Devotion to Our Lady of Mount Carmel dates back to the 12th or 13th century, when a group of hermits settled on the slopes of Mount Carmel, located in present day Israel. Being only 20 miles from Nazareth, they dedicated their chapel to the Mother of Jesus. Incorporating their location and their devotion, they became known as the brothers of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mount Carmel. Today they are called the Carmelites.
When the community was forced to return to Europe owing to the Muslim persecution, their future was uncertain. Then, tradition holds that Our Lady of Mount Carmel appeared to a prior in England, St. Simon Stock, on 16th July 1251. The Blessed Mother promised that all who took and wore the Carmelite “habit” would be rewarded with final perseverance. The habit was taken to mean in particular the scapular, a broad band of cloth worn over the shoulders, falling below the knee, in front and back. (A smaller lay version of the scapular was also created in later years.) Ever since then, the title “Our Lady of Mount Carmel” and the scapular have been inseparably linked, and Our Lady is often depicted in art as holding the Child Jesus in one hand and the brown scapular in the other.
Apparitions of Our Lady of Mount Carmel
The Blessed Virgin’s last appearance at Lourdes was 16th July 1858, feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. During the final apparition at Fatima, 13th October 1917, when the “miracle of the sun” occurred, Our Lady first appeared as she had been appearing to the three shepherd children with her sorrowful heart exposed. And then she appeared to them as Our Lady of Mount Carmel with “something hanging from her right hand.” We can safely assume that the “something” was the scapular. According to the Fatima visionary, Sister Lucia, who herself became a Carmelite nun, Our Lady wished everyone to wear it “because it is our sign of consecration to her Immaculate Heart.”
Forty-four years later in the little mountain hamlet of Garabandal in northern Spain (and with caution because these apparitions are still awaiting formal approval of the Church) Our Lady appears to the four little seers with a large brown scapular prominently draped over her right hand. The seers were in ecstasy before Our Lady of Carmel.
The Blessed Virgin, the Entirely Beautiful, Holy and Good, the Joy of God recalls to us, as in the Magnificat, “the marvels” that God did for her and for us. If, by her beauty she wishes to attract us to her heart, is it not to make us hear and to heed the message – God’s Salvation of Mankind?
Carmel – symbol of Beauty and Faith
Carmel is a symbol of Beauty (of Our Blessed Lady), and of Faith (of the prophet Elijah). Its Hebrew name means “garden” or “orchard”. In early times it was so named because of the fertility of its slopes, passing into Biblical verse to evoke the very idea of beauty and abundance. In the Song of Solomon, the bridegroom, so dazzled by the beauty of the bride, says to her: “Thy head is held high like Carmel… How beautiful thou art…Oh love, oh delight” (Song 7:6,7).
Isaiah, the prophet, speaking of the glory Lebanon bestowed on it, proclaimed, “the splendour of Carmel and Sharon; they shall see the glory of Yahveh, the splendour of our God” (Is 35:2). In its piety, inspired by the Holy Spirit, the Church has taken this Biblical image and applied it to the Blessed Virgin, “Flower of Carmel, Fruitful Vine, Splendour of Heaven”.
It is a tradition among the Carmelites that when Elijah, the prophet of Mount Carmel, threw his cloak over Elisha, thus imparting his spirit to him, it was a prefiguration of Mary clothing her children with the brown scapular.
The Most Rev. Kilian Lynch, a former prior general of the Carmelite Order, warned that the scapular was not “endowed with some kind of supernatural power which will save us no matter what we do or how much we sin.” As he put it, “Fidelity to the commandments is required by those seeking the special love and protection of Our Lady”.
The scapular is a symbol of living in love and obedience to God. In devoutly wearing this sacramental we join our hearts to Mary’s and thus, to her divine Son’s Sacred Heart as well! It is of the greatest importance for Catholics living today as we enter into humanity’s darkest hour, to be consecrated by the scapular of our heavenly Mother, placing ourselves under the mantle of her protection. Saint Dominic further underlines this importance: “One day through the rosary and the scapular, she (Our Lady) will save the world.”