Our Lady of Mount Carmel
The Carmelites and their devotion to Our Lady of Mount Carmel
Carmel has always been devoted to Mary. As Carmelite authors liked to repeat throughout the centuries, Carmel is totus Marianus est: Carmel is completely Marian. Why is this so when there is no mention of Mary in the Carmelite Rule?
It is historically certain that the first hermits who retired to Mount Carmel built at the centre of their little cluster of hermitages a chapel consecrated to Our Lady. Also, ever since their first Prior General, Carmelites were called the Brothers of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. So devotion to Our Lady is seen as one of their distinctive signs.
The early Carmelite hermits saw that Carmel belongs to Mary in the sense that their contemplative life was in deep harmony with Mary’s soul, and in this sense it may be said that they lead a “Mary-form” life.
Mary as the Mother of Christ is also spiritually our mother. She represents and expresses the soul’s essential attitude before God. Mary not only sums up the whole of the Old Testament, she represents all humanity. She is its soul athirst for God, longing for God, hoping for God. All her strength and all her faculties are turned toward God so that she may receive and fully live by Him. Our Lady is also the place of the divine response, of the desire and fully efficacious will to give Himself to us. Mary is the place of meeting: better still, she is the temple in which is consummated God’s espousals with humanity, the hidden sanctuary in which the Spouse is united with the bride, the desert that flowers as the breath of God.
Carmel finds in Mary the fullness of the spirit that is its own: her beauty is without spot, her purity is absolute. As Isaiah says: “The beauty of Carmel will be given you” (35:2). Reciprocally, Mary’s soul is connected to Carmel. She is a daughter of David according to the flesh, the daughter of the prophets and the daughter of Elijah according to the spirit.
It was her virginal maternity that made Mary a queen and raised her to a place of sovereignty among her brothers and sisters. For this reason, Carmel will live Mary and will breathe Mary. To advance along this path, Carmelites have but to intensify their Marian attitude of virginal simplicity and pure reference to God. In Carmel, God is the objective, but the soul will become more and more Mary.
So the reason why the Rule does not mention Our Lady is clear. Carmel seeks to gaze upon God and love God with mind and heart. What Mary represents is the soul itself. As the soul is united to Christ, so Carmel is hidden in Mary. For Carmel, Mary is the lovable and merciful Mother, and par excellence, the contemplative soul.
This intuition of Carmel about Mary was confirmed in the 13th century, when Our Lady appeared at a critical moment for Carmel to the saintly Simon Stock and held out to him the scapular of the Order, saying: “This is the privilege that I give you and all Carmel’s children. Whoever dies clothed with this habit will be saved.” In this way she extended, in visible fashion, her special protection over the Order that has always called itself her own.
So the first hermits of Carmel considered the Carmelite life as an existence dedicated equally to the service of the Lord God and of his Mother, the Virgin Mary. This expression permits us to understand the flowering of Marian piety at Carmel and the true meaning of later official texts which affirmed that the Order of Carmel is dedicated from its beginning to the honour of Our Lady.
July 16th is the feast day of Our Lady of Mount Carmel.