Today is the feast day of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. Ora pro nobis.
Today, July 16, we celebrate the feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, the Madonna of the Brown Scapular. It is our Lady of Mount Carmel who appeared to Saint Simon Stock, providing gentle instruction on Consecration to Her Immaculate Heart through the Scapular, which led to the growth of the Carmelite Order. As Pope Pius XII proclaimed, “Let the Scapular be for them a sign of Consecration to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.”
The feast was assigned to 16 July, because on that date in 1251, according to Carmelite traditions, the scapular was given by the Blessed Virgin to St. Simon Stock. It was first approved by Sixtus V in 1587. After Cardinal Bellarmine had examined the Carmelite traditions in 1609, it was declared the patronal feast of the order, and is now celebrated in the Carmelite calendar as a major double of the first class with a vigil and a privileged octave (like the octave of Epiphany, admitting only a double of the first class) under the title “Commemoratio solemnis B.V.M. de Monte Carmelo”. By a privilege given by Clement X in 1672, some Carmelite monasteries keep the feast on the Sunday after 16 July, or on some other Sunday in July. In the seventeenth century the feast was adopted by several dioceses in the south of Italy, although its celebration, outside of Carmelite churches, was prohibited in 1628 by a decree contra abusus. On 21 Nov., 1674, however, it was first granted by Clement X to Spain and its colonies, in 1675 to Austria, in 1679 to Portugal and its colonies, and in 1725 to the Papal States of the Church, on 24 Sept., 1726, it was extended to the entire Latin Church by Benedict XIII. The lessons contain the legend of the scapular; the promise of the Sabbatine privilege was inserted into the lessons by Paul V about 1614. The Greeks of southern Italy and the Catholic Chaldeans have adopted this feast of the “Vestment of the Blessed Virgin Mary”. The object of the feast is the special predilection of Mary for those who profess themselves her servants by wearing her scapular.
Our Lady of Mount Carmel
by Fr. Francis Xavier Weninger, 1877
Carmel is a mountain, lying between Judea and Syria, of which one part belonged to the tribe of Manasses, the other to the tribe of Aser. The prophet Elias wrought, on Mount Carmel, the great miracle which is circumstantially related in the third Book of Kings, 18th chapter, when he, to prove that the God of Israel, whom he worshipped, was the true God, called down fire from heaven to consume his sacrifice. Upon this mountain, according to the Breviary, some pious nun, who had been converted to Christianity, built a church or chapel, dedicated to the Most Pure Virgin, in which they frequently assembled for prayer; and they were called “Brothers of our Lady of Mount Carmel.” There exists, at the present day, in the Catholic Church, a celebrated religious Order, whose members take their name from this mount, and hence are called “Carmelites,” or “Brothers of our Lady of Mount Carmel.” This religious Order was spread many centuries ago, not only in the Holy Land, but also in other countries. Among other things we read that St. Louis of France, on his return from Syria, brought some of these religious with him into his kingdom, and assigned them a dwelling near Marseilles. The Holy Mother who was especially honored by these religious, imparted also especial graces to them, and protected them miraculously in the greatest need and danger.
Among these graces is to be counted the following: The holy man, Simon Stock, who had, during many years served the Lord in England, as a hermit, desired most fervently to be admitted into the Carmelite Order, when he heard that the latter were spreading all over Europe. His desire was complied with, and he endeavoured with such zeal to reach the height of perfection, that after a few years he was deemed worthy to be chosen general of the whole Order. As such, he one day poured out his whole heart, with child-like confidence, before an image of the Blessed Virgin, requesting her to bestow upon his holy Order some especial favor. The Divine Mother appeared to him, and, as it is said in the Roman Breviary, bestowed upon him the habit of the holy scapular, that his Order might be thus distinguished, from all others and protected from all evil. Swanington, the companion of the blessed man, relates that Simon informed him of the apparition in the following words: “The Blessed Virgin appeared to me with a large suite; she held the habit in her hand and said, ‘This shall be thy privilege and that of all Carmelites. Those who die, with sorrow for their sins and in the true faith, and clad in this habit, shall not suffer eternal fire.'” Others say that the Divine Mother bestowed the scapular upon the blessed man with these words: “Take, my son, this scapular, as a sign of thy Order, an emblem of salvation. They who die in it, repenting of their sins, shall not suffer the eternal fire.”
