RENEWAL OF THE CHARISM
After intensive preparation and consultation with ecclesiastical and religious bodies at every level, the Catholic Church held the Second Vatican Council convoked in Rome by Pope John XXIII. The Second Vatican Council was also an extraordinary historical and salvific event whose attention was focused on the mystery of Christ and of his Church.
It is difficult to make a brief mention of the contents of the vast domain perused by the Council. On the other hand, it is not the theme of this synthesis. What is of interest, however, is to see what was the Council’s attitude regarding religious life.
In this Council, the Magisterium of the Church stated theological principles about religious life which are contained in the dogmatic document Lumen gentium and the Perfectae caritatis decree established the criteria for an authentic renewal of religious life.
In the period immediately following the Council, the Church was concerned about publishing other documents for the correct application of the principles set up by the conciliar assembly regarding religious life. In his apostolic letter of August 6, 1966, Ecclesiae Sanctae, Paul VI established norms for the application of some conciliar decrees. In the apostolic exhortation of June 29, 1971, Evangelica testificatio, the Pope put at the disposal of religious a document which can be considered among the best of the postconciliar period concerning the appropriate renewal of religious life.
In the reflection on consecrated life in the years after the Council, very important themes were presented. From the actualization of the Constitutions and the structures which, at first, seemed to be the institutes’ strength, we moved to interior renewal with the discovery of religious life as a charism in the Church and as a prophecy of superior realities. Hence, the need for each institute to return to the sources of its own charism and of its own mission in the Church. The authentic renewal which the Council sought for each institute could only occur under certain conditions, namely: discovering the charism of one’s own founder, foundation of the diversity of the institutes themselves and fidelity to it at this time; insertion of the institute in the local church where it finds its concrete realization according to the institutional physiognomy of each; the firm conviction on the part of religious that these objectives are attained by an adequate initial and permanent formation; the contemplative dimension of the lives of religious dedicated to the apostolate and suitable relationships with the laity.
All of this has meant intensive activity in religious institutes and all religious of the Mercedarian Order have been involved in this activity. Here we are only indicating a few moments when the Order has been engaged in the task of renewal determined by the Council.
The apostolic letter, Ecclesiae Sanctae, gave precise indications on the fundamental and irreplaceable function of institutes in the renewal and adaptation of religious life, especially through general chapters whose jurisdiction was not limited to promulgating laws but it also had to encompass the promotion of spiritual and apostolic life. This document prescribed holding a “special ordinary or extraordinary general chapter” to promote appropriate renewal within two or, at most, three years. The Order of Mercy also held this special chapter which coincided with the ordinary general chapter corresponding to the end of the six-year period 1962-1968.
Celebration of the Chapter
The chapter was convoked by a letter from the Master General on October 29, 1967, and it was to be held in Rome. Prior to this convocation—in order to involve, to the degree it was possible, all members of the Order in the renewal prescribed by the Council—on December 30, 1966, the general curia had sent a long and detailed questionnaire encompassing the entire life of the Order, consisting in the spiritual, charismatic, disciplinary, formative and government aspects. Each religious was asked to express freely what he believed useful to the progress of the Order, in fidelity to the ideal which inspired Saint Peter Nolasco to found the Order and with respect for the activities zealously practiced by Mercedarians. There were numerous responses. Almost all the religious made their opinions known. In fact, 706 religious participated in this poll as they contributed their ideas either individually or by endorsing agreements made in community. The general council summarized these answers for the chapter in a 105-page volume which served as the study basis of the capitulars in order to know the thinking of the Order.
The chapter started on May 4, 1968, and it concluded on July 18. During the chapter, in addition to fulfilling the normal formalities of every general chapter, Bernardo Navarro Allende was elected Master General. The chapter devoted itself mostly to study the Order’s renewal. Subdivided into five commissions, the capitulars worked very hard and prepared an outline of the Constitutions which was followed by another and better one. In spite of this, the chapter sensed the need for in-depth reflection and took advantage of the possibility to divide the capitular tasks into two periods as the apostolic letter Ecclesiae Sanctae allowed. Meanwhile, a commission, elected by the chapter, was to work on the constitutional project. Fathers Antonio Vázquez, Ramón Iribarne and Elías Gómez made up the commission. The general council thought it was opportune to expand that commission by adding Fathers Manuel Orellano, Antonio Primavera, José M. Vallejo and Secretary General Ernesto González Castro.
The capitulars believed it was fitting to address a Message to the entire Order to report on the work being done and to ask Mercedarians to assimilate the principles on religious institutes indicated by the Second Vatican Council.
In speaking of the redemptive spirit of the Order whose characteristic was identified in redemptive charity at the service of faith and practiced through an extraordinary Marian mediation, the capitulars said: “We feel the need to define ourselves, to gain a more profound awareness of our being as Mercedarian religious, to delve more deeply into the meditation and study of our rich and multisecular spiritual patrimony, of the charismatic treasure left by our holy Founder and enriched by our best religious in the course of seven hundred and fifty years of our history which is part of the history of Christ’s Church.”
Then the capitulars invited religious to the interior and spiritual renewal which had to be concretized at the personal, communitarian, ecclesial and ecumenical levels.
Later, by a December 20, 1968 decree of the Master General, norms of a juridical nature were promulgated. The chapter had established them to become effective immediately.
Meanwhile, the commission worked very hard and at the end of 1968, it was prepared to offer a first draft of the Constitutions which was sent to the whole Order in January 1969. Religious, communities and provincial commissions were invited to send their own observations, corrections and suggestions to the commission. The responses were numerous. Combined, they formed a thick volume. The commission put the finishing touches to the second draft written in Spanish and Latin. Father Vincenzo Lodise was entrusted with its translation into Latin.
Constitutions and Norms ad experimentum of Father Bernardo Navarro (1970)
The second part of the chapter started on October 4 and concluded on December 6, 1969. The capitular task unfolded with the five commissions which had been at work in the first part, introducing corrections to the constitutional draft. The chapter examined and voted the text, sentence by sentence or number by number, depending on the case.
The problem of the fourth vow, characteristic of the Order, presented itself in the chapter. Some wanted to eliminate it but most of the capitulars were in favor of keeping it even though they accepted a new redaction to be included in the formula of profession and which was subsequently approved by the Sacred Congregation of Religious.
