Wednesday, July 17, 2013


Yesterday, the church celebrated the feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. Downgraded in 1961 to a "Commemoration," Our Lady of Mount Carmel has experienced the fate of so many other feasts and saints now reduced to "optional" in the contemporary calendar. Yet it is a feast I never fail to celebrate, not just for its inherent beauty but for the childhood memories it evokes.
For whatever reason, the Carmelite Order's special devotion to Mary under the title "Our Lady of Mount Carmel" became a particularly popular devotion in Italy and was carried by Italian immigrants to America as a characteristically ethnic devotion. Thus, the Italian "National Parish" on Arthur Avenue in New York's Borough of the Bronx, founded in 1906 (the same year as my own home parish just about one mile directly west on Fordham Road) was dedicated to Our Lady of Mount Carmel.
That neighborhood still features its Italian market and restaurants, although the actual Italian population must surely be much diminished. In the 1950s, however, it was a bustling, thriving ethnic neighborhood, which featured a full-scale, traditional Italian street festival for the feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. Every year in those days, my family would go to Arthur Avenue in the evening of July 16 for Italian ices and the other delights of a traditional Italian Festa, while Our Lady's illuminated statue made its way in procession through the neighborhood. Earlier that morning, however, my mother and grandmother and I would have already taken the bus to Mount Carmel Church to attend the Solemn Mass. Since the pastor at that time was a bishop, it was a Pontifical Mass - although, since he was just an Auxiliary Bishop, it was what was then called a Missa Pontificalis ad Faldistorium. Needless to say, it was the only Pontifical Mass I ever attended at that age. I sometimes trace my budding interest in all things liturgical to my youthful fascination with the intricacies of that ceremony, my eyes glued to the faldstool trying to keep count of how many times the bishop's miter was removed from or replaced on his head and even (when I was a little older and observed more) which of those times the mitra pretiosa was used and which of those times the mitra auriphrygiata. Those were the days! We shall not see their like again!

Aesthetics and ethnic reminiscences aside, the Mass found in the Carmelite Proprium proclaims the perennial significance of this devotion in the life of the Church:

"So intimately does she hare in the mystery of Christ
that she is still a mother,
continuing to give you children with the Church,
encouraging them by her love,
and drawing them by her perfect example
to pursue perfect charity.
She is the model
of all who live by the spirit of the Gospel;
as we look up to her in prayer
we learn from her mind
to love you above all things,
from her spirit
to be rapt in contemplation of your Word,
and from her heart
to serve the needs of others."

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