Our Lady of Mount Carmel
Many times each day they came together to the new oratory, and with pious ceremonies, prayers, and praises honoured the most Blessed Virgin as the special protectress of their Order. For this reason, people from all parts began to call them the Brethren of the Blessed Mary of Mount Carmel; and the Sovereign Pontiffs not only confirmed this title, but also granted special indulgences to whoever called either the whole Order or individual Brothers by that name. But the most noble Virgin not only gave them her name and protection, she also bestowed upon Blessed Simon the Englishman the holy Scapular as a token, wishing the holy Order to be distinguished by that heavenly garment and to be protected by it from the evils that were assailing it. Moreover, as formerly the Order was unknown in Europe, and on this account many were importuning Honorius III for its abolition, the loving Virgin Mary appeared by night to Honorius and clearly bade him receive both the Order and its members with kindness.
The Blessed Virgin has enriched the Order so dear to her with many privileges, not only in this world, but also in the next (for everywhere she is most powerful and merciful). For it is piously believed that those of her children, who, having been enrolled in the Confraternity of the Scapular, have fulfilled the small abstinence and said the few prayers prescribed, and have observed chastity as far as their state of life demands, will be consoled by our Lady while they are being purified in the fire of Purgatory, and will through her intercession be taken thence as soon as possible to the heavenly country. The Order, thus laden with so many graces, has ordained that this solemn commemoration of the Blessed Virgin should be yearly observed forever, to her greater glory.”
The holy abbot then gives his own beautiful insights regarding the feast:
“Towering over the waves on the shore of the Holy Land, Mount Carmel, together with the short range of the same name, forms a connecting link to two other chains, abounding with glorious memories, namely: the mountains of Galilee on the north, and those of Judea on the south. (See beneath the references for some of Dom Gueranger's observations from Scripture regarding Carmel.)
When Eternal Wisdom was playing in the world, forming the hills and establishing the mountains, she destined Carmel to be the special inheritance of Eve’s victorious Daughter. And when the last thousand years of expectation were opening, and the desire of all nations was developing into the spirit of prophecy, the father of prophets ascended the privileged mount, thence to scan the horizon. The triumphs of David and the glories of Solomon were at an end; the scepter of Juda, broken by the schism of the ten tribes, threatened to fall from his hand; the worship of Baal prevailed in Israel. A long-continued drought, figure of the aridity of men’s souls, had parched up every spring, and men and beasts were dying beside the empty cisterns, when Elias the Thesbite gathered the people, representing the whole human race, on Mount Carmel, and slew the lying prophets of Baal. Then, as the Scripture relates, prostrating with his face to the earth, he said to his servant: Go up, look towards the sea. And he went up, and looked and said: There is nothing. And again he said to him: Return seven times. And at the seventh time: Behold, a little cloud arose out of the sea like a man’s foot. (1 Kings l8)
Blessed cloud! unlike the bitter waves from which it sprang, it was all sweetness. Docile to the least breath of heaven, it rose light and humble, above the immense heavy ocean; and, screening the sun, it tempered the heat that was scorching the earth, and restored to the stricken world life and grace and fruitfulness. The promised Messias, the Son of Man, set his impress upon it, showing to the wicked serpent the form of the heel that was to crush him. The prophet, personifying the human race, felt his youth renewed; and while the welcome rain was already refreshing the valleys, he ran before the chariot of the king of Israel. Thus did he traverse the great plain of Esdrelon, even to the mysteriously-named town of Jezrahel, where, according to Osee, the children of Juda and Israel were again to have but one head, in the great day of Jezrahel (i.e., of the seed of God), when the Lord would seal his eternal nuptials with a new people. (Hosea 1:11, 2:14-24) Later on, from Sunam, near Jezrahel, the mother, whose son was dead, crossed the same plain of Esdrelon, in the opposite direction, and ascended Mount Carmel, to obtain from Eliseus the resurrection of her child, who was a type of us all. (2 Kings 4:8-37) Elias had already departed in the chariot of fire, to await the end of the world, when he is to give testimony, together with Henoch, to the son of her that was signified by the cloud; (Apocalypse 11:3, 7) and the disciple, clothed with the mantle and the spirit of his father, had taken