Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel – 16 July
Since the 15th century, popular devotion to Our Lady of Mount Carmel has centered on the Scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, also known as the Brown Scapular, a sacramental associated with promises of Mary’s special aid for the salvation of the devoted wearer. Traditionally, Mary is said to have given the Scapular to an early Carmelite named Saint Simon Stock. The liturgical feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel is celebrated on 16 July.
The solemn liturgical feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel was probably first celebrated in England in the later part of the 14th century. Its object was thanksgiving to Mary, the patroness of the Carmelite Order, for the benefits she had accorded to it through its difficult early years. The institution of the feast may have come in the wake of the vindication of their title “Brothers of the Blessed Virgin Mary” at Cambridge, England in 1374. The date chosen was 17 July; on the European mainland this date conflicted with the feast of St. Alexis, requiring a shift to 16 July, which remains the Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel throughout the Catholic Church. The Latin poem “Flos Carmeli” (meaning “Flower of Carmel”) first appears as the sequence for this Mass.
The Carmelite Order was the only religious order to be started in the Crusader States. In the 13th century, some of its people migrated west to England, setting up a chapter and being documented there about 1241-1242. A tradition first attested to in the late 14th century says that Saint Simon Stock, believed to be an early English prior general of the Carmelite Order soon after its migration to England, had a vision of the Blessed Virgin Mary in which she gave him the Brown Scapular. This formed part of the Carmelite habit after 1287. In Stock’s vision, Mary promised that those who died wearing the scapular would be saved.
The Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel is known to many Catholic faithful as the “scapular feast,” associated with the Brown Scapular of the Carmelite order. This is a devotional sacramental signifying the wearer’s consecration to Mary and affiliation with the Carmelite order.
Based on available historical documentation, the liturgical feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel did not originally have a specific association with the Brown Scapular or the tradition of Stock’s vision of the Blessed Virgin Mary . This tradition grew gradually, as did the liturgical cult of St. Simon. The latter has been documented in Bordeaux, where Stock died, from the year 1435; in Ireland and England, from 1458; and in the rest of the Order, from 1564. Historians have long questioned whether Stock had the vision of Mary and the scapular. Although Simon Stock was never officially canonised, his feast day was celebrated in the church.
Also associated with Our Lady of Carmel was a papal bull saying that there was a Sabbatine privilege associated with devotion to the saint; that is, that until the late 1970s, the Catholic liturgy for that day expressed the scapular devotion. Vatican II resulted in scrutiny of the Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, as well as that of Saint Simon Stock, because of the historical uncertainties about the origins. The liturgies were revised and, in the 21st century, neither, even in the Carmelite proper, makes reference to the scapular. The Carmelite convent of Aylesford, England, was restored and a relic of Saint Simon Stock was placed there in 1951. The saint’s feast is celebrated in the places dedicated to him.
Church teaching: A 1996 doctrinal statement approved by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments states that
“Devotion to Our Lady of Mount Carmel is bound to the history and spiritual values of the Order of the Brothers of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mount Carmel and is expressed through the scapular. Thus, whoever receives the scapular becomes a member of the order and pledges him/herself to live according to its spirituality in accordance with the characteristics of his/her state in life.”
According to the Church on the Brown Scapular: “The scapular is a Marian habit or garment. It is both a sign and pledge. A sign of belonging to Mary; a pledge of her motherly protection, not only in this life but after death. As a sign, it is a conventional sign signifying three elements strictly joined: first, belonging to a religious family particularly devoted to Mary, especially dear to Mary, the Carmelite Order; second, consecration to Mary, devotion to and trust in her Immaculate Heart; third, an urge to become like Mary by imitating her virtues, above all her humility, chastity, and spirit of prayer.”
Association with Purgatory: Since the Middle Ages, Our Lady of Mount Carmel has been related to Purgatory, where souls are purged of sins in the fires. In some images, she is portrayed as accompanied with angels and souls wearing Brown Scapulars, who plead for her mediation. In 1613, the Church forbade images to be made of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel descending into purgatory, due to errors being preached about certain privileges associated with the Brown Scapular (known as “the Sabbatine Privilege”).
That privilege appears in the noted Decree of the Holy Office (1613). It was inserted in its entirety (except for the words forbidding the painting of the pictures) into the list of the indulgences and privileges of the Confraternity of the Scapular of Mount Carmel. In the 21st century, the Carmelites do not promote the Sabbatine Privilege. They encourage a belief in Mary’s general aid and prayerful assistance for their souls beyond death, especially her aid to those who devoutly wear the Brown Scapular and commend devotion to Mary especially on Saturdays, which are dedicated to her.
Miracles: In Palmi, Italy, the anniversary of the earthquake of 1894 is observed annually on 16 November. The earthquake had its epicenter in the city. An associated event has been classified as the “miracle of Our Lady of Mount Carmel.” For 17 days preceding this earthquake, many of the faithful had reported strange eye movements and changes in the colouring of the face in a statue of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. The local and national press reported these occurrences.
In the evening of 16 November, the faithful improvised a procession carrying the statue of the Virgin of Carmel on their shoulders through the streets. When the procession reached the end of the city, a violent earthquake shook the whole district of Palmi, ruining most of the old houses along the way. But, only nine people died out of a population of about 15,000 inhabitants, as almost all of the population had been on the street to watch the procession and were not trapped inside the destroyed buildings. Therefore, the city commemorates the 1894 procession each year, accompanied by firecrackers, lights, and festive stalls.
The Catholic Church has officially recognised the miracle. On November 16, 1896 the statue of the Virgin was crowned, based on the decree issued September 22, 1895 by the Vatican Chapter.
Use in the peace movement: The first atomic bomb was exploded in the United States at the Trinity test site on 16 July 1945, near Alamogordo, New Mexico. The Catholic anti-war movement has built on the coincidence between this date and the Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. In 1990, the Rev. Emmanuel Charles McCarthy, a priest of the Eastern Rite (Byzantine-Melkite) of the Catholic Church, initiated the “16 July Twenty-Four Hours Day of Prayer,” for Forgiveness and Protection with Our Lady of Mount Carmel, at Trinity Site in the New Mexico desert. Each year on 16 July, a prayer vigil is conducted at the Trinity site to pray for peace and the elimination of nuclear weapons.