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FROM THE OLD TESTAMENT OF THE MODERN WORLD

Father Francis's picture
Our Lady of Mount Carmel

This is a very special day for Carmelite priests and religious because it commemorates the foundation of their Order. It is also an opportunity for all of us to think about Mary as a link between the Old Testament and the New.

The Carmelites have always honoured the prophet Elijah who heard the voice of God speaking to him in the peace and silence of the country around Mount Carmel. Early Christian hermits built a chapel there which they dedicated to Our Lady, and the Carmelites trace their origins back to those hermits. When the Order was formed in the early Middle Ages it had no identifiable leader, like Francis or Dominic, but there was great devotion to Elijah and to Mary, so the title "Brothers of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mount Carmel" was adopted. Their hermit existence gave way to a more communal way of life, with a Rule and a brown habit.

In 1245 the Carmelites held their first chapter at Aylesford in Kent and elected an Englishman, Simon Stock as their General. On 16 July 1251 Our Lady appeared to him in a vision, holding in her hands a brown scapular. She promised that she would bless and protect all members of the Carmelite Order, and all who wore the scapular, and she also said that anyone who died wearing the scapular would achieve salvation. The brown scapular thus came to be recognised as a sign of affiliation with the Carmelite Order and also devotion to Our Lady. The scapular is worn today in the form of a small piece of cloth, or a medal, and it reminds all who wear it that Mary is our model and example.

Just as Elijah heard and heeded God's words in the "still small voice" so Mary heard God's voice in the message of an angel and immediately consented to do His will. It has sometimes been said that devotion to Mary detracts from the devotion due to Jesus but this is not true, because the more we know and love Mary, the closer we come to her Son and the more fully we know and love Him. We try to imitate her virtues of faith, humility and obedience to the will of God which are all part of the Gospel message. It was Mary's role to bring Jesus, the Messiah, into our world, and she continues to lead us to Him if we listen to her.

Let us pray for a greater devotion to Our Blessed Lady, asking her to pray for us and to teach us how to listen, in the silence of our hearts, to God's message for us.