Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, Aylesford, England

AYLESFORD, ENGLAND  (1251, 1322)  “Our Lady of Mt. Carmel”

For the noble task of giving us Her Scapular, Mary selected the great Carmelite Order of contemplative religious, whose sacred tradition of devotion to Her goes back to the Old Testament Prophet Elias – and to the holy Mount Carmel on which he and his followers dwelt, by the sea, not far from Mary’s home in Nazareth.  In the Bible, the third book of Kings describes a terrible drought afflicting Palestine.  On Mount Carmel, Elias prayed seven times for rain, and finally “a little cloud arose out of the seas the heavens grew dark with clouds and wind, and there fell a great rain and the hand of the Lord was upon Elias.”  Elias was also shown a mystical vision – a prophetic vision of the Virgin who was destined to give to the world the Messiah, who would save men from the drought of sin.  Elias therefore instructed his disciples to pray for the coming of this Virgin Mother.  During her life, Mary did visit this holy mountain.  Our Lord has called the Carmelites “The Order of My Mother.”

Even as a child, Simon Stock had an unusually intense devotion to Mary.  While still in his teens, he became a hermit and lived in the hollow trunk of a great tree.  A small dog used to bring him crusts of bread.  Simon would compose poems to Mary and carve her name on trees.  He would make pilgrimages to shrines of Our Lady.  Often she appeared to him in visions, guiding and advising him.  On one occasion, the Blessed Virgin revealed to him that some holy hermits would come from Mt. Carmel in a few years, and that he should join their Order, which was especially dedicated to Her service.

Our Lady of Mt. Carmel
Our Lady of Mt. Carmel

St. Simon Stock became ordained as a priest at age forty.  Having met some of the Brothers of Carmel, he lived their strict penitential lifestyle for several years.  He left his homeland of England for the Holy Land, but he returned when Muslims invaded.  Upon his return, he joined the Carmelite Order and was eventually elected Prior General.  He found the task of organizing a group of contemplative hermits into an order of friars in Europe almost beyond his capacities.  When disruption and ruin threatened his beloved Order in the summer of 1251, the aged St. Simon withdrew to his monastic cell.  He appealed to the patroness of the Order, Our Lady of Mount Carmel, on July 16, 1251, with this prayer that is still recited frequently by members of the Order:

“Flower of Carmel, Blossom-laden Vine, Splendor of Heaven, Mother Divine, none like to thee, peerless and fair, to Thy Children of Carmel, grant favors, O Star of the Sea.”

Suddenly, a great flood of supernatural light filled his cell.  In the company of many bright angels, the Blessed Virgin appeared with the Child Jesus on her arm, living and moving in dazzling splendor.  She presented the Brown Scapular to him with this promise:

“Receive, my beloved son, this habit of thy Order.  This shall be the privilege for you and for all Carmelites — that whoever dies piously wearing this scapular, shall not suffer eternal flames.”

As Blessed Mary and the Child Jesus vanished, the Saint was filled with joy and gratitude on seeing himself clothed in the Scapular which Our Lady had just given him.  He thanked her profusely for this garment of grace and her marvelous promise.  He hastened to assemble his brethren and tell them what had happened.  The scapular consisted of two lengths of fabric, joined at the shoulders, with a hole in the center for the head, so that the scapular lies front and back.  With this recognition given by the Queen of Heaven, this Scapular or monastic apron became a permanent and much respected addition to the Carmelite habit.  A smaller form of this exists today and is more familiar to Catholics as two small panels of cloth joined by string and worn over the shoulders.  The Church considers the Scapular a miniature religious habit and a highly indulgenced sacramental.

After this apparition, and after numerous appeals for protection against the Order’s antagonists, Pope Innocent IV sent a letter of protection that secured the Order from the problems they encountered.  The King of England also issued letters of protection and favor for the Carmelite Order.  The Scapular was also officially adopted as the regular habit of the White Friars.

Some years later, when St. Peter Thomas was engaged with important missions of the papal court, Our Lady of Mount Carmel again favored Her Order.  Concerned about the Order, he heard these words:

“Have confidence, Peter, for the Carmelite Order will last until the end of the world.  Elijah, its founder, obtained it a long time ago from My Son.”

Many were attracted to this Order during the fourteenth century and became members by way of confraternities.  They then participated in the graces, benefits, and observances of the Order, and were properly enrolled in the Third Order.

