On July 16, we celebrate the Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel and reflect on the blessing of the Carmelite Order, their lives of simplicity and contemplation, as well as the gift of the devotion of the scapular. As St. Pope John Paul II noted in his message on March 25, 2001:
Carmelites have chosen Mary as their Patroness and spiritual Mother and always keep before the eyes of their heart the Most Pure Virgin who guides everyone to the perfect knowledge and imitation of Christ.
Thus an intimacy of spiritual relations has blossomed, leading to an ever increasing communion with Christ and Mary. For the members of the Carmelite Family, Mary, the Virgin Mother of God and mankind, is not only a model to imitate but also the sweet presence of a Mother and Sister in whom to confide. St Teresa of Jesus rightly urged her sisters: “Imitate Our Lady and consider how great she must be and what a good thing it is that we have her for our Patroness” (Interior Castle, III, 1, 3).
According to tradition, the scapular of Carmel was presented to St. Simon Stock in the 13th century during a period of severe oppression of the Carmelite Order. The Blessed Mother appeared to him as an apparition and said to him:
“Receive, my beloved son, this scapular of thy Order; it is the special sign of my favor, which I have obtained for thee and for thy children of Mount Carmel. He who dies clothed with this habit shall be preserved from eternal fire. It is the badge of salvation, a shield in time of danger, and a pledge of special peace and protection.”
The scapular has become a widely used devotion, with special significance in its offering of protection, as well as in its purpose of becoming a “habit” of Christian conduct, as described by St. Pope John Paul II. By receiving the scapular, believers align themselves with the Order of Carmel, and “dedicate themselves to the service of Our Lady for the good of the whole Church.” This, in turn, enables them to “experience the loving and motherly presence of Mary in their daily commitment to be clothed in Jesus Christ and to manifest him in their life for the good of the Church and the whole of humanity.”
The Chapel of Our Lady of Mount Carmel at the Basilica
The Chapel of Our Lady of Mount Carmel was gifted to the Basilica by the Carmelite Fathers of the American Provinces and dedicated in 1965. The Carmelites trace their origin to Mount Carmel in modern day Israel, which the Old Testament prophet Elijah consecrated to God (1 Kings 18), as depicted in the double stained-glass window above the chapel. The word carmel means “orchard” or “vineyard.”
Our Lady of Mount Carmel is depicted at the center of the chapel’s mosaic. The Mother and Child holding the brown scapular given to Simon Stock on May 16, 1251, are encircled by sculptures of six Carmelite saints: Andrew Corsini, Teresa of Avila, Simon Stock, Mary Magdalene de Pazzi, John of the Cross, and Thérèse of Lisieux. The seven statues of Botticino marble are by Theodore C. Barbarossa.
The frontal of the Porta Santa marble altar carries a quote from the Memoirs of Thérèse of Lisieux; “Mary is more Mother than Queen”; the Carmelite seal; and the motto from the words of Elijah (3 Kings 19:10).
The Carmelites’ lives of contemplation and simplicity reflect an unwavering dedication to Mary. We hope that their faithful example strengthens your own devotion. Let us pray:
“O Most beautiful flower of Mount Carmel, beautiful vine, splendor of heaven, Blessed Mother of the Son of God, Immaculate Virgin, assist me in this my necessity… O Star of the Sea, help me and show me herein you are my mother.
O Holy Mary, Mother of God, Queen of heaven and earth, I humbly beseech you from the bottom of my heart, to succor me in this my necessity; there are none that can withstand your power.
O show me herein you are my Mother. O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse. Sweet Mother, I place this cause in your hands.”