After concluding the redaction of the Spanish text approved in chapter and after the Latin translation was declared authentic by the general council, by decree of August 10, 1970, Master General Bernardo Navarro promulgated these Constitutions and Norms which, in accordance with the provisions of Ecclesiae Sanctae, did not need the formal approval of the Holy See because they were ad experimentum. They became effective on December 8, 1970. Later on, the text was sent to the Sacred Congregation of Religious for its consideration and, in a letter of February 6, 1974, addressed to the Master General and signed by Cardinal Prefect Arturo Tabera, the Congregation expressed a highly favorable opinion of the new Mercedarian legislation.
These Constitutions and Norms, in their formal aspect as the title itself suggests, were divided into Constitutions—that is to say, general principles not easily modifiable—and Norms—namely, more practical dispositions which could be adapted to circumstances.
In terms of content and to limit our analysis to the charismatic aspect, the Constitutions appear innovative with regard to the past and more suited to present demands. But, at the same time, they are traditional since they assume what is fundamental to the nature of the Order. Perfectae Caritatis had established that, on one hand, it was necessary to maintain sound traditions and, on the other, obsolete elements were to be abandoned. Putting these principles into practice in the Order implied the danger of abandoning essential tradition and of falling into an updating which did not correspond to the Founder’s original intention. The proposed text avoided this danger because it kept what was essential to the nature of the Order. In this way, Mercedarians assumed their history and they actualized it: “The Order during the early centuries of its existence, driven by charity, dedicated itself to the redemption of the Christians held captive under the power of the Saracens and therefore exposed to the danger of denying their faith. When this kind of slavery was abolished, ‘there rose in the human society new forms of captivity of social, political and psychological order, ultimately deriving from sin,’ which are more harmful to Christian faith than the institutionalized servitude and captivity of former times. Mercedarian religious…, faithful to the ideals and the spirit of their Founder and ‘out of integrity of faith, love for God and others, by the cross and their hope of future glory,’ through appropriate works of mercy, dedicate themselves to the salvation and redemption of Christians from new forms of captivity which put them in danger of neglecting the practice of Christian life and even of denying their faith. To this end and by virtue of their religious profession, the Mercedarians are prepared to give their own lives, if necessary, after the example of Christ the Redeemer.”
These texts of the Constitutions and Norms which will be assumed in their contents by postconciliar Constitutions, express the specific charism of the Order, in which former captivity appears as a risk to faith, a risk which also occurs with new forms of captivity which overwhelm humanity today. To liberate people from these new forms of captivity, Mercedarians will be engaged in appropriate works of mercy and they will be prepared to sacrifice their own lives as they have done in the past.
After recalling that, “the redemptive spirit of the Order should animate the entire apostolic activity of the religious, so that it may be nourished and harmonized by it,” the Constitutions and Norms list the ministries in which religious are engaged and view them from a Mercedarian perspective: parishes, missions, education, apostolate of prisons, help to the persecuted Church, specifying especially for the last two ministries, the characteristic aspect of the apostolic activity of the Order.
In the period following the publication of these Constitutions, the Order committed itself not only to experiment with the laws which had been given but also to reflect on its charismatic identity looking deeply into the figure of the Founder and his message and outlining the notes and the importance of spirituality which emerge from that identity for the interior renewal of every Mercedarian.
Appreciation of the Figure of the Founder
The 1983 extraordinary General Chapter established that the year 1985, the 750th anniversary of the Confirmation of the Order, be declared the Year of Saint Peter Nolasco. This celebration, encouraged by the general curia, gave rise to numerous publications and manifestations in all the Order which led to a greater appreciation of the Order’s Founder and to a better knowledge of the Order. The five special books published by the general curia on that occasion from 1984 to 1986 record the countless initiatives which accompanied the celebration.
The publication Analecta mercedaria dedicated the 1985 volume as a tribute to Saint Peter Nolasco. Likewise, the journal Estudios dedicated an issue of 1985 to him. A short biography entitled Saint Peter Nolasco – Life and Charism, written by Father Xabier Pikaza, was published by the general curia. Other Mercedarian authors wrote about Saint Peter Nolasco and there were publications about the life and the charism of the Founder of the Order of Mercy in all the provinces. But one work really made the figure of Peter Nolasco stand out as the man who has known how to incarnate the Gospel in an admirable way. It is the life written by renowned author Alejandro Pronzato at the request of Master General Domingo Acquaro and published in 1986, under the very expressive title: Un mercante di libertà. It was later translated into Spanish.
On that occasion, Pope John Paul II addressed a letter to the Master General on May 28, 1985. Among other things, the Holy Father said: “In the first place, we are pleased to note that in a prudent way, while times and conditions of Christian life have been changing, the Mercedarian Order has been able to adapt properly and successfully the Founder’s project of liberating Christians from the shameful captivity of the body, and other types of human liberation from other forms of captivity which still oppress people today: we are referring to injustice and to the lack of respect for human dignity and we are referring to sin and to ignorance of the Gospel.”
Peter Nolasco emerges from all these manifestations as a man of his time who knew how to imitate Jesus Christ, to love Mary, to practice charity in a heroic way, to liberate captives even at the cost of life and to proclaim freedom to the oppressed.
Likewise, there was an emphasis on Peter Nolasco’s message and his charism. They are concretely actualized today in a world filled with degrading forms of captivity which oppress human dignity and endanger the life of faith of Christians.
Elements of the Charism and Spirituality of the Order
The message of the 1968 General Chapter had already alluded to some characteristics of the Order’s redemptive spirit. But taking up those ideas and addressing religious in its message, the 1974 General Chapter defined and better specified the essence of the spirituality and of the spirit of the Order in an official and complete way.
The message showed that, with the three common vows and the specific fourth vow to give one’s life for captives, the Mercedarian profession is a total consecration and configuration with Christ the Redeemer who, by his supreme act of love, bestowed the gift of faith to human beings as the foundation and root of sanctity by redeeming them from slavery to sin which is the source of all the “forms of social, political or psychological slavery.”
This configuration with Christ the Redeemer was the foundation of the life of the first Mercedarian, Saint Peter Nolasco, who, prompted by the Holy Spirit, established as his apostolic vocation the work “of mercy of the redemption of Christian captives.” His action was liberating in the most profound sense: it was a type of social help which penetrated the deepest values of captives. But even though it was directly a matter a liberation from a contemptible social situation, Saint Peter Nolasco’s primordial objective was to save Christians by taking them out of external circumstances endangering their faith.
