|Slavery is as
old as human history. Most everyone practiced it -- the Indians of
North America, the Aztecs and
Incas of Central and South America, the
Gaelic raiders who made a slave of St.
Patrick, the vikings who enslaved people most everywhere they went,
the peoples of
Africa, Asia, India,
Greece, Rome, the countries of the Middle East... Slavery was
practically ubiquitious, and it
thrives to this day even though it is outlawed everywhere, thanks to
Christianity and its influence1: when the
definition of "slavery" includes forced marriage, child labor, and
forced commercial sexual exploitation, there are around 50 million
people in slavery as I write.2
When Islam came about in the early 7th century, Muslims immediately
began warring and slaving. They were constantly attacking the
coastlines of Europe, taking Christians as slaves all the while.
Historian Robert Davis writes that between 1 million to 1.25
million Christians ended up in bondage in the 300 years between 1500
and 1800 alone, all at the hands of the Muslim Barbary Coast pirates
(the "corsairs"). But Muslims were enslaving Christians long before
1500; they'd been raiding the coasts of Europe for slaves from the 8th
This was the scene when St. Peter Nolasco was born in around 1189,
likely in Barcelona. Butler's "Lives of the Saints" describes him as
having grown up in a well-to-do family, but being very pious. He fought
in the crusade against the Alibgensian heretics in France, and then
became the tutor of the young future king, James I of Aragon.
His student became King, and in around 1218, he, his confessor (St.
Raimundo de Peñafort), and the young monarch all had a vision of the
Blessed Virgin, who asked them to found a
religious order that had as its purpose fulfilling one of the Seven Corporal Acts of Mercy: ransoming the
enslaved by Muslims -- that is, coming up with money to buy the release
of those taken in slavery, or even offering themselves in exchange,
military or other means to secure their liberty failed. St. Peter
Nolasco was especially concerned for the immortal souls of those
unjustly made captives, worried that they would despair and lose their
And so, on the Feast of
St. Lawrence -- August 10 -- of 1218, the Order of the Virgin Mary
of Mercy of the Redemption of Captives was formed in Barcelona, with
their purpose being "to visit and to free Christians who are in
in power of the Saracens or of other enemies of our Law."
These religious, commonly known as the Mercedarians, adopted the Rule of St. Augustine, wear
white habits and white scapulars, and make not just the three vows of
poverty, chastity, and obedience, but four vows, the last one being a
vow to be gladly disposed to give up their lives for another, if
Jesus Christ gave up His for us. This fourth vow now reads, "In order
to fulfill this mission we, impelled by love, consecrate ourselves to
God with a special vow, by virtue of which we promise to give up our
lives, as Christ gave his life for us, should it be necessary, in order
to save those Christians who find themselves in extreme danger of
losing their faith by new forms of captivity."
Our Lady of Ransom, as seen in the vision just described, is the
patroness of the Mercedarian Order, and the Mercedarians celebrated her
feast on September 24. In honor of that religious order, the Feast of
Our Lady of Ransom was later extended to the entire Church.
Our Lady of Ransom, also known as Our Lady of Mercy, is usually
depicted as holding the Mercedarian white scapular, a bag or two of
coins for ransom money, and/or chains, or as protecting under her
mantle those who are captives -- whether literal captives, such as to
Muslims, or captives to sin or oppression. She is the patron saint of
Barcelona, and co-patron of the Dominican Republic.
Considering the political situation today in the West (e.g., the
two-tiered justice systems that punish Christians for honoring their
Faith while ignoring the evil-doing of others, the constant battering
of the Faith by the media and other powers that be, the assaults on the
innocence of our children, etc.), the horrors still being inflicted on
Christians by Muslims in places like Nigeria, the unjust persecution of
Christians in places like China, etc., Our Lady of Ransom has never
been more important and needed. Then, too, there are the untold
sufferings of those who are victims of human trafficking, including
children who are exploited not just for labor, but for sexual purposes.
