A tragedy happened in Louisiana during the closing days of November. You may have heard about it. It made headlines around the country.
Two people were killed, Father Otis Young and Ruth Prats. We lost, not just a great and humble priest, but a devoted member of his parish and the parish staff, as well.
I don’t want to focus too much on the more morbid aspects of what happened. It appears that Father Otis and Ruth were the victims of a double homicide. Afterwards, both bodies were burned, as though an attempt was made to to conceal the evidence.
Only one item was recoverable from Fr. Otis’ body.
And not just the metal pieces of the scapular survived the flames, but the small pieces of cloth as well!
This is certainly a heartbreaking moment for St. Peter’s Catholic Church, for the entire Archdiocese of New Orleans, and our entire state.
While awaiting confirmation of the deaths, Father Daniel Brouillette, the current pastor of St. Peter’s Catholic Church in Covington, led his parish in prayer vigil for the missing persons. This was another beautiful outpouring of prayer from a grieving community.
Fr. Damian Zablocki, who attended the prayer vigil and holy hour, described it as “a very moving and striking thing to see so many kneel before the Lord in prayer with their suffering hearts.”
Father Otis and His Scapular
Fr. Damian Zablocki, a brother priest to Fr. Otis in the Archdiocese of New Orleans, posted the following on Facebook. Fr. Damian gave me permission to share this with you:
I post this because of the miraculous nature I find in the details of this. On hearing of Fr. Otis’s death, I told my people at the chapel that he was always wearing his scapular. It was always sticking out of his shirt and I was a little bit leery mentioning details because I didn’t want to further burden anyone with emotional details or things that would upset them given the manner of his death. For some reason, I found it important to mention that he was wearing the scapular all the time. Today at the funeral Fr. Bru mentioned that Fr. Otis was very faithful to his priestly duties, and also in his love to the most Blessed Virgin, including wearing the scapular. Indeed, because of the manner of his death, there was nothing left to recover….except for the scapular.
“Whosoever dies clothed in this Scapular, shall not suffer eternal flames.”
Our Lady of Mount Carmel, pray for us!
Through Thy Most Holy Scapular, protect your children dear Mother!!!!!
“It was always sticking out of his shirt” — I love that part. A little reminder of the love of the Blessed Virgin Mary, always sticking out of his shirt.
“Whosoever dies clothed in this Scapular, shall not suffer eternal flames.” What does that mean? What’s the meaning of this promise? See below …
There are accounts that these small pieces of wool cloth, worn around Fr. Otis’ neck, miraculously survived “the flames,” as well. What a beautiful message, not just for the destination of Fr. Otis’ soul, but for all of us … if we follow Fr. Otis’ example!
Of course, I can’t speak for Fr. Otis, but I think there is a way we could still bring good from the tragedy of his and Ruth’s deaths.
There is a way we could honor Fr. Otis and do much more, besides.
Hope from Tragedy
What better, more fitting memorial to both Fr. Otis and Ruth than for all of us to start wearing the scapular?
Many a good priest, like Fr. Otis, would be willing to endure what Fr. Ortis endured, if it meant that more people would wear the scapular. If it meant that more people would come to know and love the Blessed Virgin Mary more, and, through her, Jesus. If it meant that more people would reach Heaven.
So, please, let’s not waste this chance that Fr. Otis has given us!
You might be wondering, though, what is a Scapular? Or, what is the Scapular?
What is the Scapular? What is the Brown Scapular?
When most people hear the word “scapular,” they think of the two small pieces of wool people wear under their shirts as sort of a necklace. Or maybe they think of the “scapula,” the anatomical term for the shoulder blade. The two are, of course, connected.
The scapular is a sacramental based on an important piece of a monk’s robes or habit. The original scapular is a shoulder-width piece of cloth worn over the shoulders that falls almost to the wearer’s feet.
Here are some images of the scapular being worn as part of the religious habit (left), the original scapular by itself (middle), and the smaller scapular (right):
The scapular is the most important garment for those in monastic orders, like the Carmelites pictured above.
You might have noticed that the scapular resembles an apron. This is a symbol of the wearer’s readiness and willingness to serve. This is based on St. Benedict’s Rule. St. Benedict said that the scapular was to be worn “for work.” Benedict didn’t use the words for either manual labor or prayer (“God’s work”) here, though. Instead, Benedict wrote scapulare propter opera (“scapular for work”). He meant that the scapular is to be worn always, whether at work in prayer or manual labor.
