It is especially the Blessed
Virgin Mary who is found across all the pages of the history of Carmel. The
Order claims to have been founded in order to honor the Mother of God. Every
Carmelite heart burns with a filial love for her and wills to imitate the
hidden, silent life of the adoration of the Virgin of Nazareth.
Saint Teresa of
Avila says clearly that the desire of the Carmelite is "to be alone with
the Alone". God reveals Himself to the heart in solitude, and
therefore, each nun works alone, as much as possible, either in her cell or
office. There is to be no speaking without necessity outside of the two daily
recreations. The strict enclosure, walls and grates separate the religious from
the world and help to promote and protect this solitude.
A Carmelite’s day is centered on
its summit, which is Mount Calvary —the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. There, she
offers herself with Christ to fulfill the Divine Will in all she will do during
the day. At the foot of the Cross, and while reciting the Divine Office, she
draws the graces and the strength she needs for her own sanctification and for
all souls. Mental prayer is the cornerstone of Carmelite spirituality. Solitude,
silence, detachment and mortification are the conditions of prayer and the
negative aspect of the Carmelite spirituality, while prayer and union with God
are its positive aspects. To be solid, prayer must be built on profound
Saint Teresa of
Avila teaches that the essence of prayer is "not to think a lot, but to
love a lot". Meditation and reasoning serve to prepare the soul to stay
near Our Lord and speak to Him. The more a soul advances, the more this colloquy
will occupy a greater part of prayer. The value of prayer is not measured by the
sweetness that one might find in it, but by the fruit it bears of giving the
soul a firm purpose in accomplishing the Will of God in everything, despite the
repugnance of nature. Daily spiritual reading, reading during meals, weekly
spiritual conferences, and an annual retreat furnish the common nourishment of
the monastic life of prayer.
The Rule imposes
certain mortifications to help attain conformity to Christ. Saint Teresa told
her daughters, "Do not forget that you are spouses of a crucified
God". Though the Rule requires perpetual abstinence from meat, it does
allow exceptions as a remedy for sickness or weakness. The fast of the Order
from September 14th until Easter is less rigorous than that of the
Church during Lent.
This should not be frightening
because nothing is asked in the Carmelite life which would surpass the normal
strength of a young 20th-century girl.
The Rule obliges common poverty
(food, furniture, clothing, etc.) and personal poverty (no personal
possessions). Linked to the profession of poverty is the necessity of manual
labor. Carmelite nuns are seamstresses, embroiderers, gardeners, etc. Others
apply themselves to painting, restorations of statues, bookbinding, making of
liturgical vestments, as well as the necessary community works of cooking,
cleaning and scrubbing. The vows of poverty and chastity express this
renouncement of the world. Even during recreation, the nuns have some work to do
by hand while relaxing and conversing in a family atmosphere.
Carmelites strive to
learn the way of humility and abnegation through prompt and joyful obedience to
their superiors. Their least actions done out of obedience are united with those
of Christ and can then acquire a very redemptive value for souls. The Rule
recommends "Let all that you do be done in the Name of the Lord".
Life in Carmel and its
Saint Teresa of
Avila requires that aspirants have good health, good judgment and a solid
nervous equilibrium in order to be able to support solitude and the regularity
of monastic life. For six months (or more according to circumstances) after
entering Carmel, the postulant lives the Carmelite life as all the other nuns.
Upon vote of the Chapter, she is admitted to begin her novitiate by receiving
the Holy Habit of Carmel. After two years, the novice may ask to be received, by
vote of the Chapter, to make her temporary profession, which binds her to
religion and the Order, by the three vows of Poverty, Chastity and Obedience.
These vows are renewed at the end of each year over a period of six years. If a professed-novice
realizes that she is unable to continue in the Order, she is free to leave at
the expiration of her vows. The decisive step, by which a professed-novice
becomes a Carmelite, is the Solemn Profession at which she pronounces her solemn
perpetual vows. She then receives the black veil as a symbol of her