Saturday, November 08, 2008

Carmelite Mysticism Historical Sketches - The Brothers of Our Lady

Cloud seen by Elias, Symbol of the Mother of God

We have already mentioned the pious tradition in the Order of Carmel that the Prophet Elias saw in the little cloud bearing the redeeming rain for the parched land of Israel a prototype of Our Lady, the Mother of the Redeemer, a revelation of the mystery of the Incarnation.

Long before the order became definitely established under St Berthold, there was a sanctuary in honour of Our Lady on Mt Carmel. This sanctuary became the centre of the Order in its new form and the first members of the Order were called after it "the Brothers of Our Lady of Mount Carmel".

Name, "Broters of Mary", Inspires to Devotion.
This gave ample scope to their piety and while they daily hurried to Our Lady's Chapel and before her altar performed their divine Office and meditation; while they led their lives of prayer under the very eye of their heavenly Mother, so to say, their devotion to Mary became more and more fervent and earnest. It was a wonderful dispensation of Providence that the first monastery of the Order should be built round a little chapel which had long been a centre of devotion to Mary. That dispensation of Providence enjoined on the Brothers the devotion to Mary as something intimately allied to their institution, and the name with which the neighbouring population called them after this sanctuary, stamped the former crusaders, who had laid down their swords on the altar of Mary, as Knights of Our Lady.

When the second General of the Order, St. Brocard, lay on his death-bed, he gathered the hermits about him to address them with some parting words of farewell and exhortation. The words he spoke to them excited the Brothers to honour Mary by deeds tried in virtue, "You are called," he said, "Brothers of Our Lady. Take care that after my death you prove worthy of that name." Evidently he had during his life, more especially during the twenty-five years of his office as General, always insisted on this. He had even looked to it that they should remain worthy of that name. His generalship, therefore, must have especially fortified and confirmed that devotion in the hearts of his brethren.

Devotion to Mary Confirmed in Europe.
When Pope Innocent IV admits the Order to the West and adapts its Rule to fit the changed circumstances, he retains the name, Order of the Brothers of Our Lady, and confirms it officially. With the expansion of the Order in Europe this special devotion to Mary will be its beloved characteristic, a title of which the Brothers are proud and which they put forward time and time again when they have to defend their rights. Pope and Bishops, even in that first century, affix indulgences to the use of that name and moreover endeavor to grant to the Order a distinction by which it may more easily be recognised. In Northern Europe, we see this being done by the Bishop of Cologne in 1271.
The tradition of the first Generals was splendidly maintained by the man of divine election, St. Simon Stock, who figured so largely in the Order's removal to Europe. The Order has preserved two fine prayers of his which he is said to have recited many times each day. Our Order still recites them daily in imitation of the Saint. The first is the Ave stella Matutina; the second is the beautiful Flos Carmeli. This latter was his favourite prayer. He realised that devotion to Mary was a feature of highest value to the Order, that the title must render the Order loved by the people, and that if Our Lady should confirm the title by special privileges the future of the Order would be assured. The Pope had already favoured the Order, but their authority had not succeeded in breaking entirely the resistance the Order experienced when settling in Europe. However much the Saint appreciated the privileges of the Popes, having recourse again and again to the Holy See, he nevertheless appealed incessantly to the Holy Virgin with unswerving faith, convinced that she would not withhold her special help and protection from the Order which, with the Pope's approval, was called the Order of her Brothers and which tried to live in accordance with this title. Times were hard. We are told so not only in the life of St. Simon Stock, but also an account of William de Sanvico written at the end of the 13th century emphatically confirms this. Not only the local clergy, but even the bishops did not realise the necessity of a new Mendicant Order and did not see in what respects this Order was distinguished from the Orders already approved. The foundation of new monasteries in the various countries was everywhere attended with serious difficulties. Not only was the Order threatened from within by the loss of her vital, original power through the difficulty of attuning itself to new circumstances and through the increasing demands of the active life, but from the outside also there were enemies who had to be taken into account and whose resistance was not so easily broken, even though the Brothers presented commendations of the Pope and of Bishops and Prelates who were kindly disposed towards them.

To be continued...