THE CARMELITE CHARISM #3:
The Carmelite Shield
The shield of a religious community usually symbolically expresses some key insights
into their understanding of their charism. This is particularly true of the Carmelite Shield.
It embodies a great deal of what the Carmelite charism is all about. The center of the shield is
a mountain, which symbolizes both the actual mountain, Mt. Carmel in Israel where the Order was
born, but it also, and more importantly, symbolizes the soul's union with God through prayer and
contemplation. The process of this union with God is looked at, especially by St. John of the
Cross, as climbing the mountain of the Lord.
This is a key theme in the Psalms as well, e.g. Psalm 2:6, 3:4, and especially 24:3:
"Who shall ascend the Mountain of the Lord and who shall stand in His holy place?"
One of St. John of the Cross's master works on this union is therefore appropriately
named: The Ascent of Mount Carmel.
Back to the Shield, on top of the mountain is a Cross, symbolizing the Person of Jesus
Christ and His saving death on the Cross for us. The Cross is in the center of the shield,
symbolizing our need to center all that we are and all that we do on the Person of Jesus Himself.
There are also three stars on the shield. The lower star, directly below the Cross,
represent Mary, Mother of God and Queen of Carmel. She is symbolically represented at the heart
of Carmel and, in her role as Mother of God, is the one from whom the Cross, i.e. the Lord Jesus,
came forth, hence the Cross rising from her star. The two stars adjacent to the Cross represent
the earliest patriarchs of the Order, St. Elijah and St. Elisha, the pre-Christian founders of
The crown with its twelve stars also represents Mary, calling to mind St. John's
glorious vision of her in Revelations as crowned with 12 stars (Rev. 12:1). The arm and the
fiery sword represent Elijah, who in his great burning zeal for the Lord called down fire from
The inscription is the Latin translation of Elijah's words in 1st Kings: "With zeal
I am zealous for the Lord God of Hosts." (1st Kings 19:10). So, the Carmelite lives
centered on Christ, under the Queenship of Mary, inspired by and with the zeal of Elijah and