Our Lady of Mount Carmel
No figure in Christendom is venerated under as many titles as the Blessed Virgin Mary, and her designation as “Our Lady of Mount Carmel” is traced to St. Simon Stock and a plea he made to the Blessed Mother in 1251.
St. Simon was a member of the Carmelite Order in Cambridge, England – the same religious order that included such notable spiritual icons as St. Therese of the Child Jesus, St. John of the Cross and St. Teresa of Avila.
Tradition holds that on July 16, 1251, The Blessed Mother appeared to St. Simon Stock in answer to a fervent appeal he had made to her to aid his beloved Carmelite Order. She presented him with a brown scapular that served as a twofold pledge: first, it offered her protection to all the members of the Carmelite Order, and second, it assured mercy and forgiveness at the hour of death to those who honored Mary as Carmelites or as affiliates with the Carmelites.
In a closely related circumstance in 1322, Pope John XXII issued a Papal Bull that declared that he himself had also received a visitation from the Blessed Mother who commended the Carmelites to him and offered early liberation to them time spent in purgatory. This special indulgence became known as the “Sabbatine privilege”.
The Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel is celebrated on July 16th, the date of her appearance to St. Simon Stock. Statues and portraits of Our Lady of Mount Carmel invariably depict her holding the brown scapular she gave to St. Simon Stock as a token of her protection.
St. Margaret Mary Alacoque
Born in 1647 in the small French village of Janots, Margaret Alacoque lived during a time period of great spiritual upheaval. Already bruised and weakened by the chaos of the Protestant Reformation, the seventeenth century Church in France was additionally stung by the presence of such heresies as Jansenism as well. It was into this environment that Margaret was born to Claude and Philiberte Alacoque, the fifth of seven children. The Alacoques were financially stable, owners of a country manor and ample farmland, and Margaret’s godmother was a countess. The death of Margaret’s father to pneumonia when she was eight years old was not only a devastating personal loss, but also led to years of virtual servitude to relatives who took over the administration of the farm and largely disregarded the wishes of its original owners.
Margaret, who was sent to a convent school, impressed the nuns with her deep devotion, and was uncharacteristically permitted to make her First Communion at the age of nine. While she loved the peace and stability of convent life, a rheumatic condition left her ill and virtually paralyzed for four years, most of which time she spent in recovery at home.
Madame Alacoque hoped that Margaret would marry, but Margaret chose instead to enter the Order of the Visitation, which had recently been founded by St. Francis de Sales. She was twenty years old upon entrance, and the name Mary was added to her name upon her profession of vows. In 1673, Sister Margaret Mary experienced the first of a series of divine communications, wherein she was entrusted by Jesus with the task of initiating a special devotion to His Sacred Heart. Both her Mother Superior and later a panel of esteemed theologians rejected these religious experiences as delusional, causing Margaret Mary a great deal of pain and embarrassment. It was a Jesuit priest named Claude de la Columbiere who accepted her experiences as authentic and inaugurated the devotions she espoused in England.
Eventually, after years of ridicule, contempt and despair, Margaret Mary was vindicated, and her devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus began to spread throughout Europe and to America. She popularized the Holy Hour devotion. In 1824, Pope Leo XII declared her to be “Venerable”, and in 1864, Pope Pius IX beatified her. She was canonized St. Margaret Mary by Pope Benedict XV in 1920. Her feast day is celebrated on October 16th.