Thursday, 15 July 2010

Our Lady of Mount Carmel, July 16th

I am a secular Carmelite. This blog is dedicated to Our Lady, Star of the Sea, who is also Our Lady of Mt. Carmel. The original Carmelites were hermits on Mt. Carmel. Their inspiration was the prophet Elijah. As Christians they developed a devotion to "the Lady of the place" which was a way of inviting Mary the Mother of Jesus into their hearts and their cells. When the Carmelites came to Europe their devotion to Our Lady eventually found its place in the early medieval appreciation of Mary which was linked to the cultural and courtly approach to the Lady of the "Manor", the European queens and their ladies-in-waiting and the emerging code of chivalry.

In 1254 St. Simon Stock was elected prior of the Carmelites who had settled in Aylesford, Kent. There were problems within the order and other religious houses were suspicious of them. St. Simon retired to his cell to pray about these things and had a vision of Mary presenting him with the Brown Scapular. The wearing of this garment, which was like the tunic worn by knights over their armour (and was thus a kind of statement about whose army they were in) was connected with a promise about being saved at the last. It has since become known as the "Sabbatine Privilege" which is crudely described as release from Purgatory on the first Saturday after one's death. However this is understood, the main point about wearing the scapular is that it is a sign of consecration to Mary and thus, in a sense, the wearer becomes the property of Our Lady. The promise attached to the scapular means nothing if the wearer is not trying to follow the Gospel and live the Christian life. It is not some kind of magic or "charm". It is a sacramental, and worn in faith, can be a powerful aid in the struggle against the world, the flesh and the devil. The scapular worn by St. Alphonsus de Ligouri was found intact after his coffin was opened some time after his death.

In a way, the scapular has come to represent the mantle of Elijah which was used by Elisha to cross over the Jordan. There is much more to say about the Carmelite story and its connections. Just to show how important this story is, I will simply mention some of the important events connected with it.

The final apparition at Lourdes took place on the Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. In Fatima, on October 13th 1917, when Our Lady appeared to the children after the Miracle of the Sun, she was wearing the Carmelite habit (thus linking that miracle with the triumph of Elijah over the prophets of Baal on Mt. Carmel). At Garabandal (still being investigated) Our Lady is said to have appeared as Our Lady of Mt. Carmel. In the life of the Church, the Carmelite charism has been of great importance. Two of the most respected authorities on the spiritual life are St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross - both Carmelites, and one of the greatest saints of modern times, St. Therese of Lisieux was also a Carmelite.

It is believed that St. Simon Stock is mainly responsible for encouraging devotion to Our Lady, Star of the Sea. This title grew out of the account in the story of Elijah of the small white cloud rising up from the sea (1 Kings 18) which the prophet took as a sign of divine mercy. In the Douay-Rheims translation of that passage, the cloud was seen as a foot (like the foot that would stand on the serpent's neck). In later translations it is described as "as small as a man's hand". Our Lady of Mount Carmel is associated with seafarers. She is the official patron of seafarers in Spain and is honoured in a special way by fishermen along the Mediterranean coast. There is more, but that will do for now.

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