Monday, May 2, 2011

Why Do Catholics Have Extra Things?

Q - Do we really believe we won’t go to Hell if we wear a scapular and pray every day? More generally, there are things not in the bible, like the rosary, etc. that many people say are unnecessary. Why do we have extra things? Isn’t being good and following God’s Word good enough?

A - Thanks for the question. I will get to the scapular issue toward the end of this post.

Is God's Word good enough? Absolutely! But, we must have a proper understanding of what God's Word is. It is not just the Bible. It is so much more - it is a person, Jesus Christ. Christ is the fullness of everything that God the Father wanted to tell His people on earth. Jesus came and showed us the plan of the Father through his words, actions, miracles, and life. The truth of this message was then passed down through the words, actions, miracles, lives, and writings of His followers. Some of the writings are extraordinary, in that they are inspired by the Holy Spirit, and thus they are brought together in our Sacred Scriptures. But, the authority and truth of the other ways that The Word is brought to us don't go away - they are also brought together in Sacred Tradition. The two (Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture) go hand-in-hand to bring us God's truth. God's Word is always enough - because Christ is enough!

While there are Catholic "extras" that aren't necessary for salvation, they can help us grow in holiness - these are not part of the deposit of revelation we call Sacred Tradition, but traditions (with a lower-case"t"). An analogy might help. You could get a hot dog with just a bun and the hot dog. But, every person likes to dress them up differently. I personally like them loaded with ketchup, mustard, onions, etc. This is the same with all the Catholic extras, such as the different forms of prayer (rosary, praise and worship music, adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, etc.) and different devotions (Marian, saints, different sacramentals, etc.). We don't all have to do the same things, because we are all different and have different spiritual tastes. Just because a devotion isn't found in the Bible doesn't mean it isn't helpful to us spiritually.

Now, back to the scapular. There are several different kinds of scapulars and each has a particular focus, but this is a particular kind of spirituality that comes from wearing a cloth pendant. The origin of the scapular is found in the religious communities and their clothing, called a habit. The cloth pendant identifies the wearer with the spirituality of a particular religious community, for instance the brown scapular is connected with our Lady of Mount Carmel and the Carmelite communities. Thus, a wearer of a scapular that is associated with a particular order is to be inducted (called invested) into a community by a priest.

Regardless of what community a scapular is associated with, each is an outward sign of their devotion to Mary. There are particular promises that are associated with some scapulars. The most common is the brown scapular which is said to free one from the fire of hell if worn at all times. This isn't a magic charm that keeps you out of hell. Rather, it is a promise that if you maintain your relationship with Christ and His mother that your are assured of heaven through His grace and your faith.


tour86rocker said...

I was interested in the Brown Scapular about six years ago and back then there wasn't much info about it on the internet, but EWTN has a good page on it:

My understanding has been that when you are "enrolled" in the brown scapular, you have a responsibility to pray the "Little Office" (or instead, with permission, the Rosary) every day.

I've heard it said that 'you cannot remain in a state of mortal sin while praying the rosary'. I wish I could find the exact quote, but I can't. I could almost swear it was a recent Pope, but one should always be critical of second- or third-hand quotes like that.

But when I asked people who wore it, people told me that the Scapular is not magic. The prayer that it requires is a sort of discipline that one must choose and there's no penalty for not meeting its responsibilities, or for not choosing to wear one in the first place. I'm not enrolled in the scapular, I didn't think I'd have the time to pray a rosary every day and I have hope that God's grace will come to me in another way on my last day, if that's correct to say.

chel said...

"I've heard it said that 'you cannot remain in a state of mortal sin while praying the rosary'."

I don't know where that quote is from, but it ring true with me. Simply praying the rosary brought me back to the Mass after years away and a life of mortal sin. Thanks be to God!