By KASSANDRA MONTAG , Hub Staff Writer
KEARNEY — Sister Dorothy Cavaness placed the brown scapular over the shoulders of a newly welcomed Lay Carmelite. Over her own shoulder the statues of Our Lady of Mount Carmel and St. Therese of Lisieux could be seen, important figures of the Carmelite Order.
The Lay Carmelite Third Order Reception was Jan. 26 at Mount Carmel Chapel, signifying the first group of laity in Kearney to become a part of the Carmelite Order.
“Here in Kearney, as far as I know, they’ve never had a Lay Carmelite community,” said Tony Wathen, one of the Lay Carmelite members.
The Carmelite Order is a Roman Catholic religious order with a focus on contemplative prayer, drawing from the prophet Elijah and the Virgin Mary as models. The Third Order is for laity, or people who do not make religious vows. Instead, members of the Third Order will keep their ordinary occupation but commit themselves to the values of the Carmelite Order.
“The whole idea of becoming a Lay Carmelite is to live the Christian life in a deeper way, to become more prayerful, to become involved in some sort of service projects,” said Wathen.
The duties of being a Lay Carmelite include leading a deeper prayer life, building community, and apostolic service, which are acts done for others.
“St. Therese of Lisieux was a Carmelite and hers was known as the little way….she did just simple things,” said Rose Wathen, a member of the Lay Carmelites.
The brown scapular, a mantel of two connected pieces of brown fabric, is the symbolic garment of the Carmelite Order and was placed over each member’s head once they had been received.
“Humans are made aware of a strong commitment when a symbol is part of the ceremony; much like a wedding ring and taking of marital vows,” said Marlene Rasmussen, a member of the Lay Carmelites. “When we wear the brown scapular, it reminds us of the commitment we have made and that we are brothers and sisters of the Most Blessed Mother of Mount Carmel.”
The monthly meetings of the Lay Carmelites includes a short meal, an evening prayer, a study of some aspect of the order through a book or some other material, Lectio Divinia and a business meeting. As a group, one of their apostolic services is supporting two seminarians through letters and donations.
“We’ve been going to meetings and classes for about a year, but this is the first official big step,” said Rose.
Sixteen people were received as members of the Carmelite Order at the reception, which was really a celebration of the beginning of their participation in the order.
“Once we’ve been received, there’s an additional two- or three-year period of continued study and community activity before we do a final profession,” said Tony.
Laity in the church are fulfilling important roles and taking on new responsibilities as a result of the shortages of priests, said Rasmussen. Now laity will help with singing, greeting, religious education, parish council, extraordinary Eucharistic ministers and the finance committee. Previously, many of those tasks were undertaken by only the religious clergy. She sees this as a positive change, a time in the church’s history when laity are being asked to step forward instead of taking a passive role in the pews.
“The laity, they certainly need to get involved in the church in a greater way. The Lay Carmelites, of course, is one way in which you can do that,” said Tony. “There are certain things that the laity can do to promote the life of the church, and there’s certain things they can’t do.”
Jean Ross, a member of the Lay Carmelites, became involved when she was asked to recruit candidates for lay order. After attending one meeting, she just kept going.
“It is a steppingstone for lay people like myself to serve our Lord in a greater way and, I guess, to help me on my road to holiness.”