Our Lady of Mount Carmel and her Scapular


Our Lady of Mount Carmel

‘But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear…many Prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, but did not see it, and to hear what you hear, but did not hear it’ (Mt. 13:16-17).     

In the Church’s Calendar of Saints, July 16th celebrates Our Lady of Mount Carmel, where once the Prophet Elijah had brought back the people of Israel to the worship of the living God. Subsequently, some hermits in search of solitude retired to this same place, instituting an Order of contemplative life and placing this same Order under the patronage of the Mother of God. (Martyrologium Romanum, July 16). Our Lady of Mount Carmel is known also as Our Lady of the Scapular, because this sacramental is worn by numberless Catholics out of love for Our Lady and a desire both to imitate her and to consecrate ourselves to her.

We can say that Carmel is Mary. She is the model of those consecrated to her in this Order. Carmel is Mary because Christ is our life, and Mary, His Mother is our model in discipleship. In consecrating ourselves to Our Lady through the scapular devotion, we express our resolve to serve the Mystery of Christ as Our Lady did, as humble and devoted servants. The Carmelite charism, given to the Church so many centuries ago continues to grace the Church even in our time; especially through the prayerful and hidden presence of Carmelite Nuns whose cloistered life of prayer is a source of so many graces for the Church and for the world.

A charism is a gift and the essence of the Carmelite charism has a twofold dimension; the mystical and the prophetic. This unique gift does not belong to Carmel alone but can become ours as well, especially through our enrolment in the Confraternity of Our Lady of Mount Carmel and the Scapular Investiture. Mystical is a derivative of mystery; and a mystery, any mystery possesses two elements – what is known and what is not known. The life of Our Lady was mystical in this sense. To her was revealed much of the Mystery of Salvation but not everything; and so she walked by faith as we do. The lives of the nuns are mystical in this sense too. They inhabit the very heart of the Church for their hidden life of prayer and sacrifice is a life of love. Like Our Lady, they too are intimately bound to the Mystery of Salvation, but the fruit of their prayer and sacrifice is often not known to them. We can and do learn from the example of our Lady and the living example of the nuns to recognize the mystical dimension of our lives. There are times when the events of our lives are mysterious to us; when it is difficult for us to perceive the meaning of these events. At such moments we recognise that indeed we walk by faith and not by sight; but what matters most is that we continue to walk along the path of devout discipleship, confident that under the patronage and protection of Our Lady we will indeed reach the summit of the mountain, Christ our Lord. Then we shall know fully even as we are fully known (Cf. 1 Cor. 13:12).

To live simply and soberly especially in a time such as ours is to live prophetically because the very witness of our life becomes a proclamation of the Gospel: lives of humble and confident entrustment to the loving Providence of God. Though the nuns live a life hidden with Christ in God, their lives are prophetic. This is the second dimension of the Carmelite charism which is proclaimed by the witness of their hidden life. The cloistered life of the nuns provides a silent yet eloquent witness of the one thing necessary: to conform our life to the Mystery of Christ in all its fullness.  Christ is our life. We also lead a life that is hidden with Christ in God (Col. 3:33); and in this sense our lives are prophetic as they point to Christ.

Through the ages, the mystical and prophetic dimension of the Carmelite charism has manifested itself in and through those who have worn the scapular and lived the Mystery of Christ in its fullness. Tomorrow, July 17th, Carmelites will commemorate the Sixteen Martyrs of Compiègne, Sixteen Carmelite Nuns imprisoned during the French Revolution and who in the height of what was known as the Terror, offered their lives as a sacrifice to bring an end to the madness of the Revolution. The revolutionary government had outlawed the religious habit but the day of their trial and execution these valiant women had been given permission to wear their habits because they had been allowed to wash the lay clothing they had been forced to wear. So they were brought to the guillotine wearing their Carmelite habit and scapular; and one by one they were killed, each renewing her religious profession before their Superior, Sr. Teresa of St. Augustine, the last nun to be killed.

The Carmelite Scapular is perhaps one of the most popular and powerful sacramentals. At Fatima, at the last apparition Our Lady manifested herself also as Our Lady of Mount Carmel; as she did likewise at Garabandal in Spain. The scapular symbolises Our Lady’s protection and it speaks of the tenderness of Our Lady, of her love for her children. We wear it with love and devotion as a sign of our consecration to her and of our confidence in her aid in time of need.  Those who wear the scapular practice a particular devotion to Our Lady especially through the recitation of the Rosary. In addition, we entrust ourselves to Our Lady for our salvation. There is in fact, a promise made by Our Lady through the English Carmelite, St. Simon Stock: Those who die wearing this scapular shall not suffer eternal fire. We don’t understand these words superstitiously or magically, but in light of Catholic teaching that perseverance in faith, hope and charity are required for salvation. As we kiss it each day when we make our morning offering, the scapular is a powerful reminder of our obligation to persevere in our faith; and of Our Lady’s promise to help those consecrated to her to obtain the grace of final perseverance.

As we honour Our Lady on this beautiful Feast and pray for a deeper devotion to her, we entrust ourselves to the loving embrace of the Blessed Virgin Mary, our Mother and Queen, Beauty of Carmel: Strong stem of Jesse, Who bore one bright flower, Be ever near us, And guard us each hour, who serve thee here (Sequence Flos Carmeli).