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Elias and the Small Cloud

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TIA,

Please show me the verse where it shows that Elias understood that the cloud was a symbol of the Virgin Mary to come as you published [in the article on Our Lady of Mount Carmel]:

"Elias, the Prophet, who was at Mount Carmel praying for the salvation of Israel, which was passing through a terrible drought, when he saw a little cloud in the distant horizon. He hoped that it would bring the much-needed rain to Israel. The small cloud grew in size and covered the whole sky, and finally the hoped-for rain came to save the people.

"Elias understood that this cloud was a symbol of the Virgin to come, related to the prophecies of Isaiah that spoke of Our Lady. Those who followed his example also prayed for the coming of the Virgin who would be the Mother of the Messiah."

     Thank you.

     L.B.
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TIA responds:

Mrs. L.B.,

The verse from the Third Book of Kings that tells us about the little cloud is this:

“And Elias went up to the top of Mount Carmel, and casting himself down upon the earth put his face between his knees. And he said to his servant: Go up, and look toward the sea. And he went up, and looked and said: There is nothing. And again he said to him: Return seven times. And at the seventh time: Behold a little cloud arose out of the sea like a man’s footstep. And he said: Go up, and say to Achab: Prepare thy chariot, and go down, lest the rain prevent thee.

“And while he turned himself this way and that way, behold the heavens grew dark, with clouds and wind, and there fell a great rain” (III Kings, 18:43-45).

This expectation of Elias for the rain - the Redemption that would save the earth from the draught - and his idea that the little cloud was a symbol of the Virgin Mary were the reasons why Elias’ followers began to come and pray at Mount Carmel for the advent of Our Lady and Our Lord. Those hermits of Mount Carmel were considered the beginning of the Carmelite Order, which is the firstborn of the Religious Orders and also the first dedicated to Our Lady. Because of this particular episode, Elias is considered the first devotee of the Virgin Mary in History.

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 Elias 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 Elias. 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).
We hope that these confirmations suffice to assure you of the Carmelite tradition of interpreting the small cloud as a symbol of the Virgin Mary.

     Cordially,

     TIA correspondence desk

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