possession, in the name of the sons of the prophets, of the august mountain honored by the manifestation of the Queen of prophets. Henceforward Carmel was sacred in the eyes of all who looked beyond this world. Gentiles as well as Jews, philosophers and princes, came here on pilgrimage to adore the true God; while the chosen souls of the Church of the expectation, many of whom were already wandering in deserts and in mountains, (Hebrews 11:38) loved to take up their abode in its thousand grottoes; for the ancient traditions seemed to linger more lovingly in its silent forests, and the perfume of its flowers foretokened the Virgin Mother. The cultus of the Queen of heaven was already established; and to the family of her devout clients, the ascetics of Carmel, might be applied the words spoken later by God to the pious descendants of Rechab: There shall not be wanting a man of this race, standing before me forever. (Jeremiah 35:19)
At length figures gave place to the reality: the heavens dropped down their dew, and the Just One came forth from the cloud. When his work was done and he returned to his Father, leaving his blessed Mother in the world, and sending his Holy Spirit to the Church, not the least triumph of that Spirit of love was the making known of Mary to the new-born Christians of Pentecost. “What a happiness,” we then remarked, “for those neophytes who were privileged above the rest in being brought to the Queen of heaven, the Virgin-Mother of him who was the hope of Israel! They saw this second Eve, they conversed with her, they felt for her that filial affection wherewith she inspired all the disciples of Jesus. The Liturgy will speak to us at another season of these favored ones.” The promise is fulfilled today. In the lessons of the feast the Church tells us how the disciples of Elias and Eliseus became Christians at the first preaching of the Apostles, and being permitted to hear the sweet words of the Blessed Virgin and enjoy an unspeakable intimacy with her, they felt their veneration for her immensely increased. Returning to the loved mountain, where their less fortunate fathers had lived but in hope, they built, on the very spot where Elias had seed the little cloud rise up out of the sea, an oratory to the purest of virgins; hence they obtained the name of Brothers of Blessed Mary of Mount Carmel. (Lessons and Nocturn)
In the twelfth century, in consequence of the establishment of the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem, many pilgrims from Europe came to swell the ranks of the solitaries on the holy mountain; it therefore became expedient to give to their hitherto eremitical life a form more in accordance with the habits of western nations. The legate Aimeric Malafaida, patriarch of Antioch, gathered them into a community under the authority of St. Berthold, who was thus the first to receive the title of Prior General. At the commencement of the next century, Blessed Albert, patriarch of Jerusalem and also Apostolic legate, completed the work of Aimeric by giving a fixed Rule to the Order, which was now, through the influence of princes and knights returned from the Holy Land, beginning to spread into Cyprus, Sicily, and the countries beyond the sea. Soon indeed, the Christians of the East, being abandoned by God to the just punishment of their sins, the vindictiveness of the conquering Saracens reached such a height in this age of trial for Palestine, that a full assembly held on Mount Carmel under Alanus the Breton, resolved upon a complete migration, leaving only a few friars eager for martyrdom to guard the cradle of the Order. The very year in which this took place (1245), Simon Stock was elected General in the first Chapter of the West held at Aylesford in England.
Simon owed his election to the successful struggle he had maintained for the recognition of the Order, which certain prelates, alleging the recent decrees of the Council of Lateran, rejected as newly introduced into Europe. Our Lady had then taken the cause of the Friars into her own hands, and had obtained from Honorius III the decree of confirmation, which originated today’s feast. This was neither the first nor the last favor bestowed by the sweet Virgin upon the family that had lived so long under the shadow, as it were, of her mysterious cloud, and shrouded like her in humility, with no other bond, no other pretension than the imitation of her hidden works and the contemplation of her glory. She herself had wished them to go forth from the midst of a faithless people; just as, before the close of that same thirteenth century, she would command her angels to carry into a Catholic land her blessed house of Nazareth. Whether or not the men of those days, or the short-sighted historians of our own time, ever thought of it: the one translation called for the other, just as each completes and explains the other, and each was to be, for our own Europe, the signal for wonderful favours from heaven.