On March 3, 1322, another apparition occurred – this time to Pope John XXII.  Now known as the Sabbatine Privilege, Our Lady revealed,

“I, the Mother of Grace, shall descend into Purgatory on the Saturday after their death and whomsoever I shall find in Purgatory, I shall free.”

St. Robert Bellarmine explains the promise to mean “that anyone dying in Mary’s family will receive from Her, at the hour of death, either grace of perseverance in the state of grace or the grace of final contrition.”  On learning of this vision, Pope Benedict XV encouraged all to wear this “common armor which enjoys the singular privilege of protection – even after death.”

Sixteen popes have given their approval to this Privilege, including Pope Paul V, who issued a decree on its behalf.  Many saints have also added their approval.

Six hundred years after the apparition with Pope John XXII in which the Sabbatine Privilege was revealed, Pope Pius XI observed the occasion by writing in 1922:

“It surely ought to be sufficient to merely exhort all the members of the confraternities and third orders to persevere in the holy exercises which have been prescribed for the gaining of indulgences to which they are entitled and particularly for the gaining of the indulgence which is the principal and the greatest of them all, namely, that called the Sabbatine.”

Many saints have spoken highly of the Scapular, including St. Alphonsus Liguori and St. Claude de la Colombiere, who announced:

“I aver without a moment’s hesitation that the Scapular is the most favored of all.”

It is regarded as the most indulgenced of all sacramentals.  It is of interest to realize that the scapulars of St. Alphonsus and St. John Bosco were found intact during their exhumations and are still preserved in reliquaries today.  Pope Saint John Paul II joined the Third Order of Mount Carmel as a young man and always wore the scapular – even when in the hospital after the attempt on his life.  Pope John Paul II said,

“Through the Scapular, those devoted to Our Lady of Mount Carmel express their desire to mold their existence on the example of our Mother, Patroness, Sister, Most Pure Virgin, to accept God’s word with a purified heart and devote themselves to the zealous service of others.”

We wear Our Lady’s Scapular as a loving “yes” to her desire that we keep Jesus as the center of our lives and bring Him to others.  At the First Communion, we usually add a “new cloak” – that of Our Lady’s Brown Scapular.  The beautiful custom of enrolling children in the Scapular puts them, in their innocence, under the tender care of their Heavenly Mother.  Mary wants to draw all of humanity under her protecting and sanctifying mantle by means of her Brown Scapular.  She has solemnly promised us that if we sincerely fulfill the conditions of this beautiful devotion, we shall not only be saved, but she will see to it that we do not remain long in Purgatory before joining her in Heaven!

Pope Pius X concluded, “Can anyone fail to see that there is no more direct or surer way than Mary to unite all mankind in Christ?”  And the Catholic Encyclopedia states, “Like the Rosary, this Scapular has become the badge of the devout Catholic and the true servant of Blessed Mary.”

The Birth of the Rosary, 1214 AD

SPAIN / SOUTHERN FRANCE  1214  “The Birth of the Rosary”

Found in the very well-known book, De Dignitate Psalterii, by Blessed Alan de la Roche, is the account of how Saint Dominic acquired the Rosary in the year 1214.  St. Dominic, seeing that the gravity of people’s sins was hindering the conversion of the Albigensians, withdrew into a forest near Toulouse, where he prayed continuously for three days and three nights.  During this time he did nothing but weep and do harsh penances in order to appease the anger of God.  He used his discipline so much that his body became lacerated, and, finally, he fell into a coma.  Our Lady appeared to him, accompanied by three angels, and said,

“Dear Dominic, do you know which weapon the Blessed Trinity wants to use to reform the world?”

“Oh, My Lady,” answered Saint Dominic, “you know far better than I do, because next to your Son Jesus Christ you have always been the chief instrument of our salvation.”

Our Lady replied, “I want you to know that, in this kind of warfare, the principal weapon has always been the Angelic Psalter, which is the foundation-stone of the New Testament.  Therefore, if you want to reach these hardened souls and win them over to God, preach my Psalter.”

So he arose, comforted, and burning with zeal for the conversion of the people in that district, he made straight for the cathedral.  At once, unseen angels rang the bells to gather the people together, and Saint Dominic began to preach.  At the very beginning of his sermon, an appalling storm broke out, the earth shook, the sun was darkened, and there was so much thunder and lightning that all were very much afraid.  Even greater was their fear when, looking at a picture of our Lady positioned in a prominent place, they saw her raise her arms to heaven three times to call down God’s vengeance upon them if they failed to be converted, to amend their lives, and seek the protection of the Holy Mother of God.  God wished, by means of these supernatural phenomena, to spread the new devotion of the holy Rosary and to make it more widely known.

