OUR LADY OF MERCY
Today, the Church honors our Blessed Mother under the mantle of Our Lady of Mercy (also known as Our Lady of Ransom).
Our Blessed Lady is at the origin of many religious Orders, religious institutes, and monasteries. Very often, she might appear to a particular individual, entrusting a founder or foundress with a particular mission, with a Rule of life to foster that mission and, sometimes, with a distinctive habit (style and color of clothing). And her name is even associated with some religious Orders.
Such was the case in the title of Our Lady of Mercy given to the Blessed Virgin Mary in the year 1218 by Brother Peter Nolasco, who founded an Order called the Mercedarians, or the Order of Mercy.
It is recorded that, in the early thirteenth century while much of Spain lay under the domination of Saracens (Muslims, commonly called Moors), the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to Brother Peter, encouraging him to found an Order for the purpose of redeeming Christians held in brutal slavery by the infidel forces.
Members of the new Order, in addition to the three vows of poverty, chastity and obedience taken by monks and friars of other Orders, bound themselves by a fourth vow – to give themselves in trade to the infidels, if necessary, to obtain the liberation of Christians from slavery.
The Order was approved by Pope Gregory IX in the year 1230. The color of their habit was white and the Order was composed of both religious and lay members. The development of the order was immediate and widespread throughout France, England, Germany, Portugal, and Spain. And as the Moors were driven back, new abbeys of Mercy were established.
In the year 1258, Pope Alexander IV issued a formal declaration in which he joined Mary’s name to the term mercy, a term which had already been widely used by the Order as an informal title for their Order since the beginning – “Blessed Mary of Mercy.” Consequently, in 1272, formal drafting of the Constitution for the Order made Mary’s name official in the title by calling it “Order of the Virgin Mary of Mercy of the Redemption of Captives”.
It has been understood by the Mercedarian historians that the presence of Mary in her appearance to Brother Peter, which can only result if God so wills it, was asking that the Order be established for the purpose of committing itself to the redemption of captives, bringing honor to God through Mary as Our Lady of Mercy.
Today, the Order continues as an international community of priests and brothers, who live a life of prayer and communal fraternity based on the Rule of Saint Augustine and the Constitutions of the Order. From this life flows the apostolic work of the Order that seeks to carry on the work of their founder, Saint Peter Nolasco, who, in imitation of Jesus the Redeemer, offered even his own life for those Christians in need of redemptive love.
We commemorate this feastday of Our Lady of Mercy on September 24.
(From saints.sqpn.com, vultus.stblogs.org, catholicharboroffaithandmorals.com and orderofmercy.org)
(The following prayer is from the Mercedarian Collect of Our Lady of Mercy)
“O God, who for the deliverance of Christians from the power of heathens, was pleased through the most glorious Mother of Your Son to enrich Your Church with a new family, we pray that You grant that we, who devoutly venerate her as the foundress of this great work, may likewise be delivered by her merits and intercession from all our sins and from bondage to the power of Hell.
“We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son, who lives and reigns with You in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.”