Jesus withdrew at times to solitary places and went up alone to the mountain to pray, passing the night in prayer. (cf. Lk. 5:16, 6:12)
While every Christian is called to unite himself with the prayer of the Son of God to the Father in the Holy Spirit, some are called – for the good of the Church – to follow more closely Christ praying, suffering and combating Satan in the wilderness.
The Prophets Elijah and Elisha and St John The Baptist, who came “in the spirit of Elijah” (Lk. 1:17), were regarded by many Fathers of the Church a
s forerunners and models of the monastic life of solitary prayer and penance.
St. Gregory of Nyssa wrote: “Elijah lives on Mount Carmel, which was made illustrious and is celebrated mainly because of the virtue and reputation of him who live there.” (PG XLVI, 594)
It is not surprising that a group of Byzantine monks lived on Mount Carmel near the “fountain of Elijah” between the 4th and 7th centuries. They formed a “laura” – a group of separate cells around a common oratory. This was a form of monastic life particularly characteristic of Palestine. Their laura bore the title of the prophet Elisha.
“It is to be emphasized that the very centuries when the monastic ideal took shape are those also when Mariology knew its fundamental developments. And we may confidently say that the same milieu produced both simultaneously. The fact is not just a coincidence deprived of meaning. For it is clear that Mary, then and there, was seen as embodying in advance the essentials of the monastic ideal.” (Louis Bouyer, “The Blessed Virgin Mary and Christian Monasticism”, Word and Spirit 10, p35).
At the beginning of the 13th century some Latin hermits settled on the same site “near the fountain of Elijah”. The “formula of life” which St. Albert, Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, wrote for them sometime between 1206 and 1214 prescribed substantially the same form of life as that of their Byzantine predecessors.
“Albert sums up in one lapidary sentence the central precept, valid for all hermits in all times: ‘Each of you is to stay in his own cell or nearby, pondering the Lord’s law day and night and keeping watch at his prayers, unless attending to some other duty’”. The Latin Hermits of Mount Carmel, Roma, 1979, p.177
St. Albert instructed the hermits to build an oratory in the midst of the cells. This, “beautiful little church”, described as such by a contemporary pilgrim, was dedicated to the Virgin Mother of God and expressed the hermits profound devotion to her.
This group of hermits developed into the Order of the Brothers of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mount Carmel.
The “formula of life” given them by St Albert as explicitly approved by Pope Honorius III in 1226 and by Pope Gregory IX in 1229.
The contemplative and Marian dimensions of the Order have been enriched through the ages not only by the Carmelite Doctors of the Church – St John of the Cross, Teresa of Jesus (Avila) and Therese – but also by many lesser known Saints, Blesseds and other exemplary Carmelites.
As life in Palestine became more precarious, some of the hermits of Mount Carmel, from about 1238 to 1291, when their hermitage was destroyed, returned to their native lands, e.g., Cypress, Sicily, England and France.
In 1247, at the request of the Carmelite hermits, Pope Innocent IV modified St Albert’s “formula of life” . He gave it the canonical status of a Rule which made possible a new form of religious life, characteristic of the then new and highly successful Dominican and Franciscan friars, in addition to the original eremitical life.
Since then most male Carmelites have been friars of apostolic life. The original eremitical dimension has always survived, however, as an ideal and sometimes as an actuality.
Well before the Second Vatican Council (1962-65), which urged religious institutes to return to their original inspiration, the Carmelite Order was trying to do precisely that.
In 1956 an international hermitage was inaugurated in Austria.
In 1970 two American Carmelite priests who had lived in the Austrian hermitage founded Mount Carmel Hermitage near New Florence in the Diocese of Greensburg, Pennsylvania. In December 1999 this hermitage was moved to a better site a few miles away near Bolivar.
Following the Rule of St Albert, our life is one of prayerful solitude and silence tempered by certain elements of communal life.
The Mass, Morning Prayer (Lauds) and Evening Prayer (Vespers) are sung daily in Gregorian chant, so conducive to contemplative prayer. The other parts of the Liturgy of the Hours, including the Vigil (Office of Readings) during the night or very early in the morning, are normally prayed by each hermit alone. Meals are eaten sometimes together and sometimes privately.
There is no habitual external pastoral ministry. Those hermits who are priests occasionally give conferences to cloistered nuns or to secular lay Carmelites. When necessary, they may offer Mass and hear confessions in the local parish church.
Duly qualified men, whether clerical or lay, can receive their religious formation in the hermitage and can make their profession exclusively for this form of Carmelite life.
For further information contact:
The Prior Mt. Carmel Hermitage
244 Baileys Rd.
Bolivar PA 15923-9668
Tel & Fax: 724-238-0423