Fish Eaters: The Whys and Hows of Traditional Catholicism

``Where the Bishop is, there let the multitude of believers be;
even as where Jesus is, there is the Catholic Church'' Ignatius of Antioch, 1st c. A.D

Feast of Our Lady of Ransom

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, labor forced not as punishment for crimes or from prisoners of war, 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.Pirates from the Barbary Coast in Africa 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 at least the 8th century on.3

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.

Once his student became King, around 1218, our Saint, his confessor (St. Raimundo de Peñafort), and the new 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 Christians enslaved by Muslims -- that is, coming up with money to buy the release of those taken in slavery, or even offering themselves in exchange, when 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 faith.

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 captivity and 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 necessary, as 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, the Memorare or t
his 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 Tuum Praesidium (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:

Sub tuum 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 what 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 her special 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 neighbors.

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:

Sicut Dudum by Pope Eugene IV (1431-1447)
Sublimus Dei by Pope Paul III (1534-1549)
In Supremo Apostolatus by Pope Gregory XVI (1831-1846)
Catholicae Ecclesiae by Pope Leo XIII (1878-1903)
Lacrimabili Statu by Pope St. Pius X (1903-1914)

2 Source:

3 The Muslim Ottoman Empire made slaves of Christians as well, raiding Central and Eastern European countries for hundreds of years.

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