The Carmelites are originally known as the ‘Order of the Brothers of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mount Carmel’ or in a shorter religious term called ‘Carmel’. They belong to a specific Roman Catholic religious order for men & women, which relies exclusively on alms to survive. Historically their origins are uncertain but it’s presumed that it was founded in the 12th century in the Crusader States. The Carmelites have been traditionally linked to Berthold of Calabria since the founding is unclear due to the unavailability of early Carmelite history records. The order of the Carmelite nuns was officially formalized in the year 1452.
The Spiritual focus or Charism of the Carmelite order is prayer & contemplation. The Carmelites believe that the quality of your prayer reflects on your ways of community life and equally attributes to the service offered to others. For the Carmelites, contemplation means encompassing prayer, community, and service, the three elements of prime focus at the heart of Carmelite Charism.
The Carmelites pray differently & are inspired by the Prophet Elijah and the Blessed Virgin Mary, patrons of the order, while practicing the elements of prayer, community & service. The Catholic Church considers that the order is protected by the Blessed Virgin Mary with a strong Marian devotion to Our Lady of Mount Carmel, patroness of the Carmelite order.
The origin of the Carmelite tradition, which began in the initial period during the formation of Crusader States, is found to be an order of a community of hermits on Mount Carmel. It appears that these pilgrims or crusaders who had gone to Israel from Europe chose Mount Carmel as it was the traditional house of Elijah. This community or those founders were dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary but were compelled to the Holy Land in 1291, the original buildings destroyed later. However, a monastery came up later quite close to the original site or the holy land in 1836.
It seems that around 1214 the hermits approached Albert of Jerusalem, a mediator and a canon lawyer, who was also the Bishop of Bobbio & Vercelli, for a rule. Albert, the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem and papal legate, during that period, helped create the document, the Carmelite Rule of St. Albert, the new Carmelite Order.
Post 1214, the Carmelites crossed over to various places celebrating their divine services but finally decided to migrate & settle down in Southeast & Northeast parts of England in the year 1242. By the year 1273, the Carmelite foundations had spread to the whole of Europe. As of today, the Carmelite missions have spread the world over.
The Rule of St. Albert
This is the primary document of the Order of the Carmel, the holy rule book for the Monks of Blessed Virgin Mary of Mount Carmel in acquiring Carmelite sanctity. The Carmelite monks read and take the guidance of this holy rule book in sourcing Marian spirituality, as emphasized in it. These monks take the path, gain knowledge & find the ideals cherished by the Heart of the Immaculate Virgin, the fullness of Marian Life, to scale the height of Carmelite perfection. Carmelite Monks are very spiritual, which flows through the text of Carmelite Rule.
Understanding Carmelite Spirituality & Traditions
As per the Carmelite heritage of life & spirituality, nine characteristics define them. They are:
Carmelites are Christocentric
Carmelites are prime followers of Jesus Christ and, therefore, termed as Christocentric followers. The Carmelite Rule calls the Holy Jesus Christ ‘Our Only Saviour’ and accordingly, each Carmelite leads a life in complete faith to the Lord. Each & every Carmelites are very strongly connected to Jesus Christ & wish to walk in the path where he had walked. The earlier Carmelites who came to the Holy land where drawn by the places that Jesus Christ had lived in.
Carmelite Spirituality seriously focuses on compassion & the brotherly love of Jesus Christ. But sometimes Jesus Christ was misunderstood too where good people have been often wrongly enlightened by naysayers that his human nature was overshadowed by his godliness or divinity. As per the faith of the Catholic Church or Carmelite Spirituality, two natures of Jesus Christ are celebrated. First, as Jesus Christ with a godly or divine nature like ‘God the Father’. Second, as a human being like us. Similarly, in Carmelite spirituality & tradition, it is very essential to understand the ordeals that Jesus Christ underwent in his passion & the sense of abandonment during his journey in attaining divinity.
Carmelites are Eucharistic:
Eucharistic means a sacred act of worship held in Christian Churches where bread & wine are dedicated & consumed in remembrance of Jesus Christ’s death, denoting ‘The Last Supper’ – Communion.
Eucharist celebrations have been very common in Carmelite spirituality & traditions right from the early periods. The Eucharist celebration was the daily community exercise for the Carmelites. Unlike other orders, the Carmelites have been having daily Mass or Communion.