Some may prepare for this feast by praying the Novena to Our Lady of Ransom starting
on September 15 and ending on September 23. For the feast itself, this intense
prayer by St. Alphonsus Liguori should serve you well:
O my Sovereign
Queen and worthy Mother of my God, most Holy Mary: I, seeing myself, as
I do, so despicable, and loaded with so many sins, ought not to presume
to call thee Mother, or even to approach thee; yet I will not allow my
miseries to deprive me of the consolation and confidence that I feel in
calling thee Mother; I know well that I deserve that thou shouldst
reject me; but I beseech thee to remember all that thy Son Jesus has
endured for me, and then reject me if thou canst.
I am a wretched sinner, who, more than all others, have
despised the infinite majesty of God; but the evil is done. To thee
have I recourse; thou canst help me: my Mother, help me! Say not
that thou canst not do so; for I know that thou art all powerful, and
that thou obtainest whatever thou desirest of God; and if thou sayest
that thou wilt not help me, tell me at least to whom I can apply in
this my so great misfortune.
Either pity me, or I will say, with the devout Saint Anselm,
“O, my Jesus, forgive me, or do thou pity me, my Mother Mary, by whom I
can have recourse, who is more compassionate, or in whom I can have
greater confidence than in thee?”
Oh, no; neither on earth, nor in Heaven, can I find anyone
who has more compassion for the miserable, or who is better able to
assist me, than thou canst, O Mary.
Thou, O Jesus, art my Father, and thou, Mary, art my Mother.
You both love the most miserable, and go seeking them in order to save
them. I deserve hell and am the most miserable of all. But you
need not seek me, nor do I presume to ask so much.
I now present myself before you with a certain hope that I
shall not be abandoned. Behold me at your feet; my Jesus, forgive me;
my Mother Mary, help me!
Also perfect for the day is what may by the oldest Marian prayer in
existence -- the 3rd century Sub
(Under Thy Patronage) prayer. It was beautifully set to music by
Joseph-Guy Ropartz (1864-1955). Said music and the prayer's words as
sung in Latin, and their English translation below. I also present the
same prayer as chanted in the Gregorian way, to the right below:
praesidium confugimus, Sancta Dei Genetrix. Nostras deprecationes ne
despicias in necessitatibus, sed a periculis cunctis libera nos semper,
Virgo gloriosa et benedicta. Amen.
||We fly to
thy patronage, O holy Mother of God; despise not our petitions in our
necessities, but deliver us always from all dangers, O glorious and
blessed Virgin. Amen.
In Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain, the Fiestas
de la Mercé (Fiestas de la
Merced in Spanish) lasts for a week. It is marked by the usual
Masses and processions, and also includes marathons, dances, fireworks
coordinated to music, and the presence of los gigantes y cabezudos -- great
papier-mâché giants with large heads, common in Southern European
celebrations. During the fireworks, there is the Correfoc in which people dressed as
demons run through the streets and frighten people. Finally, there is
the building of Castells --
great towers made of human beings. Participants dress in white pants,
red shirts, and wide, black belts, and then, against a backdrop of
medieval flute music, arrange themselves to form tall towers. Also in
Barcelona is the Basílica de la Mercè, the mother church of the
Mercedarian Order. At the top of its dome stands a statue of Our Lady
of Ransom holding her Son.
In the Dominican Republic, tradition holds that Our Lady of Mercy
appeared in the middle of a battle between natives and Christopher
Columbus and his men, her apperance frightening the natives and causing
them to scatter. But the natives came back for more, and fought so
aggressively that Columbus was about to leave when Fray Juan Infante
told him to press on, promising him victory at the hand of Our Lady of
Mercy. The Spanish won, and a church was built at the site of victory
in Santo Serro. Great celebrations are had there on la Dia de las Mercedes, and also in
Santo Domingo, the capital of the Dominican Republic, where September
24 is a national holiday.
