Our Lady of Mount Carmel is usually the patron feast of the Carmelites orders (Old observance and the Reformed). She is also the Patroness of all the persons who wear the brown Scapular. But at the same time, this feast is inscribed in the Universal Liturgical Calendar, so it is not a “private” feast for a particular religious order or a particular devotion. Mary seen as “Our Lady of Mount Carmel” is a side of Mary that belongs to the entire Church. Let us remember for instance that the last apparition of Our Lady of Lourdes was on the 16th July, the Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel.
What is the meaning of Mary being “Our Lady of Mount Carmel” and what is the impact of this feast on the entire Church?
Let us see the Collect (first prayer in the Mass that the Priest says) of that day: “May the venerable intercession of the glorious Virgin Mary come to our aid, we pray, O Lord, so that, fortified by her protection, we may reach the mountain which is Christ. Who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.”
First and foremost we see that the Mountain – in “Mount Carmel” – symbolizes Christ himself. But this is not enough. Christ is presented in two forms in this prayer: as a goal and as a means. As a goal, the prayer says: “we may reach the (top of the) Mountain”. As a means, we know that Jesus is the way (“I am the way…”). So the central concept of that prayer is the ascent to reach the fullness of Christ… We climb until we reach the measure of Christ’s height, as St Paul puts it in one of his letters (see Ephesians 4:13).
This central concept is the core of spiritual life: growth, transformation, sanctification (divinisation) until we reach union with Jesus, and fullness of Charity. As we see, the main concern of this feast is not Mary, but spiritual growth, allowing Christ to grow in us, and us in him, until we reach the fullness of the height of his love.
The prayer uses a very common expression to describe the role of Mary in the ascent: “the aid of the venerable intercession of the glorious Virgin Mary”.
The key point is that Mary first and foremost is “the glorious Virgin Mary”, she is the one who is dwelling at the height of Jesus Christ, united to him. She reached the fullness, she knows Him and loves him in the most perfect way (see Catechism: 148-149, 165, 273, 411, 466-469, 484-506-511, 529, 721-726, 773, 829, 963-967-975, 1014, 1172, 2617-2619, 2673-2676, 2679, 2682.).
But not only that, she also leads us, “shows us the Way” as Tradition says: Mary is Hodigitria (the one who shows the way, i.e. Jesus)) (see Catechism 2674). This is an amazing function: to lead somebody, in a pure, secure, direct and easy way, to the end of the journey (union with Jesus).
Mary, Mother of God, Hodigitria
– Not only that, but Mary offers her Scapular, which is her clothing, her habit. This act is in fact a very deep one: she offers us her eyes and her heart, so we can contemplate Jesus with her eyes, and love Jesus and our brothers (Jesus’ body) with her heart (see the Preface of the Mass of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in the Carmelite Missal).
These few points show us in a very summarised way the fundamental elements of a true Christian spiritual life: defining the proper goal of spiritual life, and offering the most efficient way of reaching that Goal: Mary, gift of Jesus.
Let us remember – and this is the Gospel reading of the Feast in the Carmelite Lectionary – that this Feast acknowledges in a very powerful and clear way that Mary comes from Jesus and is his gift to us: see John 19 when Jesus on the Cross entrusts Mary to John as his spiritual mother and entrusts John to Mary as her son.
There is a less known devotional Mass to our Lady under the title of “Mother and Mistress of Spiritual Life”: see “The collection of Masses of the Blessed Virgin Mary”, Ordinary time: “The Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother and Teacher in the Spirit”.
Our Lady, it may be said therefore, has wanted a School, The School of Mary, for the spiritual good of the Church, which would dedicate itself to teaching the Spiritual Life.. The School bears the same goals explained above: reminding all Christians that the goal of our Christian life is to reach Union with Christ (the top of the Mountain) and the fullness of His Love (coming down like Jesus to give our life to our brothers). The School of Mary is lead by Our Lady, “Teacher in the Spirit” (Magistra, Mistress). She knows the way to grow spiritually, she takes great care of us as we journey, and she does it in a secure way.
This is exactly what the School is all about: lead by Our Lady, to revive the treasures of spiritual life, and to offer them to all the persons receiving the call to follow Jesus in whatever state of life they belong to.
The main goal of the School is to allow Our Lady to appear, shine and act as the real Teacher, Guide, Master in spiritual life.
In the School, Jesus entrusts Mary as Teacher and Master to each “student” journeying toward Him.
Saint John of the Cross said that only faith can help us reach union. In the School we could say that only Mary’s faith is the secure, short, easy, rapid way to reach union.
Mary’s Faith is given to us. As we said: her eyes are given to us so we can use them to “see” Jesus. And her heart is given as well to us, so we can use it to love Jesus (Head and Body), not with our capacity but with Hers.
Note: At Lourdes, the last apparition of Our Lady was the 16th of July 1858, Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. She was silent said St Bernadette. She was the most beautiful. Beauty is essential in the Carmelite Spirituality. She is called “Queen and Beauty of Carmel.”
At Fatima, in the first apparition, Our Lady appeared as Our Lady of Mount Carmel!