Saint Dominic and the Rosary
Saint Dominic and the Rosary

At last, at the prayer of Saint Dominic, the storm came to an end, and he went on preaching. So fervently and compellingly did he explain the importance and value of the Rosary that almost all the people of Toulouse embraced it and renounced their false beliefs.  In a very short time a great improvement was seen in the town; people began leading Christian lives and gave up their former bad habits.

Inspired by the Holy Spirit, instructed by the Blessed Virgin — as well as by his own experience, Saint Dominic preached the Rosary for the rest of his life.  He preached it by his example as well as by his sermons, in cities and in rural places, to people of high station and low, before scholars and the uneducated, to Catholics and to heretics.  The Rosary, which he said every day, was his preparation for every sermon and his little tryst with our Lady immediately after preaching.

One day he had to preach at Notre Dame in Paris on the Feast of St. John the Evangelist. He was in a little chapel behind the high altar, prayerfully preparing his sermon by saying the Rosary as he always did, when Our Lady appeared to him and said,

“Dominic, even though what you have planned to say may be very good, I am bringing you a much better sermon.”

Saint Dominic took in his hands the book Our Lady offered, read the sermon carefully and, when he had understood it and meditated on it, he gave thanks to Her.  When the time came, he went up into the pulpit and, in spite of the feast day, made no mention of Saint John other than to say that he had been found worthy to be the guardian of the Queen of Heaven.  The congregation was made up of theologians and other eminent people, who were used to hearing unusual and polished discourses; but Saint Dominic told them that it was not his desire to give them a learned discourse, wise in the eyes of the world, but that he would speak in the simplicity of the Holy Spirit and with his forcefulness.  So he began preaching the Rosary and explained the Hail Mary word by word as he would to a group of children, and used the very simple illustrations which were in the book given him by Our Lady.

St. Dominic and the Virgin
St. Dominic and the Virgin

Blessed Alan, according to Carthagena, mentioned several other occasions when Our Lord and Our Lady appeared to Saint Dominic to urge him and inspire him to preach the Rosary more and more in order to wipe out sin and convert sinners and heretics.  In another passage, Our Lady revealed that after she had appeared to Saint Dominic, Her blessed Son appeared to him also and said,

“Dominic, I rejoice to see that you are not relying on your own wisdom and that, rather than seek the empty praise of men, you are working with great humility for the salvation of souls.  But many priests want to preach thunderously against the worst kinds of sin at the very outset, failing to realize that before a sick person is given bitter medicine, he needs to be prepared by being put into the right frame of mind to really benefit by it.  That is why, before doing anything else, priests should try to kindle a love of prayer in people’s hearts and especially a love of my Angelic Psalter.  If only they would all start saying it and would really persevere, God in his mercy could hardly refuse to give them his grace. So I want you to preach My Rosary.”

All things, even the holiest, are subject to change, especially when they are dependent on man’s free will. It is hardly to be wondered at, then, that the Confraternity of the Holy Rosary only retained its first fervour for a century after it was instituted by Saint Dominic. After this it was like a thing buried and forgotten.  Doubtless, too, the wicked scheming and jealousy of the devil were largely responsible for getting people to neglect the Rosary, and thus block the flow of God’s grace which it had drawn upon the world.

Carlow Cathedral, St. Dominic
Carlow Cathedral, St. Dominic

Thus, in 1349, God punished the whole of Europe with the most terrible plague that had ever been known.  Starting in the east, it spread throughout Italy, Germany, France, Poland and Hungary, bringing desolation wherever it went, for out of a hundred men hardly one lived to tell the tale.  Big cities, towns, villages and monasteries were almost completely deserted during the three years that the epidemic lasted.  This scourge of God was quickly followed by two others: the heresy of the Flagellants and a tragic schism in 1376.

Later, when these trials were over, thanks to the Mercy of God, Our Lady told Blessed Alan to revive the former Confraternity of the Holy Rosary.  Blessed Alan was one of the Dominican Fathers at the monastery at Dinan, in Brittany.  He was an eminent theologian and a famous preacher.  Our Lady chose him because, since the Confraternity had originally been started in that province, it was fitting that a Dominican from the same province should have the honor of re-establishing it.

