Saturday, July 14, 2012


It's the Fiesta of Our Lady of Mount Carmel (Bithen del Carmen) in Hågat, and in Chalan Kanoa in Saipan.

This is one of the Chamorro hymns in her honor.  It focuses on the idea of the cloud (mapagåhes) of Mount Carmel.  What is the meaning of that?  I'll get to that later.  First, the lyrics in this video, which include the refrain and the last verse of the hymn.

Atan guihe gi san lago / a'annok i mapagåhes
(Look there towards the sea / the cloud is appearing)

Mapagåhes gi Katmelo / maila' ya un Nånan-måme.
(Cloud of Carmel / come and be our Mother.)

Tayuyute ham Maria / gai Yius na mapagåhes
(Pray for us Mary / cloud containing God)

un ma'åse' nu i taotao / mames na Bithen del Carmen.
(have pity on the people / sweet Virgin of Carmel.)

Why clouds?

Carmel is a mountain in northern Israel.  It is associated with the Prophet Elijah, who fought against the loss of faith by many in Israel in the true God as they started to worship the pagan gods of their neighbors.  God punished the land by holding back the rain and a severe drought and famine set in.

It was on Mount Carmel that Elijah conducted a contest with the prophets of the false gods, to see which altar of sacrifice could light up spontaneously by the power of God.  All day long, the false prophets cried out to their god to light their altar, and nothing happened.  Then Elijah called on God and his altar caught fire, even though Elijah had poured water over the altar three times to prove the miracle even more.

Then Elijah prayed for the end of the drought.  Seven times Elijah's servant looked at the sea for signs of rain, and on the seventh, he saw a small cloud.  Elijah said the cloud would bring rain and end the drought.  You can read all about it in 1 Kings 18.

Mary - the Heavenly Cloud

The Church saw all of this which happened in Elijah's time as prophetic of Jesus and Mary.  Jesus is the Savior, whose coming ended the punishment all mankind suffered because of the sin of Adam and Eve.  Jesus is the rain that comes to the rescue of man's spiritual drought.  But how did Jesus come into the world?  Like rain falls from the clouds, Jesus the rain fell from the cloud called Mary, His Mother.

Clouds are formed from the water of the ocean, but without retaining the weight and saltiness of sea water.  Mary comes from the human race, but freed since the moment of her conception from the weight and bitterness of Original Sin.  Just as the water becomes drinkable and clean as it rises out of the sea to form a cloud, Mary rises out of sinful humanity pure and sweet.

The servant of Elijah who saw the cloud said it resembled a man's foot, and some translations render it a man's hand.  Either way, there is a spiritual metaphor.  If the foot, then Mary is that foot which crushes the head of the serpent, our Ancient Enemy who started this mess with Adam and Eve.

If the hand, then Mary is the hand that gives us our Savior.  In either case, the operative word in the passage is vestigium - trace, footprint, vestige - of a man, or, of a human being.  Mary is the one who gave Christ His human nature.

Finally, just as a cloud pours down its rain without human cooperation, Mary gives us Christ without the aid of a human father.  The image of the cloud rising from the sea is rich in meaning!

About a thousand years ago, Christian hermits started to live on Mount Carmel.  They eventually formed the Carmelite Order, men and women, and the Prophet Elijah is one of their patrons.  As they spread to Europe, the Carmelites spread the devotion to Our Lady of Mount Carmel, and from Spain, where Mary is very popular under this title, the devotion was brought to the Marianas.

I Mapagåhes gi Katmelo
The Cloud of Carmel

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