Mary’s loving presence is known throughout Christian history. She has many titles that we cherish. On July 16th we celebrate her as Our Lady of Mount Carmel.
In the thirteenth century, a small band of lay hermits settled on Mount Carmel in Israel. They were former pilgrims, merchants, penitents and soldiers who wanted to live a simple, quiet life centered on the gospels and consecrated to Christ. They built a chapel to honor his mother, Mary, and took her for their patroness. They become known as the Brothers of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mount Carmel. Around 1209 a rule was written for them by their bishop Albert, Patriarch of Jerusalem, which put together the elements of the life they were living. Thus, the Carmelites became the first order dedicated to Mary in the Catholic Church.
In 1251 Mary appeared to Saint Simon Stock, the prior general of the Carmelite Order and gave him the brown scapular. This became an important part of the Carmelite habit and symbolized a special devotion to Mary. When Teresa of Avila fashioned a new form of life in Carmel, she placed a statue of Mary above the prioresss stall in the choir in order to remind her sisters who the real prioress of the house was. The choir is the place where the sisters gather several times a day for prayer. Teresa tells us, Imitate Mary and consider how great she must be and what a good thing it is that we have her for our patroness.
The first Carmelites called Mary the lady of the place because their chapel, which bore her name, was at the center of their scattered hermitages. Although lady of the house is a familiar phrase, lady of the home has an intimacy that is characteristic of Mary. Following the example of Teresas placement of Mary’s statue, it would be of great benefit if we had a statue of Mary in a prayer corner of our home. As the choir is a place for prayer in the cloister, so can our little shrine be a place of prayer, peace and reflection in our homes. The children in our home could be responsible for keeping the shrine tidy and decorating it with flowers on special days. Mary’s corner would be a place of refuge for them as well as a place for family prayers. Mary’s quiet corner would be a symbol of holiness in the home, which is often called the domestic church.
A smaller version of the brown scapular is worn by lay people. This beloved sacramental reminds us to imitate Mary wherever we are and to always keep her Son at the center of whatever we do. We remember Mary’s faith, which guides us through our ordinary days and shines like a beacon in our dark nights. She lights the path for us as we follow her Son Jesus. Mary helps us to do the right thing. The scapular is a reminder that Mary’s life shows us that the authentic meaning of love bears all things, forgives, sacrifices, believes, hopes and endures through thick and thin. The brown scapular is a time honored sign of Mary’s love, and assurance of her care, for all her children wherever they may be.
A pocket size booklet entitled Our Gift from Mary, written by this author, contains short lessons from the life of Mary; the origin and use of the brown scapular, and a collection of time honored prayers that we hold dear. The booklet and/or brown scapular is available from The Lourdes Center, 698
Beacon Street, P.O. Box 15575, Boston, MA 02215-2594 (617) 536-2761, http://www.lourdescenter.org. The best way to order is by mail and prepaid check. A booklet is $3.00, scapular $3.00, booklet and scapular together $5.00.