Fish Eaters: The Whys and Hows of Traditional Catholicism

``Where the Bishop is, there let the multitude of believers be;
even as where Jesus is, there is the Catholic Church'' Ignatius of Antioch, 1st c. A.D

Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel

Mt. Carmel, located near the sea in Haifa in modern-day Israel, is the site of a very dramatic Old Testament story that we can read in III Kings 18.1 It happened in the 9th century before Our Lord was born, at a time when Israel, which had been united under King Solomon, was once again split in half, with Israel to the North, and Judah to the South.

The Northern Kingdom of this time was ruled by King Achab (Ahab) -- the husband of the Baal-worshiping Jezabel (Jezebel), a woman so wicked that her name has become one of the words we call evil women. Achab continued the policies of his father, who did all he could to water down God's teaching. He promoted such sacrileges as the offering of sacrifices outside of the Temple in Jerusalem so that even those who considered themselves faithful weren't faithful at all to the tradition they should have preserved.

Then Jezabel built a temple to Baal, imported hundreds of Baal-worshiping priests into the land, and began to purge the relatively few truly faithful prophets of God.

One of those prophets was the great Elias (Elijah), who warned King Achab,

As the Lord liveth the God of Israel, in Whose sight I stand, there shall not be dew nor rain these years, but according to the words of my mouth.

But his words were ignored, and the persecutions continued. Elias did what God told him to do by fleeing to "the torrent of Carith" 2 -- a stream that flows into the Jordan River. There, he was kept alive by ravens, who twice a day brought him "bread and flesh," and by a widow woman whom he repaid by allowing God to use him to bring her son back to life. During this time he also hid away in the caves of Mt. Carmel one hundred of God's faithful.

After three more years of drought and ensuing famine, God then told him to go to back King Achab so that He could send rain and relieve the people's suffering. Elias did so, issuing a challenge to Achab:

...[G]ather unto me all Israel, unto Mount Carmel, and the prophets of Baal four hundred and fifty, and the prophets of the groves four hundred, who eat at Jezabel's table.

Let two bullocks be given us, and let them choose one bullock for themselves, and cut it in pieces and lay it upon wood, but put no fire under: and I will dress the other bullock, and lay it on wood, and put no fire under it. Call ye on the names of your gods, and I will call on the name of my Lord: and the God that shall answer by fire, let him be God.

And all the people answering said: A very good proposal.  

The priests of Baal prepared their bull and they prayed to their false god for hours. When nothing happened, Elias taunted them:

Cry with a louder voice: for he is a god, and perhaps he is talking, or is in an inn, or on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep, and must be awaked.

They prayed some more, and even cut themselves with knives and lancets until they were covered with blood. But, still, nothing happened, and they eventually gave up.

Then Elias prepared his bull as they had. But he went one step further: he drenched it and the wood under it with twelve buckets of water. Then this happened:

[T]he fire of the Lord fell, and consumed the holocaust, and the wood, and the stones, and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench.  And when all the people saw this, they fell on their faces, and they said: The Lord He is God, the Lord He is God.

Mt. Carmel, then, is a sacred mountain, a place of encounter with God. And it's a place of natural beauty, as related in Canticle of Canticles 7 --

Thy neck as a tower of ivory. Thy eyes like the fishpools in Hesebon, which are in the gate of the daughter of the multitude. Thy nose is as the tower of Libanus, that looketh toward Damascus.  Thy head is like Carmel: and the hairs of thy head as the purple of the king bound in the channels. How beautiful art thou, and how comely, my dearest, in delights!

Mt. Carmel is a symbol of Eden, of Paradise. It is God's own garden, and God's people have lived as hermits in the caves there since before the time of Christ. The Carmelite Order was formally founded there in 1185, and in 1209, they were given a rule written for them by the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem. But the Carmelites attribute their actual, spiritual founding to Elias and his disciple Elishu (Elisha), who are, of course, considered Saints in our Church: St. Elias is honored on July 20, and St. Elishu has his day on June 14.