Blessed Alan began this great work in 1460, after a special warning from our Lord. This is how he received that urgent message, as he himself tells it.  One day, when he was offering Mass, Our Lord, who wished to spur him on to preach the Holy Rosary, spoke to him in the Sacred Host:

“How can you crucify Me again so soon?”

“What did you say, Lord?” (Alan was horrified)

“You crucified Me once before by your sins, and I would willingly be crucified again rather than have My Father offended by the sins you used to commit.  You are crucifying Me again now because you have all the learning and understanding that you need to preach My Mother’s Rosary, and you are not doing it.  If you only did that, you could teach many souls the right path and lead them away from sin.  But you are not doing it, and so you, yourself, are guilty of the sins that they commit.”

This terrible reproach made Blessed Alan solemnly resolve to preach the Rosary unceasingly.  To inspire him to preach the Rosary more, Our Lady said to him one day,

“You were a great sinner in your youth, but I obtained the grace of your conversion from My Son. Had such a thing been possible, I would have liked to have gone through all kinds of suffering to save you, because converted sinners are a glory to me. And I would have done that also to make you worthy of preaching my Rosary far and wide.”

Ever since Blessed Alan de la Roche re-established this devotion in 1460, the voice of the people, which is the voice of God, gave it the name of the Rosary, which means “crown of roses.”  That is to say that every time people say the Rosary devoutly they place on the heads of Jesus and Mary 153 white roses and sixteen red roses.  Being heavenly flowers, these roses will never fade or lose their beauty.

St. Dominic
St. Dominic

Our Lady has approved and confirmed this name of the Rosary; she has revealed to several people that each time they say a Hail Mary they are giving her a beautiful rose, and that each complete Rosary makes her a crown of roses.  So the complete Rosary is a large crown of roses and each chaplet of five decades is a little wreath of flowers or a little crown of heavenly roses which we place on the heads of Jesus and Mary.  The rose is the queen of flowers; the Rosary is the rose or “queen” of devotions, thus becoming the most important one.

The Virgin by the Sea, Walsingham, 1061AD

WALSINGHAM, ENGLAND   1061  “The Virgin by the Sea”

In a small village in North Norfolk, England, in 1061, lived a devout young widow, Richeldis de Faverches, Lady of the Manor of Walsingham.  Our Lady appeared to her three times in a vision, and each time showed her the house in which the Holy Family had dwelt in Nazareth.  Mary led Richeldis “in spirit” to Nazareth to show her the place where the Archangel Gabriel had greeted her, and directed the widow to take measurements of the house so that she could build one like it at Walsingham.  In this spot, the Virgin Mary explained, the people would celebrate the Annunciation, “the root of mankind’s gracious redemption.”

“Do all this unto my special praise and honor.  And all who are in any way distressed or in need, let them seek me here in that little house you have made at Walsingham.  To all that seek me there shall be given succor.  And there at Walsingham in this little house shall be held in remembrance the great joy of my salutation when Saint Gabriel told me I should through humility become the Mother of God’s Son.”

Three times Richeldis experienced this vision and request.  This confirmed her desire to have the replica constructed, but the directions about the exact location were unclear to her and the carpenters.  Richeldis gave instructions for the building to commence but nothing seemed to go right.

When the carpenters could make no progress in building, Richeldis found it difficult to go to sleep.  She spent the night in prayer, asking for guidance.  There was an energy in the air that “made the night seem almost alive.”  She heard singing that seemed “not of this world” and went out into her garden to investigate.  She noted that the “heavenly singing” was coming from the direction of the unfinished construction.  As she approached the site she was amazed to see that the little house had been completed – but had been moved about two hundred yards from the site of the original construction!  She then saw what appeared to be angels leaving the now completed house.  When the carpenters returned to the site, they, too, reported hearing strange sounds and were amazed to see that the house had been moved and completed.  They pronounced the craftsmanship of the completed construction to be far superior to their own.

Our Lady of Walsingham
Our Lady of Walsingham

The Holy House had been miraculously built, and very soon pilgrims began to arrive.
During the Middle Ages, Walsingham became one of the greatest pilgrimage sites in all of Europe.  It became widely known as “England’s Nazareth.”  A church was constructed around the house to protect it from the elements.  All walks of life came there – peasant, king, rich and poor.  At the Holy House, all were equal.  From the time of Henry III in 1226 almost every king and queen of England as well as Queen Isabella of France and King Robert Bruce of Scotland visited the shrine.  For almost 500 years, Walsingham continued to draw thousands.  Many miracles were attributed to Our Lady of Walsingham, including one in which King Edward I was saved from a piece of falling masonry.

