses. Kids wear them at Halloween.
Nonetheless, in a time of pandemic, masks serve a much higher and solemn purpose, the very protection of our life force and the protection of family, friends, and neighbors. In wearing a mask, we live out the Gospel of the Good Samaritan which reveals to us that everyone is our neighbor. We might wear our masks as if they were our scapulars. Indeed, the scapular for our time is the mask, a holy object because of all the good it does.
♦ ♦ ♦
Blessing of a Mask
O God bless this mask:
My own scapular.
My daily companion.
I wear it as a sign of faith and trust.
I believe in loving my neighbor.
I believe in self protection.
Send your Holy Angels
To be with me on my way.
Saint Benedict: this scapular, my shield.
Saint Theresa, enfold me in your mantle,
Against plague and pestilence
Til I return hither.
William John Fitzgerald has contributed to Today’s American Catholic for several years. His essay “The Three Wise Men from the West” was featured in our November 2020 issue.