Catholic Activity: July 16: Commemoration of Our Lady of Mount Carmel
For this feast, Helen Mcloughlin describes how she honors her daughter's nameday. Includes a description of the festival in Little Italy, New York City. Includes prayers and dessert suggestions.
Nameday of Carmel, Sharon, Althea, Carmen, Carmelita, Lita, Carmella, Carmine, and Carmelo.
This patronal feast of the Carmelite Order is a nameday of our daughter. We had invoked Blessed Mary under this title for a baby girl by adoption and promised to name her Carmel. After the favor had been granted, we called the Carmelite Fathers in New York to find out the Gaelic form for Carmel. A soft Irish voice replied: "Wisha, you can't say Carmel in Gaelic. 'Tis a mount in the Holy Land, Ma'am." So Sheila Carmel became our daughter's name. On this day our family prayers are as follows:
Father: All the majesty of Lebanon is bestowed on her. All: All the grace of Carmel and of Sharon, alleluia. Father: Your head is as erect as Carmel. All: Bright as royal purple the ripples of your hair, alleluia. Father: Let us pray. You were pleased, O God, to honor the Order of Carmel with the particular title of Mary ever Virgin and Mother; grant that we who this day celebrate her commemoration by a solemn nameday may be shielded by her protection and attain eternal joys. You live and reign forever. All: Amen. Christ conquers, Christ reigns!
The Vigil of Mount Carmel in Little Italy. Because our daughter bears the name Carmel and is part Italian, we celebrate the vigil in Little Italy, where half a million people from far and near keep festival like a country fair for a week each year. In the parish of Our Lady of Mount Carmel on the fringe of Harlem lights arch the streets and festoon lamp-posts like diamond necklaces.
Families move large tables to the city streets and sit out to enjoy the music, dancing and food. Behind the chairs, city buses creep cautiously, close enough to scrape off the varnish, it seems. All along the tenemented streets vendors sell their wares. In booths stoves steam with oysters. The night is permeated with the pungent aromas of sizzling sausage and spicy pepper. From vats of bubbling fat pop golden zeppoles, fried doughballs, hot, sugared and tempting. Hawkers fly whistling birds and giant balloons. Others call out, "Tortoni, spumoni, nougats!" Torrone is stacked by the pound beside S-shaped gingerbread and pasta, the sweet cake of Pallo, on carts at street corners.
With the peddlers' cries are mingled the music of Verdi from the bandstand, the squeals of children swaying on ferris wheels high above parking lots taken over for the feast, and the screech of a careening fire engine. In stalls along the streets are displayed tawdry medals and religious wares, bracelets, earrings, cuff-links marked with the emblem of the Virgin of Mount Carmel.
In the street stalls near the church, candles four feet high, some symbolically decorated, are sold. Penitents bear them lighted in the ten-block parade on July 16. Inside the church we hear the praises of the Virgin in the liquid peasant accent of southern Italy. Great crowds walk slowly in line to the altars for scapulars, which are worn publicly during the feastdays. An offering is made at the altar. Beneath a picture of the Virgin are streamers, green with dollar bills pinned there by the faithful seeking favors from Our Lady and by penitents who crowd the church on the vigil.
The Virgin of Mount Carmel stands on a throne of white and gold marble high above the altar with its sea of three-hundred vigil lights. She wears a white silk robe embroidered with real gold lace and sparkling gems; her Infant is dressed to match. Her hair is shoulder length, jet black and straight. Their crowns are gold and bear large emeralds set in diamonds, gifts of St. Pius X, who gave consent to the Virgin's coronation as an endorsement of her miracles. Once every twenty-five years the Virgin and Child are carried in the streets in a public celebration. White pigeons sprung from a cage precede the procession.
The feastday itself. On the feastday proper we take our child (also part Irish) downtown to the Scapular Church of Our Lady of Mount Carmel to attend solemn Vespers and Compline. Services over, the church gates are closed to the public and the street is barricaded to prepare for the procession. Toward evening the parade of Our Lady of Mount Carmel begins. Carmelite priests, their brown and white habits flying, head the procession up First Avenue, followed by the Veterans of Foreign Wars and bagpipers, whose stirring hymn, Faith of Our Fathers, gives the step. A giant drummer twirls and swirls his drumsticks as he leads the children of Carmel from 23rd Street up to 30th on First Avenue, then down Second Avenue to 28th Street.
The Women's Auxiliary of the Veterans of Foreign Wars prays in procession as it carries a gigantic rosary. Every bead is baseball size, each decade a half a block long. Irish cultural societies parade with accordion bands. Pipers lead Hibernians who have come to the sweltering city from Long Island and Connecticut to march in honor of the Virgin of Mount Carmel. Irish county associations bear the banners of little-known patron saints of Ireland.
Last to parade are Third Order Carmelites, who wear wide brown badges, part of their habit. For seven hundred years the Gaels have followed Our Lady of Mount Carmel and their steadfast devotion to her is a tribute to the Carmelite Fathers.
When the procession reaches East 28th Street, the bands strike their grandest airs. Waiting on the steps of the priory are a mitred bishop, resplendent in gold, and monsignori, sweltering in crimson as the broiling sun slants on the tenements and crowds. It is a thrilling sight to watch. "Let Erin remember the days of old e'er her faithless sons betrayed her," comes clear and strong from the bagpipes of one band. The next skirls an ancient Marian hymn as it proceeds to the church.
Fourth-degree Knights of Columbus in plumed tricorns, crimson-lined capes and gleaming sabres prepare to follow the bands. Altar boys, cassocked in gold, swing lanterns uneasily in the oppressive heat as Carmelites, monsignori and the bishop enter the crowded East Side church.
The sermon is short, for the night is hot. The choir could be better still, this is a tribute which the Virgin of Mount Carmel will most certainly accept.
In the vestibule of the church, Knights, flag-bearers, kilted Irishmen and a motley congregation prepare to leave. On a pedestal Elias, the prophet, his arm outstretched with a torch, looks wild-eyed at this group who have honored his Lady of Mount Carmel.
We take our daughter home. The antiphon of Mother Mary's feast keeps running through the mind: "All the majesty of Lebanon is bestowed on her, all the grace of Carmel and Sharon, alleluia!" Our dessert is a simple gold cake with a chocolate frosting, or a molded dessert or a panettoni cake bought from hawkers at the vigil.
Activity Source: My Nameday — Come for Dessert by Helen McLoughlin, The Liturgical Press, Collegeville, MN, 1962