In the early 1500’s, Henry VIII visited the Holy House of Walsingham more than once as a pilgrim.  On one such occasion he walked barefoot twice the usual distance traversed by penitents.  But Henry’s ways changed as the years passed.  In an effort to be rid of one of his wives, Queen Catherine, and marry another, the king broke with the Pope and had himself declared by his parliament to be head of the English Church.  Then, in 1538, in order to move against all religious orders in his domain, Henry confiscated and burned to the ground the Holy House of Our Lady of Walsingham.  Only a portion of the massive east wall is visible today.

A wealthy Anglican woman, Charlotte Boyd, bought and restored it in 1863.  In 1864, Pope Leo XIII re-founded the ancient shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham, and pilgrimages were permitted to resume.  In 1954, the image of Our Lady of Walsingham was solemnly crowned at the direction of Pope Pius XII.

A chapel devoted to Saint Catherine of Alexandria, about a mile before the shrine, became nicknamed the “Slipper Chapel” because visitors would leave their footwear there, out of respect, and walk the last mile barefoot or in slippers.

The Slipper Chapel
The Slipper Chapel

Our Lady of Walsingham is also known as “The Virgin by the Sea.”  The medieval ballad told that she helps mariners in distress.  The Anglican pilgrim hostel displays the name “Stella Maris” or “Star of the Sea,” one of Mary’s more ancient titles.  Just a few miles from the Norfolk coast, Walsingham is a sanctuary of prayer and healing, a metaphor of salvation from storm and shipwreck, offering calm waters and safe harbor for all in trouble.

Our Lady of the Snows, Rome, 352AD

A wealthy aristocrat and devout Christian known by tradition as John lived in Rome with his wife in the fourth century.  They had no children and feared that lack of an heir would end their family’s long prominence in the government of the city.  They had often prayed for a child but without success.  One day John’s wife said, “Let’s pray to the Blessed Virgin to nominate an heir.”

In August of that year, John had a dream that the Virgin Mary wanted a church built in her honor in Rome.  He was told that they would know where to build it because snow would fall on that spot.  Amazingly, Pope Liberius had the same dream on the same night.  Despite it being a very hot summer in Rome, snow fell the next day on Mount Esquiline, one of the famous Seven Hills.  However, it fell into a precise rectangular pattern – as if outlining the boundaries of the church Mary desired to have built.

When Pope Liberius showed up on Mount Esquiline to witness the miraculous snowfall, he found John and his wife already there, kneeling in prayer to the Virgin.  People crowded to see the rectangular patch of snow, which would not melt despite the hot summer heat of August.  John was convinced that its shape and size indicated that a church should be built on that precise spot.  As soon as the plot for the building had been staked out, the snow melted.

Basilica of St. Mary Major
Basilica of St. Mary Major

John met the costs of building this church, which was completed in 354 A.D.  It was dedicated as the Basilica Liberiana after Pope Liberius.  Seventy years later, it was rebuilt on a grander scale by Pope Sixtus III, who added decorations and ornaments of silver.  It was renamed the Basilica Sixti at that time.  Today, it is called the Church of Santa Maria Maggiore (St. Mary Major) and is one of the largest basilicas in the world.  They celebrate the Miracle of the Snow every year on August 5th.

Pope Liberius provided a special painting of Madonna and Child from St. Helen, mother of Emperor Constantine, to be housed in this new basilica.  Many miracles are attributed to this wonderful painting.  When Gregory I was Pope (590-604 A.D.), Rome was ravaged by a plague.  Pope Gregory carried the image of the Holy Mother in a procession from the basilica as far as Hadrian’s Mausoleum.  When the procession arrived, they heard an invisible heavenly choir singing Regina Coeli.  When the Pope asked the Virgin to pray for the city, he saw an apparition of St. Michael replacing the sword of vengeance into its scabbard.  And the plague ended.

Basilica of St. Mary Major, side altar
Basilica of St. Mary Major, side altar

The magnificent Basilica of St. Mary Major, still stands today as the seat of devotion to Our Lady of the Snows.  Father Paul Schulte, of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate, introduced a shrine in her honor in the Midwest in 1941, which stands today in Belleville, Illinois.

Our Lady of the Snows
Our Lady of the Snows