The Carmelite tradition emphasizes on participating in Eucharist services, the Mass. Carmelite spirituality & tradition believes that Jesus Christ’s presence in the Mass is absolute in the Eucharist. Therefore, Eucharist worship other than the Mass has never been the heart of Carmelite Spirituality. The Carmelite takes part in all rites & ceremonies of the Church including Perpetual Adoration & devoted to its traditions. For a Carmelite, the Eucharist way of celebrating the presence of Jesus Christ is through the Eucharist worship or the Mass.
The Eucharist way of worship also finds reason in its way of helping the sick with the words of God in sacred scripture, another positive trait existing in Carmelite spirituality.
Carmelites are Scriptural:
Scriptural means a particular passage or a text from or related to sacred writing or Holy Scriptures or the Holy Bible.
Carmelite spirituality & tradition is a community drawn together on the words of God. The Holy Bible is the Carmelites Book for conducting prayers & Lectio Divina, a form of prayer which means ‘Sacred Reading’, which every Carmelite had forgotten has been rediscovered. This form of worship takes place both in the Worship of the Hours & the Worship of the Word the Mass. The ‘Sacred Reading’ is a way of worship with a prayerful, prayer-filled, heedful reading & grasping of the Word of God.
The mission of a Carmelite is outlined in the Rule, The Rule of Saint Albert, the texts repeated in the Sacred Scripture. Those texts are an imitation of texts in the Holy Bible & a brief one.
This ‘Rule of Saint Albert’ encourages or demands that all Carmelites become the people of the Word. This was later revised by Pope Innocent IV, to a reading of the Psalms, particularly the Divine Office for encasing a Carmelites prayer life.
Carmelites are in rhythm with the Church
The Carmelites completely trust & have faith with the religious teachings of the Pope & the Bishops.
Other than the teachings, the Carmelite spirituality compels people to help the Church. In turn, the Church helps people through charity, feeding the hungry, visiting the elderly & working with others in their parishes for the well-being of the community.
Carmelite Spirituality – The Catholic Tradition:
Carmelites believe that they are richer and deeper in faith & head the classical tradition of the Christian community who received the faith from the apostles.
Carmelites believe in Mother Mary:
In Carmelite spirituality, they deeply honor & love Mother Mary, Our Lady of Mount Carmel, as she is the one who introduced them to Jesus. Mary is also depicted as holding Infant Jesus but oddly never mentioned in ‘The Rule of Saint Albert’, a document that defines Carmelite spirituality. Mary is visible in Carmelite writings but overshadowed by her son, Jesus Christ. In the Carmelite writing, they reflect a lot on Mary’s condition while carrying Jesus within her for nine months. Along with his education, they also reflect on him dying on the cross & then rising, through the eyes of the mother. Carmelite’s spirituality strongly believes that to honor Mary each Carmelite should listen to her son & apply his teachings in their lives.
Carmelites are inspired by Prophet Elijah:
Prophet Elijah existed in Mount Carmel eight centuries before Jesus Christ and strongly inspired the Carmelites. Prophet Elijah has been shown as a restless person in the First Book of Kings & the Second Book of Kings in the Holy Bible. A man filled with the energy of God & ready to devote it to God’s Kingdom. He, at the same time, was also anxious to know what God expected of him. Elijah was a fearless prophet who defended poor farmers & peasants from injustice. The Carmelites strongly believe that standing for the truth is difficult. Fighting for the poor or for the victims of injustice is equivalent to the Spirit of God or according to the Will of God.
Carmelites are a Community:
Carmelite spirituality believes that maintaining community at every level of family life, religious groups & even our parishes is very important to disallow breakdown of family & community surroundings. Carmelites are communitarians and are rooted, faithful & supportive to others in the community.
Carmelites are religious Worshipers:
This is connected to roots or the origin & the transformation of the Carmelites from the early days. It also dwells upon the spiritual good & bad changes the Carmelites have undergone with time.
Summarizing Carmelite Spirituality
Carmelite Spirituality believes in prayer & contemplation is equally important to appease individuals & God.
Carmelite spirituality inspires us to relate to the virtues of Mary, the Mother of Jesus Christ & the prophet Elijah in trusting & following the path of God.
Carmelite spirituality believes that we live in God’s presence & he speaks to us in many ways, especially in the words from the Holy Bible.