The monastery the Carmelites built there on Mt. Carmel was overtaken by Muslims and turned into a mosque, and the religious were forced to leave the Holy Land altogether. But they returned in 1631, and in 1831, they built the monastery that is there now, and a church right over the grotto in which St. Elias lived. The monastery is named Stella Maris -- Star of the Sea, in honor of Our Lady -- and the Blessed Virgin is the patron Saint of the Carmelite Order. In her guise as the patroness of the Carmelite Order, she is known as "Our Lady of Mt. Carmel."

Now, to understand the date of this feast and its proximate purpose, you have to back up in time and go to a different place: on July 16, 1251, in Aylesford, Kent, England -- in the most southeastern part of the country -- Our Lady of Mt. Carmel appeared to St. Simon Stock, a Carmelite monk, and gave to him the brown scapular. She told him, "this shall be the privilege for you and for all the Carmelites, that anyone dying in this habit shall be saved." The giving of the scapular is the reason for today's feast, which is sometimes referred to as "the scapular feast."

Note that St. Simon Stock is the author of Flos Carmeli (Flower of Carmel) which praises Mary as the most beautiful flower of God's own garden (Mt. Carmel), and of Ave Stella Matutina (Hail, Morning Star), two beloved Carmelite antiphons which you can find at the bottom of this page. St. Simon ended up dying in Bordeaux, France, and his priory in Aylesfield -- known as "the Friars" -- was lost when King Henry VIII turned Protestant and looted Catholics of their wealth. But after changing hands many times over the years, the Carmelites were able to buy it back in 1949. They restored the place, and St. Simon's relics were moved there in 1951. Since then, the place has become popular for pilgrimages and retreats.

Our Lady of Mt. Carmel is almost always depicted as crowned, sometimes with a star on her shoulder, and holding her Son and/or a scapular (or Christ in her arms is shown holding a scapular, or both are). She's also often shown with Carmelite Saints, especially St. Simon Stock, or aiding souls in Purgatory. It is as Our Lady of Mt. Carmel that the Virgin appeared to the seer Lucia at Fatima on October 13, 1917, as the miracle of the Sun was taking place.


Some may prepare for this Feast by praying the Novena to Our Lady of Mt. Carmel beginning on July 7 and ending on July 15, the eve of this feast. A good prayer for the day itself is the Litany of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, or this prayer one from the Raccolta:

O most blessed Virgin Immaculate, the beauty and splendour of Carmel, thou who regardest with eyes
of special love those who wear thy blessed habit, look kindly upon me and spread over me the mantle of
thy maternal protection. Strengthen my weakness with thy power, illuminate the darkness of my mind
with thy wisdom, increase in me the virtues of Faith, Hope and Charity. Adorn my soul with such graces
and virtues that it may be ever dear to thy divine Son and to thee. Assist me in life, console me in death,
with thy dear presence, and present me to the Holy Trinity as thy child and devoted servant, eternally to
praise and bless thee in Paradise. Amen.

Pray three Aves and one Gloria

As to music for the day, this song, loosely based on St. Simon Stock's Ave Stella Matutina, is fitting. It was written by Lucrezia Orsina Vizzana (1590–1662):

Today is a good day to recall St. Elias -- the precursor to the Precursor -- and to emulate his will to defend sacred Tradition. When he met up with "all Israel" and the priests of Baal, he felt alone, saying, "I only remain a prophet of the Lord: but the prophets of Baal are four hundred and fifty men (III Kings 18:22).  But he persevered! In times like ours, when the world is against us just as the priests of Baal and the rulers of his land were against Elias, and when, also like Elias, we see so many who claim to be of our Faith betray the Lord by tossing aside what has been handed down to us by our ancestors, and practicing a weak, irrational syncretism, we should keep the fortitude of St. Elias in mind! Become virtuous, and always speak the truth when necessary! If you ever feel "lost at sea," look to Christ, our North Star, and keep your eyes on Him always! If you ever feel alone, turn to His Mother, Saints, and angels for friendship and help! Stay strong! Ask God to grant you the faith and zeal of St. Elias:

O Living Lord, the God of Thy Prophet Elias, Who hast adopted us through baptism by Thy holy grace: enkindle also in us the faith and zeal of Thy holy prophet.

