by Elias O’Brien, O.Carm
During the month of July, Carmelites everywhere prepare to celebrate the feast of the Mother of God of Mount Carmel on July 16th. This solemn commemoration holds a very special place in the lives of Carmelites as it highlights what is distinctive about the Carmelite order and our ministry.
Every Carmelite professes and gives witness to the highest love for our Mother Mary, who has brought our community so many blessings, and who has consistently offered signs of her protection. Carmelites rejoice in her title (as Brothers of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mount Carmel), and we preach and teach the joy that comes from devotion to Mary.
Of course every Carmelite, and every Christian too, will have an individual relationship with Mary, so it is very hard to precisely define the essential characteristics of Carmelite devotion to Mary. But if there is one thing that unites all Carmelites, it is a devotion to the wearing of the Brown Scapular. In its large form the Carmelite scapular consists of the brown apron-like part of the Carmelite habit; in its smaller, devotional form the scapular is made up of two small pieces of cloth joined by two bands of cloth worn over the shoulders. Mary has given this special sign to our Order, and we cherish her protection and patronage.
We strive to depend on Mary for all things good, we confide in her when we are in need or suffering any kind of trouble, we offer everything we do as a tribute to her honor, we are prepared to stand with her at the side of Christ’s Cross, praying to be comforted by her strong faith and confident hope.
It is one thing to love Mary in our hearts and rely on her in our inward spirit, but Carmelites are anxious and willing to wear her Scapular in a public way, and strive openly to acknowledge our debt to Mary, and outwardly profess before the whole world our love for her.
The Carmelite Scapular forms an essential part of our monastic habit, but for centuries the Church has held that one doesn’t have to be a monk or a nun to be a part of the Carmelite family, wear the Scapular, or enjoy its blessings. Since the 15th century there have been Scapular confraternities and societies, and all Christians have been able to put on the Scapular to express their love for the Mother of God and enjoy this sign of Mary’s protection.
As we rejoice with the Carmelite community at this annual feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. May the Lord, the Son of Mary, bless you with every good thing from above! May the Mother of God, the Mother of Carmelites, enfold you in the mantle of her protection!