It is common knowledge that devotion to the Brown Scapular is inseparable with devotion to Our Lady of Mount Carmel.
Everyone knows that it was to St. Simon Stock, who was Father General of the Carmelite Order, that the Blessed Mother appeared and entrusted the charge of spreading devotion to the Brown Scapular.
In fact, the Brown Scapular worn by the lay devotee is actually a miniature version of the brown habit worn by the Carmelite religious, on whom the Blessed Mother has showered many a special privileges, not the least of which is the Sabbatine Privilege.
(The Sabbatine Privilege was taken from the Apocryphal Bull “Sacratissimo uti culmine” of John XXII who said that the Virgin Mary appeared to him, asking him to confirm the granting of indulgence to members of the Carmelite Order and to those who wear the Brown Scapular.
The Supreme Pontiff added that part of this privilege promised by the Blessed Mother is that she will descend in purgatory and free the faithful devotee of the Brown Scapular on the Saturday following his death, hence the name Sabbatine.)
These are facts as they are recorded in history, accepted by both Church authorities and the faithful devotees. And everyone knows them by now — what with the apparent popularity of the Brown Scapular among the laity.
However, not everyone knows why is it that in the Philippines, the primary propagator of the devotion to Our Lady of Mount Carmel and the Brown Scapular — at least during the Spanish Era — were not the Carmelites, but the Augustinian Recollect friars.
How was this possible? The answer is quite simple: The Recollects arrived earlier than their Carmelite brothers. Records would show that the religious of the Order of Discalced Carmelites arrived in the country in 1947 while the Order of Carmelites followed suit ten years later, or in 1957.
The Recollects however, being the fifth missionary Order to evangelize the Philippines, arrived as early as 1606.
But still this does not satisfy the ordinary man’s curiosity: how come that the Recollects had become the “primary propagator” of the devotion to the Our Lady of Mount Carmel and the Brown Scapular in Hispanic Philippines?
Recollect historian Fr. Emil Quilatan, OAR gave a short lecture to elucidate minds on this particular question last May 4 at the Quirino Grandstand.
In his talk, Fr. Quilatan, Dean of the Recoletos School of Theology, narrated that the early Spanish missionaries go to Mexico to board a Galleon that would bring them to the Far East.
It was there that everything began.
In the later part of 1617, the third batch of Augustinian Recollect missionaries to the Philippines, headed by Fr. Rodrigo de San Miguel, while waiting for the Galleon, passed by the San Jose Monastery of the Discalced Carmelite nuns in Mexico City.
Bidding them good voyage and as a parting gift, the nuns gave the Recollect missionaries an ivory image of the Our Lady of Mount Carmel, which arrived in Manila the following year in May 1618.
This year, therefore, marks the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the first image of the Our Lady of Mount Carmel to Philippine soil with the Recollect friars.
Upon arrival, the missionaries housed the image at their Recollect convent of San Juan de Bagumbayan. Three years later, it was transferred and enthroned at the newly erected San Sebastian Church in Calumpang (present-day Quiapo), “with great pomp and solemnity”.
The Recollect friars wasted no time in propagating the devotion to Our Lady of Mount Carmel despite not having received canonical permit from the Carmelite Orders to impose the Brown Scapulars yet.
Fr. Quilatan said the Vicar General of Manila gave the Recollects permission to introduce the devotion, but not the permission to impose the scapular.
Professor Emmanuel Luis Romanillos, in a translation of an account by historian Angel Martinez Cuesta, OAR, wrote that as early as 1650, an active Confraternity of Our Lady Of Mount Carmel was already in existence in the country.
However, it did not receive legal sanctions until 1691 when in August that year, the Prior General of the Carmelite Order approved the Confraternity and authorized the Prior of San Sebastian Church “to establish and erect the confraternity in other cities and places in the Philippines.”
Even popes gave their stamp of approval to what the Recollects were doing. Pope Innocent XII (1691) and Pope Clement XI (1715, 1716) granted new graces to San Sebastian Church and to the Confraternity of the Our Lady of Mount Carmel, Prof. Romanillos wrote.
For the longest time, San Sebastian Church was the sole shrine of the Our Lady of Mount Carmel in the entire archipelago since it was consecrated in 1621. And devotion to Mary under this title had spread far and wide, even reaching Mindanao, Fr. Quilatan said.
Another important development which made the devotion to Our Lady of Mount Carmel de San Sebastian unique is the changing of her feast day.
The feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in church calendar is celebrated every July 16, and every feast day, devotees flocked to San Sebastian Church.
But because July falls under the rainy season, the Recollects petitioned in the 1700s to transfer the fiesta after the feast of the titular patron of the church, San Sebastian, on January 20.
Their request was approved in 1716 so that at San Sebastian, since then, the feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel is celebrated every January, making her the undisputed Queen of Quiapo while the Black Nazarene of the nearby Quiapo Church is touted as the King of Quiapo.
It is important to note that both images and devotions — the Our Lady of Mount Carmel and the Black Nazarene of Quiapo — first came to the Philippines through the Recollect missionaries who introduced them and gave them to the Filipino people.
When the Carmelites arrived in the country after World War II, Prof. Romanillos noted that the center of Carmelite devotion naturally shifted from the Recollect San Sebastian Church to the new shrines erected by the Carmelites.
However, it has not ceased to be zealous promoter of the special devotion to Our Lady of Mount Carmel and her Brown Scapular even to this day, 400 years since the day her first image arrived in the country with the Recollect friars.