The Feast of Our Lady of Ransom
(The feast of Our Lady of Ransom on the traditional sanctoral calendar, which is commemorated on 24 September, is the date on which the feast of Our Lady of Walsingham is also celebrated, particularly in the English-speaking world. According to an article by Raven Wenner, a parishioner of Our Lady of Walsingham Anglican-Use Catholic parish in Houston, Texas (and posted on the Pro Ecclesia, Pro Familia, Pro Civitate blog): "[The feast of] Our Lady of Walsingham was formerly celebrated on March 25th, "Lady Day" (Feast of the Annunciation), but for ecumenical considerations was moved to September 24th. (September 24 in England had been the feast of Our Lady of Ransom, who was entreated for the re-conversion of England, 'Our Lady's Dowry.')." The Guild of Our Lady of Ransom, founded in 1887, helped restore the Slipper Chapel shrine in Walsingham.
The following is excerpted from Dom Prosper Guéranger's entry in The Liturgical Year for Our Lady of Ransom, in Volume XIV of the 1983 Marian House edition of the English translation by the Benedictines of Stanbrook.)
"Finding their power crushed in Spain, and in the east checked by the Latin kingdom of Jerusalem, the Saracens [Mohammadans], 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 aids? Without this permission, heaven would have for ever lacked a portion of its beauty."
"When, in 1696, [Pope] 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 the [H]oly Trinity [Trinitarians], which had been already twenty years in existence, the Order of Mercy [Mercedarians] was founded as it were in the very face of the Moors; and hence it originally numbered more knights than clerks among its members. It was called the royal, military, and religious Order of [O]ur 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...."
[A reading from the Office for the Feast of Our Lady of Ransom then follows.]
"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 [St.] 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 honour, 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 neighbours."Blessed be thou, O Mary, the honour 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 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 griefs, 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 Mardochai: 'Speak to the king for us, and deliver us from death!' [Esther xv. 3.]."
"The same night, the most holy Virgin appeared also to blessed Raymond of Pegnafort, 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 honour of the Virgin Mother, under the invocation of [O]ur Lady of Mercy for the ransom of captives."
"On the tenth of August, in the year of [O]ur Lord one thousand two hundred and eighteen, king James out 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 [Pope] Gregory IX the confirmation of this religious institute distinguished by such eminent brotherly charity. God [H]imself gave increase to the work, through [H]is 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 as ransom for many others. In order that due thanks might be rendered to God and [H]is 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."
[For more on Our Lady of Ransom, visit CatholicCulture.org's page: Our Lady of Ransom.]