At times in the past, the scapular also included arm bands. Together, the arm bands and the vertical pieces hanging from the neck formed a cross on the body. This is why the scapular has also been called a crux, meaning “cross.”
The smaller, more practical scapular was designed for laypeople who desired to participate in this devotion. It is usually worn under the clothing. We can definitely wear this always, whether at prayer work or manual work.
But wait, why would a cloth scapular survive a fire?
Scapulars also typically include some medals, like the St. Benedict medal and crucifix attached in the following image:
This is the part of Fr. Otis’ scapular that is believed to have survived the fire. These two medals. There are even reports that the wool miraculously survived the fire, too!
Where Did the Scapular Come From? St. Simon Stock
On July 16, 1251, the Blessed Mother appeared in a vision to St. Simon Stock. The Blessed Mother gave St. Simon the brown scapular with the following words:
Receive most beloved son,
the scapular of thy Order,
a sign of my confraternity,
a privilege both to thee and to all Carmelites,
in which he that dieth shall not suffer eternal fire;
behold the sign of salvation,
a safeguard in danger,
the covenant of peace and everlasting alliance.
That’s a wonderful promise, right? The Blessed Virgin Mary promises that he who dies wearing the scapular “shall not suffer eternal fire.” That is, you will be spared from Hell.
But wait … all you have to do is wear these two pieces of wool, and you will be spared from Hell?
No, there’s more to it. The scapular isn’t magic. The scapular doesn’t bypass the need for Jesus and salvation.
What are the Conditions for Receiving the Graces of the Scapular? What is the Sabbatine Privilege?
The Sabbatine Privilege is the promise that the Blessed Virgin Mary made to Pope John XXII in a vision. The Virgin Mary promised that she will bear her faithful children, those who have worn the scapular devoutly, from Purgatory to Heaven soon after their death. How soon? The first Saturday after their death.
That’s why it’s called the Sabbatine Privilege. The wearer of the scapular will pass from Purgatory to Heaven in time for the first Sabbath following their death.
Here are the Blessed Mother’s words to Pope John XXII:
As a tender Mother, I will descend into Purgatory on the Saturday after their death, and will deliver them into the heavenly mansions of life everlasting.
The Sabbatine Privilege was promulgated and taught in the 1322 papal bull of Pope John XXII entitled Sacratissimo Uti Culmine, also called the “Sabbatine Bull.” This was later, definitively ratified by the Holy See in 1908.
Here are the conditions provided by Pope John XXII to receive the Sabbatine Privilege:
- Wear the Brown Scapular continuously.
- Observe chastity according to one’s state in life.
- Recite daily the “Little Office of the Blessed Virgin.”
And yes! You can take the scapular off while bathing!
The third requirement has several alternatives:
- Observe the required fast of the Church as well as abstaining for meat on Wednesday and Saturday, or
- Recite the Rosary daily, or
- With permission, substitute some other good work.
Again, it bears repeating … the scapular is not a Get Out of Jail, Hell, or Purgatory Free Card.
Can you just start wearing the Scapular? What do you enroll in the Brown Scapular? How to be Invested in the Scapular?
“One does not merely … wear the scapular.”
Who can wear the scapular? All the Catholic faithful are eligible to be enrolled. Children are customarily enrolled after their First Holy Communion, but even infants can be invested.
So, how do you enroll in the scapular?
Any priest can enroll or invest you in the scapular (or Brown Scapular). There is a specific formula of investiture that the priest will perform for you.
Any More Questions about the Scapular?
What if you’re allergic to wool? You are permitted to wear the scapular over your clothing.
What is the Confraternity of the Brown Scapular?
Let Us Honor Fr. Otis! And Save Our Souls and Those of Our Family, Too
Get your scapular and get invested. Fr. Otis will be smiling at you from Heaven.
Footnotes on Father Otis Young and the Brown Scapular:
 Link, “Father Brouillette: Scapular only item recovered from Father Otis Young’s burned body,” 4WWL, 12/5/22.
 “A Short Treatise of the Antiquity, Institution, Excellency, Indulgences, Privileges, etc., of the Ancient Confraternity of Our Blessed Lady of Mount Carmel, Called the Scapular,” by R.J. Colgan, 1847.