sed viri nescia,
Flower of Carmel,
tall vine blossoming laden;
Splendor of heaven,
child-bearing yet maiden.
None equals thee.
Mother so tender,
who no man didst know,
on Carmel's children
thy favors bestow.
Star of the Sea.
I remember my first few days in the Pre-Novitiate. Those days were about 10 years ago. My Pre-Novice Master gave me a card with the first two stanzas of the Flos Carmeli. He told me I was expected to learn it by memory, because the community sings it in the chapel every day. After his request, I looked at him and said, “how am I supposed to memorize all these lines.” He gently laughed and said to me, “You will have it memorized in a week.” He was right. After a week I had those two stanzas memorized. Yet, there is a danger in our lives when it comes to things done with any level of frequency. When a person repeats something, like a phrase or a word, enough times, that phrase or word can lose a bit of the force it once had in its relationship to the human heart. If we are not careful the Flos Carmeli can be like that for us. That is why it is a good idea to slow down at moments throughout the year and sit with these stanzas, so our hearts can discover them anew.
My hope with this reflection is to offer some insights for each line from these stanzas. Why? So, our hearts will hopefully rediscover the profound magnificence and wisdom that this ancient Carmelite hymn offers to us as Carmelites and the broader Church. All Carmelites are called to allegiance with Jesus Christ. Our time spent with Mary, opens our hearts to the penultimate gift of his presence. A presence that she bore in her womb for us.
Flower of Carmel
Our first line brings us into the state of natural beauty. The word flower brings to each of our minds a possibility of different types of flowers, but each flower within itself is something that shines forth with the beauty of nature. These first few words link together the idea of beauty that flowers invoke and associate that beauty with the land of Carmel. Carmel is not an arid place, but a place with beauty, that entices people into a journey with the Lord, so they too may know the ultimate beauty of God. Carmel of course meaning the vineyard of God. Yet, this beauty, the beauty of a flower, is not merely left in an abstract sense, but is also linked through this hymn to a person, the person of our Blessed Mother, the Virgin Mary, and Our lady of Mount Carmel. Mary being the pristine flower that the land of Carmel offers to all as its aromatic guide.
Tall vine blossoming laden.
Our second line focus on what type of flower Mary is for us Carmelites in the land of Carmel. Mary is a tall vine that is all embracing and encompassing. These qualities are seen through her maternal embrace that she offers to each of us through her brown scapular. Her presence is always life giving, thanks to her son, Jesus Christ. Jesus, who is the life-giving water that supports her and makes it possible for her to not simply blossom but to be overloaded or laden with blossoms. Her life in union with God, is now for always a perpetual source of beauty for our souls and the world. A beauty that is meant to be emulated and shared.
Splendor of Heaven
Her splendor, the laden blossoms, are not a source of her own merit, but rise from her son, so the Kingdom of Heaven can be made known to all peoples. Honoring the splendor of heaven that Mary reflects helps us to understand, in our own limited ways, the wonder that is the Kingdom of Heaven. Christ has gone before us to prepare us a room in His Father’s house. The presence of Mary in our lives, as her sons and daughters, keeps us focused on the Kingdom of Heaven. A message that Christ has entrusted us with as his disciples, siblings, and friends. A message called to be proclaimed to all creation.
Childbearing yet Maiden
This line brings us into the great mystery God offers to us through his work in her life. Work that Mary fully said yes to. She is the one who bore the fullness of life in her womb, and yet stayed in a state of always desiring to receive him. For maidens where always at the ready to receive their lord. Mary, through her life teaches us, the need and the ability to be at the same time, filled with the presence of the Lord and willing to receive him at the same time.
None equals thee.
As we come to the end of the first stanza what else can be said about Mary in relationship to creation. The beauty of nature from its flowers are invoked and shown to be marvelously manifested through the life of Mary. Nonetheless, she through the gift of Christ that was entrusted to her has no equal in all the created order. She bore the source of creation, first in her heart and then in her womb. Because of her fiat she has now, no equal, but still calls us all to be with her son in docility.
Mother so tender
Our second stanza desires our minds to focus on what type of mother Mary is in our lives. This stanza begins with the emphasis placed on her tenderness. As Carmelites, should we be surprised by this? No! Who in the order has been denied her motherly touch? No one. Because we all received that tender touch through the gift of the brown scapular. A physical reminder that our mother wants to remain with us and aid us in our life of allegiance to her son Jesus. Whether asleep, awake, in or out of prayer, Mary’s tenderly motherly touch always rests upon the shoulders of a Carmelite through her scapular.
No man didst know
This line clearly points to the belief in the perpetual virginity of the Virgin Mary, but is not only restricted to that belief. Mary cannot be limited to only one man. Christ, on the cross, entrusted her to his beloved disciple and therefore the Church. This line offers us an insight into the limitless love that Mary has for us, thanks to her son. A love that was clearly demonstrated at the wedding feast of Cana. No man didst know her, because she is called to be known by all, so the salvation and joy of her son may be known by all.
On Carmel’s children thy favors bestow
These lines are placed together because they form the complete idea about the actions of our tender mother. Carmelite’s are reminded through this line that we have a special relationship with Our Lady. Why? Because we are her children. Her motherhood and thus our childhood in her eyes, is a reminder that we did not choose her, but she chose us. Hence, the favors she bestows, on behalf of Christ, is not due to our volition or merit, but simply because she desired to be our mother.
Star of the Sea
In this final line our mother’s tenderness is coupled with firmness. Mary’s tender embrace allows us to acknowledge the way that a Carmelite is called to follow. Our allegiance to Christ is manifested in the purity of our hearts and the stoutness of our consciences. Many barriers are thrown in our way from an impure heart and flimsy conscience. These barriers can obscure the way that Mary is making known to us in and through her son. Thus, she is like a star for us. A firm and bright point on the horizon that will always point out the correct way to any wayward traveler that might have become lost along the way to Jesus, her son.
These few points of reflection are not an exhaustive list. The Flos Carmeli contains 8 stanzas devoted to Our Lady. Above is merely two of them. The hymn is a beautiful tapestry that has been woven together with the hope to convey a taste of the mystery that is made known to us in and through Our Blessed Mother, the Virgin Mary. A woman who freely choose to accept the title of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. Her presence within the Order, is not merely limited by her motherhood of course, for she also aids us as a sister in the faith, because she, like us, is a child of God. Nevertheless, as her sons, daughters, sisters and brothers in Carmel, we must always cherish and honor the fact that she is our mother. May this little reflection help us all embrace and live out the spirit of Carmel. A spirit that has been shaped, cultivated, nourished and challenge by our mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary. May we never forget the wisdom of St. Therese about Mary, “She is sometimes described as unapproachable, whereas she should be represented as easy of imitation. She is more Mother than Queen.”