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our lady of mount carmel

Why do we celebrate the feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel?

While Our Lady of Mt. Carmel is the patron saint of the Carmelite Order, the basis for the universal Church honoring Mary under this title dates to her appearance to an English Carmelite St. Simon Stock in the 13th century. She gave him the Brown Scapular, a garment worn by religious over the neck and shoulders as an apron, to be worn by Carmelites “as a sign of her protection.” It is a Marian devotional practice which, over the centuries, has spread to Catholics around the world.

We celebrate the feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel on July 16.


What is the story of Our Lady of Mount Carmel?

Mount Carmel has been a place of prayer and closeness to God since the time of the prophet Elijah in the 10th century before Christ (cf. 1 Kings 18:41ff). There, also, Christian hermits persisted in prayer. And there, in the 12th century, the Order of the Brothers of the Blessed Virgin of Mt. Carmel were officially founded. The 13th century, however, was a time of persecution for the Carmelites, and, in the midst of this trial, on July 16, 1251 the Blessed Virgin appeared to St. Simon Stock, a Prior of the Carmelites, giving him the Brown Scapular. She said to him, “This is a privilege for you and the order: whoever dies wearing the Scapular will be saved.” The wearing by others of a miniature version of the Carmelite Scapular, known simply as “the Brown Scapular” from the color of their habit, has come to mean being joined spiritually with them in accepting the Blessed Mother’s love, devoting oneself to the spirituality of the Carmelites, and trusting that Our Lady will protect them in life and at their death.

To whom did Mary give the Scapular?

Our Lady gave the Brown Scapular to St. Simon Stock, a Carmelite, on July 16, 1251. Since that time, the Brown Scapular, a small version of the Carmelite habit, is a sign of living for Jesus, following the example of the Blessed Virgin. The Brown Scapular indicates that one is in communion with the Carmelites and living a Marian spirituality as they do.

Of what is Our Lady of Mount Carmel the patron saint?

Along with being the patroness of the Carmelites, she is also the patron saint for Chile, for Bolivia, for protection from danger, and for deliverance from Purgatory.

“Our Lady wants everyone to wear the Scapular. … The reason for this is that the Scapular is our sign of consecration to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.” - Sr. Lúcia, one of the children of Fátima

What happened on Mount Carmel with Elijah?

Mt. Carmel was a sacred high place dedicated to the Canaanite god Baal, and there he was worshipped. In 1 Kings 18, Elijah declared a contest with 450 of his prophets to determine which “god” was real, Baal or the God of Israel. The real one would be he who could set a sacrifice on fire. The frenzy of the prophets of Baal was not successful. However, when Elijah prayed to the Lord, fire descended from heaven and lit the sacrifice. Then the fire of the LORD fell, and consumed the burnt offering, and the wood, and the stones, and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench. And when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces; and they said, “The LORD, he is God; the LORD, he is God.” (1 Kings 18:38-39) It was on Mt. Carmel, as well, that the prayer of Elijah secured the end of the drought and famine that had befallen Israel. Thus, the Carmelites consider Elijah to be one of their spiritual fathers.

Where and what is Carmel?

As a physical place, Mt. Carmel overlooks the Mediterranean and the city and harbor of what is today Haifa, Israel. It sits, as well, at the head of Valley of Jezreel, also known as the Valley of Megiddo. The Arabs know Carmel as the Mountain of Holy Elijah. In addition to 1 Kings 18, Carmel is mentioned over twenty times in Sacred Scripture, notably in Canticles 7:5. As a spiritual place, Carmel’s reputation certainly derives from its connection to Elijah, but its mention in the Canticle of Canticles (also known as Song of Songs or Song of Solomon) has produced the most Christian commentary. In this poem about love the head of the Bride is compared to Carmel. Many Christian authors, therefore, have seen Canticle (also known as Song of Songs, or Song of Solomon), as an allegory of the life of union with God. Thus, in the Doctors of Spiritual Theology, such as St. John of the Cross, Carmel becomes a metaphor for seeking God (cf. Ascent of Mt. Carmel; Spiritual Canticle). And for Carmelite nuns, it is the name used for their houses dedicated to contemplation.

