Pentecost, a red-letter day

According to a pious tradition, supported by the liturgy of the Church, on the day of Pentecost a group of men devoted to the holy prophets Elijah and Elisha embraced Christianity. They were disciples of St John the Baptist who had prepared them in view of the advent of the Saviour. They left Jerusalem for Mount Carmel and there they erected a sanctuary to the Virgin Mary, at the same place where Elijah had seen the Cloud. They called themselves Brothers of the Blessed Mary of the Mount Carmel.

These Brothers would suffer much at the hands of the Roman Emperor. At the time of the Muslim conquest of the Holy Land, the Crusaders freed them. And soon many pilgrims began joining the Order, among them St Cyril, St Angelo and St Simon Stock. Later, when the Brothers began to be persecuted once again, St Cyril, who was then the General, had recourse to Our Lady who spoke thus:

‘It is the desire of My Son and Mine that the Carmelite Order be not only a light for Palestine and Syria but that it may illumine the whole world. Hence, I attracted you to it and shall attract numerous children from all the nations of the world.’

Truly, the Order flourished in various countries. However, in the twelfth century there were many misunderstandings against it in the West.

St Simon Stock

In 1251, Simon Stock, weighed down by age and austerity – he had lived 20 years in the empty trunk of a tree, as penance – went to Cambridge to inaugurate a new Carmelite convent. Meanwhile, his soul suffered a lot in view of the opposition that his Order suffered in his country.

On the night of 16 July 1251, at the height of his suffering, St Simon was praying hard; his fervent prayer was transformed into a marvellous hymn:

Flos Carmeli

Flower of Carmel,
Tall vine blossom laden;
Splendour of heaven,
Childbearing yet maiden.
None equals thee.

Mother so tender,
Who no man didst know,
On Carmel’s children
Thy favours bestow.
Star of the Sea.

Strong stem of Jesse,
Who bore one bright flower,
Be ever near us
And guard us each hour,
who serve thee here.

Purest of lilies,
That flowers among thorns,
Bring help to the true heart
That in weakness turns
and trusts in thee.

Strongest of armour,
We trust in thy might:
Under thy mantle,
Hard press’d in the fight,
we call to thee.

Our way uncertain,
Surrounded by foes,
Unfailing counsel
You give to those
who turn to thee.

O gentle Mother
Who in Carmel reigns,
Share with your servants
That gladness you gained
and now enjoy.

Hail, Gate of Heaven,
With glory now crowned,
Bring us to safety
Where thy Son is found,
true joy to see.
Amen. (Alleluia)

The Saint prayed and sang all night. At the first sign of dawn, Our Lady appeared to him, surrounded by the angels, dressed in the habit of the Carmel. She smiled and brought in her virginal hands the Scapular of the Order, with which she clothed the man of God, saying: ‘This is a privilege for you and all the Carmelites. Whoever dies wearing this scapular shall not fall into hell.’

Of course, we cannot be carried away by the false idea that the mere wearing of the scapular is sufficient to win us Heaven. It allows us to hope; we must live a Christian life, fulfilling the Commandments!

Saturday Privilege

In 1316, the Virgin appeared to Cardinal Tiago who, on the second day of the vision, was elected Pope bearing the name John XXII. She spoke to him of a Sabbatine or ‘privilege John XXII’, which was approved and confirmed by Pope Clement VII (“Ex clementi”, 12/8/1530), Pope St Pius V (“Superna dispositione”, 18/2/1566), Pope Gregory XIII (“Ut laudes”, 18/9/1577), and others, and also by the Holy Roman General Inquisition under Pope Paul V (20/1/1613).

Accordingly, ‘it is permitted to the Carmelite Fathers to preach that the Christian people may piously believe in the help which the souls of brothers and members, who have departed this life in charity, have worn in life the scapular, have ever observed chastity [according to one’s state], have recited the Little Hours [of the Blessed Virgin], or, if they cannot read, have observed the fast days of the Church, and have abstained from flesh meat on Wednesdays and Saturdays (except when Christmas falls on such days), may derive after death — especially on Saturdays, the day consecrated by the Church to the Blessed Virgin — through the unceasing intercession of Mary, her pious petitions, her merits, and her special protection.’ (Cf. summary approved by the Congregation of Indulgences on 4 July 1908).

(Talk delivered at Regina Angelorum Cultural Centre, Panjim)

Tomorrow: Significance of the devotion for our day and age