By l'Abbé Bérenger Saunière, priest of Rennes-le-Château 1885-1909
l. What is Mount Carmel? Mount Carmel, or simply Carmel, is one of the most famous mountains in Palestine. It formerly belonged to the tribe of Zabulon. Its northern extremity reaches the shores of the Mediterranean, and dominates the huge bay of St John of Acre by means of a promontory 300 metres in height. On the crest of this promontory there rises a sight well-known to the distant eyes of the tired traveller or the navigator in peril: the Monastery and Church of Our Lady of Mount Carmel.
2. Possession of Mount Carmel by the Blessed Virgin. In the reign of Achab, who was an impious, wicked and cruel king, there were in Israel 450 false prophets of Baal. These perverse men, enemies of the Faith, had seduced the Israelites and their leader to the point of making them unfaithful and inclined to revolt against their true God. To punish them for their impiety, for three and a half years - at the command of the prophet Elijah - the heavens remained closed and the ground beneath was devoid of rain and dew, and a great famine devastated the country. Achab, desperate at the sight of such a plague, sought out Elijah in order to have him put to death. On God's orders the prophet presented himself to the king. Achab, upon seeing him, said to him: "So here you are, you who are troubling Israel." - "It isn't me who is troubling Israel", answered Elijah, "it is you yourselves who are attracting the anger of God because you abandoned the Lord in order to worship Baal. Have your people assemble on the Mount of Carmel. Have the prophets of Baal gather there and we shall see which is the true God who should be worshipped . For how much longer will you be divided between the Lord and Baal? I alone have remained a prophet of the Lord, while the prophets of Baal number 450. Give us two victims: have them choose one and tie her to a stake; I will then do the same; you will then call upon your gods, and I will call upon the Lord. We will recognize the true God as the one that answers the prayer by sending down from the heavens a fire that consumes the victim." This proposal was agreed to, and the prophets of Baal then began the preliminaries. Having prepared their sacrifice they called upon Baal from morning until midday, waiting fruitlessly for more than six hours but the fire did not come down from the heavens. - Elijah then prepared his victim and, in the hour of sacrifice, addressed this prayer to the Lord: "Oh Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, show today that you are God of Israel, the only true God, the all-powerful. Give a sign that I am your servant and that it is by your orders that I make all these things happen. Lord, answer my prayer." At that moment the fires of heaven fell and devoured the victim, the wood, the stones, and even the dust and the water which was in the ditch at the foot of the altar.
Seeing this wonder, everyone bowed down and said: "Here is the true Lord, the true God". "Take therefore", said Elijah, "take all the prophets of Baal who have misled you and make sure that not one of them escapes." So they seized them and massacred them until the very last one, because the law ordered them to put to death any prophet who sought to persuade the Jews to worship false gods
After the death of the false prophets Elijah called out to King Achab: "Go and eat and drink because I hear the sound of heavy rain." So Achab went to eat and drink. During this time the prophet went up onto the summit of Mount Carmel, prostrated himself before the Lord and, having prayed,, said to his servant: "Rise and look towards the sea." So the servant rose and, having contemplated the quiet vastness of the floods, returned and said to the prophet: "I do not see anything". "Then return there as many as seven times", Elijah told him, and on the seventh occasion he saw a small cloud like the foot-print of a man which was rising from the sea. "Go and prepare your chariot", said Elijah to Achab: "and hurry down so that the rain does not catch you by surprise." While Achab, astonished, looked around him, the sky suddenly darkened, the clouds gathered, the wind rose with violence and heavy rains fell.
The Office for Our Lady of Mount Carmel says that the small cloud that rose from the sea was the sign or symbol of the Blessed Virgin.
For just as the cloud defied the laws of gravity by rising from the sea and did not retain any of the bitterness of the water in doing so, in the same way Mary arose from out of a human race that had become heavy and corrupted by sin without Her being stained by it in any way.
After the wonders that had just occurred, Elijah - by divine inspiration - chose a disciple and a successor in the person of Eliezer. Several faithful Israelites joined them. Together with them Elijah founded the prophetic order within which to train men of zeal to fight against Baal, its false priests and its false prophets. He dedicated this order to the Blessed Virgin and chose Mary as its patroness and as a role-model for himself and his disciples.
After the death of Elijah and Eliezer the school of the prophet of Mount Carmel continued to practice, in the many caves that it used as dwellings and oratories, the three vows of chastity, poverty and obedience right down to the time of Our Lord Jesus Christ.
3. Carmel at the time of the Apostles. Nazareth, where Mary spent a large part of her life, is close to Carmel. Tradition reports that, upon their return from Egypt, the Holy Family remained for a few days in the cave of the school of the prophets, and that subsequently Mary herself often liked to return to the Holy Mountain to converse with the hermits and to instruct them in the mysteries of the faith and the rules of perfection.
A great many of the children of Elijah heard the preaching of John the Baptist and accepted baptism from him. They were present as a crowd in Jerusalem on the Whit Sunday when the Apostles spoke the various tongues and started to perform miracles in the name of Jesus. They accepted the Gospel, regarded the Blessed Virgin with a very special affection and joined with the apostles to preach the Gospel in Judea and Samaria.
