St Mary´s Parish


Origin of the Devotion to Our Lady of Mt. Carmel

Mount Carmel comprises a chain of mountains stretching some 16 miles northwest to southwest, and ending in an abrupt slope hanging over the sea. This is the Cape of Carmel, overlooking liaifa Bay and crowned with the Carmelite Monastery, known in modern times as Stella Maris, Star of the Sea.

For the prophets of the Old Testament, Carmel was a sign of the graciousness and the beauty of the great God of Israel. The word itself means a garden or vineyard, and no doubt the name was bestowed on the region because of its beauty and fertility.

The Song of Songs, in celebrating Israel as the spouse of God, applies to her the verse: "Your head is like Carmel." When the great spiritual writers and preachers of the Church began to study the Bible, they came to the conclusion that the Song of Songs applied not only to the Chosen People but also to Our Lady. And so they readily began to give to her the tributes which were first intended for Israel.

As regards the Carmelites' place of origin, it can be stated within a considerable degree of certainty that the first Carmelites lived in the wadi, or valley, which is called wadi es Shiah (Valley of Martyrs), a little to the south of Haifa and three miles from the Stella Maris Monastery.

It is a picturesque valley, looking out over the sea to the west, and yet discreetly hidden among the hills. A reasonable conjecture places the arrival of the Carmelites to Wadi es Shiah some time after the year 1178. From the slender evidence at our disposal, it seems evident that the first Carmelite community was a spontaneous growth; that is to say a small number of men, who hitherto had been living a hermit way of life singly, decided to band together for mutual support and protection, while continuing to be hermits.

These early Carmelites regarded the prophet Elijah as their spiritual father and master. About the year 1210 A.D. the Carmelites dedicated their little chapel to Our Lady. As far as we know, this was the first church to be built to her honor on Mount Carmel. According to the notions of the time, a dedication of this kind was not merely an act of devotion; it meant putting their whole way of life under Mary's patronage. She was their Queen and they were her humble and devoted servants.

The small chapel, the ruins of which still exist a few miles from the present monastery, is the first indisputable evidence we possess, carved in stone, of devotion to Our Lady on Mount Carmel. In a very special way she was the patroness of these early Carmelites: an idea which includes the unique role of Mary in the work of redemption and sanctification. It is really another way of expressing the spiritual motherhood of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

In the First Book of King, we find the story of the small, white cloud that Elijah the prophet saw rising from the sea, spreading over mount Carmel and bringing much needed refreshment to the land. Carmelite tradition has always interpreted that cloud as the symbol of our Lady who by her divine motherhood brought new life and fruitfulness to a dying world. Like the cloud, Mary was born from the salt sea of sinful human nature. But even in her conception she was free from every taint of sin, just as a cloud is vaporous and clean.

Carmelite spiritual writers also noted another passage from Scripture which says: "The glory of the Lord appeared in a cloud" (Ex.16:10)”. For them, Mary was the true cloud that contains the glory and the wonder of God.

The episode of Elijah and the cloud is certainly an apt and beautiful illustration of Our Lady's role in the Christian life. The above gives briefly the meaning of the title, Our Lady of Mt. Carmel. It is a summing up of the way in which Carmelites have venerated our Lady for many centuries. It is an aspect of the Church's veneration for her, giving special attention to the motherly care which she bestows on her spiritual children both in life and after death.

The Brown Scapular, which made its appearance towards the end of the 13th century, became a symbol of that childlike love for the Blessed Mother that the Church proposes to us.

(1) THE BROWN SCAPULAR

The Brown Scapular, by its intrinsic symbolism, has always been and remains, first and foremost, a sign of affiliation to the Order of Carmel and it is in fact an attenuated version of the habit. Its wearers become, in however loose a sense, members of the Carmelite family: they place themselves under the patronage of Our Lady of Mount Carmel and consecrate themselves to her.

Devotion to Our Lady of Mount Carmel means, to quote a great modern Carmelite, Father Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalen de Pazzi, O.C.D. (1893 - 1953), "a special call to the interior life, which is preeminently a Marian life. Our Lady wants us to resemble her not only in our outward vesture but, far more, in heart and spirit. If we gaze into Mary's soul, we shall see that grace in her has flowered into a spiritual life of incalculable wealth: a life of recollection, prayer, uninterrupted oblation to God, continual contact and intimate union with Him. Mary's soul is a sanctuary reserved for God alone, where no human creature has ever left its trace, where love and zeal for the glory of God and the salvation of mankind reign supreme.

Those who want to live their devotion to Our Lady of Mt. Carmel to the full must follow Mary into the depths of her interior life. Carmel is the symbol of the contemplative life, the life wholly dedicated to the quest of God, wholly orientated towards intimacy with God: the one who has best realized this highest of ideals is our Lady herself, Queen and Splendor of Carmel.

" The Brown Scapular, then, can still play a glorious part in the life of the Carmelite order and in the life of the Church, as a symbol of consecration to Our Lady of Mount Carmel, Mistress of the interior Life. And it is a symbol, too, of the protection which she will surely not refuse, especially where the life of prayer is concerned, to those who thus consecrate themselves to her service.(2)

(1) Fr. Gabriel Bairy, O.C.D.,"Mount Carmel", Carmelite Digest, Vol.l. No.1, Winter 1986. (2) Id. Historical Notes on the Carmelite, Order.

The statue of Our Lady
in the front of the Carmelite Monastery
in Espoo
The Carmelite Monastery

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©: Pyhän Marian seurakunta

(30.9.2005)