Our Lady of Mt. Carmel - July 16
The Liturgical Year- Time After Pentecost Vol. IV
By: Dom Gueranger
Towering over the waves on the shore of the Holy Land, Mount Carmel, together with the short range of the same name, forms a connecting link to two other chains, abounding with glorious memories, namely: the mountains of Galilee on the north, and those of Judea on the south.
'In the day of My love, I brought thee out of Egypt into the land of Carmel,' (Cf. Jerem. ii 2,7) said the Lord to the daughter of Sion, taking the name of Carmel to represent all the blessings of the Promised Land; and when the crimes of the chosen people were about to bring Judea to ruin, the prophet cried out: 'I looked, and behold Carmel was a wilderness: and all its cities were destroyed at the presence of the Lord, and at the presence of the wrath of His indignation. (Ibid. iv 26). But from the midst of the Gentile world a new Sion arose, more loved than the first; eight centuries beforehand Isaias recognized her by the glory of Libanus, and the beauty of Carmel and Saron which were given her. In the sacred Canticle, also, the attendants of the Bride sing to the Spouse concerning His well-beloved, that her head is like Carmel, and her hair like the precious threads of royal purple carefully wove and dyed (Cant. vii 5).
There was, in fact, around Cape Carmel, an abundant fisher of the little shell-fish which furnished the regal colour. Not far from there, smoothing away the slopes of the hoble mountian, flowed the torrent of Cison, that dragged the carcasses (Judg. v 21) of the Chanaanites, when Debbora won her famous victory. Here lies the plain where the Madianites were overthrown, and Sisara felt the power of her that was called the Mother of Israel (Ibid. 7). Here Gedeom, too, marched against Madian in the name of the Woman terrible as an army set in array (Cant. vi. 3,9), whose sign he had received in the dew-covered fleece. Indeed, this glorious plain of Esdrelon, which streches away from the foot of Carmel, seems to be surrounded with prophetic indications of her who was destined from the beginning to crush the serpent's head: not far from Esdrelon, a few defiles lead to Bethulia, the city of Judith, type of Mary, who was the true joy of Isreael and the honour of her people (Judith xv. 10); while nestling among the northern hills lies Nazareth, the white city, the flower of Galilee (Hieron, Epist. xivi. Paulae et Eustochii ad Marcellam).
When Eternal Wisdom was playing in the world, forming the hills and establishing the mountians, she desitined Carmel to be the special inheritance of Eve's victorious daughter. And when the last thousand years of expectation were opening, and the desire of all nations was developing into the spirit of prophecy, the father of prophets ascended the priviledged mount, thence to scan the horizon. The triumphs of David and the glories of Solomon were at an end: the sceptre of Juda, broken by the schism of the ten tribes, threatened to fall from his hand; the worship of Baal prevailed in Israel. A long-continued drought, figure of the aridity of men's souls, had parched up every spring, and men and beasts were dying beside the empty cisterns, when Elias the Thesbite gathered the people, representing the whole human race, on Mount Carmel, and slew the lying prophets of Baal. Then, as the Scripture relates, prostrating with his face to the earth, he said to his servant: Go up, look towards the sea. And he went up and looked and said: There is nothing. And again he said to him: Return seven times. And at the seventh time: Behold, a little cloud arose out of the sea like a man's foot (3 Reg. xviii).
Blessed cloud! unlike the bitter waves from which it sprang, it was all sweetness. Docile to the least breath of heavenm it rose light and humble, above the immense havey ocean; and screening the sun, it tempered the heart that was scorching the earth and restored to the stricken world life and grace and fruitfulness. The promised Messiaas, the Son of Man, set His impress upon it, showing to the wicked serpent the form of the heel that aws to crush Him. The prophet, personifying the human race, felt his youth renewed; and while the welcome rain was already refersing the valleys, he ran before the chariot of the king of Israel. Thus did he traverse the great plain of Esdrelon, even to the mysteriously-named town of Jezrahel, where, according to Osee, the children of Juda and Israel were again to have but one head in the great day of Jezrahel (i.e., of the seed of God), when the Lord would seal His eternal nuptials with a new people (Osee i. II, and ii. 14-24). Later on, from Sunam, near Jezrahel, the mother whose son was dead crossed the same plain of Esdrelon, in the opposite direction, and ascended Mount Carmel, to obtain from Eliseus the resurrection of her child, who was a type of us all (4 Reg. iv. 8-37). Elias had already departed in the chariot of fire, to await the end of the world, when he is to give testimony, together with Henoch, to the son of her that was signified by the clourd (Apoc. xi 3,7); and the disciple, clothed with the mantle and the spirit of his father, had taken possesion, in the name of the sons of the prophets, of theaugust mountian honoured by the manifestation of the Queen of prophets. Henceforward Carmel was sacred in the eyes of all who looked beyond this world. Gentiles as well as Jews, philosophers and princes, came here on pilgrimage to adore the true God; while the chosen souls of the Church of the expectation, many of whom were already wandering in deserts and in mountians (Heb. xi 38), loved to take up their abode in its thousand grottos; for the ancient traditions seemed to linger more lovingly in its silent forests, and the perfume of its flowers fortokened the Virgin Mother. The cultus of the Queen of Heaven was already established; and to the family of her devout clients, the ascetics of Carmel, might be applied the words spoken later by God to the pious descendants of Reehab: There shall not be wanting a man of this race, standing before Me for ever (Jerem. xxxv. 19).
