The Carmelite story differs from other mainstream orders in that there was no founder. Life began merely as a small group of lay men or hermits who wished to follow a life of prayer, adopting the great Old Testament prophet Elijah as their model and Mary, Mother of Christ as their protector. These men gathered on the slopes of Mount Carmel in the Holy Land and became known as the first Carmelite Community at the beginning of the thirteenth century. These men received a formulae vitae (The Rule of Life or Carmelite Rule) from St Albert, the Patriarch of Jerusalem and although short in content, the values that it expressed have helped people to live the Carmelite charism in a concrete way ever since.
Soon after the community was established on Mount Carmel, war took hold of the community, forcing the hermits to return to their countries of origin. By the end of the thirteenth century the Brothers of our Lady of Mount Carmel had become part of the well-established mendicant movement.
These Carmelite men who had returned to Europe embrace the idea of becoming a ‘new order’ of mendicant, working with people in the cities and towns and especially amongst the poor in the area of Apostolic Ministry.
As the Carmelites went about their Apostolic Ministry their Rule underwent some changes so they could minister to the people of Europe. After receiving approval from the papacy, the Carmelites became active in their ministry.
The Carmelite understanding of ‘constantly searching for the face of the living God’ (P. Slattery, O.Carm), has to this day been the mantra of this Order. The Carmelite Charism, which has sustained this Order for eight hundred years is a gift freely given and ‘we have a sacred duty to pass it on to future generations and to share it with people among whom we live’ (Joseph Chalmers, O.Carm)
Today, in the 21st Century, we embrace the Carmelite Charism as we continue the mission of Christ that began with the first few men who gathered on Mount Carmel and continued to make themselves available to serve the needs of the Church and God’s people.