If you are interested in learning more about the origin of the Corpus Christi Carmelites, our congregation, or religious life, please contact the convent nearest you. Or, contact our Generalate/Novitiate:
The Carmelite Order originated in the Holy Land in the late 12th century during the Crusades. A group of men, including Europeans and indigenous Christians, settled at a site on Mount Carmel near the spring of Elijah called the Wadi-es-Siah, near an oratory which had been built in honor of the Blessed Virgin. These early Carmelite hermits lived in caves and came to be known as the Brothers of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mount Carmel. They drew their heritage from the rich legends and Scriptural accounts associated with the land on which they settled.
The Prophet Elijah
According to the tradition of the Order, Elijah was the first monk, called by God to withdraw into the desert — and the first Carmelites were his successors, the "sons of the prophet" who "retreated far from men, living in the wilderness and solitary places" where they became "wrapt in divine conversation, to which they clung, keeping their hearts pure..."
St. Albert of Jerusalem gave the Carmelites their first Rule of life, The Rule of St. Albert (c. 1206), and a decree of Pope John XXII in 1317 established the Carmelites as an autonomous religious order. The Pope instructed the Carmelites to "put far from them all worldly attractions and to give themselves totally to contemplation of divine matter." When the violent conflict between the Christian and Saracens forced them to migrate to Europe, they adapted to a mendicant way of life — preserving their contemplative lifestyle in the community while engaging in apostolic works.
Mary, Mother, and Sister
The first Carmelites on Mount Carmel understood their relationship to Mary in the medieval context of chivalry — she was the lady to be defended and honored in return for her favor. She was the "Domina Loci," meaning "the Lady of the Place," and the Carmelite was seen as her vassal with everything belonging to her — including houses, churches, and even the habit, as part of her fief and property. It was traditional to call Mary the Prioress of Carmelite Houses, and she came to be known and loved as a sister in the Order.
The Brown Scapular, one of the great Sacramentals of the Church, was conferred upon the Order by Mary when she appeared to Saint Simon Stock at Aylesford, England, in the thirteenth century. The Scapular is a brown cloth worn over the shoulders, and it was commonly worn as an apron in the Middle Ages. Carmelites call this garment Mary's "livery" or "apron" — that is, the garment of a servant, because the sincere use of this sacramental obligates the wearer to place himself totally at God's disposal to "defend and reflect" the glory of God in imitation of Mary. In return, the Scapular wearer receives Mary's allegiance and protection.
The Carmelite Family
Today there are Carmelite monasteries, convents, and priories throughout the world. Thousands of men and women serve as priests, brothers, nuns, religious sisters, and tertiaries. And the reason to be Carmelite is the same as it was when the Order was founded: "...to offer God a pure and holy heart, free from all stain of sin, and to taste somewhat in the heart and to experience in the mind the power of the divine presence and the sweetness of heavenly glory, not only after death but already in this mortal life." (Ribot, c. 1385)
A Corpus Christi Carmelite seeks to be the living reflection of Jesus Christ in all whom she serves. Her life is spent in the service of God through the profession of the vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. She will be distinguished by a very great simplicity in her spiritual life. This simplicity will flow from a grasp and understanding that she is a little child in the arms of her beloved father, God, who knows all things, and who loves her with infinite love. Nothing can happen to her without the knowledge and permission of God. Therefore, all that happens to her is according to His holy will to which she abandons herself lovingly and without any reserve. If God sends success, approbation, plenty — she receives all with love and gratitude. If God sends failure, disapproval, humiliation, poverty — these are equally welcome, as they are God's holy will.
Minimally, we require that our aspirants have good physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health. We do not have an age requirement as such, but we do prefer that candidates for the postulancy have some education at the college level and satisfactory work experience.
Our aspirancy program is a time of discernment. Women may come and visit our Carmels to see up close what our life is all about. It is recommended that an aspirant spends up to a year making a decision and getting to know the congregation, including visits to our convents and corresponding with our vocational sisters.
Postulants spend from one to two years living in community with the sisters and beginning their spiritual training. Generally, the postulant remains in the region where she first enters and engages in the work of the community wherever possible, but a portion of this time may also be spent in the Motherhouse in Trinidad and Tobago.
The Novitiate lasts for two years and is spent entirely at the Motherhouse in Trinidad and Tobago. The first year, which is the canonical year, is devoted to spiritual learning, and novices do not engage in apostolic work. During the second year, novices once again assist in the work of the community. Education, experience, and inclination are considered in assigning work for the prospective sister, but she is encouraged to try different types of work to see where she is most suited.
Junior profession lasts from three to five years, during which time the sister renews her temporary vows on an annual basis. Also, during this time, sisters receive the vocational training or education they will require to perform their apostolic duties. Spiritual formation is ongoing.
The final profession does not mark the end of the formation period of our sisters, but rather the beginning. From postulancy to the final profession, our formation as Corpus Christi Sisters lasts a lifetime and requires hard work, perseverance, and much prayer!