These reflections are meant to prepare us to receive the Grace of the Solemn day: “Our Lady of Mount Carmel”, 16th July. [Note: This Festival is the Patronal Feast of the School of Mary]
To start with we can recognise that the more we progress spiritually, the more God will lead us to plumb greater depths, sometimes to greater clarity of understanding. Over many years, annually we have come back to this Feast of Our Lady, and we meditate on its meaning. Each time we open up extra space in ourselves where the mystery of this Feast can unfold, for this mystery of our Lady to illuminate us. Each year God helps us discover a new aspect about her, a light or a “colour” so to speak, that is added to the previous ones already treasured in our hearts.
The liturgy of this Festival also reminds us of the important aspects of the mystery we celebrate. The Celebrant is given two Prefaces to choose from which contain extremely rich and dense meanings for us. They offer us almost a full programme for our spiritual life under the Patronage of our Lady, wherein we wear her habit or the scapular, or just simply desire to deepen our relationship with her.
A striking fact should be remembered: the universal Church has been directly inspired by these two Prefaces and has created a devotional votive Mass where Mary is addressed as: “Mother and Teacher in the Spirit” (see text below). This shows clearly that not only the Festival of Our Lady of Mount Carmel is part of the universal liturgical calendar, but that its meaning also should be deepened throughout the liturgical year.
The second Preface of the solemnity as it appears in the Missal of the Carmelite Order reads as follows:
“She shares with Christ his work of salvation, and with his Church she brings forth sons and daughters whom she calls to walk the path of perfect love. She claims us also as her beloved children, clothed in the habit of her Order, shields us along our way to holiness, and in her likeness sets us before the world, so that our hearts, like hers, may ever contemplate your Word, love our brethren, and draw them to her Son.” (Preface II)
If we follow a literal translation from the original text in Latin, we should have:
“… clothed in the habit of her Order we are protected, we are her [living] image in the world, with her own spirit [spiritu] contemplating incessantly your Word, with her own heart [corde] loving our brothers, drawing them to Christ, giving our life for them.”
You might note that amongst the many differences between the translation and the original text there is an important element that is omitted: the fact that we contemplate the Word of God, the eternal Son of God using her spirit. We are not using our capacity, but hers! The same element is lacking also regarding the love of our brothers and sisters: it is not accomplished with our heart, not even in imitation of her (“like her”), but rather using her own heart in order to love with her modality, capacity and purity. We may very easily add, in the spirit of these changes, that we are also given to love God with her own heart. There is a huge difference between the two texts. A new horizon opens up for us, a new spirituality emerges, and a deeper meaning of the Scapular and the Festival unfolds.
The Prefaces created after the Liturgical reformation of Vatican II are the reflection of a new deepening in the understanding of the meaning of the Feast. We can better see that wearing her habit, or the Scapular, offer not only protection, but is a call to be the living image of Our Lady on earth, an extension of Her being and life here on earth. And in order to achieve this, both her spirit and her heart are given to us to use. In other simpler but nonetheless deeper words, we can say that her eyes and her heart are given to us for our very own use. Her capacity to contemplate and love Jesus, her capacity to love her children, our brothers and sisters, this very same capacity is given to us.
We are called to become aware that what matters in spiritual life – and this Festival is about deep spiritual life – is not just to contemplate God, love Him and our brothers and give our life to them, but what matters also is to check the means we are employing to do so.
As St. John of the Cross says, only the Holy Spirit acted upon and moved Mary. Her purity was a total docility to the action of the Holy Spirit in her. This same purity of hers, this same modality of contemplating and loving is given to us. In other words, her Faith is communicated to us, the way she believes is given to us, as is her way of loving. As St. Therese says: the virtues of the mother belong to the children. The same reflections are made by Pope Paul VI.
We need to make sure, then, that not only the goal of our life be Divine (i.e. God-centred), but that the way we contemplate and love Him and our brothers is also divine. Our weak ways of believing and loving are called to be transformed into Mary’s ones. The New Wine of the Holy Spirit needs new skins. The new Spirit needs the change of our hearts of stone into hearts of flesh.
These insights, if taken seriously, are simply amazing: the discovery that the gift of the Scapular has a deeper meaning than what we first thought, that this Feast exceeds all we expected of it, the discovery of what the Gift of God really is to each one of us, is simply something really astounding. It is also a perfect match with the teaching of Maria Petyt OCDS (1623-1677) “Mariform Life”.
Moreover, in Chapter 13 of Matthew’s Gospel we find this same teaching. The Lord analyses in the main key parable, i.e. the Parable of the Sower, not the Seed, the Gift of God, but the way we receive it and use it, namely, the Soil. He analyses in fact how we contemplate, how we love. He shows us three ways we might be using in order to contemplate and love, i.e. the first three soils. He shows us that they cannot really bear fruits. Indirectly, He points to “The Good soil”, the fourth soil, the only soil that bears fruits, often seen as being Mary by the Liturgy and the Fathers of the Church. In fact, He offers us Mary, the Good soil, allowing us not only to receive the Divine Seed – Jesus, his words – but also to receive the capacity to receive Him and put his words into practice.
The Festival of Our Lady of Mount Carmel is all about Spiritual Life, about Mary, about what a true Teacher of Spiritual Life wants for us, namely, to reach the top of the Mountain which is Union with Jesus. One can say of the Faith that St. John of the Cross sang about and explained (see “Ascent” Book II), of the little path in the middle that leads to the top of the Mountain (see drawing of the Mountain and “Ascent” Book I,13), that it is simply Mary, Mary’s Faith that is given to us. On top of the Mountain, Mary is totally united to her Son, and this is what we are called to realise, in Her. She becomes our Home, our dwelling place, her eyes and her heart are ours. We are more than “at home” with Her, we are then transformed in Her.