The Feast of Our Lady of Carmel is grandly celebrated in various places in Italy. In Rome, a statue of Our Lady of Carmel -- Madonna del Carmine -- is dressed in beautiful clothes and precious jewels given by the faithful, and then processed from the Church of Sant'Agata in Trastevere to the Basilica of San Crisogono, where it will remain for eight days, when it is processed back again. Food, music, traditional markets, and fireworks are all part of the celebrations.

In Avigliano, Potenza, Basilicata, in 1694, the people appealed to Our Lady of Mt. Carmel when they were suffering from both famine and earth tremors. They ran to the mountains and prayed there for 40 days, pleading with Our Lady that they would honor her if she would intercede for them. When no one died and no houses were destroyed by the great earthquake that came, they renamed their local mountain "Mt. Carmine" (Carmel), built a chapel in her honor, and bought a beautiful wooden statue of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel to adorn it. Every year on the eve of this feast, they crown the statue and lay a mantle fixed with treasures over its shoulders. Then, on the 16th, the statue is processed from Church of Santa Maria degli Angeli to the Sanctuary of Santa Maria del Carmine almost 6 1/2 miles away. The statue remains there for two months, being returned on the second Sunday in September.

Not far away from Avigliano is Viggianello, whose people honor Our Lady of Mt. Carmel on the third Sunday of August. Everyone wears their traditional clothing, but the women wear cirii on their heads -- conical shaped structures decorated with wheat and ribbons. The men carry on their shoulders a great wooden structure -- la meta -- that is shaped and decorated in the same way, but with the addition of farm animals. All the while, bagpipers, accordionists, and tambourine players make music while people dance a tarantella called the "sickle dance."

In Palmi, Calabria, a miracle took place that was officially recognized by the Vatican: on October 31, 1894, a statue of Our Lady of Carmel began doing very strange things. Its eyes would move, and its face would blanche, like the flesh of a woman who's about to faint. This went on for seventeen days, and was written about not only in the local press, but nationally. On November 16th, the people spontaneously held a procession of the statue -- and just when they made it to the end of the city, a violent earthquake struck, destroying most of the houses. But out of the 15,000 inhabitants of the town, fewer than ten were killed because most of them were taking part in the procession to honor the Blessed Virgin. Since then, every year on November 16, the people of Palmi have Mass followed by a procession of the statue of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel.

Italian immigrants brought their love of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel to the United States, and in various places around America at this time, one can find festivals in her honor. Williamsburg, Brooklyn, New York City has a large one centered around the Shrine Church of Our Lady of Mount Carmel at 275 North 8th Street. It includes a procession of Our Lady, and is famous for its "Dancing of the Giglio" -- a tall, three-ton tower that is carried down the street on men's shoulders.

Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Church on 259 Oliver Street in Newark, New Jersey, Our Lady of Mt Carmel Church at 1355 West 70th Street in Cleveland,  Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Church at 3549 Navajo Street in Denver, Colorado, and many, many other churches in the U.S. also have large festivals for Our Lady at this time.

Please note that the word for the cooked sugar confection called "caramel" but often pronounced as "car-muhl" has nothing at all to do with Mt. Carmel -- Hakkarmel in the Hebrew texts -- or Our Lady's patronage thereof. But if it makes you happy to eat caramel today, then by all means do it! And since it's likely that Americans who pronounce "caramel" as "car-muhl" won't be able to help making a mental association between the candy and the feast, here's a recipe:

Caramel Dipping Sauce

2 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup water
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1 cup heavy cream
2 teaspoons vanilla
tsp of salt

Put the sugar and water in a big pot with a heavy bottom, and give it a good stir (use a wooden or heat-resistant silicon spoon or spatula while making this recipe). Turn on the heat to medium and cook until the sugar dissolves and starts to bubble (you want it to get to between 338 and 350 degrees F). It will start off cloudy and then go clear. Do not stir it while you wait for this to happen! You can give the pan a gentle swirl once in a while, and scrape down the sides, but don't stir (if it crystallizes, add about 1/4 c. more water and reheat).

