Our Lady of Mount Carmel, Her Scapular, Her School
Our Blessed Lady’s life is a study in conformity to the will of God. From the prediction of her mission in Genesis 3:15 to St. John’s image of her in Revelation 12, Mary embraces God’s will and makes it her own. For this reason, and because she is our spiritual mother, we can never do better than to entrust ourselves to her tutelage, and seek her counsel in all things.
This is the way of many of the great saints: St. Louis de Montfort, St. Bernard, Pope John Paul II, Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta, Servant of God Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen, St. Maximilian Kolbe, St. Padre Pio, to name a few.
On May 26, 2006, Pope Benedict XVI spoke of the efficacy of the school of Mary. With insight and clarity, he said:
Mary shows us how to open our minds and our hearts to the power of the Holy Spirit, who comes to us so as to be brought to the whole world.
We need a moment of silence and recollection to place ourselves in her school, so that she may teach us how to live from faith, how to grow in faith, how to remain in contact with the mystery of God in the ordinary, everyday events of our lives. With feminine tact and with "the ability to combine penetrating intuition with words of support and encouragement" (John Paul II, "Redemptoris Mater," No. 46), Mary sustained the faith of Peter and the apostles in the Upper Room, and today she sustains my faith and your faith.
On July 16 we celebrate the Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. Under this title the Blessed Mother gave us the Scapular to instruct us in the way in which we should go. Therefore, it becomes for us a perfect means to enter the “school of Mary.”
Given to St. Simon Stock by Our Blessed Mother on July 16, 1251, the brown Scapular was a sign of Our Lady’s abiding presence with the Carmelites during a particularly difficult time in their history.
The Carmelite heritage dates all the way back to the prophet Elijah and the cave-dwelling hermits of Mount Carmel who called themselves his descendants. Spiritual sons of the Blessed Mother, they were known as the Hermits of St. Mary of Mount Carmel.
In the 13th Century, St. Louis IX, King of France, sought out the hermits on Carmel’s mount, and to him they related a marvelous story. They reminded him of Mount Carmel’s famous contest beween the Prophet Elijah and the prophets of the pagan god Baal. And they specifically called his attention to the tiny cloud, shaped like a foot, which came out of the sea as a sign of God’s victory (I Kings: 18).
The hermits told the King that Elijah interpreted this foot to be that of the woman who would bring forth man’s Salvation. She would conquer Satan with the heel of her foot and the “yes” of her humility (Gen. 3:15). Elijah instructed his followers to pray for the coming of this Immaculate Virgin. And so they did until she finally appeared in Nazareth, a small town just on the other side of the mountain.
The hermits told St. Louis IX that the Blessed Mother and the Holy Family took respite with them on Mount Carmel as they sojourned back from Egypt. In honor of her, the hermits built the first chapel on earth dedicated to the Mother of God.
Some thirty years before St. Louis IX ascended Carmel’s hill, another saint had made his way to this “Family of the Blessed Virgin.” St. Simon Stock met the hermits while on pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Attracted to their way of life, he joined their company, and eventually brought many of them back to England when the Saracen uprising made it too dangerous to stay on Carmel.
Though necessary, this move from the East proved most difficult for the Order. Its Eastern tradition, lack of financial resources, and hermitic life was not readily welcomed by the English people nor the other religious communities. Conversely, the Eastern members of the order found the move just as trying and unpleasant. Controversy raged inside and out and dissension threatened the Order’s survival.
In the midst of this difficulty, St. Simon Stock was appointed Father General of the entire Order in 1245. His was a daunting and laborious task. He needed to help the Order transition from a hermitic life to a mendicant rule without changing its essential vision and prophetic vocation. Some five years later, the thicket of discord remained and dissension fomented still. But that was about to change.
On the evening of July 16, 1251, when the aging saint retired to his cell to pray, our Blessed Mother came to him in a vision. Surrounded by angels, she descended toward him with the brown Scapular saying, “Receive, my beloved son, this habit of thy order: This shall be to thee and to all Carmelites a privilege, that whosoever dies clothed in this shall never suffer eternal fire...it shall be a sign of salvation, a protection in danger, and a pledge of peace.” This gift from heaven was to become the most deeply rooted symbol of Carmel’s mission.
St. Simon Stock died fourteen years later. He was known for his sanctity and prudence, and for his gifts of prophesy and miracles. The Scapular eventually made its way from the Carmelite Friars (and later the Nuns) to the lay faithful. Those who are invested in the Scapular share in the maternal protection our Blessed Mother offers through it, and in the prayers and works of the Carmelite order.
Understood properly, the Scapular promise is based on Mary’s spiritual maternity and her role as Mediatrix of Grace: Mary is the spiritual mother of all mankind, and God has chosen her to be a conduit of His grace and love in the world. True devotion to Our Lady, engendered by the Scapular, is marked by love of her, veneration to her, and confidence in her maternal mediation. Thus, devotion to the brown Scapular is meant to be a way of life which sees Mary as our spiritual mother.
The Scapular is not a charm. It is not a guarantee of eternal salvation. It is not an excuse for giving up the pursuit of holiness. Wearing the Scapular is a sign of entering into the “school of Mary.” As such, Mary’s promise that those wearing the Scapular at the moment of death will not suffer the eternal fires anticipates a life of prayer, consecration to her Immaculate Heart, seeking the will of God in all things and conformity to God’s holy will.
May we find ourselves to be students in this “school of Mary,” and may we open ourselves to her maternal influence and guidance in all things. May our devotion to her be true devotion, and may our pursuit of holiness lead us through Mary to the Sacred Heart of her Son, Jesus Christ. Our Lady of Mount Carmel, pray for us.
Prayer to Our Lady of Mount Carmel
O, 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. O, star of the sea, help me and show me herein, you are my mother. Mary conceived without sin, pray for us who turn to you.
Holy Spirit, you who solve all problems, light all roads so I can attain my goal. You who gave me the divine gift to forgive and forget all evil against me, and who are with me in all instances in my life, thank you for all things, as you confirm once again that I never want to be separated from you in eternal glory. Amen.
What Does “Scapular” Mean?
A scapular is an article of clothing which is part of a religious habit. It is a long wide band of cloth with an opening for the head which drapes over the shoulders and covers the back and front. “Scapular” also refers to the “little habit:” two small squares of cloth connected by strings which is placed over the head and worn on the breast and back. The scapular is a sacramental when blessed and worn with devotion.
“ I, too, have worn the Scapular of Carmel over my heart for a long time! Out of my love for our common heavenly Mother, whose protection I constantly experience, I hope that this Marian year will help all the men and women religious of Carmel and the devout faithful who venerate her with filial affection to grow in her love and to radiate to the world the presence of this Woman of silence and prayer invoked as Mother of Mercy, Mother of Hope and Grace.
Pope John Paul II
March 25, 2001