- Rev. Fr. Paul D'Souza
Fr. Paul D'Souza, a Discalced Carmelite of the Karnataka-Goa province, traces briefly in the following pages, some of the principal features of the long-standing tradition of Carmel's devotion to Mary.
Carmel has been claiming from its childhood the very special affection and protection of Mary. Inspite of the aberrations an follies of many Carmelites Mary has been extending Her motherly protection to all branches of the Carmelite family. It is our Carmelite family that has committed itself to fulfilling the prophecy that all generations would call her blessed.
Carmel’s raison d’etre
Early Carmelite writers believed that the very purpose for which the Order was established, was the honour of Our Lady. In the Montpellier constitutions (1287) we read : “ Let us implore the suffrage of the Blessed Virgin Mary for whose service the Order of Mt. Carmel was founded.” This is confirmed by Pope Clement V who states that the Order was “...Divinely instituted in honour of the glorious and Blessed Virgin Mary.” According to the Rule unceasing prayer is the heart of the Carmelite vocation. Marian devotion and homage soon became part of that unceasing prayer.
Title of the Order
In the earliest extant documentation, we find the Carmelites addressed as the “ hermit brothers of Mount Carmel”. But already by 1227 they were called the “hermit brothers of St. Mary of Mt. Carmel.” In 1253 Innocent IV calls them the “hermit brothers of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mt. Carmel,” a title that was henceforth found consistently in official papal documents. Urban VI granted indulgences to the faithful who addressed the Carmelites by that title, and these indulgences were confirmed two centuries later by Gregory XIII.
How much the Carmelites made of their Marian title is well illustrated from a famous debate that took place in Cambridge between the Dominican, John Stokes and John Hornby, a brilliant Carmelite. John Stokes contended that :
there was no authentic document for the Carmelite claim that they were the Order of the Blessed Virgin Mary;
for a long time after their origins the Carmelites had no reference to Mary in their title, nor could they even at the time of the public debate (23 Feb.. 1374) offer any indisputable evidence for their claim ;
since neither the Albertine Rule nor its approval by Innocent IV has any mention of Mary in the title, Carmelites are not entitled to call themselves Brothers of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mt. Carmel ;
it is only on their own initiative therefore and in order to gain public esteem and to prevail over other Orders that the Carmelites style themselves Brothers of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mt. Carmel.
The judges in this academic dispute were a panel of select professors presided over by the chancellor of the Cambridge University, John Dunwich; and thanks to the acumen and intellectual vigour of CARMEL
u, it resulted in a resounding victory for the Carmelites.
Although Mary’s patronage over Carmel may easily be inferred from the very title of the Order, Carmelite authors of the 14th and 15th. centuries have taken plenty of trouble to demonstrate and illustrate the patronage of Mary. A good example of this is the Belgian, Bostius who combines the patronage of Mary with the significance of the Scapular.
“ All Carmelites ... rejoice to wear the gift of Mary night and day as an impenetrable shield. It reminds them that they must always consider the holy life of Mary as their model, that they must engrave Her image along with Her Son’s on the shield of their faith, and that they mist place their trust in the powerful protection of this sovereign Queen Who is always ready to come to their aid. ... They can look on this habit and joyfully remember the special love their most loving benefactor bestows on them and thus know that they have been selected by Her for so great an inheritance.”
The Albertine Norm of Life had required that the hermit brothers have an oratory in the midst of the cells where the members could assemble for the Eucharistic Sacrifice.
Excavations undertaken during the generalate of Fr. Anastasio, revealed the existence of that oratory. Moreover, there are testimonies from non-Carmelite sources during the 13th and 14th centuries, of pilgrims, ecclesiastics and others of the Marian Carmelite shrine on Mt. Carmel. The earliest is a pilgrim's guide to Jerusalem, written before 1230.
During the 14th century, most great Carmelite authors: Bacon Thorpe, Hildesheim, Chemineto, Riboti, Oler, Vineta, Hornby, attest to its existence. And another Carmelite, Sanvico, who reports its destruction by the Saracens in 1291, seems to be mistaken.