Keep a careful eye on it! Around the 8 to 14 minute mark, it will start to thicken and turn a dark amber color. When it does, add the buttter and whisk until it's totally melted.

Take the pan off the heat and add in the cream slowly, whisking all the while. Stir in the vanilla and salt. Let it cool (it will get thicker as it does). Serve with slices of apples and a bowl of chopped peanuts, pecans, or walnuts (dip apple slices in the caramel, then dip in the nuts and eat), or drizzle over ice cream. Will keep in the fridge for about three weeks if tightly covered. 


Flos Carmeli

by St. Simon Stock

Flos Carmeli,
vitis florigera,
splendor caeli,
virgo puerpera

Mater mitis
sed viri nescia
esto propitia
stella maris.

Radix Iesse
germinans flosculum
nos ad esse
tecum in saeculum

Inter spinas
quae crescis lilium
serva puras
mentes fragilium

fortis pugnantium
furunt bella
tende praesidium

Per incerta
prudens consilium
per adversa
iuge solatium

Mater dulcis
Carmeli domina,
plebem tuam
reple laetitia
qua bearis.

clavis et ianua,
fac nos duci
quo, Mater, gloria
coronaris. Amen
Flower of Carmel,
Tall vine blossom laden;
Splendor of heaven,
Childbearing yet maiden.
None equals thee.

Mother so tender,
Who no man didst know,
On Carmel's children
Thy favors bestow.
Star of the Sea.

Strong stem of Jesse,
Who bore one bright flower,
Be ever near us
And guard us each hour,
who serve thee here.

Purest of lilies,
That flowers among thorns,
Bring help to the true heart
That in weakness turns
and trusts in thee.

Strongest of armor,
We trust in thy might:
Under thy mantle,
Hard press'd in the fight,
we call to thee.

Our way uncertain,
Surrounded by foes,
Unfailing counsel
You give to those
who turn to thee.

O gentle Mother
Who in Carmel reigns,
Share with your servants
That gladness you gained
and now enjoy.

Hail, Gate of Heaven,
With glory now crowned,
Bring us to safety
Where thy Son is found,
true joy to see.

Ave Stella Matutina

by St. Simon Stock

Ave, Stella matutina,
Peccatorum medicina,
Mundi princeps et Regina.

Virgo sola digna dici,
Contra tela inimici
Clypeum pone salutis
Tuae titulum virtutis.

Tu es enim virga Jesse,
In qua Deus fecit esse
Aaron amygdalum,
Mundi tollens scandalum.

Tu es area compluta,
Caelesti rore imbuta,
Sicco tamen vellere.

Tu nos in hoc carcere
Solare propitia,
Dei plena gratia.

O Sponsa Dei electa,
Esto nobis via recta
Ad aeterna gaudia.

Ubi pax est et gloria.
Tu nos semper aure pia,
Dulcis, exaudi, Maria.
Hail, morning star,
Medicine of sinners,
Ruler and Queen of the world.

Alone worthy to be called a virgin,
Against the spears of the enemy
Set the shield of salvation,
The sign of Thy virtue.

For you are the rod of Jesse,
In whom God made to be
Aaron’s almond, taking away
the scandal of the world.

Thou are the ground rained upon,
Imbued by heaven’s dew,
Though the fleece stayed dry.

In this prison do thou console us,
Mercifully console us,
Who art full of God’s grace.

O chosen spouse of God
Be for us the straight road
To eternal joys

Where peace and glory are.
Do Thou ever hear us
With devoted ear, sweet Mary.


1 I Kings 18 in Bibles with Masoretic numbering

2 The spot is now known as both Chorath and as Wadi al-Yabis.

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