In the twelfth century, in consequence of the establishment of the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem, many pilgrims from Europe came to swell the ranks of the solitaries on the holy mountain; it therefore became expedient to give their hitherto eremitical life a form more in accordance with the habits of Western nations. The legate Aimeric Malafaida, partriach of Antioch, gathered them into a community under the authority of St. Berthold, who was thus the first to receive the tile of Prior-General. At the commencement of the next century, Blessed Albert, patriarch of Jerusalem and also apostolic legate, completed the work of Aimeric by giving a fixed Rule to the Order, which was now, through the influence of princes and knights returned from the Holy Land, beginning to spread into Cyprus, Sicily, and the countries beyond the sea. Soon, indeed, the Christians of the East being abandoned by God to the just punishments of their sins, the vindictiveness of the conquering Saracens reached such a height in this age of trial for Palestine, that the full assembly, held on Mount Carmel under Alan and Breton, resolved upon a complete migration, leaving only a few friars eager for martyrdom to guard the cradle of the Order. The very year in which this took place (1245) Simon Stock was elected General in the first Chapter of the West, held at Aylesford in England.
Simon owed his election to the successful struggle he had maintained for the recognition of the Order which certian prelates, alleging the recent decrees of the Council of Lateran, rejected as having been newly introduced into Europe. Our Lady had then taken the cause of the friars into her own hands, and had obtained from Honorius III the decree of confirmation, which originated to-day's feast. This was neither the first nor the last favour bestowed by the sweet Virgin upon the family that had lived so long under the shadow, as it were, of her mysterious cloud, and shrouded like her in humility, with no other bond, no other pretension than the imitation of her hidden works and the contemplation of her glory. She herself had wished them to go forth from the midst of a faithless people; just, as before the close of that same thirteenth century, she would command her angels to carry into a Catholic land her blessed house of Nazareth. Whether or not the men of those days, or the short- sighted historians of our own time, ever thought of it, the one translation called for the other, just as each completes and explains the other,and each was to be, for our own Europe, the signal for wonderful favours from heaven.
In the night between the 15th and the 16th of July in the year 1251, the gracious Queen of Carmel confirmed to her sons by a mysterious sign the right of citizenship she has obtained for them in their newly adopted countries; as mistress the mother of the entire religious state she conferred upon them with her queenly hands the scapular, hitherto the distinctive garb of the greatest and most ancient religious family of the West. On giving St. Simon Stock this badge, ennobled by contact with her sacred finger, the Mother of God said to him:
"Whosoever shall die in this habit shall not suffer eternal flames."
"I, their Mother, will graciously go down to them on the Saturday after their death, all whom I find in purgatory I will deliver and will bring to the mountain of life eternal."
We are aware of the attempts made to nullify the authenticity of these heavenly concessions; but our extremely limited time will not allow us to follow up these worthless struggles in all their endless details. The attack of the chief assailant, the too famous Launoy, was condemned by the Apostolic See; and after, as well as before, these contradictions, the Roman Pontiffs confirmed, as much as need be, by their supreme authority, and the substance and even the letter of the precious promises. The reader may find in special works the enumeration of the many indulgences with which the Popes have, time after time, enriched the Carmelite family, as if earth would vie with heaven in favoruing it. The munificence of Mary, the pious gratitude of her sons for the hospitality given them by the West, and lastly, the authority of St. Peter's successors, soon made these spiritual riches accessible to all Christians, by the institution of the Confraternity of the holy Scapular, the members whereof participate in the merits and privileges of the whole Carmelite Order. Who shall tell the graces, often miraculous, obtained through this humble garb? Who could count the faithful now enrolled in the holy militia? When Benedict XIII, in the eighteenth century, extended the feast of July 16 to the whole Church, he did but give an official sanction the universality already gained by the cults of the Queen of Carmel.
