Cum Nulla Celebration

On Friday 16th May, the Carmelite Family in Britain - friars, nuns, sisters and lay people - gathered in York Minster for a mass celebrating the role played in the Order by women religious and lay people. 550 years ago, Pope Nicholas V issued the letter 'Cum Nulla' which granted the Prior General and Provincials of the Order permission to enrol nuns and laity as full members of the Carmelite Family.

The Carmelites, one of the four major mendicant orders (alongside the Domincans, Franciscans, and Augustinians) arrived in Britain in 1242.


The mass in York was attended by over 800 members of the Carmelite Family and their supporters, and highlighted the ways in which Carmelites today live out their aim, as stated in the thirteen-century 'Rule of Saint Albert', to "follow in the footsteps of Jesus Christ". The liturgy opened to the singing of "Ubi Caritas" with a procession of 80 flags, each one representing a place in Britain with a Carmelite community, whether it be a house of friars, monastery of nuns, tertiary gathering, or spirituality group.



The Celebrant was the Prior Provincial of the British Province of Carmelites, Very Rev. Fr. Antony Lester, O.Carm, a long-standing resident of York, first as Prior of the Carmelites' former house at Hazlewood Castle, and then as Catholic Chaplain to the University. The principal concelebrant was Very Rev. Fr. Matthew Blake ODC, Regional Superior of the Discalced Carmelite Friars in Britain. Very Rev. Canon Michael Ryan, Vicar General of Middlesbrough Catholic Diocese, represented Bishop John Crowley who sent warm greetings.



The use of the Minster was granted by kind permission of the Dean and Chapter, and was given a lot of ecumenical backing from the Minster's Precentor, Canon Jeremy Fletcher. The service was preceeded with words of welcome from Canon Professor Edward Norman, Chancellor and Canon in Residence of the Minster. Rev. Dr. Stuart Burgess, Chair of York and Hull District Methodist Circuit, was a specially invited guest. In a spirit of ecumenical partnership, the penitential rite followed that of the Church of England. The chalice used also had ecumenical significance, having mounted in it the ring of Cardinal Mercier, presented to the Earl of Halifax following the first dialogues in modern times between the Anglican and Roman Catholic churches in the 1920s.

The event also marked a long and fruitful relationship between the Carmelite Family and the city of York. Those present were greeted by the Right Honourable, the Lord Mayor of York, Councillor David Horton.

For many the highlight of the service was a litany, praying for all the different sections of the Carmelite Family, which was followed by a prayer for the future mission of the Carmelites in serving the Church and the world.

A collection was taken jointly for the Carmelite missions in Zimbabwe and for the upkeep of the Minster.


Music for the liturgy was provided by Rosa Alba, a group of medieval singers associated with the University of York, All Saints Roman Catholic School, the Discalced Carmelite nuns of Thicket Priory York and Wood Hall, Wetherby, as well as the flautist Brother Willie McQuillan, O.Carm. All were accompanied by Mr. Robert Poyser, the Minster's acting sub-organist. The mass concluded with the singing of 'Flos Carmeli', an ancient hymn to the Virgin Mary, attributed to Saint Simon Stock, whose feast day the liturgy commemorated.


The Homily was given by the Most Reverend Joseph Chalmers, O.Carm., Prior General of the Carmelite Order, who had flown from Rome especially for the event. Other sections of the Carmelite family were present, including the Superior General of the Corpus Christi Carmelite Sisters, from the mother house in Trinidad. Representatives from other Carmelite groups included the President of the Leaven Secular Institute, the Donum Dei Missionary Workers, the Carmelite Third Order, and the Discalced Carmelite Secular Order. Also in attendance were Very Rev. Fr. James des Lauriers, O.Carm., Bursar General of the Order, Very Rev. Fr. William Harry, General Councillor for the Northern European Region of the Order, Fr. Patrick McMahon, Director of the Carmelite Institute in Rome and Fr. Kevin Alban, Secretary General of the Order.The mass was an opportunity for each group to share their faith and experiences, and each was invited to provide materials for those interested in the wide diversity of Carmelite vocations.

After the service, those in attendance were able to see a display of medieval Carmelite artefacts now housed in the Minster's Treasury, and the York Colleges' Guild of Bell-Ringers rang a quarter-peel in honour of the Carmelite family. In the afternoon, an academic symposium on Carmelite history and spirituality was held in the medieval St. William's College, organised by the British Province of Carmelites in conjunction with the University of York's Centre for Medieval Studies. Six speakers presented papers on aspects of Carmelite history from the early days of the Order in the Holy Land until the establishment of communities of English Carmelite nuns on the continent in the seventeenth-century. Four speakers from the Order spoke alongside Professor Claire Cross from York's Centre for Medieval Studies, and Dr. Nicky Hallett from the University of Kent at Canterbury.

The modern American mystic Thomas Merton once said that every Christian owed something to the Carmelite tradition. The mass, which was the culmination of many months of planning, was a joyful celebration of the past and present of the Order, and an opportunity to build for its future.

The celebrations in York were part of worldwide commemorations of the granting of 'Cum Nulla', and the Carmelites will continue the celebrations at the 'Carmelite Family Day' on August 2nd at The Friars, Aylesford.