This consoling apparition and promise gave rise to the confraternity of the scapular, which is now spread over the whole of the Catholic world, with the papal approbation and the grant of many indulgences. It is a consoling belief, which rests upon the words of the Breviary, that the members of this association, who endeavor to live according to its rules, enjoy the special protection of the Blessed Virgin at the hour of death, and are speedily delivered from purgatory, and taken into their heavenly home. Pope Benedict XIV. treating of the Festivals of the Blessed Virgin, says that Paul V. had made a decree, by which he sanctioned the pious belief that the Blessed Virgin would help her clients after death, by her intercession, especially on Saturdays, as this day is consecrated to her by the Holy Church, provided they had died in the grace of God, and had endeavored to follow the rules of the association. The heretics at different periods attacked this pious belief with lies and blasphemies, and ridiculed those who wore the blessed scapular; nor have they discontinued to do this in our day. Some Catholics, though Catholics only in name, agree with them, and reject the revelation of Simon Stock, as a pious fable, or a tale without any foundation. They look upon the promise made to him as something which does not harmonize with the Catholic faith; they are not even ashamed to say that it opens a path to evil; for, if we thought that we can escape hell by wearing a scapular, nothing would be more likely than that we should plunge into all possible vices and continue in them, in the belief that we cannot go to eternal destruction, by reason of our being members of that association.
To this and other such reasonings I will answer only this: As far as the comforting revelation of the blessed Simon Stock is concerned, it is, of course, not an article of faith, as those contained in Holy Writ; but it is not, therefore, only a fable or unfounded tale. It was related by trustworthy men, examined by many historians, and verified by several Popes. Those who doubt it, or denounce it as false, without sufficient cause, act unreasonably. There are thousands of facts, not contained in Holy Writ, which are incontestible on account of the testimony of trustworthy men. Among this number is the one above related. And if, notwithstanding this, a heretic thinks it a fable or an unfounded tale, let him give his reasons for rejecting it; for, a mere contradiction of a fact does not refute it. Respecting the gracious promise of the Blessed Virgin, that he who wears the habit, or blessed scapular, shall escape the fire of hell, it is beyond all doubt that we cannot understand it in such a manner that every one shall most certainly escape the fire of hell and go to heaven, simply because he wears a scapular, no matter how vicious his conduct might be. No, those who would judge in the sense of the Catholic Church, are not allowed to understand the promise in this manner. For, not to mention that, according to the teachings of the Holy Church, we cannot possess in this world, without a divine revelation, an infallible assurance of our future salvation, the Gospel of our Lord declares plainly that to escape hell and gain salvation much more is necessary than the wearing of a scapular. True faith, holy baptism, strict observance of the commandments of God and of the Church, the avoidance of sin, the practice of good works, and, finally penance when we have committed sin; these are the conditions which, according to the teachings of Christ, are necessary for our salvation, and without which all other merits, whatever they may be, are not sufficient to open for us the gates of heaven.
To elucidate the case before us still more, let us suppose that some one, either out of pious simplicity or want of instruction, carried constantly a consecrated Host with him. Now the question arises, will this person escape hell on account of it and surely gain salvation? Can he, because he carries a consecrated Host with him, not commit a mortal sin? Can he, for the same reason, not die in sin and be condemned? From the answer that must necessarily follow, we may draw the conclusion, that the words of the above promise are not to be understood as if every one who wears a scapular must surely be saved, and cannot be condemned, notwithstanding his living a bad life. Just in the same manner are some of the words of Holy Writ to be understood, for instance, where it is said that alms free men from death, that is, from eternal damnation. God, in consideration of alms, gives especial graces to man, in order that he may avoid sin, do penance, and hence not go to destruction. In the same manner, any one who, out of veneration to the Queen of Heaven, wears the scapular, and carefully observes the rules of the association, will, by her intercession, receive the grace to live piously, to escape hell, and to gain heaven. In one word, to wear the scapular, and by so doing to manifest an especial devotion to the Blessed Virgin, will assist us to gain life everlasting. But it is far from being sufficient to open heaven for us, if it is not accompanied by those means which Christ announced as necessary for the salvation of our souls.