The holy liturgy gives the following account of the history and object of the feast:
When on the holy day of Pentecost the apostles, through heavenly inspiration, spoke divers tongues and worked many miracles by the invocation of the most holy name of Jesus, it is said that many men who were walking in the footsteps of the holy prophets Elias and Eliseus, and had been prepared for the coming of Christ by the preaching of John the Baptist, saw and acknowledged the truth, and at once embraced the faith of the Gospel. These new Christians were so happy as to be able to enjoy familiar intercourse with the Blessed Virgin, and venerated her with so special an affection, that they, before all others, built a chapel to the purest of Virgins on that very spot of Mount Carmel where Elias of old had seen the cloud, a remarkable type of the Virgin, ascending.
Many times each day they came together to the new oratory, and with pious ceremonies, prayers, and praises honoured the most Blessed Virgin as the special protectress of their Order. For this reason, people from all parts began to call them the Brethren of the Blessed Mary of Mount Carmel; and the Sovereign Pontiffs not only confirmed this title, but also granted special indulgences to whoever called either the whole Order or individual Brothers by that name. But the most noble Virgin not only gave them her name and protection, she also bestowed upon blessed Simon the Englishman the holy scapular as a token, wishing the holy Order to be distinguished by that heavenly garment and to be protected by it from the evils that were assailing it. Moreover, as formerly the Order was unknown in Europe, and on this account many were importuning Honorius III for its abolition, the loving Virgin Mary appeared by night to Honorius and clearly bade them receive both the Order and its members with kindness.
The blessed Virgin has enriched the Order so dear to her with so many privileges, not only in this world, but also in the next (for everywhere she is most powerful and merciful). For it is piously believed that those of her children who, having been enrolled in the Confraternity of the Scapular, have fulfilled the small abstinence and said the few prayers prescribed, and have observed chastity as far as their state of life demands, will be consoled by our Lady while they are being purified in the fire of purgatory, and will through her intercession be taken thence as soon as possible to the heavenly country. The Order thus laden with so many graces, has ordained that this solemn commemoration of the Blessed Virgin should be yearly observed for ever, to her greater glory.
Queen of Carmel, hear the voice of the Church as she sings to thee on this day. When the world was languishing in ceaseless expectation, thou were already its hope. Unable as yet to understand thy greatness, it nevertheless, during the reign of types, loved to clothe gratitude for benefits foreseen, it surrounded these with all the notions of beauty, strength, and grace suggested by the loveliest landscapes, the flowery plains, the wooded heights, the fertile valleys, especially of Carmel, whose very name signifies 'the plantation of the Lord. On its summit our fathers, knowing that Wisdom had set her throne in the cloud, hastened by their burning desires the coming of the saving sign: at length there was given to their prayers what the Scripture calls perfect knowledge, and the knowledge of the great paths of the holy clouds (Job xxxvii 16). And when He who maketh His chariot and His dwelling in the obscurity of a cloud had here in shown Himself, in a nearer approach, to the practiced eye of the father of prophets, when did a chosen band of holy persons gather in the solitudes of the blessed mountain, as heretofore Israel in the desert, to watch the least movements of the mysterious cloud, to receive from it their guidance in the paths of life, and their light in the long night of expectation.
O Mary, who from that hour didst preside over the watches of God's army, without ever failing for a single day: now that the Lord has truly come down through thee, it is no longer the land of Judea alone, but the whole earth that thou coverest as a cloud, shedding down blessings and abundance. Thine ancient clients, the sons of the prophets, experienced this truth when, the land of promise becoming unfaithful, they were forced to transplant into other climes their customs and traditions; they found that even into our far West the loud of Carmel had poured its fertilizing dew, and that nowhere would its protection be wanting to them. This feast, O Mother of our God, is the authentic attestation of their gratitude, increased by the fresh benefits wherewith thy bounty accompanied the new exodus of the remnant of Israel. And we, the sons of ancient Europe, we too have the right to echo the expression of their loving joy; for since their tents have been pitched around the hills where the new Sion built upon Peter, the cloud has shed all around showers of blessing more precious than ever, driving back into the abyss the flames of hell and extinguishing the fire of purgatory.
Whilst, then, we join with them in thanksgiving to thee, deign thyself, O mother of divine grace, to pay our debt of gratitude to them. Protect them ever. Guard them in these unhappy times, when the hypocrisy of modern persecutors has more fatal results than the race of the Saracens. Preserve the life in the deep roots of the old stock, and rejoice it by the accession of the new branches, bearing, like the old ones, flowers and fruits that shall be pleasing to thee, O Mary. Keep in the hearts of the sons of that spirit of retirement and contemplation which animated their fathers under the shadow of the cloud; may their sisters, too wheresoever the Holy Spirit has established them, be ever faithful to the traditions of the glorious past, so that their holy lives may avert the tempest and draw down blessings from the mysterious cloud. May the perfume of penance that breathes from the holy mountain purify the now corrupted atmosphere around; and may Carmel ever present to the Souse the type of the the beauties He loves to behold in His Bride!