In the 15th century, too, most of the outstanding Carmelite writers, attest to its existence: Grossi, Bradley, Calciuri, Leersio, Bostio and others.
In virtue of that dedication of the first Carmelite sanctuary to O; Lady, all Carmelites churches, chapels and shrines -- in the opinion of Hildesheim, Oler and Bradley -- are also dedicated to Carmel’s Queen.
Since 1281 (the date of the first extant document), Carmelites have been making their profession “ to God, and to the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mt. Carmel .”
For the medieval western mind, the meaning of such a formula could easily be interpreted analogously to the dedication and loyalty promised by vassals to their lords or kings. The Carmelite took on himself the honour and duty of loyal service to Mary, with the conviction that he belonged to Mary and had a unique claim to her favour and protection.
Marian themes and feasts
Mary as Model :
Mary is considered by Bacon Thorpe in the 14th century as a model for Carmelites in following the Elian prophetic inspiration and vocation. In this respect, says Bacon Thorpe – following the path traced out by the Institution of the First Monks – Mary can be looked upon as a Sister of the Carmelites. There was a time in fact when the Carmelites prided themselves on being known as Brothers of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mt. Carmel. In his Analogical Exposition of the Carmelite Rule Bacon Thorpe comments on the Rule point by point, indicating the “conformity” ( by which expression, the Institution means “similarity” ) between the Rule and Mary’s life as portrayed in the Gospels. The Rule reflects Mary’s life in prescribing chastity, poverty, obedience, silence, solitude, recollection. Bacon Thorpe concludes :
“ We are called the Brothers of the Order of the Blessed Virgin Mary because we have chosen a Rule which closely resembles the life which She lived.”
Two other great 14th century writers who evolved these ideas were John Hildesheim, a German Carmelite, and John of Cimentho, a Frenchman.
Mary as Mother.
Along with other Christians, Carmelites share in the maternal concern and protection of Mary. Writing about Carmelites, John of Hildesheim says, “ Mary is their sister through religious profession, their mother through devotion.”
Mary as Owner :
Bacon Thorpe, like other 14th century Carmelite writers, considers -- in accordance with the culture of the times – the official title as significant as a legal title. And in this sense, Carmel is the property and fief of Mary. Hildesheim goes further, maintaining that if in fact a Carmelite does not belong to Mary, his profession is invalid.
Mary as Protector :
If Mary is the legal owner of Carmel – argue the 14th. century exponents of Carmelite spiritual, notably Cimentho -- She will be its protector.
Festive Celebrations :
The Immaculate Conception had to be celebrated, already in the fourteenth century, as a feast with an octave ; and a few medieval authors conjecture that the first Carmelite Oratory was dedicated to the Imm. Conception. For a celebration of this feast in 1342, the papal court came to the Carmelite monastery at Avignon. And the first written record of the Institution of the First Monks occurs in connection with this celebration, when it was publicly mentioned by Rev. James
The Assumption was an important celebration right from the thirteenth century ;
and so were the Birthday of Our Lady, the Annunciation, the Purification. The importance of these four feasts is evident right from the first Ordinal --- a liturgical document dating from around 1263.
The Solemn Commemoration of O. Lady of Mt. Carmel began to be celebrated from around the year 1386 as an expression of gratitude for all the benefits received from Mary. Some medieval Carmelites interpreted the small cloud seen by Elias as a figure of Mary. This view has been allowed by St. Pius X into his encyclical Ad diem illum.”
The thirteenth and fourteenth centuries witness a charismatic awakening and a steady deepening of Marian devotion that will, in course of time, found the Marian tradition of the Carmelite family.
Surprisingly these 14th century authors and documents make no mention of the Scapular revelation. But 15th. century writers like Arnold Bostius regard the scapular both as title as well as proof of Mary’s protection,
Saint Teresa and Our Lady
Teresa de Ahumada learnt devotion to Mary, at her mother's knee. When her mother died, she commended herself to Mary, who would then be more than a mother to her.
" My mother had taken care to make us pray and had put into us devotion to Our Lady ..... When my mother expired, I went in my distress to an image of Our Lady and begged Her to be a mother to me. Though I did so in my simplicity I believe it was of some avail to me, for whenever I have commended myself to this sovereign Virgin, I have been conscious of her aid and eventually She has brought me Back to Herself."