Following the apostolic line of the saintly Founder, we see that the specific purpose of the Order of Mercy is the liberation of Christians trapped in a social situation of captivity through the heroic practice of charity at the service of faith.
The characteristic notes of captivity from a Mercedarian viewpoint are the following: it must be an oppressive and degrading social situation for the human person; deriving from principles opposed to the Gospel; gravely dangerous to faith; there must be a possibility of helping and actually liberating people in danger of losing their faith. In those situations, there can be cases of people in extreme danger of losing their faith. When this happens, it is urgent to apply the spirit of the fourth vow by which Mercedarian religious promise “to give up our lives, as Christ gave his life for us, if it should be necessary” after having exhausted all other recourses suggested by charity. In addition, there is no doubt that the fourth vow demands that, in union with Christ the Redeemer, all Mercedarians offer themselves to the Father for the liberation of those who find themselves in danger of losing their faith in any situation of captivity.
The capitular message also defined the spirit of the Order. “By the spirit of Mercy, we understand the totality of theoretical principles and practical attitudes which characterized the Institute since its foundation and were the constants of its activity… In fact, from the beginning, the Order: a) accepted the supreme principle of the redemption carried out by Christ and it adopted the practice of imitating the Redeemer faithfully; b) it accepted the Marian principles of divine motherhood, Mary’s association with her Son’s redemptive work, Mary’s intervention in its foundation and it adopted the practice of calling itself Order of Saint Mary, to disclose and to defend the graces, privileges of mysteries of the heavenly Lady and to serve and honor her always; c) it accepted the principle of the primacy of charity over the other virtues and it adopted the attitude of practicing that virtue in a heroic way; d) it accepted the principle that what is ultimately important to human beings is salvation whose foundation is faith and it adopted the practice of putting itself at the service of faith; e) it accepted the principle that the situation of captivity is really pernicious for faith and it adopted the practice of redeeming Christian captives.”
Manual of Mercedarian Spirituality
The 1974 General Chapter approved the publication of a text on the spirituality of the Order as a manual and method of religious formation. To realize this ambition, in 1976, the general council designated a commission formed by Fathers Juan Devesa Blanco, Antonio Rubino and Ernesto González who were to work under the leadership of Father Saúl Peredo, responsible for the general Secretariat for spirituality. After formulating a schema and distributing the work among the commission members, a text was written and sent to the provinces in 1981. This work was published in 1986, under the title The Order of Mercy -Spirit and Life. It was the first volume of the newly created Mercedarian Library.
This publication offered the Mercedarian Family an important contribution for its specifically Mercedarian religious formation. The absence of such a text was particularly deplored.
It should be pointed out that, prior to that date, there had been other works dealing with this theme: San Pedro Nolasco en la espiritualidad Mercedaria which Father Elías Gómez published in Estudios in 1956; in 1960, Father Carlos Oviedo Cavada wrote the opuscule La Orden de la Merced y su espíritu; a 1970 issue of Estudios, entirely dedicated to the Order of Mercy, contains several articles on this theme; in 1975, Father Antonio Rubino published Lineamenti di spiritualità mercedaria, as an outline of a manual of Mercedarian spirituality.
In January 1978, the assembly of provincials and delegates had met in Córdoba (Argentina) under the presidency of Master General Domingo Acquaro. The final document of the assembly created a great deal of interest in the Order. In 1979, along with this document and under the title, Carisma y espiritualidad de la Orden de la Merced, the general curia also published the three lectures which had served as its basis. The themes respectively covered by Fathers Xabier Pikaza, Antonio Rubino and Mercedarian Bishop Juan Bautista Herrera were: Charism and Spirituality in Itself, Charism and Spirituality in Our Consecrated Lives and Charism and Spirituality in Our Apostolic Lives.
These publications have helped us to understand the great value of a specifically Mercedarian spirituality in religious life, not only in terms of inspiring action but also as an inner force of renewal in the lives of religious.
In the midst of the experimentation period, the 1980 General Chapter was held. Father Domingo Acquaro was reelected Master General. At the chapter, some norms concerning the life of the Order were approved and plans were made to encourage its renewal. It was decided to hold an extraordinary general chapter to approve the Constitutions and the new general government was told to appoint a special commission “to revise our Constitutions and Norms gathering what religious of the Order had already presented and are still presenting and to prepare a text to be studied, examined and definitively approved at the extraordinary general chapter.”
In fact, on June 2, 1981, the general council appointed a special commission formed by Fathers Antonio Vázquez, president, Saúl Peredo, secretary, Antonio Rubino and Xabier Pikaza. The commission was given ample powers to carry out its work of revising the constitutional text and to guide and coordinate the work of the provincial commissions.
As a whole, the text of the Constitutions and Norms appeared rather good and it was even appreciated by competent people outside of the Order. However, many points had to be improved: it had to include the values referring to the charism and the spirit of the Order that had been acquired during the experimentation period, the changes introduced by the general chapters of 1974 and 1980. At the same time, it had to take into account the new guidelines contained in the Code of Canon Law of 1983.
With the insight of these contributions and the religious’ observations, the commission prepared a final schema of the Constitutions. In December 1982, it was sent to all religious for their final observations before the extraordinary general chapter. The commission indicated the criteria which had guided the writing, indicating, in particular, that the text had been unified by eliminating the distinction between Constitutions and Norms, with many of the Norms moved to particular Statutes; that the doctrinal contribution of the Lima and Córdoba meetings had been extremely important with regard to the charism and spirituality and that the suggestions of formators, commissions and religious had appreciably contributed to the final redaction. Therefore, it could truly be said that the final compilation of the Constitutions was the fruit of the full and free collaboration of the entire Order.
Extraordinary General Chapter
Master General Domingo Acquaro convoked the extraordinary general chapter. Its principal goal was to approve the Constitutions in their final form after almost fifteen years of experimentation.
The sessions were inaugurated at the general curia in Rome on August 27, 1983. The assembly, formed by 27 capitulars, approved, one by one, the numbers and paragraphs which divided up the Constitutions, eliminating some, correcting others and adding a few concepts to the text prepared by the central commission.