Questions for Reflection
1- Can I really progress in the Spiritual Life on my own, or do I believe that God wants me to check on the way I am dealing with Him?
2- Am I aware that the Gospel and the Scapular encompass the same deep meaning and reality?
3- How do I ensure that Mary’s eyes and heart are given to me? That I become the living embodiment of Mary’s spirit in the world?
4- How do I put into practice this amazing gift of loving her way and with her very heart, when I pray and in my daily dealings with my brethren?
5- Do I feel called to be transformed in Mary, to become her living image on earth?
“The Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother and Teacher in the Spirit”
“The Carmelite brothers and sisters, both those of the ancient observance and those of the reform of St. Teresa of Jesus (d. 1582), have at all times been zealous in spreading far and wide the love of prayer, the desire for evangelical perfection, and devotion to the Mother of Christ.
Their special devotion is to the Blessed Virgin under the title of “Our Lady of Mount Carmel”: as they make their journey to the “holy mountain, which is Christ” (OP), she cherishes them as a loving mother, protects them as a sure patroness, and accompanies them as a faithful sister. The Carmelites, though they are assiduous in meditating on the totality of the mystery of the Blessed Virgin Mary, are particularly devoted to contemplation of Our Lady intent on prayer, or leading her hidden life, or treasuring the words of the Lord in her heart or doing her works of charity.
Our Lady has always been known by the Carmelite brothers and sisters as “mother and teacher in the Spirit” because she was a perfect disciple of Christ and “is still a mother, continuing to give [God] children…. encouraging them by her love and drawing them by her example to pursue perfect charity” (Pref).
In this formulary our Lady is celebrated as:
– a teacher, who keeps the words of the Lord in her heart (cf. All, Com Ant, Luke 2:19,51), who “instructs by her example” (PO), teaching “fear of the Lord” (Ent Ant, cf. Psalm 34:12); who, since she is “the model of all who live by the spirit of the Gospel” (Pref), teaches us to love God “with her heart and above all thinks”, to “contemplate with her spirit his Word” and dedicate ourselves “with her same heart” to serve our brothers (Pref);
– a mother, who gently invites us to “go up to the mountain of the Lord” (Ent Ant; cf. Isaiah 2:3), which is Christ himself (cf. Col); a mother through whom Wisdom says: “whoever finds me, finds life” (Proverbs 8:35; cf. 1 Read, Proverbs 8:17-21, 34-35); a mother, who accepted us as her children at the foot of the Cross (cf. Gos, John 19:25-27), who “watches over [us] by her patronage” (PO) and keeps us “fortified by her protection” (Col).
With some changes, this Mass is taken from the Proprium missarum Fratrum Discalceatorum Ordinis b.mae Maria Virginis de Monte Carmelo, Curia Generalis OCD, Rome, 1973, pp. 51-52, 90.”
– “May the soul of Mary be in me to magnify the Lord. May the spirit of Mary be in me to rejoice in my Saviour.” (Saint Ambrose)
– “I love you Jesus with Mary’s Heart.”
 The Preface is the prayer in the Mass the Priest says between the “Lift up your hearts” and the “Holy Holy Holy”. For the text of this liturgy please click here.
 “Nos Ordinis sibi dicati veste protegit, ut, eius imaginem in mundo referentes, suo ipsius spiritu Verbum tuum iugiter contemplemur, suo ipsius corde fratres diligamus, eosdemque ad Christum, vitam impendendo, trahamus.” (Proprium Missarum fratrum discalceatorum ordinis B.Mae Maria Virginis de Monte Carmelo, Romae, 1973, p. 90.)
 See Jesus Castellano OCD, « Maria Madre e Maestra di vita spirituale », in A.A., “La Vergine Maria dal rinascimento a oggi”, Centro di Cultura Marina, atti del convegno Mariano, n° 19, 1998. See also : O’Donnell, O.Carm, “Loving Presence: Mary and Carmel, A Study of the Marian Heritage of the Order”, http://www.ocarm.pcn.net/carmspir/csdeng06.htm.
 “Ascent of Mount Carmel” Book II,9-11.
 In her last poem, addressed to Our Lady, Thérèse says: “The treasures of a mother belong to her child, And I am your child, O my dearest Mother. Aren’t your virtues and your love mine too?” (PN 54,5)
 Each aspect of Mary’s mission “is directed towards the same end, namely producing in the children the spiritual characteristics of the Firstborn Son… The virtues of the Mother will also adorn her children who steadfastly study her example in order to reflect it in their own lives and this progress in virtue will appear as the consequence and the abiding mature fruit of that pastoral zeal which springs from devotion to the Blessed Virgin.” (Paul VI, “Marialis Cultus”, n°57)
 Mary as a teacher : “a theme that is both modern and Carmelite is that of Mary as Teacher.”We find it in Paul VI [“Eccleisam Suam”], but it is also strongly in Bostius: “Mary is the most illuminated prophet and most wise teacher of God’s way” [“De Patronatu 11:2 – SpecC 2:418, n°1662].” (O’Donnell, O.Carm, ibid. and notes 313 and 314)
 With improved translation, the text is taken from: “Excerpts from the introductory commentary to the Mass, “Collection of Masses of the Blessed Virgin Mary””, Volume 1, Sacramentary, Catholic Book Publishing Co., 2012, p. 222.
– Article: Our Lady of Mount Carmel and the School of Mary.