Our Lady seems to have repaid her devotion by drawing Teresa into Her own Order. Why wonder, when even sinners like the priest Teresa met in Becedas are brought back and saved by O. Lady ?
" ... he began to grieve at his lost condition. ... Our Lady must have been a great help to him for he was devoted to Her Conception and used to keep the day commemorating it as a great festival."
This was when she had to leave the convent and go for treatment to a remote village. A mysterious and painful ailment had come upon her. When the August of that year had come -- so she tells us -- she desired to make her confession, before the feast of the Assumption of O. Lady.
This passing remark is very revealing. The liturgical celebrations honouring the Blessed Virgin were landmarks in her life --- events of which she was well aware.
Teresa considers her cure nothing less than a miracle; and this miracle she attributes to St. Joseph. Her devotion to St. Joseph is so well known that it may well be looked upon as part of our Teresian heritage. But what is important at this juncture is that Teresa cannot separate Our Lady from St. Joseph:
" I do not know how anyone can think of the Queen of the Angels during the time She suffered so much with the Child Jesus, without giving thanks to St. Joseph for the way he helped them."
Dealing with intellectual visions which impart deep certainty to the soul concerning the presence of Jesus, Teresa does not fail to remember and explicitly to recall that Jesus is the " Son of the Virgin.'
Teresa was especially aware of the Marian heritage of the Order, when it came to initiating the Carmelite Reform. She records a vision in which she saw St. Joseph at the entrance of one door of her new foundation, and Mary, at another.
On one occasion, during the Holy Eucharist in a Dominican church, while she was thinking of the sins she had confessed in that place, she was suddenly caught in a rapture so strong that she later doubted whether her obligation of hearing Mass had been fulfilled. She saw herself being clothed in a dazzlingly white robe, by Our Lady on the right and St. Joseph on the left and she was given to understand that her past was no more, since she was cleansed of all her sins.
When at last the first foundation was inaugurated in 1562, Teresa's great joy was to have accomplished what she knew was "... for the service of the Lord, and to the honour of the habit of His Mother ...". Before entering the new cloister, while praying in the church, in rapture, she saw Christ "... placing a crown on my head, and thanking me for what I had done for His Mother." Teresa calls the Innocentian Rule " Rule of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel," and the Carmelite habit as the habit of Our Lady-- a habit of which she is unworthy.
Did Teresa by "habit" mean "scapular" ? There seem to be no indications in any of her major works that she knew about the scapular vision or about Simon Stock. Towards the end of her life, however, in one of her letters to Gratian, we find mention of "small scapulars," precisely at a time when small scapulars were becoming popular, and the scapular devotion was spreading among the laity.
Teresa, however, may have known about the Sabbatine privilege, for she write :
" Another friar of our Order, a truly very good friar, was very ill ; while at Mass I became recollected and saw that he was dead , and that he ascended to heaven without entering purgatory. ... I understood that since he was a friar who had observed his vows well, the Bulls of the Order about not entering purgatory were beneficial to him."
Marian devotion in Carmel, as we have seen, had, as one of its distinctive features, the making of the religious profession also to Mary. It has been left on record by St. Teresa that on 8 September 1575, the birthday of Our Lady -- which gave special joy to Teresa -- she made her profession in the hands of Mary Who appeared to her, and remained visible to her for a good part of the day.
Mary is a model of humility:
" Let us my daughters, imitate the great humility of the Blessed Virgin Mary Whose habit we wear, . However much it seems to us that we humble ourselves. we fall short of being the daughters of such a Mother ...".
Humility, like the queen in the game of chess, is most effective in capturing the king ; and it was through humility that Mary, captured the great King and became His Mother.
Our Lady's intercession is a great help on the way of prayer. Prayer is the charism of Carmel ; and Mary is its great inspiration , Mother and Patroness.:
" Praise Him my daughters, for you truly belong to Our Lady. ... Imitate Her and reflect that the grandeur of Our Lady and the good of having Her for your patroness must be indeed great ... ".
