Today we celebrate the Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. Much has been written about this Feast, and in my opinion, the website catholicism.about.com most succinctly describes it:
The Carmelites had long claimed that their order extended back to ancient times—indeed, that it was founded on Mount Carmel in Palestine by the prophets Elijah and Elisha. While others disputed this idea, Pope Honorius III, in approving the order in 1226, seemed to accept its antiquity. The celebration of the feast became wrapped up with this controversy, and, in 1609, after Robert Cardinal Bellarmine examined the origins of the feast; it was declared the patronal feast of the Carmelite order.
From then on, the celebration of the feast began to spread, with various popes approving the celebration in southern Italy, then Spain and her colonies, then Austria, Portugal and her colonies, and finally in the Papal States, before Benedict XIII placed the feast on the universal calendar of the Latin Church in 1726. It has since been adopted by some Eastern Rite Catholics as well.
The feast celebrates the devotion that the Blessed Virgin Mary has to those who are devoted to her, and who signal that devotion by wearing the Brown Scapular. According to tradition, those who wear the scapular faithfully and remain devoted to the Blessed Virgin until death will be granted the grace of final perseverance and be delivered from Purgatory early. (source)
I remember my grandmother wearing her brown scapular and encouraging us kids to do the same. “There’s a promise that goes with it,” she would say, and then she’d read the inscription on the scapular: “Whosoever dies wearing this Scapular shall not suffer eternal fire.” She continued, “That’s a promise, you know, from Our Lady. There’s great protection for those who wear the scapular.”
I’ve waxed and waned in my wearing of the brown scapular through the years, and as I sit here sweating on this steamy July morning, the thoughts of putting on any additional clothing is less than appealing. In fact, when the summer rolls around, I tend to remove it. Hmmm…that’s kind of dumb! Like eternal fire is seasonal! HA!
Non-Catholics regard our use of sacramentals and devotions as superstitious, almost pagan. I have a very simple view, perhaps childlike. Scripture tells us that nothing can separate us from the love of Christ, “…neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Rm 8:38-39). So if someone who has died comes down from heaven (because death does not separate us) and brings a message that draws us closer to Christ, why would I ignore it? After all, isn’t heaven our desire? Isn’t heaven our destiny?
Now, obviously, sacramentals and devotions are not doctrine, and we are not obliged to observe them, but I say, “What have we got to lose?”
The Church encourages the use of sacramentals as part of our devotional lives. Among them, the brown scapular devotion maintains a special place with the saints. Here’s a picture of Blessed Pope John Paul II wearing one when he was in a labor camp during World War II. He’s in good company, too. Some of the saints who shared this devotion are: St. Teresa of Avila, St. Simon Stock, St. John of the Cross, St. Alphonsus Liguori, St. Peter Claver, St. Robert Bellarmine, SJ, St. Claude de la Colombiere, St. Vincent Pallotti, St. John Vianney, the Curé of Ars, St. Bernadette of Lourdes, St. John Bosco, St. Maximilian Kolbe, St. Francis Xavier Cabrini, Pope St. Pius X, and St. Conrad. Those are some real heavy hitters! In fact, when the grave of St. Alphonsus Liguori, Doctor of the Church, was opened many years after he died, his brown scapular was completely intact even though the rest of his priestly vestments had disintegrated. His scapular is still miraculously untouched and on exhibit in his Monastery in Rome.
So today, if you aren’t wearing your brown scapular, pull it out, and put it on. If you’ve never worn one, it’s a great day to start!
Our Lady of Mount Carmel, pray for us! Anne
PS: You can get a free brown scapular here. Check out this website; there’s a ton of terrific info!
PPS: I encourage you to read excellent article by Discalced Carmelite Father Kieran Kavanaugh from www.zenit.org: Brown Scapular: Silent Devotion on the history of this feast day and devotion of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. It’s a bit long, but well worth the read.
Prayer to Our Lady of Mount Carmel
Oh most beautiful flower of Mt. 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 (say three times). Holy Mary, I place this prayer in your hands (say three times). Amen.