Regarding the approval of the Constitutions, in his November 23, 1983 letter addressed to the Order, the Master General stated: “As all of you already know, the chapter has accomplished the purpose for which it was convened: approving the definitive text of the Constitutions which will guide us in the future in a relatively definitive way. I am pleased to point out that the capitular assembly has been conducted in an ambiance of true fellowship, interest and active participation of all present… with most numbers being unanimously approved. Very few have had problems in approving them. At present, the text is being submitted to the Congregation of Religious and to secular Institutes for their examination. We are awaiting the ratification of the Holy See in order to proceed to their promulgation.”
The definitive approval of the Constitutions came in a decree of May 13, 1985, on the feast of Saint Peter Nolasco. The Master General promulgated them on January 17, 1986, on the 761st anniversary of the pontifical confirmation of the Order.
Contents of the Constitutions
In comparing the 1986 constitutional text with the previous one promulgated in 1970, and on which it is based, we find significant differences.
In the formal aspect, —in addition to unifying Constitutions and Norms into a single body which facilitates consultation— after the early 1272 Constitutions written in Catalan, this was the first time in the secular history of the Order that the official text was not written in Latin but rather in Spanish, the language spoken by most religious of the Order. Because of that, the translations of the Constitutions into other languages, had to be declared in conformity with the official text by the Master General.
With reference to the contents, in the charismatic aspect, these Constitutions have assumed the notes indicated in the Message of the 1974 Chapter as constitutive of captivity in the Mercedarian sense, that is to say, all that oppresses and degrades the human person and endangers faith. In addition—always with regard to the charismatic aspect—the Constitutions did not want to indicate any of the ministries which appeared in the Constitutions and Norms. However, they sought to underscore the redemptive mission of the Order which has to be carried out by virtue of the fourth vow. The ministries, assumed by the Order to meet the needs of the Church, have to refer to this redemptive mission because the entire apostolic action of religious must be prompted by the redemptive spirit. In this respect and to clarify and facilitate this aspect, the 1986 planning has classified the apostolic action of the Mercedarians in redemptive mission, ministries of liberating action and apostolic ministries. To recall the Order’s original goal, the Prologue of the Amerian Constitutions of 1272 has been included at the beginning of the text and, throughout the present Constitutions, the figure of Saint Peter Nolasco, model of the true Mercedarian according to the example of Christ the Redeemer, has been highlighted in a special way.
The vows have also been seen from a Mercedarian perspective and considered in their aspects of consecration to Christ the Redeemer, fraternal communion and redemptive mission without neglecting a particular reference to Mary, Mother of the redeemers and of the redeemed.
The postconciliar Constitutions presuppose a path of reflection and commitment to be traveled by Mercedarian religious in fidelity to the rich traditional patrimony of the Order. Father Emilio Aguirre Herrera, elected Master General of the Order at the 1986 chapter and reelected at the 1992 chapter, has made this theme of reflection and commitment one of the highlights of his government: every occasion serves to make present some aspect of the Constitutions and to show the road which must be traveled to be a Mercedarian in the true sense of the word at the present time.
One of the aspects of the renewal of the Order in the postconciliar period refers to the liturgy, according to the reforms the Church established at the universal level.
It is appropriate to recall that the liturgical reform started in the Order after the promulgation of the apostolic letter Rubricarum instructum of July 25, 1960. This led first to the revision of the Mercedarian calendar, approved by the Sacred Congregation of Rites on May 18, 1962, and then to the publication of the Order’s own offices in 1966. It was not possible to publish the masses because we had to wait for the liturgical reform of the universal Church to be completed. On June 24, 1970, the Congregation for Divine Worship published the Instruction on the revision of particular calendars, the propers of offices and masses, in which the new general criteria of reform were indicated. This marked the start of the new phase of liturgical renewal which involved various fields.
Rite of Religious Profession
The conciliar constitution on the liturgy, Sacrosantum Concilium, ordered the preparation of a rite for religious profession and the renewal of vows to provide greater unity and restraint. That rite had to be used—except in special cases—by those who made their religious profession or renewed their vows during Mass. Including a rite of profession for all religious in the Roman Ritual was something totally new in the area of liturgy.
On February 2, 1970, the Sacred Congregation for Divine Worship published this new Rite of Profession. It could be used as it was although it was strongly recommended that each institute vitally adapt it to its own charism.
The Order of Mercy adopted the rite but it felt the need to adapt it to its own spirituality. A first step was to request the approval of the Order’s formula of profession which had been renewed according to the changes decided by the special general chapter and written according to the indications of the Ordo Professionis Religiosae. The Sacred Congregation for Religious approved it by a document of September 21, 1970. The approved formula of profession was included in the text of the Constitutions and Norms.
In anticipation of the adaptation of the entire rite of profession, the general curia introduced some elements, actually very few, sufficient to qualify it as specific to the Order. Once the schema was prepared, it was sent to the provinces for their eventual observations. The Congregation for Divine Worship approved the Latin text on May 30, 1973.
Mercedarian Liturgical Calendar
In the apostolic letter of Paul VI, February 14, 1968, the new Revised Liturgical Calendar of the Universal Church was made public and it was to go into effect on January 1, 1970. With the publication of this pontifical document, the Order of Mercy had the unpleasant surprise to see the suppression of the three Mercedarian feasts present in the previous universal calendar: Our Lady of Mercy, the Founder, Saint Peter Nolasco and Saint Raymond Nonnatus.
This caused a great deal of perplexity in the Order. Ever since then, general chapters, Masters General and those responsible for the Order have attempted to reverse this suppression on several occasions, petitions to the Holy Father and to the Congregation for Divine Worship, in the name of the Order and of the whole Mercedarian Family, for the inclusion of some Mercedarian feastday in the universal calendar of the Church emphasizing the theological significance and the message of freedom contained in the title of the Order of Mercy and in the person of our saintly Founder. To this date, the results have been negative. But the Order is keeping this desire alive and hopes that it can be fulfilled one day.
Nevertheless, we have to say that with reference to the liturgical feast of Our Lady of Mercy, its memory has been recovered worldwide by the publication of new formularies of the Masses of the Blessed Virgin Mary, done by the Congregation for Divine Worship in 1986. The Episcopal Conferences of Ecuador, Peru, Chile and Argentina, for their part, have kept the feast of Saint Mary of Mercy in the liturgical calendars of their respective nations.
