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Nine Themes in Carmelite Spirituality 2. Carmel is Eucharistic

Patrick Thomas McMahon, O.Carm.

Lay Carmelites seek God's presence in prayer while living an active life in the world. This duality of contemplative prayer and active ministry was modeled by the first Carmelites who lived as hermits on Mount Carmel, then later became mendicants in the cities of Europe.

Carmel is Eucharistic

The second characteristic I’d like to talk about is that Carmel is Eucharistic.

Carmelite life has always been centred around the Eucharistic celebration. The first hermits on Mount Carmel gathered daily for the Eucharist. The Eucharist was their one, daily community exercise. That first generation of Carmelites prayed the Psalms alone in their cells. They ate their meals alone in their cells. The one time each day they came together was for Mass. We think of monks and nuns and friars as always having had daily Mass as part of their lives. But this is not so. Many Orders such as the Benedictines initially only celebrated mass on Sundays and major feasts and introduced the practice of a daily mass later in their history. But the Carmelites chose to be together for daily Mass from their first days on Mt. Carmel. Now, notice that they were together for Mass every day, but unfortunately, in those days, people usually received the Eucharist rarely. And the first Carmelites most likely did not receive Holy Communion each day. Indeed they probably only received it several times a year as that was the custom of the time. It was only at the beginning of the last century that Pope St. Pius X authorized daily Communion. We are certainly glad of that practice because we know how important receiving the Eucharist has always been for Carmelites. We see it in St. Teresa, St. John of the Cross, the Little Flower, St. Edith Stein, Blessed Titus Brandsma. They all write about the importance of receiving the Eucharist.

In our Carmelite tradition the emphasis has always been on participating in the Eucharistic liturgy, that is in the Mass. While Carmelites believe that Christ’s presence continues in the Eucharist, reserved after Mass in the tabernacle, Eucharistic worship outside of Mass has never been a central part of Carmelite spirituality. We know that those hermits on Mount Carmel did not go to the chapel and pray to the Blessed Sacrament outside of Mass time. Their Rule explicitly commanded them to stay in their cells and to meditate there, in their cell, day and night, on the law of the Lord. In Carmelite convents and monasteries in Europe before Vatican II, it was most often impossible for the friars or the cloistered nuns to even see the Blessed Sacrament on the altar of the Church because their choir was most often located on the far side of a wall behind the altar. Among the Franciscans and the Dominicans the custom arose of communities dedicated to perpetual adoration. Thus we have Poor Clares of Perpetual Adoration, or Dominican Nuns of Perpetual Adoration. But this custom never arose in Carmel, primarily because the Carmelite has always prayed in the solitude of his or her cell and not in the oratory. Perhaps I should put the idea this way: the principal oratory of the Carmelite is his or her cell, not the community chapel. The Carmelite certainly can participate in all the rites and ceremonies of the Church including Perpetual Adoration. But this devotion is not of itself part of our Carmelite tradition. The Carmelite finds his or her Eucharistic centre to be the celebration of the Eucharistic Liturgy of the Mass. And if called by the Church, one wonderful ministry that the Lay Carmelite can offer his or her parish is to be willing to bring the Eucharist from the Mass to shut-ins to enable them to receive the Lord more often. Bringing the Eucharist to the sick we also come to them with the Word of God in Sacred Scripture which is another characteristic of our Carmelite life and spirituality.

 

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As Carmelites We live our life of allegiance to Jesus Christ and to serve Him faithfully with a pure heart and a clear conscience through a commitment to seek the face of the living God (the contemplative dimension of life), through prayer, through fraternity, and through service (diakonia). These three fundamental elements of the charism are not distinct and unrelated values, but closely interwoven. 

All of these we live under the protection, inspiration and guidance of Mary, Our Lady of Mount Carmel, whom we honor as "our Mother and sister."