This Wednesday, July 16, the Church celebrates the feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. This is the feast of the devotion to the Blessed Virgin in the Carmelite Order, which traces its origins back to the life of contemplative prayer lived on that mountain by the prophet Elijah and his disciples. Today is the seventh day of the novena to Mary, the Flower of Mount Carmel.
The devotion to Our Lady of Mount Carmel is characterized by two distinct factors in the life of the Carmelite: the vesture in the Brown Scapular and the pursuit of the interior life in imitation of Mary. Both of these characteristics are open in this devotion to all Christians through the practices promoted by this particular religious order.
The Brown Scapular is a traditional Hebrew garment, worn by Christ and others of His time (like His Mother), which has been given new significance by Our Lady in her apparition to Saint Simon Stock in the 13th century. When she appeared to Saint Simon, Our Lady told him to promote the wearing of the Brown Scapular as a sign of her own motherly protection. She even attached to this garment the special promise that “he who dies wearing this garment shall not suffer eternal fire.”
The garment of the Scapular signifies the wedding garment of sanctifying grace to which each of us are called by our Baptism. To wear the Brown Scapular is to entrust to the loving Heart of Mary my own perseverance in baptismal grace. It is no accident that great miracles of conversion and salvation are associated with the Scapular throughout history. It is also no trifling matter that the virtue most urgently enjoined upon the one who dons the garment is holy chastity.
Following upon our entrustment of our baptismal grace to the immaculate hands of our Mother in Heaven, we receive from her the full flowering of that baptismal grace in the life of contemplative prayer. The teachings of the Carmelite Doctors of the Church, interpreted by the best Scholastic theologians, led the Second Vatican Council to teach the profound truth that every Christian is called to the heights of contemplative life merely because he is Christian. In this celestial task, Our Lady of Mount Carmel is the most reliable teacher, as she provides the gardens of our souls with the most pristine and ideal climate. Indeed, “Carmel” means “garden” in Hebrew. How beautiful is the garden cultivated by the Flower of Carmel!
The most practical way for the Christian to learn to pray from Mary is the daily recitation of the Most Holy Rosary. Saint Luke tells us that Mary kept the mysteries of our faith in her heart, where she pondered them and loved them. When we meditate on the mysteries of the Rosary, we have entered into the Garden of Mary’s Heart – we have entered Carmel. By wearing faithfully the Brown Scapular and praying perseveringly the Holy Rosary, the ordinary Christian can become like Elijah and his disciples, set high atop Carmel with Heaven alone as home.
Fr. Joseph Previtali