In accordance with the dispositions of the Congregation for Divine Worship, on the need to revise particular liturgical calendars, a historical commission was set up to revise the Mercedarian liturgical calendar. This commission realized an interesting work on the basis of which a sketch of a calendar was prepared and sent to all members of the Mercedarian Family.
With regard to the 1962 calendar, the greatest innovations consisted in transferring some feasts of the Order to the day more in harmony with historical data and in leaving others to the provinces.
On May 24, the Proper Calendar of the Order was presented to the Congregation for Divine Worship which approved it by a decree of June 6, 1973.
While the calendar was being prepared, some members of the general curia, in particular, Fathers Antonio Rubino, Bernardo Arrieta and Ernesto González were working on the first draft of Mercedarian masses. In April 1972, this first draft was sent to the Order for observations and suggestions concerning the texts which were to be used indicating the criteria which had been followed in this work which only claimed to be a guide for the final text. The observations received from the provinces of the Order and from other Mercedarian institutes were helpful to proceed with the work. Among them, it was suggested to have the official text in Latin from which translations would be made into the language of each nation and also to keep the sequences of certain masses. Interested provinces presented the text of proper of the masses for the feasts of each region.
The subsequent work was done very meticulous and careful to match the texts with the new liturgical manner of thinking, even in its expressions. Various drafts were prepared to be later revised and corrected.
Finally, on February 25, 1976, the Latin text of the propers of the masses was presented to the Congregation for Divine Worship which approved it by a decree of July 1, 1976. The general curia published the text under the title Proprium Missarum Ordinis B. Mariae V. De Mercede.
On the same date, the Spanish, Italian, English and Portuguese versions of the propers of the masses were presented to the Congregation and they were approved by decree on August 31, 1976. Master General Domingo Acquaro authorized their publication on September 24, 1976.
Liturgy of the Hours
At the same time as the texts of the masses were being prepared, the same fathers of the general curia had also faced the revision of the Liturgy of the Hours which seemed more complex because of the need to revise the historical aspect of the feasts. At a result, it was necessary to revise the hymns, to find a second reading suited to each feast, to compose the prayers and the petitions, the antiphons, etc.
On November 18, 1974, the Master General sent a draft to members of the Mercedarian Family to request their observations and cooperation for the final redaction.
The collaboration of the Order was enthusiastic and intensive, for the Liturgy of the Hours for each province and for the whole Order, especially in terms of suggesting texts taken from the Order’s cultural patrimony for the second reading. The commission, constituted by the councilors since 1974, had only one difficulty, namely, what to select. At last, on June 26, 1976, the Latin text of the Liturgy of the Hours for the Order of Mercy was presented to the Congregation for Divine Worship which approved it by a decree of October 28, 1976. The Spanish and Italian versions were later approved on January 10, 1977.
Meanwhile, by a decree of May 13, 1977, on the solemnity of Saint Peter Nolasco, the Master General arranged for the publication of the Liturgy of the Hours in Spanish and Italian, insisting on the special spirituality of each celebration. The English and Portuguese versions were published a few years later.
Ritual of the Order
The 1980 General Chapter dealt with the Ritual of the Order and committed the general government to prepare and publish it within three years. But the preoccupation with the final writing and approval of the Constitutions relegated this task to second place.
Initially, the Master General entrusted the compilation to Father Juan Laka Kortabitarte who prepared a project. At the instruction of the 1983 extraordinary General Chapter, this project was revised by a commission of religious who made several observations which were taken into account in redacting the text.
Finally, the text of the Ritual of the Order was presented to the Congregation for Divine Worship which approved it on May 11, 1989. A decree of Master General Emilio Aguirre Herrera authorized its publication on May 13, 1989.
The publication of the Constitutions was the most important event dealing with the Order’s legislation. It contains some innovations of a juridical order which were necessary and other aspects of renewal which are indicated briefly.
New Style of Chapters
In the government of a religious institute, it is very important to hold chapters which, according to the Council’s instructions, must express the participation and the solicitude of all members for the good of the community and fulfill the task of fostering the ongoing renewal of religious life. The Order of Mercy felt it was advisable for these bodies to be revised as to their term and operation.
Concerning the frequency, the six-year plan was confirmed for general chapters and three years, for provincial chapters.
There was a significant innovation as to operation by distinguishing two phases: preparation and meeting, each phase including four steps.
The first phase includes: the announcement, one year before the gathering; the preparation itself with the selection of topics to be dealt with, presented by religious and organized by a preparatory commission; the make-up of the chapter, namely, the participants whose number was opportunely increased and the convocation of all who are entitled to participate.
The meeting includes: an informative phase on the life of the community or of the sector represented; a scrutiny of the evolution of the life of the community, province or of the Order; an agenda including the selection of the objectives considered most urgent to give vitality to the respective community and an indication of the means or initiatives to attain them; the election of the Master General and of his council at the general chapters and of the provincial and his council in provincial chapters.
Regarding the election system, two new concepts appeared: the first one refers to the presentation of candidates to various posts, a presentation previously made by religious of the Order or the province and formalized in a specific list of names to which the capitulars must adhere in their votes; the second one alludes to the electoral procedure which has been modified and adapted to avoid difficulties in the ballots.
In this context of dialogue and participation of all religious and of decentralization, the Order has done its best to achieve ongoing and appropriate renewal in fidelity with its spirit and its history and always seeking God’s will to fulfill its own mission.
The Council of Provincials
The 1980 General Chapter approved a proposition which brought to the Order something absolutely new which never existed before, at least in terms of legislation: “Our legislation is setting up the Council of Provincials whose organization, jurisdiction and operation will be established in the Norms and the corresponding Directory.” On the basis of this disposition and in view of the regulation of this new body, for the first time, Master General Domingo Acquaro convoked the Council of Provincials which met in Caracas from March 1 to March 8, 1981, on the occasion of the celebration of the 25th anniversary of the Mercedarians’ return to Venezuela after an absence of a hundred years.
The purpose of the encounter of provincials was to revise capitular planning and to think about promoting it. On the other hand, it was to study the Regulations of the council of provincials to establish its objective and periodicity. On that occasion, the provincials said that the new entity is an extraordinary consultative body whose task is to advise the Master General and which meets twice during the six-year term or all the times, he deems it opportune. The council’s purpose is to study the problems proposed by the Master General, to contribute to achieve a greater integration among the provinces in what pertains to the common good, to evaluate the decisions of the general chapters and to propose to the Master General matters concerning the entire Order or some provinces.