In Vallarpadam, Kerala, a small island off the Western coast of
southern India, is the beautiful, pure white National
Shrine Basilica of Our Lady of Ransom, a great place of pilgrimage. The shrine is home to a
miraculous painting of the Virgin and her Son, brought to the area by
Portuguese merchants led by Vasco Da Gama in 1524. It was installed in
a little church which was destroyed by floods in 1676 -- but the
painting was found in a swollen river. The waters were so rapid that
the painting couldn't be easily retrieved, but when it finally was, it
was discovered to not be wet at all. Already aware of miracles
performed at the intercession of Our Lady of Mercy -- known as
Vallarpadathamma in India -- the man who retrieved the painting donated
land to have a church built, and the sanctuary lamp in that church has
been burning since when it was first lit in 1676 to now. In 1752, a
woman and her son were going by boat to visit their pagan family temple
when they capsized in an awful storm. In desperation, after her false
gods failed her, the woman appealed to Vallarpadathamma to save them.
People had been searching for them to no avail, but then a priest had a
dream in which Our Lady told him where to look for them. He related
he saw, the people went and cast nets where he told them to cast them,
and the lady and her son were saved after three days of being lost. The
woman and her boy were so grateful that they spent the rest of their
lives living in the churchyard and telling everyone about Our Lady of
Ransom. The woman related her story like this:
Just I prayed to
Vallarpadathamma for help and vowed our allegiance by becoming her
servants, the boat capsized and I, together with my son sank into the
deep. We went straight to the bottom of the sea and found ourselves at
peace in the presence of Vallarpadathamma. We were in such a serene and
beautiful place that we did not feel the passing of time. We were just
gazing at the face of Our Lady and her Son. Now we find ourselves at
the feet of the same Vallarpadathamma.
The Feast of
Vallarpadathamma is kept over numerous days in Vallarpadam. From
September 16 to the 24th, pilgrims pour in to the city from all over
India and the world. On the feast itself, descendants of the woman who
was saved with her son from the waters give buttermilk -- blessed by
the Bishop -- to those who come, and it is traditional to bring a broom
to sweep out the tiled courtyard in front of the shrine to make
manifest one's commitment to service and give honor to Our Lady of
Mercy. Boats, nets, and other fishing gear are blessed as
Vallarpadathamma is the patron of those who work on the sea.
Finally, and very importantly, in the Anglosphere, special attention is
paid today to Our Lady of Walsingham, with a focus
on praying for the return of England and Wales to Christ's Church.
Please read about Our
Lady of Walsingham, her importance to "her Dowry" (England), and
relevance to the Feast of Our Lady of Ransom. Pray for the English and
the Welsh, most of whom are captives to heresy, agnoticism, atheism, or
paganism. Pray for a return of the people of the British Isles to the
Faith that made their countries great.
From Dom Gueranger's Liturgical Year
The Office of the time gives us, at the close of September, the Books
of Judith and Esther. These heroic women were figures of Mary, whose
birthday is the honor of this month, and who comes at once to bring
assistance to the world.
'Adonai, Lord God, great and admirable, Who hast wrought salvation by
the hand of a woman:' the Church thus introduces the history of the
heroine, who delivered Bethulia by the sword, whereas Mardochai's niece
rescued her people from death by her winsomeness and her intercession.
The Queen of Heaven, in her peerless perfection, outshines them both,
in gentleness, in valor, and in beauty. Today's feast is a memorial of
the strength she puts forth for the deliverance of her people.
Finding their power crushed in Spain, and in the east checked by the
Latin kingdom of Jerusalem, the Saracens, in the twelfth century,
became wholesale pirates, and scoured the seas to obtain slaves for the
African markets. We shudder to think of the numberless victims, of
every age, sex, and condition, suddenly carried off from the coasts of
Christian lands, or captured on the high seas, and condemned to the
disgrace of the harem or the miseries of the bagnio. Here,
nevertheless, in many an obscure prison, were enacted scenes of heroism
worthy to compare with those witnessed in the early persecutions; here
was a new field for Christian charity; new horizons opened out for
heroic self-devotion. Is not the spiritual good thence arising a
sufficient reason for the permission of temporal ills? Without this
permission, Heaven would have for ever lacked a portion of its beauty.
When, in 1696, Innocent XII extended this feast to the whole Church, he
afforded the world an opportunity of expressing its gratitude by a
testimony as universal as the benefit received.
