Here is the Carmelite account of Elijah as he stood gazing at “the little cloud arising from the sea like a man’s foot…” Below are some quotes from some Carmelite writings but here is a bit of an explanation:
Carmelites believe that while Elijah was alone on Mount Carmel, he had a vision of the future Mother of God and her Order to be founded on that Mount. We know that the Prophet Elijah having gazed at the little cloud for a moment turned to the boy and said to him as if desiring to be alone: “Go up and say to Ahab”. In the moments that followed, the vision may have been given to the Prophet, if it had not been already before his gaze.
The “little cloud” was the child of the sea, but it had qualities that the sea did not possess; that is to say, it was able to ascend upwards. The little cloud was destined to give water to the parched lands. It drew from the ocean its waters, and from the atmosphere around what was best to heal and vivify, to give strength to increase, and power to multiply – its mission was to make the land of Israel a garden for the people then living in the shadow of death because of the want of rain and dew. For the mind of Elijah trained in the school of spirituality and accustomed to see in the ordinary occurrences of life the Hand of God, was an easy one, indeed. The “little cloud” became a representation of the Mother of the Messiah, the parched land of Israel was poor human nature before the coming of The Messiah who was to undo the primal curse.
Those followers of the Prophet Elijah who became the first Carmelites, tell us that in the “little cloud” the man of God saw the humble Maid of Nazareth, and with that vision came the assurance that all his work was not to be in vain, for one day all should be well for the men who had fought the good fight; one day Israel would find its place among the kingdoms of God; that He was only one of the warriors who had fought, and who still would fight, for the coming of the kingdom of the Messiah. A sweet vision, indeed, for the zealous son of the God of Israel… especially when he was fighting against such odds and in such disheartening conditions. One can believe the holy tradition that is found in the Annals of Carmel, that there, on that very spot, the Prophet erected a sanctuary to the Mother of the Messiah yet to come; that there, on that very spot, she of the holy calling, when in the flesh, would one day stand; that there, on that very spot, from which he had seen the vision, followers of her Son would erect the first Christian sanctuary to the Blessed Virgin Mary; that there, on that very place, should stand the beautiful church which the traveler saw when he follows in the footsteps of the pilgrims who love the memory and visit the home of the greatest of all the Prophets of God. If in their holiest moments those “sons of the prophets”, have tried to imitate the life of the “Founder and Father” after the manner of the life of God’s Mother, it must be the workings of the Holy Spirit. This explanation of the existence of the Carmelite Order and its origins is completely based on the traditions handed down through the ages. It would make perfect sense that Our Lady would have appeared to the Prophet Elijah to give him this futurist vision of a religious community that was to be given such a great duty for God.
We have similar traditions with Our Lady of Good Success coming to Mother Mariana in Quito Ecuador in the 1600’s to ask her to offer herself for this present age we live in now and Mother Mariana is incorrupt to prove this. How could we refute that story? Oh – but there are those who will... because we are living in an age of science and many of our Catholic Traditions are being questioned and some have been completely eliminated because “we cannot prove them”. How are we to prove miracles? Where is our faith?
It is believed that these men that followed the Prophet Elijah started many communities of prayer and prayed for The Virgin to be born in order for the Son of God to enter the world. They believed that the little cloud which rose from the sea signified the glorious Virgin Mary who was to spring forth out of the infected and bitter sea of our corrupt nature, without any corruption, and like an auspicious cloud, being resolve from the force of the Holy Spirit’s descent on her, she was to water this barren world with the heavenly dew of the expected Messiah – Jesus Christ. This religious congregation was to be dedicated to the honor, service and imitation of this sacred Virgin. Elijah was to be the author of Monastic Discipline by this religious congregation being formed. God carefully gives us details, such as Bethlehem meaning “House of Bread”; we also have Carmel meaning “vineyard”, “orchard” or “garden”. This is very meaningful considering that this was to be the means of grace, a fruitful vineyard, in begging the Eternal Father to send us this Virgin in order to receive the Messiah!
The following texts taken from the book Éllie le Prophète selon les Écritures et les Traditions Chrétiennes [Elias, the Prophet according to Scriptures and Christian Traditions] from the Carmelite Studies collection (Desclée de Brower, 1956, 2 volumes), confirm this tradition:
• From the top of Carmel Mount, “I could gaze long on that point in the horizon where the servant of Elias saw the small cloud rising from the sea, the symbol of the fecund grace which the Immaculate Virgin would attract to earth.” (Fr. Paul Marie de la Croix, O.C.D., ibid, vol. 1, p. 23).
• “Carmelite writers interpret the small cloud as a figure of the Virgin Mary” (Fr. De Vaux, O.P., ibid, vol. 1, p. 64.
• “God revealed to Elias under the symbol of the small cloud a young woman, the Blessed Virgin Mary” (Fr. Daniel de la Vierge, O.C.D., ibid, vol. 2, p. 31).
• “There is a relation between the Madonna as contemplated by Elias and the same figure seen by St. John ” Signum magnum apparuit in caelo [A great sign appeared in the heavens]. Elias also considered Mary as a signum. Elias saw her as a small cloud rising from the sea; St. John saw her standing, her feet on the crescent moon, which is [like the sea] an image of changeability” (Fr. Bruno Borchert, O.C.D., ibid, vol. 2, p.31).
• “The symbolism of the small cloud whereby the Prophet acknowledged the Virginity of Mary and her fecund Maternity was already spotlighted in the sixth book of the Institutions of the First Monks [Speculum Carmelitanum, 1680, n. 22, p. 56]” (Fr. Elisée de la Nativité, O.C.D., ibid, vol. 2, p. 97).
• “The author of the Institutions of the First Monks considered that God revealed four secrets to Elijah regarding the virginity of Mary:
1. Her Immaculate Conception. Like the cloud, the Virgin rose up from the salty water of a guilty humanity, being of the same nature as the sea water but without its bitterness;
2. The voluntary virginity of Mary would be similar to that of Elijah. The small cloud moved toward Mount Carmel like a man's footsteps, indicating that Mary's vow of virginity followed the footsteps of Elias, the first who climbed Carmel to the heights of voluntary virginity.
3. The time of the Virgin’s birth. The disciples of Elias would see the Virgin Mary only after seven epochs, just as his servant returned seven times to see the small cloud.
4. Her maternal virginity. God came down into the small cloud as a sweet rain, without any mark of human collaboration, that is, without breaking her purity” (Fr. Bruno Borchert, O.C.D., ibid, vol. 2, p. 97).
Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, Pray for us!
St. Elijah, Pray for us!
Bernadette Porter is a Traditional Catholic, a wife of 42 years with 6 adult home-schooled children and 6 grandchildren. A sincere devotion to Mary, the Mother of God leads me to want to share "The Church's best kept secret" - Mary!