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The Brothers of St. Mary of Mt. Carmel

The Carmelites originated on the rugged terrain of Mt. Carmel (near present-day Haifa, then called Acre) when a group of lay penitents came from Europe to visit the homeland of Jesus. The penitents intended to pattern their life after the Prophet Elijah. These men took residence in the Caves of Mt. Carmel 600 feet above the Mediterranian Sea near the spring of Elijah, in order to "...meditate on the law of the Lord night and day" (Jos. 1:8), for in this was their joy (Ps. 1:2). They were to keep watch and to pray at all times (Lk. 21:36; Mk. 14:38; I Pt. 4:7) unless occupied with manual labor.

The hermits of Carmel petitioned Albert, Patriarch of Jerusalem, for a formal rule sometime between 1206-1214. The "Formula of Life" he gave them amplified the discipline of prayer and work already lived by the hermits. What follows is a much abridged version of St. Albert's rule as approved by Pope Honorius III on January 30, 1226. (1) A superior was to be chosen from among them to whom they must promise obedience. (2) They must live in separate cells (caves or rooms) with the superior's cell near the entrance to the property in order for him to be the first to greet visitors. (3) In addition to contemplative prayer, those who could were to read the Psalms (this later became the liturgy of the hours) at certain times of the day in accordance with church custom. If they were unable to read, reciting a given number of Our Fathers was a substitute. (4) The brothers were to share everything in common. They were allowed to receive personal items from the superior and also to keep a certain amount of livestock. (5) An oratory (chapel) was to be built in the center of their community for daily Mass. (6) Sunday was set aside for community meetings. (7) With the exception of Sunday, a daily fast was required from the feast of the Exaltation to the Holy Cross to Easter Sunday. Abstinence (from meat) was perpetual except for those in poor health. (8) Silence was to be kept from after evening prayer until morning prayer. (The strict obervance of Grand Silence is no longer practiced)

The little oratory (mentioned in no. 5 above) was dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary. Because of this, the men became known as the Brothers of St. Mary of Mt. Carmel. Their official title today is The Brothers of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel.

During the sixth crusade (1228-1229), conditions became life-threatening for Christians living in the Holy Land. This forced the hermits of Carmel to begin a westward migration around 1238. Some of these early Carmelites returned to England in 1242. The Carmelites continued their eremitical life-style in Europe until 1247 when the decision to petition the Pope for changes in their rule was made at a chapter meeting in Aylesford, England. The rule of St. Albert was mitigated on September 4, 1247 and was given canonical status by Pope Innocent IV. The Carmelites were addressed as an order for the first time on October 1, 1247.

The mitigation allowed the hermits of Carmel to become a mendicant order. As mendicants, their income would depend upon charitable donations. Owning nothing, they would keep themselves free to change locations as requested by their superiors. The men would now live in friaries with separate cells in order to keep their eremitical tradition (a friar's home is his cell). Formerly, they were only allowed to reside in secluded areas, but upon receiving permission to preach in public, they also recieved permission to live in or near cities, their friaries to be owned in common (Holy Hill is this type of residence). For practical reasons, the severity of their fast and abstinence was reduced. These adjustments were necessary for them to survive in the changing world.

The changes in the order that resulted from the mitigation of the original rule caused problems among the members. Many did not want to leave their eremitical life-style to become mendicant. Devoted to the Blessed Virgin Mary, some feared that a change would in some way show unfaithfulness to her. It was during this period of disagreement that the legendary Scapular Vision occurred. According to legend, the Blessed Virgin, clothed in the habit of the Carmelite Friars, appeared to St. Simon Stock in 1251. In the vision, the Carmelites received a garment called a scapular from Mary with a promise of her protection to all who would wear it regardless of their change in life-style. The vision brought about a bond of unity among them and the scapular became part of their official habit. Today, this scapular is formally called the Brown Scapular of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel. As knights in times long past carried the colors of their lady into mortal combat, so the Discalced Carmelite Friars carried the colors of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel into spiritual battle." Like Mary, they stand ready to present her Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, to all who will accept Him.

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