"Let them beware, for the devil through very small things,
drills holes through which very large things enter.
May it not happen that those who are to come say:
'These things are not important; don't go to extremes.'
Oh, my daughters, everything that helps us advance is important!"
St. Teresa of Jesus
Foundations 29, 32

1. The Origin of the Order of Carmel

The Order of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mt. Carmel emerged around the twelfth century, when St. Bertold of Mt. Carmel and a group of pious hermits retired to live on Mt. Carmel, the garden of Palestine. They built, in the middle of their cells, a church dedicated to his patroness, the Blessed Virgin Mary, whom he venerated as Our Lady of Mt. Carmel. This is how they became known as the "Brothers of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mt. Carmel."

Mt. Carmel was the mountain of the prophet Elijah, and the brothers lived in his spirit. From him they inherited the burning passion for the living and true God, which is reflected in the motto that accompanies the shield of the order: "Zealatus Zelo Exercitum Sum Pro Domino Deo" (Zeal for your house consumes me, Lord of the Hosts, 1 Kings 19:14).

In 1209 the Holy Patriarch Albert of Jerusalem gave them a Rule of life, which summarizes the ideal of Carmel: contemplative life, liturgy, silence, meditation on Scripture, evangelical and manual labor. After the Saracen raids, the Carmelites left the Holy Land and were presented in Europe. Pope Honorius III gave them papal approval in 1226. They became a mendicant order.

2. The Holy Scapular

According to tradition, Sunday July 16, 1251, The Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to St. Simon Stock in Cambridge, England. He was the Superior General of the Carmelites at the time.
When she appeared she gave him the holy scapular, the main sign of Carmelite Marian devotion.
She promised to deliver from Purgatory, on the first Saturday after death, those who would wear her habit, the brown scapular. The faithful, by responding to this request, living chaste lives according to their state, and taking part in prayers lived secure under her protection in all the dangers of life and, at the hour of death, confident that even after death she would intervene on their behalf, she who “with her maternal love takes care of the brothers of her Son…until they are led to the blessed land.”

3. The Carmelite Nuns

ince 1400, some pious women, looking for a deeper spirituality, wanted to adapt the spirit and rule of Carmel, under the guidance of the Carmelite friars.  So, in 1452 the first Carmelite monastery of nuns was born in Florence, Italy. The monastery took the title “Our Lady of the Angels.” (Providence would have it that St. Mary Magdalene de Pazzi would enter that very monastery years later)
The life of the nuns would be devoted absolutely to meditation, the Divine Office, work and penance. Carmel spread rapidly, particularly in France where Bl. Frances d’Amboise and Bl. John Soreth founded numerous Carmelite monasteries.
“Our prayer must be humble, fervent, resigned, persevering, and deeply reverent, for we must reflect that we are in the presence of a God and speaking with a Lord before Whom the Angels tremble out of respect and fear.” – St. Mary Magdalene de Pazzi
“To suffer, not to die!” St. Mary Magdalene de Pazzi

4. The Holy Rule of Jerusalem

The Holy Rule given them by St. Albert emphasized the nature of solitude and that we hear God in the “gentle whisper.” The brothers and sisters renounced their inheritance, lived in separate cells, left the things and persons of the world behind them, lived under vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, prayed, fasted, practiced silence and a strong devotion to the Virgin Mary as well as abstained from meat, and underwent voluntarily other penances as a community and individually for their sins and those of the world. This spirituality characterized Carmel.
However, in 1434-1435 the Rule suffered a series of changes that were approved by Pope Eugene IV. The most observant of the friars did not like these changes, as the mitigations relaxed the ascetical lifestyle they believed themselves called to live. Despite the reforming efforts of Bl. John Soreth (1451-1471), dissatisfaction grew and the Order as a whole became more worldly and drifted away from what appeared to the world and even some of their own to be the rigid, ascetical lifestyle of their founders and saints.