When the Constitutions were approved, this definition and the directives became part of the general legislation of the Order. On this same occasion, the provincials sent the Order their message of encouragement along the line of renewal desired by the Council.
The text of the Constitutions and Norms had anticipated the provincial Statutes to which certain aspects referred which did not apply to the entire Order or which referred to themes that could easily change. In order to have normative force, the provincial Statutes had to be redacted by each province in conformity with the legislation of the constitutional text and they needed the approval of the Master General and of his council to become effective.
In the letter of December 8, 1969, the Master General gave instructions to all the provinces for the elaboration of the provincial Statutes. In particular, he stated that they were not to contain dispositions already included in the text of the Constitutions and Norms; that, before redaction by a provincial commission, there had to be an extensive consultation of the religious of the province and they had to be approved by the provincial chapter or the provincial and his council. The time suggested to realize this work was one year from the time the Constitutions and Norms ad experimentum became effective.
The provinces started to work immediately to comply which this mandate and they all completed their work.
The provincial Statutes were approved by the Master General and his council ad experimentum, as with the Constitutions and Norms, in the following chronological order: April 11, 1971, for the Statutes of the Province of Argentina; January 6, 1972, for the Province of Mexico; July 31, 1972, for the Province of Castile; August 26, 1972, for the Province of Chile; October 14, 1972, for the Province of Aragon and the Roman Province; November 7, 1972 for the Province of Quito-Ecuador and on August 30, 1973 for the Statutes of the Province of Peru. When the 1986 Constitutions became effective, all the provinces adapted their own Statutes to the new legislation.
The 1986 Constitutions contain another innovation: provincial vicariates, that is to say, houses that are grouped together and as a whole, very distant from the provincial residence, especially if they are in another nation. In the former legislation, these houses were constituted into vice-provinces which had juridical autonomy independent from any province and they had their own government similar to that of the provinces. Experience had shown that in vice-provinces, there was not always that vitality making it possible to promote them to provinces. Therefore, it was thought that it was more in keeping with the reality of the Order’s situation to change the juridical status of these houses, still leaving them dependent on a province but also giving them a degree of autonomy with a vicar of the provincial, named according to the provincial Statutes and with the perspective of being erected as provinces when the corresponding conditions are fulfilled.
To form a vicariate, there had to be at least four houses with a minimum of twelve religious and with the prospect of new local vocations. The Master General with his council establishes a vicariate at the request of the corresponding provincial and his council.
Five vicariates have been constituted to this date. With the eight houses founded in Brazil and the seven founded in Puerto Rico by the Province of Castile, the vicariates of Brazil and Puerto Rico were constituted on February 22, 1988. With the five houses founded by the Roman Province in the United States, the vicariate of the United States was constituted on May 29, 1988. With the four houses now existing in Venezuela founded by the Province of Aragon, the vicariate of Venezuela was constituted on May 29, 1988. With the three houses of Guatemala and the two of Panama, the vicariate of Guatemala-Panama, belonging to the Province of Aragon, was constituted on October 12, 1992.
Interprovincial Meetings at Various Levels
Given the juridical independence which the provinces of the Order had, it was felt that a lack of mutual knowledge and assistance could occur among them in examining a common problem and in adopting corresponding solutions. Master General Domingo Acquaro observed this and he tried to foster the new mentality which was beginning to appear in the postconciliar period.
After having consulted and obtained the approval of those concerned, the Master General convoked a meeting in Lima, from February 9 to February 14, 1977, with the intention of encouraging communitarian search for greater union which was already manifesting itself in the Order. In addition to the Master General and the provincials of America, delegates from European provinces with religious working in Latin America also participated in this encounter. On the basis of a previously formulated questionnaire, at this meeting, participants reflected on the renewal of the Order of Mercy in Latin America. They dealt with themes of religious life, the charism of the Order, the cooperation and interrelationships of the Order in Latin America, vocational promotion and formation, parishes in Latin America and in general, with Mercedarian pastoral ministry.
The experience was very positive and because of that, American provincials manifested the desire to have other meetings of this type. European provincials, in turn, felt prompted to hold similar meetings. But in view of the important Córdoba (Argentine) assembly which was to deal with the theme of the charism of the Order with the participation of all the provincials, the idea of the encounter of European provincials was dropped. The assembly of the Order’s provincials and delegates was held in Córdoba in January 1978, almost as a prolongation of the Lima meeting.
We have already mentioned the meetings of provincials with the Master General in the structure of the council of provincials. As to the provincials, they have practically institutionalized two yearly joint meetings. In October 1992, the provincial government of the Roman Province was also added.
Another type of interprovincial meetings is the one concerning formation with encounters of European and American formators to deal with topics inherent to this important aspect of religious life. The first step toward this type of meetings was taken at the conclusion of the Córdoba assembly when European provincials agreed to meet with formators of the different provinces. The first meeting took place in El Puig December 27-30, 1978. On that occasion, 22 religious participated and their reflections were communicated to the other brothers. After that, the encounter was institutionalized and it was decided to hold it every three years in a different province. There have been six meetings so far, two in each one of the European provinces.
The experience of these European formators meetings also expanded to Latin American formators. The first formators meeting occurred in Mexico City from June 29 to July 11, 1981. From then on, American formators have met five additional times in different parts of the continent.
In addition, starting with the 1992 General Chapter, there were other types of meetings of provincial secretaries with the religious responsible of the corresponding general secretariat especially to deal with themes inherent to the specific Mercedarian apostolate.
Since the 1980 General Chapter, it was deemed beneficial to establish for the entire Order a facilitators team made of religious whose task would be to promote the development of a project of activities established by the general government for different circumstances.
The general Statutes, approved by the 1992 General Chapter, established that the Master General was to appoint a Mercedarian reflection team with the purpose of offering a particular service to the Order in the study and discernment of the redemptive mission. Consequently, in a circular letter of October 12, 1992, Master General Emilio Aguirre announced to all Mercedarian religious the constitution of a Mercedarian reflection team. This reflection team meets for its own purpose under the presidency of the Master General and the team proposes specific actions for the Order.
Religious formation and studies is another aspect of concern to the Order in this postconciliar period.
In the decree Optatam totius, the Church had already given specific indications about priests’ formation and, concerning religious, in Perfectae caritatis, it had stated that “the proper renewal of religious institutes depends fundamentally on the formation of their members.”
