Today is the feast of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel. We extend a special feast day greeting to any Carmelites. May you faithfully live out your calling as Our Lady of Mt. Carmel has led and taught you.
Mount Carmel is located in the Holy Land; and it is the origin where the Carmelites Order began. At the northern edge of Mount Carmel stands the largest monastery of the Carmelites Order and the center of its activities. When one goes inside the monastery’s church on Mt. Carmel, one can find Elijah’s cave; it is thought that Elijah rested in this cave before going out to do battle with the prophets Ba’al. Recently this week, we’ve read the account of the battle in the Office of Reading where Elijah taunted the false prophets when their god weren’t answering them. Jewish tradition also associate this cave with Elijah’s disciple, Elisha the prophet. He also lived on the Carmel after Elijah was taken up. And some believe that Elisha is buried in the cave. Since the 4th century, this place has been a place of pilgrimage for many people.
The monastery in Carmel overlooks the sea which is fittingly named Stella Maris which means Star of the Sea which is also one of Our Lady’s titles. This Marian title (Our Lady of Mt. Carmel) also recalls that it was on Mount Carmel that Elijah prayed seven times for rain in order to avert a long drought. God answered his prayer. And afterward, the sight of a little cloud came rising from the sea. This little cloud of rain is seen as a symbol of Mary who brings us the saving water of Christ’s salvation.
Today’s feast also commemorates the anniversary when Our Lady gave the brown scapular to Saint Simon Stock in 1251. The scapular is not a superstitious item for one to wear; and it should not be worn superstitiously either. The scapular is one of the Church’s many sacramentals; sacramental, as we know, is a blessed object to help those who wear it to be properly dispose to receive God’s grace. It’s not an automatic deal but it relies on the faith of the one who wears it.
The Church teaches that “The scapular is an external sign of the filial relationship established between the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother and Queen of Mount Carmel, and the faithful who entrust themselves totally to her protection, who have recourse to her maternal intercession, who are mindful of the primacy of the spiritual life and the need for prayer” (Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy #205).
I, myself, have been wearing a scapular since God knows when. St. John Paul II wore his scapular as the Pope; and he had worn it since he was a little boy in Poland. We wear it because of our relationship with Our Blessed Mother; we wear it because we have recourse to her maternal intercession.
And why do we, as Catholics, ask Mary to pray for us, rather than praying directly to God? The answer is that Mary the Immaculate Mother of God is the most exalted creature who ever lived. St. James said that “The prayer of a righteous man has great power in its effects” (James 5:16). And he said that before he gave the example of the holy man, the prophet Elijah who lived on Mount Carmel. Mary was without sin even while on the earth, so it is perfectly biblical and natural (and wise) to ask for her intercession, because it has more power than our own does. Her prayers would have the greatest power and efficacy, and not only because of her sinlessness but because of her status as the Theotokos (Mother of God) and Spiritual Mother, for which God appointed her for us, her children.
When we ask Mary to “help” us, we mean by her power of intercession. She cannot grant us things in and of herself, but only by virtue of the graces given to her by God. She is God’s instrument or agent, just as any creature is, but – instrument or agent in her exalted position as the Mother of God; she is the best possible creature we can ask to pray for us. We can certainly pray to God directly anytime we like. But we can also ask a holy person to pray for us as well, because their prayers have more power and effect as St. James said in his letter; and no creatures can outdo the holiness of Mary to whom God granted her the fullness of grace.
And as the prayer over the offerings said: “through the intercession of Blessed Mary, the Mother of your Son, no petition may go unanswered, no request be made in vain.”
– Fr. Miguel Marie, MFVA