“Let the faithful remember that true devotion consists neither in sterile or transitory affection, nor in a certain vain credulity, but proceeds from true faith, by which we are led to know the excellence of the Mother of God, and we are moved to a filial love toward our mother and to the imitation of her virtues.” - Lumen Gentium 67

What does the name Carmel mean?

This is a Hebrew word that means “garden of God.” The Garden of God is where we can walk with the Lord, as Adam and Eve did before they were banished (Gen. 3:8).

How far is Mount Carmel from Jerusalem?

Mount Carmel is approximately 70 miles northwest of Jerusalem.

What is a sacramental?

Sacramentals remind us of the divine mysteries as an aid to the Christian life. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states, 1667. Holy Mother Church has, moreover, instituted sacramentals. These are sacred signs which bear a resemblance to the sacraments. They signify effects, particularly of a spiritual nature, which are obtained through the intercession of the Church. By them men are disposed to receive the chief effect of the sacraments, and various occasions in life are rendered holy. (Second Vatican Council, Sacrosanctum Concilium)

What is the Brown Scapular?

The Scapular of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, or Brown Scapular, consists of two pieces of brown wool on a cord. The Blessed Mother gave this sacramental to St. Simon Stock in 1251 with the promise that “Whoever dies invested with this Scapular shall be preserved from the eternal flames. It is a sign of salvation, a sure safeguard in danger, a pledge of peace and of my special protection until the end of the ages.” According to the Holy See’s Directory on Popular Piety, 205. The history of Marian piety also includes “devotion” to various Scapulars, the most common of which is devotion to the Scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. Its use is truly universal and, undoubtedly, it is one of those pious practices which the Council described as “recommended by the Magisterium throughout the centuries” (Second Vatican Council, Lumen Gentium, Chapter VIII). The Scapular of Mount Carmel is a reduced form of the religious habit of the Order of the Friars of the Blessed Virgin of Mount Carmel. Its use is very diffuse and often independent of the life and spirituality of the Carmelite family. As a small version of the Scapular of the Carmelite Order, those who wear it practicing virtue associate themselves with the Carmelite Order, both in their devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, and their expectation of her protection.

“Our Lady wants everyone to wear the Scapular. … The reason for this is that the Scapular is our sign of consecration to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.” - Sr. Lúcia, one of the children of Fátima

What is the spiritual meaning of Scapulars?

The “clothing” of disciples is a common theme in Sacred Scripture. Joseph’s coat (Genesis 37:3) is one example of the importance of clothing in the Bible. Proverbs 31, describing a good wife, says, “Strength and dignity are her clothing.” Also, Isaiah 61:10 says, I will greatly rejoice in the LORD, my soul shall exult in my God; for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation, he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. The garment attains its highest spiritual meaning, however, in the new covenant. There the follower of Jesus is said to put on Christ Himself. In Galatians 3:27, St. Paul states, “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ” (emphasis added). Garments can, therefore, remind us throughout the day of the need to persevere in adhering to Christ. The Scapular, as a special garment of consecrated religious, is known from the time of St. Benedict (6th century). His monks were to wear one over their habit while working. From this practical purpose the Scapular came to be called “the yoke of Christ,” and acquire spiritual meaning as a sign of devotion and piety. Among the laity who associate with particular orders, or practice a particular spirituality, the smaller versions of such Scapulars are intended as similar signs and reminders.

What is the Sabbatine Privilege?

The Sabbatine Privilege is the promise that those who wear the Brown Scapular will be delivered from purgatory on the first Saturday after their death – Saturday being the day dedicated to the Blessed Virgin. It is said that the future Pope John XXII had a vision of Our Lady who promised this on three conditions: 1) Wearing the Scapular, 2) Observing chastity (the 6th and 9th commandments) according to one's state in life, and 3) praying the Little Office (of Our Lady). For those who could not read, they must observe the fasts of the Church, and practice abstinence on Wednesdays and Saturdays. In modern times, the Church has permitted the requirement of the Office to be commuted by a priest to a daily rosary. Those bound to the Liturgy of the Hours fulfill this condition by saying the Divine Office.