General Plan of Vocations, Formation and Studies
The Order immediately felt the need to engage in this fundamental aspect. The Constitutions and Norms ad experimentum stated that the goal of formation consists in gradually leading candidates to live their religious lives fully according the spirit and mission of the Order in the Church and that formation had to be organized according to the general and provincial Ratio institutionis et studiorum. In addition, the Constitutions envisioned the organization of secretariats of formation and studies at the general and provincial levels. They indicated that formators had to set up a team to examine their task and the evolution of the formandi and continually to actualize pedagogical and didactic methods in studies and in life.
The Message of the 1974 General Chapter recommended that this union of formators become a reality whose purpose was to avoid having formation fall back on each individual formator.
That same Message indicated that it would be beneficial to formulate a plan of provincial formation for each formation stage. The provinces tried immediately to implement this idea within the limits of their own possibilities. No initiative was taken regarding this at the level of the Order. Therefore, the 1980 General Chapter approved a proposal committing the next general government to write and publish a general plan of formation or Ratio Generalis. However, the preoccupation for the approval of the Constitutions prevented this aspiration from being concretized. Serious work toward that goal only started during the following six years. Finally, the General Plan of Vocations, Formation and Studies was published in 1988.
This plan includes a description of Mercedarian identity, of the vocational pastoral ministry, of the development of the various formative stages, of studies and it concludes with two appendixes: human and Christian formation based on religious formation and a bibliography which can help formators and formandi.
Formation does not only include the formation period, strictly speaking, prior to definitive incorporation in the institute but it continues with what is called permanent formation. This imperative was made clear in the 1974 General Chapter Message. The provinces have tried to make this desire a reality and they have organized encounters for priests and for all religious. For its part, the General Formation Plan describes the ambit in which permanent formation must be implemented.
The creation of the Order’s Historical Institute and its accomplishments deserve a special mention in the area of permanent formation.
At Father Saúl Peredo Meza’s suggestion, the 1980 General Chapter approved two motions. The first was to create “a Historical Institute to research our history and spirituality, to study the original lineaments of the Order, the sanctity and the teaching of our Fathers, etc.” The second one reestablished the position of the “General Chronicler of the Order who will be Director of the Historical Institute.” This new entity was incorporated in the legislative body of the Constitutions.
The Historical Institute started to operate a year after its creation. In fact, in its January 5, 1981 session, the general council designated Father Saúl Peredo Meza as General Chronicler. Father Peredo sought to organize this new institute and he presented a project of Statutes of the Historical Institute to the 1983 extraordinary General Chapter. The Statutes were subsequently approved by the general council and published on October 1, 1983.
In keeping with the Statutes, the chroniclers of each province are members of the Historical Institute. To that effect, on May 24, 1984, the director sent a letter to provincials inviting them to designate their own chronicler. The first members of this new institute were the following religious: Saúl Peredo Meza, Director; Juan Devesa Blanco, Chronicler of the Province of Aragon; Luis Vázquez Fernández, Chronicler of the Province of Castile; Eleuterio Alarcón Bejarano, Chronicler of the Province of Peru; Alfonso Morales Ramírez, Chronicler of the Province of Chile; José Brunet, Chronicler of the Province of Argentina; Antonio Rubino, Chronicler of the Roman Province; Luis Octavio Proaño Andramuño, Chronicler of the Province of Quito-Ecuador and Arcadio Partida Pérez, Chronicler of the Province of Mexico.
The first meeting of the Historical Institute took place in Rome, May 11-20, 1987. During the meeting, members examined their respective assignments and organized their work. The second meeting was in Santiago (Chile) on the occasion of the First International Congress on Mercedarians in America, November 11-13, 1991. At that meeting, the Institute revised and updated its own Statutes which were subsequently approved by the Master General and his council on November 25, 1992. In addition, the Institute formally assumed the commitment to publish a manual of the Order’s history.
Among the various responsibilities undertaken by the Order’s Historical Institute, we should mention the annual review of research on history and spirituality, Analecta mercedaria. Its first volume with different types of studies on a Mercedarian theme was published in 1982. Another collection called Biblioteca mercedaria was also started. Five volumes have already been published. The Institute is also in charge of publishing other documents or supplements to help to know the Order, its history and spirituality.
The International Crusade of Mercedarian Charity generated a lot of enthusiasm in the Order. Some thought that this would be, if not the only one, at least the main activity to which the Order should dedicate itself. It was indeed a strong stimulus for the renewal of the Order and of its mission in today’s Church.
To give to this initiative the development it needed, three years after the creation of the Crusade, on January 6, 1967, Master General Bernardo Navarro designated a central commission for the Crusade to work for the persecuted Church in collaboration with Father Werenfried van Straaten’s work which was called Assistance to the Church in Need. This collaboration manifested itself in a special way in Spain, in the help of the Province of Castile in this work.
The Crusade called “Redemptive Work,” since December 1971, collected funds and other donations which served to help Christians in the Church of Silence and to print and to send religious books or Gospels to those oppressed and captives by forces opposed to the Christian faith with the objective of helping them to remain steadfast in their faith. In this context of cooperation with those suffering because of their faith, the Redemptive Work of the Mercedarian Order promoted the printing of 100,000 copies of the Gospel in Polish to be sent to Polish bishops for distribution to the faithful. In 1984, the Redemptive Work printed 20,000 copies of the New Testament in Ukrainian and gave them to the Primate of Ukraine, Cardinal Joseph Slipyi.
In 1991, Master General Emilio Aguirre proposed to the Order a campaign to help captive Christians in China and he submitted its to the Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, Cardinal Josef Tombo. Besides, the entire Order organized campaigns of prayers, sacrifices and offerings for Mercedarian missions: Rwanda and Angola in Africa; in southernmost India, the Christian community of Poothurai, a very poor town in need of a place of worship suited to its own needs and where people can manifest their endangered faith in the midst of people of other beliefs.
For its part, with a substantial offering to the Primate of Ukraine, Cardinal Myroslaw Ivan Lubachivsky, the Roman Province had 50,000 copies of the New Testament printed in Ukrainian to be distributed among Christians who have suffered so much under communist rule and whose faith needs to be strengthened by reading the Word of God.
At Father Pío Pablo Donnelly’s initiative, the Province of Argentina continues its action for the sake of Christians, especially captive bishops and priests in China, by sending help which can encourage hope for better days ahead.
