Veneration of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Patrick Burke, O.Carm. This article appeared in Carmelite Family, Number 9, Spring 2001.

Veneration of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the obligation to spread this devotion are intrinsic parts of the Order’s mission within the Church. In keeping with the intention of the Church to itself, therefore, let us generously promote veneration of the Blessed Virgin, especially in the liturgy.
Carmelite Constitutions, No. 86

If a Carmelite is to become a true disciple of Jesus, he or she must become more like Mary, each aspect of whose mission is directed towards producing in the children the spiritual characteristics of her Son. As Pope Paul VI in his Apostolic Exhortation Marialis Cultus wrote: “The virtues of the Mother will adorn her children who steadfastly study her example in order to reflect it in their own lives. And this progress in virtue will appear as the consequence and the already mature fruit of that pastoral zeal which springs from devotion to the Blessed Virgin” (n.57). The model of all response in faith is Mary’s own salutation as the handmaid of the Lord when she declared to the Angel her willingness to the Word working in her. Her active participation and co-operation in the work of our redemption from the initial ‘fiat’ to the Incarnation, through Christ’s mortal life to her presence at the foot of the Cross and in her solidarity with the first Christian community gathered in prayer.

An early theme in Carmelite Mariology was to see Mary as Model. However Carmelite Marian devotion must always go beyond knowing about Mary to the more profound knowing Mary. We can have a lot of information about a person without having a relationship with them. For a genuine Marian Spirituality, we have to go beyond facts about Mary - that she is Patron, Mother, Sister and Model - to entering a relationship based on these or other titles. In our Carmelite tradition there are several expressions of such a relationship, not only in the mystics, but also in our ordinary members through the Scapular.

As Pope Paul VI pointed out, the reform of the liturgy in keeping with Vatican II gave fitting prominence to the celebration of “the whole mystery of Christ, from the Incarnation to the expectation of his return in glory, and thus makes it possible in a more organic and closely-knit fashion to include the commemoration of Christ’s Mother in the annual cycle of the mysteries of her Son” (M.C. 2).

Clearly from the time of its establishment and spread in Europe, the Carmelite Order expressed in its celebration of the liturgy the place of Mary in its following of Jesus. The Carmelites thanked God for the honour given to them in “the title of the most excellent Virgin and Your Mother, Mary, and for its defence have procured miracles . . . and as we devotedly venerate her commemoration in the present may we be shielded by her assistance, and in the future merit to possess eternal joys.” (Pre-Reformation collect of the feast of Carmel celebrated on the 16th July.) Such expressions and prayers used in the traditional votive Mass and Saturday Station before Vatican II reflected a mentality and loyalty to Our Blessed Lady of Mount Carmel that sustained the Order in its service of the local Church and people. As such it was closely connected with the historical vicissitudes that beset the faith of people and the existence of the Church in Europe. As a result of the Vatican II reforms of the liturgy, the Order produced a new supplement to the Roman Missal in 1974. The spirit and practice of the post-conciliar decrees demanded that due attention be paid to accurate historical research, that legendary elements be suppressed and that references to apparitions give way to theological statements. In the new texts, for example in the Mass for the Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, the thrust of the main prayers brings out an important new feature, a reference to the mountain. The image directly envisages Christ but has also other connotations - the origin of the Carmelite Order, the ascent of Carmel as a spiritual journey, the Marian patronage of the Order. Carmelites are reminded that “through her prayers as we honour her today bring us to your holy mountain, Christ Our Lord.”

In the Divine Office and various liturgical hours, other themes, traditional in the Order, frequently appear. Indeed for the Carmelites the liturgy has always reflected images of Our Lady of Mount Carmel which were contemporary. In the modern revised texts, there is a happy blending of themes that are the heritage and legacy of the Order with more recent ones that have come to the fore since Vatican II. The dominant strain of all the liturgies is that of rejoicing in Mary’s example, love and protection which call for a response of trust, imitation and service from the members of Her Order.