After the dispersion of the Apostles they raised on the slopes of Mount Carmel, at the very place from which Elijah saw the small cloud rising from the sea, a chapel in honour of the Virgin which was, undoubtedly, the first temple dedicated to Mary. They met there each day to sing the praises of the Mother of God. The faithful came to join them and subsequently began to give them the name of Brothers of the Blessed Virgin, a glorious title which has been retained in the order and consecrated by the Popes. Pope Urban VI even granted indulgences of 3 years and three "quarantaines" [periods of forty days] to those who gave the name of "Carmelite" to the "Brothers of the Blessed Mother of God, Mary of Mount Carmel." Another, larger church was built on this mountain. The monks based their lives on the imitation of Mary. Many even think that they wore the same clothing as She did: a brown robe and a white surplice.
4. Carmel in the West. The Carmelite friars were therefore the first in the world to practise the religious life. Associated with the disciples of Elijah were the monks founded by St Mark the Evangelist and those of St Denis, as well as the Desert Fathers of the Thebaid. The Carmelite friars suffered much under pagan persecutions and, in the time of the conquest of the Holy Land by the Moslems, their martyrdoms were numerous: indeed, for a time they were even obliged to refrain from wearing their distinctive dress. The order flourished once more at the time of the Crusades and the Blessed Virgin, through the mediation of St Simon Stock, the Vicar-General of the order in the West, granted the order a first favour.
1st favour. The institution of the Order of Carmel in the Occident and approval of their rule. "It is the will of my Son and my wish also", said the Queen of Heaven to St Cyril, the general of the order, that the Religion of Carmel not only be a light unto Syria and Palestine but that it lights up the whole world." According to these words the Blessed Virgin wanted the order to be spread not only in the East but in all the West as well. The order founded houses in Cyprus, in Sicily, in Germany, in England. St Louis, saved from shipwreck by Our Lady of Mount Carmel, ordered to be built, in recognition thereof, a convent in Paris which was the seedbed of many others.
As the order was an innovation there were many conflicts and difficulties. The Fourth Lateran Council, held by Pope Innocent III in 1215, had banned the establishment of any new religious order without the approval of the Pope. St Simon Stock therefore resorted for that purpose to the authority of Pope Honorius III, Innocent's successor. Honorius appointed two judges to look into the affair, whom he wrongly believed to be biased towards the order. In fact, these two men thought only of multiplying the various difficulties. The resulting delays lasted 10 years. The Carmelite friars begged Mary to take their cause in hand. One night the Blessed Virgin appeared to Honorius during his sleep and ordered him to treat the Carmelite friars with kindness and to approve their rule and their establishment. And she added in a commanding voice: "What I order will brook neither contradiction nor delay. And should you tarry in acting upon my words, know that this very night your two judges will be struck by the vengeance of God and will die suddenly at the same time." This is what subsequently happened. Pope Honorius therefore called the Carmelite friars to him, embraced them with kindness, etc confirmed the rule and approved their establishment.
When this distinguishing feature of the protection of the Blessed Virgin became known to all the children of Carmel they went forth performing acts of thanksgiving. To perpetuate the memory of it St Simon Stock sought and obtained permission from Pope Honorius to establish a festival under the name of the Solemn Commemoration of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, which was fixed as the 16 July. What we have just described is mentioned in the Office that is celebrated on that date.
2nd favour. The Scapular. The Blessed Virgin granted to the work of the Carmelite friars another signal favour that was more precious still, because it was not just for the benefit of the monks but was capable of being extended to all the faithful without distinction.
During the 13th century Simon Stock, of whom we have already spoken, had displayed an extraordinary devotion to the Blessed Virgin. He endeavoured to inspire the same feeling among his monks. Towards the end of his life he entreated Mary to grant to his order a sign of Her protection. One day when he was repeating his prayer and supplication, Heaven opened and, in the middle of a multitude of Angels, the Blessed Virgin was presented to his gaze, holding in Her hands the Scapular, which She presented to him, saying: "Receive this scapular as a distinctive sign of my protection of your order. Anyone who dies covered in this scapular will be preserved from eternal hell-fire. It is a sign of salvation and a safeguard amid danger." Before adorning themselves with this form of dress the monks of Carmel wanted to have the approval of the Sovereign Pontiff John XXII. The Blessed Virgin appeared before him to demand from him confirmation of the order of Carmelite friars and said: "If among the monks or oblates who die during the present century there are any whose sins would have deserved entry to Purgatory, I will descend as their tender Mother in the midst of them on the Saturday after their death and deliver those that I find there."
Pope John XXII consecrated and approved the virtue and privileges of Mount Carmel, and 22 Popes have subsequently enriched it with indulgences and have recommended it to the faithful. Finally Benedict XIV declared that he believed in the truth of this vision and that all must believe in it.
The Scapular thus procures three privileges for us:
1° the help of the Blessed Virgin during life, to enable us to make penitence and die in the grace of God. To achieve that it is necessary to assiduously wear the small habit until your last breath; to defend the honour of the Blessed Virgin when occasion demands; and to pray to show our love for Her.
2° several invaluable indulgences. Follow the prescriptions in order to obtain them.
3° the assistance of the Blessed Virgin in being promptly delivered from the flames of Purgatory: for that purpose it is necessary to preserve inviolate the purity appropriate to one's status and to perform the practices prescribed by John XXII.