The above is surely a proof that devotion to the scapular in no way leads to a wicked life, as the heretics pretend. No Catholic has ever thought of teaching that we gain heaven by merely wearing the scapular; while it is quite certain that the doctrines of heresy lead straightway to sin and vice. For, if any man believes, according to the teachings of the heretics, that faith alone saves, that he is sure of salvation and cannot lose it, if he only believes; or that no transgression of the Commandments can harm him, if he only accepts with a believing mind the grace of Christ, as the catechism of Calvinists teaches; what can follow but that he should plunge into sin and vice, partly because, according to his ideas, he cannot be condemned, partly on account of his wrong opinion, that faith alone saves. The Catholic Church is far from such doctrines. She does not teach that the wearing of a scapular, or any similar observance, is sufficient for our salvation, but that the wearing of a scapular, if it is done piously, assists us to gain salvation, as God, in consequence of it, will bestow upon us many graces through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin, which otherwise He might not grant. The Evil One, who knows the great benefits which result from all pious associations, and especially from the veneration of the Mother of our Lord, incites the heretics to reject or to blaspheme them. He also incites Catholics to place more faith in them than they ought to do, and to pay more attention to what is merely an aid than to what is really necessary.
Thus it happens that many think it a greater sin to eat meat on Wednesday, which is forbidden by the rules of the association of the scapular, than to eat meat on the days of abstinence commanded by the Church. A true Catholic ought first to obey the commandment of God, or of the Church, and do all that is absolutely necessary to gain salvation, and after this, what is useful and beneficial. That which aids him to gain salvation he should not neglect, but at the same time he should be careful not to think that he will gain heaven if he omits that which is most needful. Let this suffice for your instruction, and to refute the wicked and the ignorant.
In conclusion, as far as the use of the scapular is concerned, it would be very wrong for a Catholic to despise it. He should, on the contrary, learn to esteem it highly. We find, in many books, instances of miracles which have been wrought on those who have worn it piously. They have been miraculously protected in dangers by fire and water; in battle it has been a shield which averted the strokes of the enemy; in sickness, a life-giving remedy. And who can count the number of hardened sinners, for whom the Divine Mother has obtained grace to do penance, and thus to escape hell, in consideration of the devotion which they manifested to her by wearing the scapular? Hence, whether you are numbered among the sinners or the righteous, let the beneficial use of the scapular be recommended to you. Evince, by wearing it, your devotion towards her who faithfully aids her children in life and in death. (3)
Our Lady of Mount Carmel
Adapted from The Liturgical Year by Abbot Gueranger
When Eternal Wisdom was playing in the world, forming the hills and establishing the mountains, He destined Mount Carmel to be the special inheritance of Eve’s victorious Daughter, the Blessed Virgin Mary. 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 the 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 (3 Kings 18).
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 (Osee 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 figure of us all (4 Kings 4: 8-37). Elias had already departed in the chariot of fire, to await the last age of the world, when he is to give testimony, together with Henoch, to the Son of Her that was signified by the cloud (Apoc. 11: 3, 7); and the disciple, clothed with the mantle and 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 (Heb. 11:38), loved to take up their abode in its thousand grottos; for the ancient traditions seemed to linger more lovingly in its silent forests, and the perfume of its flowers foretokened the Virgin Mother. The devotion to 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 (Jerem. 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 the Holy Ghost 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 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. 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 beloved mountain, where their less fortunate fathers had lived but in hope, they built, on the very spot where Elias had seen 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.
