On July 16, we celebrate the great feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, especially associated with the Carmelite Order, which traces its roots back to Elijah the Prophet (1 Kings 18). In fact, the early documents of the Carmelite Order testify that there was a continuous Jewish/Christian monastic presence on Mount Carmel from the time of Elijah and Elisha until the Order’s founding in the 12th century.
The actual feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel celebrates the ecclesiastical approbation of the Carmelite Order by Pope Honorius III in 1226. The feast was instituted some time in the late 14th century and the date of July 16 was selected because it was on July 16, 1251 that St. Simon Stock received his famous apparition by Our Lady at Cambridge, England.
St. Simon had been praying for his beloved Order of Carmel, which was encountering some problems with the ecclesiastical bureaucracy of the time. Our Lady appeared to him with the famous brown scapular in her hand and said:
Take, beloved son this scapular of thy order as a badge of my confraternity and for thee and all Carmelites a special sign of grace; whoever dies in this garment, will not suffer everlasting fire. It is the sign of salvation, a safeguard in dangers, a pledge of peace and of the covenant.
The feast of this apparition was approved by Pope Sixtus V in 1587 and the Carmelite traditions associated with it were examined and approved by St. Robert Bellarmine in 1609. From that time on, this feast has been celebrated in the Carmelite Order as a major double first-class feast, with its own octave (like the Feast of the Epiphany)! After these important ecclesiastical acts of approval, devotion to Our Lady of Mount Carmel began to spread like wildfire, first in Southern Italy, and then to Spain, Austria, Portugal, and the Papal States. On September 24, 1726, Pope Benedict XIII promulgated it as a feast for the entire Roman Church.
The best way to keep the feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel is to begin to wear the brown scapular because it really is a feast of that garment and its meaning in our relationship with the Blessed Mother. In fact, the Greeks in Southern Italy and Chaldean Catholics celebrate this feast as the “Vestment of the Blessed Virgin Mary”! The scapular is a part of the religious habit with roots in ancient Jewish vesture and it is used by almost all religious orders in some form or another. Those who are not religious wear the scapular around our necks and under our clothing as a sign of Our Lady’s special love and protection for us, her children.
There are hundreds of miracles associated with the brown scapular, from the lives of the saints and into our own present day. Priests often testify that hardened sinners are made repentant and humble merely by agreeing to put on the scapular. Converts are won and disasters averted, in large and small ways. All of these miracles are signs to us of the true meaning of the scapular: under the care of our Holy Mother, we have nothing to fear!
The special virtue associated with the devotion to the brown scapular is the virtue of chastity, which is part of the cardinal virtue of temperance. Chastity regulates the sexual desire, so that it is exercised in accord with right reason and the teachings of Jesus Christ on marriage and the family. May Blessed Mary, who was the most pure Virgin Mother of God, protect us always from any sins of lust or impurity. May she heal us of the wounds of past sins, and lead us always to the generous self-giving love made possible by this marvelous virtue!
Fr. Joseph Previtali
Assistant Chaplain to the Traditional Latin Mass Society