July is very much the month of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. Her feast day is solemnly celebrated on 16th July each year and that month alone holds fourteen Carmelite feasts, according to the Carmelite calendar. These include the memorial of Blessed Titus Brandsma (27th July) and the feast of the great Prophet Elijah, referred to as the ‘founder of the Carmelite ideal’, hearing the Lord not in the hurricane nor in the earthquake, but in the gentle breeze.
I remember once hearing that more Saints belong to the Order of Our Lady of Mount Carmel than to any other religious Order; amongst them, the great St Therese of Lisieux, St Simon Stock, St Edith Stein, St Mary Magdalene de Pazzi, St Albert, St Elizabeth of the Trinity and of course, St Teresa of Avila and Saint John of the Cross. The feast of all the Saints of Carmel is celebrated later in the year, on 14th November.
For many people, their immediate thought on thinking about the Carmelites may be the Brown Scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. Part of the religious clothing of the Carmelites, the Scapular is associated with a promise of salvation said to have been given by the Most Blessed Virgin to St Simon that ‘whosoever dies clothed in this Scapular shall never suffer eternal fire’.
The Scapular is perhaps most intimately associated with the idea of personal consecration to the Most Blessed Virgin – and it is this, as St Louis de Montfort tells us, which is the key; for this is a signal grace. Devotion to the Mother of God – true and authentic devotion, that is – signifies a soul yearning for God, and She is the path that leads directly and most assuredly there.
Authentic Marian devotion, as described by the Church and by the Saints throughout the centuries is neither erroneous nor old-fashioned; rather, it is a timeless way of finding the Lord, to Whom His Mother always points us. The Second Vatican Council very clearly described of what authentic Marian devotion consists. Such devotion is the mark of the common soul, the little ones, and we can have no greater Model than the Mother of the Lord, She who is Immaculate.
The Popes of the past hundred years have written extensively and very beautifully on the nature and value of authentic Marian devotion, from ‘Signum Magnum’ (The Great Sign, Pope Paul VI) onwards. Even before this, there are a great many Encyclicals which lay out clearly why we should always strive for devotion to the Most Blessed Virgin. And you will be hard pressed to find a Saint who was not devoted to the Mother of God.
Looking back over this last century, it seems that the Blessed Virgin of Mount Carmel rejoices in this feast dedicated to Her, for the feast links some of Her authentic appearances on earth, those which the Church (always our guide, always the voice of authority) says we are free to believe in. Her final appearance to St Bernadette Soubirous at Lourdes in 1858, was on 16th July. And at Her final appearance to the three children at Fatima, Portugal, in 1917, She appeared to them last of all dressed as Our Lady of Mount Carmel.
In the example of so many canonised Carmelite Saints, and in the example given to us by the Mother of God Herself, we could do worse than to have a devotion to Her under this title of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, and to consider the meaning and place of personal consecration in our lives.