Carmelites - Charism and Origin

Charism and Origin

The charism (or spiritual focus) of the Carmelite Order is contemplative prayer. The Order is considered by the Church to be under the special protection of the Blessed Virgin Mary and thus has a strong Marian devotion. As in most of the orders dating to medieval times, the First Order is the friars (who are active/contemplative), the Second Order is the nuns (who are cloistered) and the Third Order consists of laypeople who continue to live in the world, and can be married, but participate in the charism of the order by liturgical prayers, apostolates, and contemplative prayer. There are also offshoots such as active Carmelite sisters.

Carmelite tradition traces the origin of the order to a community of hermits on Mount Carmel that succeeded the schools of the prophets in ancient Israel, although there are no certain records of hermits on this mountain before the 1190s. By this date a group of men had gathered at the well of Elijah on Mount Carmel. These men, who had gone to Palestine from Europe either as pilgrims or as crusaders, chose Mount Carmel in part because it was the traditional home of Elijah. The foundation was believed to have been dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary. The conventual buildings were destroyed several times, but a monastery of Discalced Carmelite friars was built close to the original site under the auspices of Fr. Julius of the Saviour and duly consecrated on 12 June 1836.

Some time between 1209 and 1214 the hermits received a formula vitae "in keeping with their avowed purpose" (Rule Ch. 1) from the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem and Papal legate St. Albert of Jerusalem. Albert had been responsible for giving a rule to the Humiliati during his long tenure as Bishop of Vercelli, and was well-versed in diplomacy, being sent by Pope Innocent III as Papal Legate to what was known as the Eastern Province. As an experienced prelate he created a document which is both juridically terse and replete with Scriptural allusions, thereby rooting the hermits in the life of the universal Church and their own aspirations.

The original Carmelite Rule of St. Albert addresses a prior whose name is only listed as "B." When later required to name their founders, the Brothers referred to both Elijah and the Blessed Virgin as early models of the community. Later, under pressure from other European Mendicant orders to be more specific, the name "Saint Bertold" was given, possibly drawn from the oral tradition of the Order.

The rule consisted of sixteen articles, which enjoined strict obedience to their prior, residence in individual cells, constancy in prayer, the hearing of Mass every morning in the oratory of the community, vows of poverty and toil, daily silence from vespers until terce the next morning, abstinence from all forms of meat except in cases of severe illness, and fasting from Holy Cross Day (September 14) until the Easter of the following year.

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