In Carmelite tradition, Mt. Carmel had been a place devoted to monastic-style prayer since the time of Elijah. They built a monastery and it was dedicated to the Virgin Mary, as she was “Star of the Sea” – a medieval title describing the mother of Christ as the cloud of life that dwells over the sea promising rain and fertility [1 Kings 18:41-45.] (Remember that the Mediterranean is seen from Mt. Carmel and is a garden of life.) Throughout the monastery’s long history, there were periods of sadness, especially when it fell under Islamic control, becoming a mosque known as El-Maharrakah (the place of burning, referring to Elijah’s challenge to the pagan prophets.) In the 18th century, Napoleon established the location as a hospital, but this was destroyed in 1821. Funds were collected by the Carmelites, an order worldwide by this time, and they restored the monastery.
Continuing the story, we come to the scapular of Mt. Carmel. According to Carmelite tradition, this scapular – a small piece of rough wool cloth – was given in a vision by Virgin Mary to the monastic Simon Stock, living in England in the 13th century. On July 16, 1251, he prayed to Mary that his order could be saved from its oppression. She appeared with the scapular in hand, and told him: "Take, beloved son this scapular of thy order as a badge of my confraternity and for thee and all Carmelites a special sign of grace; whoever dies in this garment, will not suffer everlasting fire. It is the sign of salvation, a safeguard in dangers, a pledge of peace and of the covenant." Promises associated with the scapular are: Mary’s protection of the Carmelite order and all those who wear the scapular (including laymen of its Third Order); special help at one’s hour of death for all who wear the habit (or scapular) in Mary’s name; and the so-called “Sabbatine Privelege” which Pope John XXII declared in 1322 meant early release from Purgatory for those who died in Mary’s care.
The history of the Carmelite order is itself long and full of blessings. Monasteries were built throughout Europe and other parts of the world throughout the ages. Both nuns and monks often received special visions from Mary and Jesus. Until this day, it seems that Mary shines like a star over the sea leading the faithful to her Son and to the fruit-bearing life God provides now and eternally.
Prayer to Our Lady of Mount Carmel
O, most beautiful flower of Mount Carmel,
fruitful vine, splendor of heaven,
blessed mother of the Son of God, immaculate virgin,
assist me in my necessity.
O, star of the sea,
help me and show me herein,
you are my mother.
Mary conceived without sin,
pray for us who turn to you.
Elijah on Mt. Carmel.