Splendor of Heaven: Our Lady of Mt. Carmel

Watch our EWTN program, "Explaining the Faith," on Our Lady of Mt. Carmel

By Paul Fahey

She is perhaps the most popular representation of the Blessed Mother: Our Lady of Mount Carmel, whose feast we celebrate on July 16. From prayer cards to devotional statues, her appearance is well-known: Mary cradles the Christ Child; both often wear gold crowns and hold the familiar brown scapular.

The Novena to Our Lady of Mount Carmel, which begins on July 7, is one of the loveliest, opening with: 

O Beautiful Flower of Carmel, most fruitful vine,
splendor of Heaven, holy and singular,
who brought forth the Son of God, still remaining a pure virgin,
assist us in our necessity!

The prophet Elijah
The historical origins of the devotion to Our Lady of Mount Carmel and the Carmelite Order are shrouded in pious legend. The order traces its spiritual heritage back to the prophet Elijah who, according to tradition, lived on Mount Carmel in Palestine, where he defeated the priests of Baal in the dramatic showdown told in the 18th chapter of 1 Kings. Historical records of a community of Christian hermits living on Mount Carmel started to appear around the 12th century. Then, in the 13th century, this community migrated to Western Europe. 

Under the leadership of their prior, St. Simon Stock, the Carmelites grew and spread throughout England and Europe as a mendicant order. Pious legend says that St. Simon Stock (below) had a vision of Mary in England on July 16, 1251. Our Lady gave him the brown scapular, saying, “Take, beloved son, this scapular of thy order as a badge of my confraternity and for thee and all Carmelites a special sign of grace; whoever dies in this garment, will not suffer everlasting fire. It is the sign of salvation, a safeguard in dangers, a pledge of peace and of the covenant and of my special protection until the end of ages.”

Confraternity enrollment
Over the next few centuries, devotion to the brown scapular spread throughout Europe within the Catholic Church. Today, it is a revered pious practice in the Church. Catholics are able to participate by being enrolled in the Confraternity of the Blessed Virgin of Mount Carmel and invested with the brown scapular. This is done with a short set of prayers and blessings that any priest can administer. The scapular is worn over the shoulder, so that one side hands over the chest, and the other over the back. 

In her Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy, the Church points to two mature and authentic graces that can be found in devotion to the brown scapular. The first is that the pious wearing of the scapular is an external sign of the faithful’s relationship with and devotion to the Blessed Mother. Wearing the scapular is one of the ways available for the faithful to live out their love for Mary and show their desire to imitate her holiness.

Mary’s intimate and total union with God is the model of holiness for all Christians. This points to the second grace of the brown scapular that the Directory on Popular Piety states: “The Scapular is imposed by a special rite of the Church which describes it as ‘a reminder that in Baptism we have been clothed in Christ’” (205). The brown scapular is an external reminder that, through Baptism, the wearer is a new creation, a divinized son or daughter of God the Father, another Christ (see Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2782). The scapular, therefore, aids the faithful to remember their identity as children who are relentlessly pursued by their Heavenly Father and incorporated into the life of the Holy Trinity. 

Papal devotion
Pope St. John Paul II demonstrated his faithfulness to this devotion. He received a brown scapular the day of his First Communion, and he wore it from that day on through the rest of his life. In 1958, as an auxiliary bishop visiting a monastery in Wadowice, Poland, the future saint said, “Amongst many devotions that captivated my child’s soul, I participated the most ardently in the novena before the feast of Our Lady of the Scapular.” 

In 2001, on the occasion of the 750th anniversary of the bestowal of the brown scapular, the Holy Father said, “Over time this rich Marian heritage of Carmel has become, through the spread of the Holy Scapular devotion, a treasure for the whole Church.” 

Whether or not you already have a devotion to Our Lady of Mount Carmel or the brown scapular, the Church invites you to entrust your life to your Blessed Mother and pray for her intercession. Let us pray for the Holy Spirit to transform our hearts and minds so that we may more fully imitate her. 

Our Lady of Mount Carmel, pray for us!


You might also like...

On Dec. 8, we celebrate the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception (a Holy Day of Obligation), God’s greatest act of mercy for any human being — God preserved Mary, His mother, from inheriting any stain of original sin.

"In a fit of madness, I started running," Br. Josh, MIC, recalls. But when his brother seminarians suggest training for a marathon, thoughts of horrible suffering and misery blazed through his mind...

Brother Josh, MIC, sat down quietly on his bed and prayed, “If you want, Beloved, I would run an ultramarathon for you.” Then, he forgot about his off-the-cuff prayer.