What does it mean to ransom? To ransom is to obtain the release of a prisoner by payment of exchange. Applied to our faith, we read in 1 Timothy 2:5-6: “For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all men—the testimony given in its proper time”.. Overall, the understanding of this passage is that that the language of ‘payment' and ‘ransom' is metaphorical way of saying that Christ has done all things necessary to save and redeem mankind enslaved.
Keeping that in mind, the Feast of Our Lady of Ransom begins principally in the 13th century. At that time, vigorous slave trading existed in the Ottoman Empire, including Islamic Spain. Spanish Catholics would be captured and imprisoned, often subject to torture as a means to renounce their faith. One man named Peter Nolasco began to work to “ransom” these men through rescue or payment in 1203. He also appealed to the heavens for help as he labored for fifteen years with the daunting tasks of his endeavor.
The Blessed Mother, Our Lady of Ransom, appeared separately to Saint Peter Nolasco, his confessor Saint Raymond of Penafort, and King James I of Aragon all on the night of August 1, 1218. She urged for the creation of a religious order to carry out this task of perfect charity – helping the captives. The Order of Mercy (Mercedarians) was subsequently established by the King on August 10th. Their chief tasks included gathering alms for ransom, guarding the coasts against captors, and even giving themselves up in exchange for the release of others or dying for a Catholic in danger of losing his faith. Indeed, their Fourth vow in their Constitution – after poverty, chastity, and obedience – stated that Mercedarians were
“to visit and to free Christians who are in captivity and in power of the Saracens or of other enemies of our Law… By this work of mercy… all the brothers of this Order, as sons of true obedience, must always be gladly disposed to give up their lives, if it is necessary, as Jesus Christ gave up His for us”
The Mercedarian Order kept up their holy and pious work for years, celebrating its Feast Day on the first Sunday after August 1. It was later changed to September 24. The Order was formalized by Pope Gregory IX. Soon, the Feast Day spread to celebrations in Spain and France. Pope Innocent XII included the Feast for the entire Church in the liturgical calendar in the 17th century. It is estimated that during this time, nearly 500,000 were saved by ransom.
The fruits of sanctity from these acts of charity can be seen in the numerous documented martyrs from the Order of Mercy. Additionally, the Order can claim six Saints and one Blessed among its canon.
We can beseech Our Lady of Ransom today to aid the suffering of those still in captivity in other lands, as well as interceding for the end of slavery in the world in all forms – including the slavery of sin.
O God, who by means of the most glorious Mother of Thy Son
was pleased to give new children to Thy Church
for the deliverance of Christ's faithful
from the power of the heathen; grant, we beseech Thee,
that we who love and honor her as the foundress of so great a work may,
by her merits and intercession,
be ourselves delivered from all sin
and from the bondage of the evil one.
Through the same Christ, our Lord.