The story of Our Lady of Ransom is, at its outset, that of
Saint Peter Nolasco, born in Languedoc about 1189.
He conceived the idea of establishing a religious order for the redemption of captives
seized by the Moors on the seas and in Spain itself; they were being
cruelly tormented in their African prisons to make them deny their
faith. On August 1, 1218 the Blessed Virgin appeared to Saint Peter, to his confessor,
Raymund of Peņafort, and to King James I,
and through these three servants of God established a work of the most perfect charity, the
redemption of captives. Its members would undertake to deliver Christian captives and offer themselves, if necessary, as payment.
Word of the apparition soon spread over the entire kingdom, and on August
10 the king went to the cathedral for a Mass celebrated by the bishop
of Barcelona during which Saint Raymund narrated his vision with
admirable eloquence and fervor. The king besought the blessing of the
bishop for the heaven-sent plan, and the bishop bestowed the habit on
Saint Peter, who emitted the solemn vow to give himself as a hostage if necessary.
The Order, thus solemnly established in Spain, was approved by Gregory IX under
the name of Our Lady of Mercy and spread rapidly. Eventually
a feast day was instituted and observed on September 24, first in the
religious order, then in Spain and France, and on February 22, 1696
Innocent XII extended it to the entire Church. To this day, the Mercedarians keep this day as a first class feast, with a vigil,
privileged octave, and proper Office under the title: Solemnitas Descensionis B. Mariæ V. de Mercede.
Our Lady of Ransom is the principal patron of Barcelona; the proper Office was
extended to Barcelona (1868) and to all Spain (second class, 1883).
Sicily, which had suffered so much from the
took up the old date of the feast (Sunday nearest to August 1) by permission of the Congregation of Rites of August 31, 1805. In
England the devotion to Our Lady of Ransom was revived in modern times to obtain the rescue of England as Our Lady's Dowry.
Extract from the Pope Leo XIII, Encyclical Octobri Mense. September, 22 1891:
3. The world goes on its laborious way, proud of its riches, of its power, of its arms, of its genius; the Church
goes onward along the course of ages with an even step, trusting in God only, to Whom, day and night, she lifts her eyes and
her suppliant hands. Even though in her prudence she neglects not the human aid which Providence and the times afford her,
not in these does she put her trust, which rests in prayer, in supplication, in
the invocation of God. Thus it is that she renews her vital breath;
the diligence of her prayer has caused her, in her aloofness from
worldly things and in her continual union with the Divine will, to
live the tranquil and peaceful life of Our very Lord Jesus Christ; being herself the image of Christ, whose happy and perpetual
joy was hardly marred by the horror of the torments He endured for us.
4. This important doctrine of Christian wisdom has been ever believed and practiced by Christians worthy of the name.
Their prayers rise to God eagerly and more frequently when the
cunning and the violence of the perverse afflict the Church and her
supreme Pastor. Of this the faithful of the Church in the East gave
an example that should be offered to the imitation of posterity.
Peter, Vicar of Jesus Christ, and first Pontiff of the Church, had
been cast into prison, loaded with chains by the guilty Herod, and
left for certain death. None could carry him help or snatch him from
the peril. But there was the certain help that fervent prayer wins
from God. The Church, as the sacred story tells us, made prayer
without ceasing to God for him; and the greater was the fear of a
misfortune, the greater was the fervor of all who prayed to God.
After the granting of their desires, the miracle stood revealed, and
Christians still celebrate with a joyous gratitude the marvel of the
deliverance of Peter. Christ has given us a still more memorable
instance, a Divine instance, so that the Church might be formed not
upon his precepts only, but upon His example also. During His whole
life He had given Himself to frequent and fervent prayer, and in the
supreme hours in the Garden of Gethsemane, when His soul was filled
with bitterness and sorrow unto death, He prayed to His Father and
prayed repeatedly. It was not for Himself that He prayed thus, for He
feared nothing and needed nothing, being God; He prayed for us, for
His Church, whose prayers and future tears He already then accepted with joy, to give them back in mercies.
5. The design of this most dear mercy, realized by God in Mary and confirmed by the testament of Christ, was
comprehended at the beginning, and accepted with the utmost joy by
the Holy Apostles and the earliest believers. It was the counsel and
teaching of the venerable Fathers of the Church. All the nations of
the Christian age received it with one mind, and even when literature
and tradition are silent there is a voice that breaks from every
Christian breast and speaks with all eloquence. No other reason is
needed than that of a Divine faith which, by a powerful and most
pleasant impulse, persuades us towards Mary. Nothing is more natural,
nothing more desirable than to seek a refuge in the protection and in
the loyalty of her to whom we may confess our designs and our
actions, our innocence and our repentance, our torments and our joys,
our prayers and our desires-all our fears. All men, moreover, are
filled with the hope and confidence that petitions which might be
received with less favor from the lips of unworthy men, God will
accept when they are recommended by the most Holy Mother, and will grant all favors.
6. This storm of evils, in the midst of which the
Church struggles so strenuously, reveals to all her pious children
the holy duty whereto they are bound to pray to God with insistence,
and the manner in which they may give to their prayers the greater
power. Faithful to the religious example of our fathers, let us have
recourse to Mary, our holy Sovereign. Let us entreat, let us beseech,
with one heart, Mary, the Mother of Jesus Christ, our Mother. "Show
thyself to be a mother; cause our prayers to be accepted by Him Who,
born for us, consented to be thy Son." (Ex sacr. liturg.)