Catholic Culture Overview
Catholic Culture Overview

Celebrating for Our Lady of Mount Carmel

By Jennifer Gregory Miller ( bio - articles - email ) | Jul 15, 2016 | In The Liturgical Year

Due to my foot surgeries two years in a row, our family has been sidelined again this summer. We usually travel near the Optional Memorial of Our Lady of Mount Carmel to my husband’s hometown to participate in the Mount Carmel festival, sponsored by the Italian parish Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church in Altoona, Pennsylvania. We have attended so many years, that I realized I never wrote about one of my favorite feasts because we were always celebrating instead of having time to write.

I was raised in a “Bible Belt” area that didn’t have as many Catholic cultural traditions such as ethnic festivals and processions. The first time I read Helen McLoughlin’s description in her book My Nameday Come for Dessert of the traditional festival in East Harlem in New York City (which continues today), I was completely captivated and hoped I could attend something similar in my life. Years later, I found the Mount Carmel Festival in Altoona, although on a much smaller scale, was one of those traditional ethnic Catholic festivals.

Processions, veneration of sacred images and festivals are expressions of popular piety. The Church has recognized that man has both physical and spiritual needs and expressions of joy and worship, both formally through Liturgy and informally through popular piety. Over the centuries abuses have arisen, but the aim is balance in all things. The Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy specifically addresses sacred images and processions. It is worth reading the entire sections. Of note on sacred images:

238. The Second Council of Nicea, “following the divinely inspired teaching of our Holy Fathers and the tradition of the Catholic Church”, vigorously defended the veneration of the images of the Saints: “we order with ever rigour and exactitude that, similar to the depictions of the precious and vivifying Cross of our redemption, the sacred images to be used for veneration, are to be depicted in mosaic or any other suitable material, and exposed in the holy churches of God, on their furnishings, vestments, on their walls, as well as in the homes of the faithful and in the streets, be they images of Our Lord God and Saviour Jesus Christ, or of Our Immaculate Lady, the holy Mother of God, or of the Angels, the Saints and the just”331....

239. The veneration of sacred images, whether paintings, statues, bas reliefs or other representations, apart from being a liturgical phenomenon, is an important aspect of popular piety: the faithful pray before sacred images, both in churches and in their homes. They decorate them with flowers, lights, and jewels; they pay respect to them in various ways, carrying them in procession, hanging ex votos near them in thanksgiving; they place them in shrines in the fields and along the roads...

240. According to the teaching of the Church, sacred images are:

  • iconographical transcriptions of the Gospel message, in which image and revealed word are mutually clarified; ecclesiastical tradition requires that images conform “to the letter of the Gospel message”335;
  • sacred signs which, in common with all liturgical signs, ultimately refer to Christ; images of the Saints “signify Christ who is glorified in them”336;
  • memorials of our brethren who are Saints, and who “continue to participate in the salvation of the world, and to whom we are united, above all in sacramental celebrations”337;
  • an assistance in prayer: contemplation of the sacred images facilitates supplication and prompts us to give glory to God for the marvels done by his grace working in the Saints;—a stimulus to their imitation because “the more the eye rests on these sacred images, the more the recollection of those whom they depict grows vivid in the contemplative beholder”338; the faithful tend to imprint on their hearts what they contemplate with the eye: “a true image of the new man”, transformed in Christ, through the power of the Holy Spirit, and in fidelity to his proper vocation;
  • and a form of catechesis, because “through the history of the mysteries of our redemption, expressed in pictures and other media, the faithful are instructed and confirmed in the faith, since they are afforded the means of meditating constantly on the articles of faith”339....

Following in the document is the section on processions, which elaborates the reasons why they are such natural expressions of veneration:

245. Processions are cultic expressions of a universal character and have multiple social and religious significance. In them, the relationship between Liturgy and popular piety is especially important....

246. From the middle ages, votive processions acquired a particular importance in popular piety, and reached their apogee during the age of the Baroque. The Patron Saints of a city, or streets, or guild were honoured by carrying their relics, or image, or effigy in procession.

In their true form, processions are a manifestation of the faith of the people. They often have cultural connotations and are capable of re-awakening the religious sense of the people....

247. To preserve the character of processions as manifestations of faith, it is necessary for the faithful to be carefully instructed on their theological, liturgical and anthropological aspects.

From a theological perspective, it is important to emphasise that a procession is a sign of the Church’s condition, the pilgrimage of the People of God, with Christ and after Christ, aware that in this world it has no lasting dwelling. Through the streets of this earth it moves towards the heavenly Jerusalem. It is also a sign of the witness to the faith that every Christian community is obliged to give to the Lord in the structures of civil society. It is also a sign of the Church’s missionary task which reaches back to her origins and the Lord’s command (cf. Mt 28, 19-20), which sent her to proclaim the Gospel message of salvation.

From a liturgical point of view, processions, even those of a popular tenor, should be oriented towards the Liturgy. The journey from church to church should be presented as the journey of the community living in this world towards the community living in Heaven....

From an anthropological perspective, the procession should make it evident that it is “a commonly undertaken journey”. The participants join in the same atmosphere of prayer and are united in singing, and concentrated on arriving a the same goal. Thus the faithful feel united with each other, and intent in giving concrete expression to their Christian commitment throughout the journey of life....

The Mount Carmel Festival opens with the Vigil Mass on Saturday evening.

At the end of the Mass the faithful assemble and process around the block. The pastor leads, and the statue of Our Lady of Mount Carmel is carried on a litter by four men. The different Catholic societies, sodalities, fraternities, etc. are represented with the banners.

This year’s First Communicants from the parish also dress in their finery and have a place of honor in the procession.

The procession ends where the festivities, food and games are held. There is a “big top” tent, and the statue is put in a prominent place in the tent.

The streamers of ribbons from Our Lady’s crown are used by the faithful to pin paper money. This seems to be an Italian tradition, either as honoring (by giving a donation) Our Lady, in thanksgiving for favors, or in petition for a request. By the end of the festival the ribbons are quite full.

The food takes much planning and preparation, but is always the highlight of the festival, with traditional Italian offerings such as pizza fritta, cannolis, sausage and peppers, pizza. A local favorite specialty is pigs-in-the-blanket, which people queue in line for hours. The usual carnival/festival foods are also included, like hot wings, hamburgers, hot dogs, fries, funnel cake, Italian ice, gelato, and more. There are games and entertainment for all ages, with small children’s prizes that always make it a delight for my sons.

As I mentioned, these past two summers we didn’t get to experience the fun, so we are looking for other ways to honor Mary on her feast day.

The Brown Scapular

When our family moved to Northern Virginia, the children started attending Seton School, founded by Mrs. Anne Carroll. It’s always been a delight to see the young men playing sports with their brown scapulars hanging out of their shirts, with no embarrassment or shame. We joke that it’s been an opposite kind of peer pressure—everyone wants to wear the scapular instead of trying to hide it!

When I received my First Communion in second grade in the parochial school, part of our preparation included being enrolled in the Brown Scapular and invested in the Miraculous Medal. This is how the Blessed Virgin Mary helped us in our preparation to receive her Son. Sadly, I think the practice has fallen away. To wear the cloth Brown Scapular, the scapular itself does not need to be blessed, but the person wearing it must be enrolled. Basically the person is blessed, not the object. (If you wear the scapular medal, that always needs to be blessed.) Our parish used to offer the enrollment on the feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, but it has been so long that I don’t think either son has been enrolled. I asked our pastor if he would consider doing it tomorrow, so I’m hoping to rectify the situation!

Wearing the Brown Scapular is a way of honoring Mary, but also being clothed in her protection:

The Brown Scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel is best understood in the context of our Catholic faith. It offers us a rich spiritual tradition that honors Mary as the first and foremost of her Son’s disciples. This scapular is an outward sign of the protection of the Blessed Virgin Mary, our sister, mother and queen. It offers an effective symbol of Mary’s protection to the Order of Carmel—its members, associates, and affiliates—as they strive to fulfill their vocation as defined by the Carmelite Rule of Saint Albert: “to live in allegiance to Jesus Christ” (The Scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, Catechesis and Ritual, p. 1).

The main entry page of Catholic Culture on Our Lady of Mount Carmel has several other resources on the Brown Scapular.

Summer Feast Day Goodies

We are currently experiencing a heat wave, so the idea of extensive cooking and baking isn’t too appealing. Because the Carmelite habit and scapular are brown, this leads to all sorts of ideas with coffee or chocolate flavored goodies. Also, using a play on words of “Carmel” to “caramel” (which some people pronounce as one and the same) opens up an array of possibilities. One very clever idea has been making “Brown(ie) Scapulars” out of brownies. I think combining both the brownies and caramel for caramel brownies would be delicious, perhaps topped off with ice cream and caramel sauce? These could be Brownie Scapular Sundaes! Leila Lawler and Smitten Kitchen both have delicious versions of caramel brownies worth trying.

If you prefer coffee flavored, one of my favorite cookie bar recipes is Coffee Cookie Bars with Caramel Icing. This combines the coffee and caramel theme perfectly, and the flavor goes well with a morning brunch, or after dinner coffee and dessert.

But if we must keep it simple, ice cream with store-bought caramel sauce or Italian Ice (or coffee flavored granita) would be a cool, simple treat to honor our Lady on her feast.

Having this feast fall on Saturday, the day of the week usually dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary, only happens every few years. This makes it a little easier for our family to make some effort to find extra ways of honoring Our Lady of Mount Carmel. We won’t be immersed in a large parish festival, but our little ways of Mass, enrollment and a Brown(ie) treat will be reminders throughout the day of our love to Mary and gratitude for her protection.

Jennifer Gregory Miller is a wife, mother, homemaker, CGS catechist, and Montessori teacher. Specializing in living the liturgical year, or liturgical living, she is the primary developer of’s liturgical year section. See full bio.

Sound Off! supporters weigh in.

All comments are moderated. To lighten our editing burden, only current donors are allowed to Sound Off. If you are a current donor, log in to see the comment form; otherwise please support our work, and Sound Off!

There are no comments yet for this item.