In the 12th 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 Alan 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), St. Simon Stock was elected General in the first Chapter of the West, held at Aylesford in England.
St. 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 Lateran Council, rejected as having been newly introduced into Europe. Our Lady had then taken the cause of the friars into Her own hands, and had obtained from Pope 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 13th century, She would command Her angels to carry into a Catholic land Her blessed home 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 Europe the signal for wonderful favors from Heaven.
In the night between the 15th and 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 hellfire 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 an end to that long and disastrous widowhoood of the Church, which followed on the death of Pope Clement V, the Queen of Saints appeared to James d’Euse, whom the world was soon to hail as Pope 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 Pope 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.
There have been, of course, attempts made to cast doubt on the authenticity of these heavenly concessions. The attack of the chief assailant, the too famous Launoy, was condemned by the Apostolic See; and after, as well as before, these contradictions, the Roman Pontiffs confirmed, as much as need be, by their Supreme Authority, the substance and even the letter of the precious promises. The Popes have, time after time, enriched the Carmelite family with indulgences, as if earth would vie with Heaven in favoring it. The munificence of Mary, the pious gratitude of Her sons for the hospitality given them by the West, and lastly, the authority of St. Peter’s successors, soon made these spiritual riches accessible to all Catholics, by the institution of the Confraternity of the Holy Scapular. Who shall tell the graces, often miraculous, obtained though this humble garb? Who could count the faithful who have been enrolled in the holy militia? When Pope Benedict XIII, in the 18th century, extended the Feast of July 16 to the whole Church, he did but give an official sanction to the universality already gained by the devotion to the Queen of Carmel.
The holy liturgy gives the following account of the Feast:
When on the holy day of Pentecost the Apostles, inspired by Heaven, spoke in diverse tongues, and performed many miracles by the invocation of the most august Name of Jesus, it is said that many men who had followed in the footsteps of the holy Prophets Elias and Eliseus, and had been prepared by the preaching of John the Baptist for Christ’s coming, saw and were confirmed in the truth. They immediately embraced the Faith of the Gospel, and began to venerate the Blessed Virgin (whose conversation and company was so readily possible for them to enjoy) with such affection that before anyone else they erected a sanctuary to that purest of Virgins on that very spot of Mount Carmel where Elias had seen the little cloud rising, a significant figure of the Virgin.
Therefore, coming together in the new oratory several times a day, they honored the Blessed Virgin as the special protectress of their Order. For this reason, they began to be called everywhere the friars of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mount Carmel. Supreme Pontiffs not only confirmed this title, but also granted special indulgences to whoever should call by this name either the whole Order or individual friars. Together with Her name and protection, the Blessed Virgin also bestowed upon them Her holy Scapular, which She gave to Blessed Simon Stock, an Englishman, that the Order might be distinguished from others by this holy Habit and be preserved from all evil. And finally, since this Order was unknown in Europe, and on this account many were insistently asking Honorius III for its suppression, the Most Pious Virgin Mary appeared by night to Honorius and expressly ordered him to benignly receive both the Institute and its members.
Not only in this world has the Blessed Virgin wished to honor an Order so dear to Her with special privileges, but also in the next world. For it is piously believed that any of Her children who, having been enrolled as members in the Confraternity of the Scapular and have practiced abstinence, have said the prayers prescribed and have observed chastity according to their state of life, will assuredly be consoled by Her maternal affection while in Purgatory, and, through Her intercession, be delivered from there as soon as possible and taken to the heavenly fatherland. Enriched with such great favors, the Carmelite Order, therefore, instituted a solemn commemoration in honor of the Most Blessed Virgin, to be perpetually celebrated every year, to the glory of the self-same Virgin. (5)
Research by REGINA Staff
Image: Crop of Our Lady of Mount Carmel and Saints (Simon Stock, Angelus of Jerusalem, Mary Magdalene de’Pazzi, Teresa of Avila), artist: Pietro Novelli, circa