Sunday, July 16, is the feast day of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. It is an optional feast day that is important to Carmelites. The feast was instituted by Carmelites in the late 14th century to celebrate their victory over the Order's opponents in obtaining the approbation of their name and constitution from Pope Honorius III on January 30, 1226. At one point only a Carmelite feast, the feast was extended to the entire Latin Church by Pope Benedict XIII in 1726. As stated in The Catholic Encyclopedia, "The object of the feast is the special predilection of Mary for those who profess themselves her servants by wearing her scapular."
The date of the feast is based upon the legend that on July 16, 1251, the Blessed Virgin appeared to St. Simon Stock, then general of the order, and gave him the scapular. The legend of St. Simon Stock's vision cannot be documented historically and has not been the subject of an official decision of the Church. Indeed, the Catechism of the Catholic Church does not require a belief in apparitions.
The more essential meaning of the feast is shown in tributes to Mary and to the Scapular found in Pope John Paul II's Letter to the Carmelite Family, dated March 25, 2001, including these excerpts:
"Contemplation of the Virgin presents her to us as a loving Mother who sees her Son growing up in Nazareth (cf. Lk 2: 40, 52), follows him on the roads of Palestine, helps him at the wedding at Cana (cf. Jn 2: 5) and, at the foot of the Cross, becomes the Mother associated with his offering and given to all people when Jesus himself entrusts her to his beloved disciple (cf. Jn 19: 26). As Mother of the Church, the Blessed Virgin is one with the disciples in "constant prayer" (Acts 1: 14); as the new Woman who anticipates in herself what will one day come to pass for us all in the full enjoyment of Trinitarian life, she is taken up into heaven from where she spreads the protective mantle of her mercy over her children on their pilgrimage to the holy mountain of glory. . . .
"The sign of the Scapular points to an effective synthesis of Marian spirituality, which nourishes the devotion of believers and makes them sensitive to the Virgin Mother's loving presence in their lives. The Scapular is essentially a "habit". Those who receive it are associated more or less closely with the Order of Carmel and dedicate themselves to the service of Our Lady for the good of the whole Church (cf. "Formula of Enrolment in the Scapular", in the Rite of Blessing of and Enrolment in the Scapular, approved by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, 5 January 1996). Those who wear the Scapular are thus brought into the land of Carmel, so that they may "eat its fruits and its good things" (cf. Jer 2:7), and experience the loving and motherly presence of Mary in their daily commitment to be clothed in Jesus Christ and to manifest him in their life for the good of the Church and the whole of humanity (cf. "Formula of Enrolment in the Scapular", cit.).
"Therefore two truths are evoked by the sign of the Scapular: on the one hand, the constant protection of the Blessed Virgin, not only on life's journey, but also at the moment of passing into the fullness of eternal glory; on the other, the awareness that devotion to her cannot be limited to prayers and tributes in her honour on certain occasions, but must become a "habit", that is, a permanent orientation of one's own Christian conduct, woven of prayer and interior life, through frequent reception of the sacraments and the concrete practice of the spiritual and corporal works of mercy. In this way the Scapular becomes a sign of the "covenant" and reciprocal communion between Mary and the faithful: indeed, it concretely translates the gift of his Mother, which Jesus gave on the Cross to John and, through him, to all of us, and the entrustment of the beloved Apostle and of us to her, who became our spiritual Mother."
The brown Scapular is also mentioned in the Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy, from the Congregation for Divine Worship, dated December, 2001:
The Brown Scapular and other Scapulars
"205. The history of Marian piety also includes "devotion" to various scapulars, the most common of which is devotion to the Scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. Its use is truly universal and, undoubtedly, its is one of those pious practices which the Council described as "recommended by the Magisterium throughout the centuries".
"The Scapular of Mount Carmel is a reduced form of the religious habit of the Order of the Friars of the Blessed Virgin of Mount Carmel. Its use is very diffuse and often independent of the life and spirituality of the Carmelite family.
"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.
"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, with the assistance of the Blessed Virgin Mary, solicitous for our conformation to the Word Incarnate, to the praise of the Trinity, we may come to our heavenly home wearing our nuptial garb".
"The imposition of the Scapular should be celebrated with "the seriousness of its origins. It should not be improvised. The Scapular should be imposed following a period of preparation during which the faithful are made aware of the nature and ends of the association they are about to join and of the obligations they assume."
Artwork: The picture is made from 4 images of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, starting from top left:
(1) From the web page of the Carmelites British Province - Lay Carmel
(2) From the website of the Carmelite Friars of Morley Priory, Perth, Australia, Photo by Fr. Greg Burke, OCD;
(3) From a website of Franciscan cards by Sister Patricia Proctor
(4) From the website of the Catholic Community Forum