The month of July features several special Carmelite feasts, including Saint Elijah, Saint Teresa of the Andes, Blesseds Louis and Zelie Martin (the parents of St. Therese), the Martyrs of Compiegne, and Blessed Titus Brandsma among others. However, it is on July 16th that the principal feast of the Order is celebrated – the feast of the Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mount Carmel. First celebrated in the latter half of the 14th century, its purpose was thanksgiving to Our Lady, patroness of the Carmelite Order, for the protection and blessings received through her intercession.
From the time of its arrival in Europe, approximately around 1230 and continuing for the next 150 years, the Order of Carmel had a precarious existence. During this difficult period, the friars learned to implicitly trust in the Blessed Mother’s assistance and protection, entrusting the very survival of the Order to her. By the end of the 13th century, it was established truth that the Carmelite Order “was especially founded for the honor and glory of Mary. The central truth…is the lived experience of Carmel: Mary, its Patroness, has protected it and ensured its perseverance; Mary’s prayers are powerful in securing eternal life” (Letter of the Most Rev. Fathers Joseph Chalmers, O.Carm. and Camilo Maccise, O.C.D. on the occasion of the 750th Anniversary of the Carmelite Scapular, 2001).
The “monastic scapular”, part of the habit of most religious orders, is a long length of cloth suspended both front and back from the shoulders of the wearer and originally served as aprons for medieval monks. It was customary, especially during the Middle Ages, “for laypeople who belonged to confraternities, sodalities or third orders affiliated with religious orders to wear some sign of membership, usually derived from the religious habit such as a cord, cloak or scapular.” In time, as more and more lay people wanted affiliation with the Carmelite Order and its spirituality, the size of the scapular was reduced, making the “devotional scapular” easy for anyone wishing to do so, to wear it over their shoulders under their clothing. To wear the scapular is to be clothed in the habit of Mary. The small brown scapular in the form familiar to Catholics today began to be promoted by Giovanni Battista Rossi, Prior General of the Carmelites between 1564-1578. Most important to remember, the central truths represented by the Brown Scapular include “Mary’s protection, her intercession at the time of our death and beyond to eternal life. On our part, there is need for a filial relationship that expresses our being her brothers and sisters and devoted to her service for the glory of her Son.”
To Carmelites, the Blessed Virgin Mary is the paragon of the contemplative life, of virtue, and the one who is closest to Jesus. Mary is also the one who most surely leads us to her Divine Son. The Brown Scapular is a powerful sacramental; it is a sign of devotion to Mary and a pledge of her maternal protection. It is a sign of our commitment to our Catholic faith. On this Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, Catholics should remember this powerful sacramental and how it enriches one’s devotional life.
Can anyone who is not a Carmelite share in the fulfillment of Our Lady’s maternal protection and develop a filial relationship with her? Are you open to God and to doing His Will? Do you want to follow Jesus taking Mary as your role model and strive to be clothed with her virtues? Do you want to live life guided by faith, hope and love and to see God’s presence in everything around you, even in the smallest of things? Then consider investiture in the Brown Scapular of Carmel.
Any baptized Catholic can be invested in the Confraternity of the Brown Scapular by a Catholic priest, which usually takes place during a short ceremony. With these words: “Receive this Scapular, a sign of your special relationship with Mary, the Mother of Jesus, whom you pledge to imitate. May it be a reminder to you of your dignity as a Christian in serving others and imitating Mary. Wear it as a sign of her protection and of belonging to the family of Carmel, voluntarily doing the will of God and devoting yourself to building a world true to His plan of community, justice and peace.” Association with the Carmelite Order is now complete. Investiture in the Brown Scapular needs to be done only once.
Something to keep in mind, however: the Brown Scapular is not a “Get Out of Jail Free” card nor is it a good luck charm akin to a religious rabbit’s foot; nor is it a talisman. In wearing the Scapular, one is obligated to show a sincere commitment in following Jesus through the example of Mary, which means more than the occasional prayer in her honor. “It is a permanent way of Christian living, made up of prayer and the interior life, frequent recourse to the sacraments and the concrete exercise of the corporal and spiritual works of mercy” (Bl. Pope John Paul II).
Prayer to Our Lady of Mount Carmel:
Oh most beautiful flower of Mount Carmel, fruitful vine, splendor of Heaven, Blessed Mother of the Son of God, Immaculate Virgin, assist me in my necessity. Oh Star of the Sea, help me and show me you are my Mother. Oh Holy Mary, Mother of God, Queen of Heaven and earth, I humbly beseech you from the bottom of my heart to succor me in necessity (make request).
There are none that can withstand your power.
Oh Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee (repeat three times).
Holy Mary, I place this prayer in your hands (repeat three times). Amen.