In the night between the 15th and the 16th of July, of the year 1251, the gracious Queen of Carmel confirmed to her sons by a mysterious sign the right of citizenship she had obtained for them in their newly adopted countries: as mistress and mother of the entire Religious state she conferred upon them with her queenly hands, the scapular, hitherto the distinctive garb of the greatest and most ancient religious family of the West. On giving St. Simon Stock this badge, ennobled by contact with her sacred fingers, the Mother of God said to him: “Whosoever shall die in this habit, shall not suffer eternal flames.” But not against hell fire alone was the all-powerful intercession of the Blessed Mother to be felt by those who should wear her scapular. In 1316, when every holy soul was imploring heaven to put a period to that long and disastrous widowhood of the Church, which followed on the death of Clement V, the Queen of Saints appeared to James d’Euse, whom the world was soon to hail as John XXII; she foretold to him his approaching elevation to the Sovereign Pontificate, and at the same time recommended him to publish the privilege she had obtained from her Divine Son for her children of Carmel, viz., a speedy deliverance from Purgatory. “I, their Mother, will graciously go down to them on the Saturday after their death, and all whom I find in Purgatory I will deliver and will bring to the mountain of life eternal.” These are the words of our Lady herself, quoted by John XXII in the Bull which he published for the purpose of making known the privilege, and which was called the Sabbatine Bull on account of the day chosen by the glorious benefactress for the exercise of her mercy.
Queen of Carmel, hear the voice of the Church as she sings to thee on this day. This feast, O Mother of our God, is the authentic attestation of the gratitude of the sons of the prophets, increased by the fresh benefits wherewith thy bounty accompanied the new exodus of the remnant of Israel. And we, the sons of ancient Europe, we too have a right to echo the expression of their loving joy; for since their tents have been pitched around the hills where the new Sion is built upon Peter, the cloud has shed all around showers of blessing more precious than ever, driving back into the abyss the flames of hell, and extinguishing the fire of purgatory.”
(In the day of my love, I brought thee out of Egypt into the land of Carmel,” (Jeremiah 2:2, 7) said the Lord to the daughter of Sion, taking the name of Carmel to represent all the blessings of the Promised Land; and when the crimes of the chosen people were about to bring Judæa to ruin, the prophet cried out: “I looked, and behold Carmel was a wilderness: and all its cities were destroyed at the presence of the Lord, and at the presence of the wrath of his indignation.” (Jeremiah 4:26) But from the midst of the Gentile world a new Sion arose, more loved than the first; eight centuries beforehand Isaias recognized her by the glory of Libanus, and the beauty of Carmel and Saron which were given her. In the sacred Canticle, also, the attendants of the Bride sing to the Spouse concerning his well-beloved, that her head is like Carmel, and her hair like the precious threads of royal purple carefully woven and dyed. (Song of Solomon 7:5)
There was, in fact, around Cape Carmel an abundant fishery of the little shell-fish which furnished the regal color. Not far from there, smoothing away the slopes of the noble mountain, flowed the torrent of Cison, that dragged the carcasses (Judges 5:21) of the Chanaanites, when Deborah won her famous victory. Here lies the plain where the Madianites were overthrown, and Sisara felt the power of her that was called Mother in Israel. (Judges 5:7) Here Gedeon, too, marched against Madian in the name of the Woman terrible as an army set in array, (Song of Solomon 6:3,9) whose sign he had received in the dew-covered fleece. Indeed, this glorious plain of Esdrelon, which stretches away from the foot of Carmel, seems to be surrounded with prophetic indications of her who was destined from the beginning to crush the serpent’s head: not far from Esdrelon, a few defiles lead to Bethulia, the city of Judith, type of Mary, who was the true joy of Israel and the honor of her people; (Judith 15:10) while nestling among the northern hills lies Nazareth, the white city, the flower of Galilee. (Hieron. Epist. xlvi. Paulæ et Eustochii ad Marcellam)