The Carmelite Scapular
Saints Teresa and John of the Cross don’t mention the scapular vision or even Simon Stock in any of their major works. But in their time itself devotion to Mary’s scapular was being spread throughout Europe, first, and then in the missions,
Hundreds of miracles were worked through the scapular by Mary Who Herself saw to it that Her faithful should use this simple method of expressing and exercising their devotion to Her. On the other hand, the scapular was also the channel through which the Mother of Carmel manifested Her protection for Her children.
For the convenience of the faithful, the scapular was adapted and reduced in size.
Arnold Bostius is one of the most important fifteenth century writers to mention the scapular and eulogize its merits. He goes so far as to call it a sacrament. What this acknowledged mariologist means is that the scapular is a sacramental – a sensible object to the proper use of which the Church attaches indulgences and other spiritual effects. Bostius calls it a sign of unity and a bond of charity. He reminds the scapular wearer of his/her commitment to Mary : ‘ to invoke her in necessities, to contemplate her life and virtues, to live in dependence on her.’
Bostius also informs us of the custom of some lay folk who wished to join the confraternity of O. Lady, and secretly wore this garment and armour of our Order during their life-time, and wished to die wearing it.
The practise of giving the small scapular lay people so that they might share the benefits of devotion to Mary and also of the promise of salvation is a new development in the history of scapular devotion in the 14th century.
In the fifteenth century, Audet organized scapular confraternities. And these were recommended repeatedly to the faithful by the popes.
More than four centuries later, Pius XII writes in the same strain : Whoever wears “ the scapular professes to be like the knight of the thirteenth century --- the era to which the scapular traces its origin --- was inspired to bravery and confidence in combat under the eyes of his lady.”
In the beginning of the 16th century, the Carmelite general Nicholas Audet organized the scapular confraternity, the association of this who wear the scapular. Papal decrees frequently recommend the confraternity and encourage the devotion. Many decrees add one word to the traditional promise : “...those who die piously clothed in this ….”
In recent times, though Vatican II has shaken the faith of some in the 'glorious traditions' of the past, and the sense of historical facts, is said to have grown more keen, there have been innumerable and penetrating studies, re-visiting the past glories of Carmel with the aid of the new tools provided by scientific history. One of the most notable outcomes of this new effort has been the massive work of Herculean scholarship that has been used in the preparation of the present paper, namely, Fr. Nilo Geagea's MARIA ; MADRE E DECORO DEL CARMELO, published by the Teresianum, 1988.
Another area of research has been the Marian life of our Carmelite saints --- both of the ancient and the reformed branches. Thus, studies and articles have been published during the last fifty years or so, of the Marian life of St. Mary Magdalene of Pazzi, Michael of St. Augustine, OCarm., Titus Brandsma, John of St. Samson, Teresa of Jesus, John of the Cross, Teresa Margaret Redi, Therese of Lisieux, Raphael Kalinowski, Elizabeth of the Trinity, Edith Stein, Teresa of the Andes, Francis Palau, Card, Rossi, Aurelian of theBlessed Sacrament, and others.
Carmelites through the ages have associated themselves closely with Mary. They have told us repeatedly from the first budding of the garden of Carmel that their very raison d'ętre was the honour and homage of Mary. The title of their Order manifestly proclaimed their Marian character. They were bound to Mary, and Mary was bound to them. The Order was the property of Mary and Mary was the Owner. Consequently, they enjoyed the patronage of Mary. They made their profession to God, also to Mary. Their offenses against God were also offenses against Mary; hence they included the name of Mary in their version of the confiteor even from the fourteenth century. Carmelite churches and oratories often had Mary as their
titular. In a most marvellous way, St. Teresa knowingly or unknowingly maintained the continuity of the Carmel's Marian tradition. The habit of Carmel was Mary's habit. This became especially so after the spread of the scapular devotion -- a devotion that fostered an evangelical instinct in the hearts the faithful. Should Carmelites of all brands faithfully maintain continuity of this Marian tradition during the third millennium ? How ?
Rev. Fr. Paul D'Souza
Institute of Philosophy
R.S. Naidu Nagar, Mysore- 7, Karnataka State, India
Phone 0821-2490638/ 2493949/ 3099005