Differing from the Order of holy Trinity, which had been already twenty
years in existence, the Order of Mercy was founded as in were in the
very face of the Moors; and hence it originally numbered more knights
than clerics among its members. It was called the royal, military, and
religious Order of our Lady of Mercy for the ransom of captives. The
clerics were charged with the celebration of the Divine Office in the
commandaries; the knights guarded the coasts, and undertook the
perilous enterprise of ransoming Christian captives. St. Peter Nolasco
was the first Commander or Grand Master of the Order; when his relics
were discovered, he was found armed with sword and cuirass. . . .
At the time when the Saracen yoke oppressed the larger and more fertile
part of Spain, and great numbers of the faithful were detained in cruel
servitude, at the great risk of denying the Christian faith and losing
their eternal salvation, the most blessed Queen of Heaven graciously
came to remedy all these great evils, and showed her exceeding charity
in redeeming her children. She appeared with beaming countenance to
Peter Nolasco, a man conspicuous for wealth and piety, who in his holy
meditations was ever striving to devise some means of helping the
innumerable Christians living in misery as captives of the Moors. She
told him it would be very pleasing to her and her only-begotten Son, if
a religious Order were instituted in her honor, whose members should
devote themselves to delivering captives from Turkish tyranny.
Animated by this heavenly vision, the man of God was inflamed with
burning love, having but one desire at heart, viz.: that both he and
the Order he was to found, might be devoted to the exercise of that
highest charity, the laying down of life for one's friends and
That same night, the most holy Virgin appeared also to blessed Raymund
of Penafort, and to James, king of Aragon, telling them of her wish to
have the Order instituted, and exhorting them to lend their aid to so
great an undertaking. Meanwhile Peter hastened to relate the whole
matter to Raymund, who was his confessor; and finding it had been
already revealed to him from Heaven, submitted humbly to his direction.
King James next arrived, fully resolved to carry out the instructions
he also had received from the blessed Virgin. Having therefore taken
counsel together and being all of one mind, they set about instituting
an Order in honor of the Virgin Mother, under the invocation of our
Lady of Mercy for the ransom of captives.
On the tenth of August, in the year of our Lord one thousand two
hundred and eighteen, King James put into execution what the two holy
men had planned. The members of the Order bound themselves by a fourth
vow to remain, when necessary, as securities in the power of the
pagans, in order to deliver Christians. The king granted them license
to bear his royal arms upon their breast, and obtained from Gregory IX
the confirmation of this religious institute distinguished by such
eminent brotherly charity. God Himself gave increase to the work,
through the Virgin Mother; so that the Order spread rapidly and
prosperously over the whole world. It soon reckoned many holy men
remarkable for their charity and piety who collected alms from Christ's
faithful, to be spent in redeeming their brethren; and sometimes gave
themselves up all ransom for many others.
In order that due thanks might be rendered to God and His Virgin Mother
for the benefit of such an institution, the Apostolic See allowed this
special feast and Office to be celebrated and also granted innumerable
other privileges to the Order.
Blessed be thou, O Mary, the honor and the joy of thy people! On the
day of thy glorious Assumption, thou didst take possession of thy
queenly dignity for our sake; and the annals of the human race are a
record of thy merciful interventions. The captives whose chains thou
hast broken, and whom thou hast set free from the degrading yoke of the
Saracens, may be reckoned by millions. We are still rejoicing in the
recollection of thy dear birthday; and thy smile is sufficient to dry
our tears and chase away the clouds of grief. And yet, what sorrows
there are still upon the earth, where thou thyself didst drink such
long draughts from the cup of suffering! Sorrows are sanctifying and
beneficial to some but there are other and unprofitable grief,
springing from social injustice: the drudgery of the factory, or the
tyranny of the strong over the weak, may be worse than slavery in
Algiers or Tunis. Thou alone, O Mary, canst break the inextricable
chains, in which the cunning prince of darkness entangles the dupes he
has deceived by the high- sounding names of equality and liberty. Show
thyself a Queen, by coming to the rescue. The whole earth, the
entire human race, cries out to thee, in the words of Mordechai: 'Speak
to the King for us, and deliver us from death!'
1 See, for example: