† The Marian Life of Carmel

The Virgin Mary in the spiritual tradition of Carmel

The Discalced Carmelite Nuns are, by calling, part of the Order of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mount Carmel.  They belong to a family consecrated in a special way to loving and venerating the Holy Mother of God; and they seek to attain evangelical perfection in union with her.

Mary’s presence among her daughters and sisters pervades the entire Carmelite vocation.  It imparts a special Marian tone to their contemplation, sisterhood, evangelical self-denial, and apostolic spirit.

The history of the Order overflows with the presence of the Virgin Mary.  It began on Mount Carmel where the first hermits dedicated to her a little chapel.  Later, with the approval of the Church (Popes Innocent IV and Urban IV), they undertook the obligation of living the evangelical counsels in allegiance to Christ and His Virgin Mother.

Saint Teresa of Jesus and Saint John of the Cross confirmed and renewed Carmel’s devotion to Mary.  In fact, they acknowledged Mary as Mother and Patron of the Order (Foundations 29:23,31; Interior Castle 3:1,3-4). They present her as a model of prayer and self-denial in faith’s pilgrimage (Interior Castle 6;7,13-14).  She humbly and wisely welcomed the Lord’s word and pondered it in her heart (Meditation on the Song of Songs 5:2; 6:7; Way of Perfection 16:2).  She was wholly responsive to the impulses of the Holy Spirit (Ascent 3:2,10).  She is the valiant woman who follows Christ faithfully and shares in the joys and sorrows of His paschal mystery.

Contemplating Mary with filial devotion

In Our Lady we contemplate the ideal of the Order lived to perfection. Her example inspires us to follow her footsteps.  She takes the lead among the Lord’s poor and little ones.  She best exemplifies contemplative life in the Church.

Every sister will find in Mary a mother and teacher in the ways of the Spirit who will conform her to Christ and lead her to the heights of holiness.

Because of their profession, the sisters belong to the Virgin Mary in a special way.  They wear her scapular to show that they are members of her Order and are determined to clothe themselves with her virtues (Interior Castle 3:1,3).

The study of Mariology and devotion to Mary in the liturgy

God’s plan has closely associated Mary with the mystery of Christ and of the Church.  In order to respond to this plan, the sisters will not fail to study deeply her life and mission and to make use of Sacred Scriptures, the Church Fathers, and the Church’s liturgy and Magisterium.

The sisters will honor the Mother of God with the veneration that is due her, in the light of Christ’s paschal mystery, and in compliance with the directives of the Church.  In fact, when the Church venerates the Virgin Mary in the liturgy, it regards her as inseparably joined to her Son in His saving work (Interior Castle 6:7), and sees in her a model of the spiritual attitude with which we all should celebrate and live the divine mysteries.

Every nun will express her true filial love for the Mother of God by her personal devotion, especially by the recitation of the rosary (Life 1:6, Way of Perfection 22:3).

The Teresian Carmel, faithful to the example and teaching of Holy Mother, lovingly venerates St. Joseph, spouse of the Virgin Mary and teacher of prayer (Life 6:6-8).  The sisters will recommend themselves to him and invoke his intercession as provident Protector of the Church and the Order.

(from the Carmelite “Rule & Constitutions,” approved by the Apostolic See in 1991)



Mount Carmel is commemorated in Sacred Scripture for its beauty, and it was there that the prophet Elijah defended the purity of Israel’s faith in the living God.  Towards the end of the twelfth century A.D. near a spring named after Elijah, a group of hermits established themselves on Mt. Carmel and built an oratory in honor of Our Lady, whom they chose as their titular and patroness.  They became known as ‘the Brothers of St. Mary of Mount Carmel.’ They regarded the Blessed Virgin Mary as their mother and model first of all in leading the contemplative life, and later in sharing the fruits of their contemplation with others. The Solemn Commemoration of Our Lady of Mount Carmel was first celebrated in the fourteenth century, but gradually adopted throughout the Order as an occasion of thanksgiving for the countless blessings which Our Lady had bestowed on the Carmelite family, the Scapular being a symbol of this, and of consecration to her.

(1 Kings 18:36-39, 41-15)   And at the time of the offering of the oblation, Elijah the prophet came near and said, “O Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that you are God in Israel, and that I am your servant, and that I have done all these things at your word. Answer me, O Lord, answer me, that this people may know that you, O Lord, are God, and that you have turned their hearts back.”  Then the fire of the Lord fell, and consumed the burnt offering, and the wood, and the stones, and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench.  And when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces; and they said “The Lord, He is God; the Lord, He is God.”

And Elijah said to Ahab, “Go up, eat and drink for there is a sound of the rushing of rain.” So Ahab went up to eat and to drink.  And Elijah went up to the top of Carmel; and he bowed himself down upon the earth, and put his face between his knees.  And he said to his servant, “Go up now, look toward the sea.” And he went up and looked, and said, “There is nothing.”  And he said, “Go again seven times.” And at the seventh time he said, “Behold, a little cloud like a man’s hand is rising out of the sea.”  And he said, “Go up, say to Ahab, ‘Prepare your chariot and go down, lest the rain stop you.”  And in a little while the heavens grew black with clouds and wind, and there was a great rain.

From the Allocutions of Pope Paul VI
“We can readily see that the Blessed Virgin Mary was endowed in high measure with a remarkable interior enlightenment, such as might have been anticipated in view of her sinlessness and the nature of her task in the world. The Gospels make abundantly clear that her soul was gifted with an extraordinary insight into the ways of God and a prophetic intuition. Yet above all else it was faith that most characterized the Mother of God – the kind of faith that does not need proof, but accepts a thing as true because God has spoken. The Second Vatican Council declares that ‘the Blessed Virgin went forward in her pilgrimage of faith,’ and the Gospel records how generous and meritorious that pilgrimage was when it cites Elizabeth’s high tribute, which tells us so much about Mary’s psychology and holiness: ‘Blessed are you, for you have believed.’

We find confirmation of this faith, Our Lady’s foremost virtue, wherever the gospel tells of what she was, or what she said or what she did.   Faced with the attitudes that characterize the incomparable figure of Mary in relation to the mystery of Christ realized in herself, we feel compelled to follow her example, and discover patterns for those who have, in conformity with God’s plan for our salvation, chosen the religious life.   She teaches us how to listen, how to explore, to accept, to make sacrifices; she teaches us how to meditate, to wait, to examine; she teaches us self-possession, and calm, absolute assurance in judgment and action; she teaches us, in short, the fullness of prayer and communion with God.   And all these things, though we see them in Mary uniquely realized by that one soul which was full of grace and completely under the sway of the Holy Spirit, are yet all forms of faith, and therefore close to us and available not only for our admiration, but for our imitation.

You have chosen the narrow, austere, arduous way of the ascetic life.  You are in such a way committed to the pursuit of the supreme art of prayer and an intense spiritual life that you are branded as true searchers after the only fullness, the only peace, the only love: the union of the soul with God.

May the most holy Virgin Mary confirm you in your Carmelite vocation.   May she safeguard your love for the things of the spirit. May she obtain for you the graces you need in your holy, laborious ascent towards the knowledge of the divine realm and the ineffable experiences of its dark nights and light-filled days. May she give you the desire for sanctity, the desire to bear eschatological witness to the kingdom of heaven. May she make you models for all the members of God’s Church, and bind you to them in brotherhood.  And may she one day lead you into that possession of Christ and His glory which, even now, is the goal towards which your whole life is directed.”


(from the Discalced Carmelite supplement to the Divine Office)