July 16, 2021
The Mother Church celebrates the feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel on 16 July every year.
Our Lady of Mount Carmel is the patroness of the Carmelite Order. For the Carmelites, this feast is of great importance. The feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel was instituted in thankfulness to Mother Mary around the year 1386. She had bestowed many favours and blessings on the Carmelites, whom she had helped survive through many storms.
The Carmelites had been greatly threatened during an ecumenical council held in 1274. Some of the Council Fathers wanted to suppress the Order of Our Lady because there were already too many religious orders, and there was no need for so many. The Carmelites were fortunately not suppressed, but were asked to give some reasons for their existence. This feast was gradually adopted throughout the Order as an occasion of thanksgiving for the countless blessings which our Lady had bestowed on the Carmelite family. This is the day of thanksgiving rather than mere external celebrations.
The devotion attached to this feast is the devotion to the Brown Scapular. When we speak of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, we cannot leave out the Scapular. It has a rich Biblical meaning attached to clothing. A great deal is said in the Bible about clothing and the spiritual symbolism of Clothing. This latter can be summarized in the words of Henry Cardinal Vaughan in a Pastoral Letter.
“The Holy Scriptures themselves show us that from the earliest times the bestowal of a garment has been used as an indication of love and favour. The Patriarch Jacob gave his favourite son Joseph, a many-coloured tunic as a sign of special love. Jonathan stripped himself of the coat with which he was clothed and gave it to David because he loved him as his soul. Elias ascending to heaven bestowed his cloak upon Eliseus as a sign of the descent upon him of his own prophetic spirit.”
We learn of Mary in the New Testament, wrapping Her Son in swaddling clothes, and of Paul asking the believers ‘to put on Christ.’ Even in one of the parables using a wedding garment, which seems to refer to the garment of salvation.
We need signs and symbols to help us to understand what is happening at present, or what happened before, or to give us an awareness of who we are as individuals and as groups. In Baptism we are given a new white robe to symbolize the new life we are beginning in Christ. To be clothed with the Scapular would imply our desire and endeavour to practice the virtues and so adorn ourselves (like a bride) with the virtues of Mary. The wearing of the Brown Scapular has become popular among the Catholic faithful.
According to Fr Kavanaugh, who translated the works of Carmelite saints, the Church’s official position regarding the Brown Scapular is that it is a garment that we wear as both a sign of our belonging to Mary and pledge of her maternal protection in this life and the next.
It is also a sign of three entwined elements: a) belonging to the Carmelite ‘family, b) consecration to and trust in Mary, and c) an incentive to imitate Our Lady’s virtues, especially her humility, chastity, and prayerfulness. The Church has made no official pronouncements regarding St. Simon Stock’s vision, or any other particular rules and rewards attached to wearing the Scapular.
We wear this scapular as a sign of devotion to Mary, under her title of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. It is a sign approved by the Church and accepted by the Carmelite Order as an external sign of love for Mary, of the trust her children have in her, and of commitment to live like her.
However, it should not be used as a magical charm. It is not an automatic guarantee of salvation. An excuse for not living up to the demands of the Christian life. It stands for the decision to follow Jesus like Mary, to be open to God and to his will. It is to discover God present in all that happens around us.
We have many popular devotions in the church. There is nothing wrong in having devotions to any saints or Mother Mary. We need to understand the real meaning of these devotions. Every devotion should lead us to Jesus. The devotion which we have should help us to imbibe the virtues of the saint and thus help us to strengthen our relationship with Jesus.