A brief guide to an ancient religious order with many beloved saints.
During the 9th century BC there arose a famous story about a prophet named Elijah, who challenged the followers of Baal to a type of contest to determine whose God was more powerful. The challenge occurred on Mount Carmel outside of Jerusalem and the prophet defeated the priests of Baal with great ease (see 1 Kings 18).
It was also on this mountain where Elijah saw a small cloud that ended a drought in Israel and would later be seen as a prophetic sign of the mother of the Messiah. The mountain where these events occurred became associated with the holy prophet, God’s triumph over evil and, in a particular way, the Blessed Mother.
There is a tradition that hermits lived on this mountain for many centuries after Eljiah, but were not a formal religious order until the 13th century, when they asked the Patriarch of Jerusalem to create a rule of life for them. Ever since then the Order of Carmel has been the home to numerous saints and its spirituality has been a pathway to God for countless people, both religious and lay alike.
Here is a brief guide to the order, detailing the basics of this ancient mode of religious life.
Names & Abbreviations: Order of the Brothers of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mount Carmel, O.Carm., Order of Discalced Carmelites (separate reform of Order), O.C.D.
Date of Foundation(s): c. 864 BC (Elijah), 1214 AD (Rule of St. Albert), 1562 AD (St. Teresa of Avila, Discalced Order)
Founder(s): Elijah, St. Albert of Jerusalem, St. Teresa of Avila, St. John of the Cross
Motto & Charism: Zelo zelatus sum pro Domino Deo exercituum, Latin for “With zeal have I been zealous for the Lord God of Hosts.”
According to the Carmelite Order’s website, “As Carmelites we live our life of allegiance to Jesus Christ and to serve Him faithfully with a pure heart and a clear conscience through a commitment to seek the face of the living God (the contemplative dimension of life), through prayer, through fraternity, and through service (diakonia). These three fundamental elements of the charism are not distinct and unrelated values, but closely interwoven. All of these we live under the protection, inspiration and guidance of Mary, Our Lady of Mount Carmel, whom we honor as ‘our Mother and sister.'”
Furthermore, “The heart of the Carmelite charism is prayer and contemplation. The quality of our prayer determines the quality of the community life and the quality of the service which is offered to others. The goal of the Carmelite life is union with God … We are called to embark on a journey of faith whereby we are gradually stripped of all that is not God so that we can put on Christ. We do all we can to respond to God’s initiative in calling us but we are very aware that in the end only God can change our hearts and so we learn to wait patiently for the coming of God to us. As we follow Christ along this path of trust in God we are inspired by the example and virtues of Mary, the mother of Jesus, and the Prophet Elijah.”
Examples of Carmelite Communities: Some Carmelite communities include the Stella Maris Monastery, Carmelite Hermitage of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Monks of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary of Mount Carmel, Holy Name Carmel, Holy Hill, and Carmel de Lisieux.
Famous Carmelites: St. Simon Stock, St. Teresa of Avila, St. John of the Cross, St. Therese of Lisieux, St. Elizabeth of the Trinity, St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein), St. John Paul II (Third Order Carmelite).