5. The Reform of St. Teresa of Avila

hen St. Teresa of Avila entered the Carmelites at the Monastery of the Incarnation in Avila, Spain at the age of twenty-one (21), the original fervor of the nuns had unfortunately declined significantly. This was the case across Spain and throughout the Order. The parlors at the Monastery of the Incarnation had become a gathering place for the ladies and gentlemen of the city. The nuns would talk for hours on end daily with them. Chatter was incessant. The nuns could leave the enclosure with the slightest excuse. The nuns were numerous (140 religious in the convent in Avila at the time) and this became a cause and effect of relaxation. Carmel had become the ideal place for those who wanted an easy life without problems.
imageOn February 9, 1562, Saint Teresa started the reform of the nuns, leaving the Incarnation to found the monastery of St. Joseph in Avila and live the primitive rule unmitigated. St. Teresa and the reformers sought to return to the Holy Customs and Traditions of the original Carmelite hermits and thus return to a God-centered life with simplicity and  poverty.                                                         ST. TERESA OF AVILA            
A strict enclosure was re-established along with almost perpetual silence, broken only by the cheerful recreations twice a day. The nuns lived in small communities of thirteen (13) per monastery. The convent had no income and, joyfully to the nuns, reigned in great poverty. They wore coarse habits made of wool throughout the entire year, and they also replaced their shoes with simple sandals. Then, as well, they bound themselves once more, as the Rule of St. Albert calls for, to a perpetual abstinence from meat and a stricter fast. The Carmelites of the reform became differentiated. They were known as Discalced Carmelites, while those not of the reform of Teresa later became called the Carmelites of the Ancient Observance.
The Discalced Carmelites lived by the Holy Rule of St. Albert and the Constitutions of 1581 (enacted in the Chapter of Alcalá), which were from then on scrupulously observed in Carmel for four centuries. In 1926 these Constitutions were revised to fit the new 1917 Code of Canon Law, but even then the review and revising was done with extreme care "for fear they would upset the revered text that the Holy Mother, inspired by Heaven, had so precisely composed and observed" (Fr. William of St. Albert, Superior General).

6. Two Constitutions Approved

In 1990, the Servant of God John Paul II adopted a new constitution for the Discalced Carmelite nuns. This constitution followed the revision of 1926 and came about due to the promulgation of the 1983 Code of Canon Law however also to reconcile Perfectae Caritatis, the Vatican II Decree on the Renewal of Religious Life.
These 1990 Constitutions were proposed by the prior of the Monastery of St. Joseph, Teresa’s first foundation, and Cerro de los Angeles, the first foundation of St. Maravillas of Jesus. Mother Maravillas of Jesus, as she was known at the time, spoke on behalf of more than ninety monasteries, basically asking the question: Were the reforms and rules for religious life that were laid down by St. Teresa, or rather the Holy Spirit working through St. Teresa, only valid for her time period? It is difficult to answer yes, if you look at the great efforts made through out the years to keep the observance and adherence to the Rule and Constitutions.

Not all Carmelite nuns had the same feelings as Mother Maravillas and the ninety (90) monasteries behind her. Mother Maravillas and those Carmels were actually in the minority. The other monasteries put forth a different interpretation with different ways of adapting to the changed conditions of our time. Recognizing this disagreement in the means of adaption the Holy See sought to observe and respect the freedom that every monastery has to choose one or another of whatever approved Constitutional text. In 1991 Pope John Paul II approved a second Constitutional text for the Discalced Carmelite Nuns. The monasteries who desired this text wanted a greater relaxation of monastic life and to keep a legal link between the Superior General of the Discalced Carmelite Friars and themselves.
How beautiful our vocation is, my dear sister!
We are together with our Savior, redeemer of souls.
We’re hosts in which Jesus dwells, living, praying and suffering for a sinful world. Was not this the life of the Most Holy Virgin, the most perfect of all created beings?
She carried the Word in silence.
She prayed and suffered always.
Wasn’t this life of prayer and sacrifice the one that Jesus lived for 30 years?
He spent but three years in preaching.
Isn’t this the life of Jesus in the Tabernacle?
Oh, sister dear, it is undoubtable that we’ve chosen the better part, since a Carmelite deals with God alone.
Ask Him to bring you very soon. Come then, and lose yourself in His divine arms. Come quickly that Jesus may find another host to offer to His eternal Father for souls. May nothing make you waver. Look at Him.
He’s awaiting you and is filled with infinite love and will make you His bride. He wants to forge with you the most intimate union.
He will make you divine, by joining Himself to you.
You will live in Jesus amid infinite sweetness, purity, holiness, goodness, amid the love of One who is God.”
- St. Teresa de los Andes (L.130)