In light of the Constitutions which have prompted the Order’s redemptive mission, in their Statutes, all provinces give guidelines to implement the mission by indicating the fields which form the specific setting for a Mercedarian redemptive action, in every country where Mercedarian religious are present.
In the pastoral care of parishes existing in all the provinces, Mercedarian religious work in a redemptive spirit and they actualize their charism of liberation for the most lowly, the poorest and the marginalized through the practice of works of mercy and initiatives in defense of the faith.
On the other hand, each province carries out the types of charity which are most beneficial to the local situations to actualize the common redemptive mission in today’s world: prison ministry in jail chaplaincies; helping prisoners’ families; return to society of former prisoners in rehabilitation homes; care of young people at risk in shelters and welfare centers; education in the faith, ethics and human promotion of youth; specific action to help refugees, street children, drug addicts, immigrants and the marginalized.
In December 1982, twenty years after the start of the Council, the Order was present in 16 nations, with 156 houses, 513 priests, 107 professed clerics, 83 professed laymen, 32 novices, 241 candidates and 10 religious had been appointed bishops to work at the service of the Church in various dioceses. Ten years later, at the 1992 General Chapter in Mexico City for the fifth centennial of the beginning of evangelization in the Americas in which the Order played such an important role, we had a more complete perspective. The number of bishops remained unchanged; there were 152 houses in 16 countries, 494 priests, 140 professed clerics, 66 professed laymen and 40 novices. These people were engaged in pastoral ministry in 130 parishes, 44 colleges, 56 jail chaplaincies, 3 missions and 41 works of social assistance.
In fact, in recent years and especially under the encouraging impetus of Master General Emilio Aguirre, besides actualizing its redemptive mission for human liberation, the Order is also moving to assume new commitments in harmony with the Church’s missionary mandate, as the Holy Father directly indicated to us and to the entire Church in his encyclical Redemptoris missio.
In effect, since 1968, in Africa, Mercedarian religious from the Province of Castile had been present first in Burundi, which they were later forced to abandon, and in Rwanda. Then in 1992, religious from the Province of Chile were present in Angola.
Through the work of the Roman Province, for the first time, Mercedarian religious became present in Asia, specifically, in India in 1992.
But the Order as such has taken a more specifically missionary path in the broadest sense of the word, with the message of the 1992 General Chapter: Mercedarians and New Evangelization. The new evangelization, to which the pope is summoning the Church, extends to every human being and it commits the entire Church. Mercedarians strive to carry it out according to their particular charism to bring redemption to people who are subjected to new forms of captivity.
In this perspective, the message takes up what Mercedarian provincials specified in 1978, in the Córdoba Document: “Redemption signifies the integral promotion of the new person. On the basis of Jesus’ Resurrection culminating in the Reign, this includes liberation from all forms of economic, social and spiritual captivity which, in the words of the Apostle (1 Cor 15), lead to death. In fidelity to this principle, Saint Peter Nolasco situated the liberation of captives in the line of Christ’s universal redemptive work. All redemption tends to be humanly liberating even when at times, this exigency does not become fully explicit at the social and economic level in the course of the history of this world.”
Religious of the Order of Our Lady of Mercy
This group, which comes from the cloistered Mercedarian Sisters, was initiated by nine monasteries. On August 30, 1980, by a decision of the Sacred Congregation for Religious, with the election of the first general government, it became juridically constituted as an Institute.
The definitive and reformed Constitutions were approved on May 13, 1986. As they were previously doing, the sisters continue to profess the fourth vow and their basic objective is living the Mercedarian charism, imitating Christ and making him present as a friend, redeemer and liberator among captive, oppressed or persecuted Christians. The Constitutions express this objective in the following words: “The religious of Mercy intend to proclaim and to bear witness to the Good News of love and liberty by actively bringing it to those who are deprived of it and who find themselves submitted to different forms of oppression which make their human realization difficult and which are opposed to the full development of their Christian faith.”
The motherhouse is the former Monastery of Don Juan de Alarcón in Madrid. At present, there are 11 monasteries with 173 religious.
Secular Association of Our Lady of Mercy
In speaking of Mercedarian Institutes, it should be recalled that on January 8, 1975, Father Guillermo Hurtado Alvarez founded the Secular Association of Our Lady of Mercy in Jipijapa (Ecuador). It was erected canonically as a Secular Institute of diocesan right by the archbishop of Cuenca on September 24, 1989. The Responsible General of this Institute is Miss Alicia Hurtado Alvarez.
The purpose of this Mercedarian association is to spread God’s Word and to practice works of mercy. Master General Emilio Aguirre incorporated it in the Order on June 3, 1990.
Attention to Other Members of the Mercedarian Family
In these days of renewal, the Order has also turned its attention to other members of the Mercedarian Family: religious institutes incorporated in the Order and in particular, to lay associations integrated in the Order.
In reference to Mercedarian religious institutes, the 1986 Constitutions prescribe: “The general and provincial governments will have a delegate who is in charge of promoting relations with those institutes, so that they may help one another and organize, if possible, some common apostolate. In order to strengthen the bonds of union even more, it is useful to promote meetings of a spiritual character, study and planning.”
In the postconciliar period, there have been many initiatives in that direction, as indicated by the Constitutions. These experiences are the expression and sign of results already obtained and a stimulus for the future. In fact, in the general curia as well as in the provinces, where to a greater or lesser degree, there have been contacts of a spiritual, formative nature, apostolic and vocational activities have been shared; there have been shared study encounters and the feasts of the Virgin of Mercy and of Saint Peter Nolasco have been celebrated in a family atmosphere.
These expressions, the Order’s interest in strengthening spiritual bonds with Mercedarian sisters and the spiritual encouragement for their federation reveal the new family atmosphere which has been created with these Mercedarian religious institutes.
With regard to the laity, the Order maintains a relationship which has to be appreciated according to early Mercedarian tradition.
For the purpose of undertaking the renewal of Third Orders, in 1975, the assistants general of some religious orders took the initiative to give a new profile to lay associations incorporated in their respective orders. To that effect, they prepared a document which was sent to the preparatory commission for the redaction of the Code of Canon Law. Assistant general Father Alfonso Morales, responsible for the general Secretariat of Mercedarian pastoral ministry, represented the Order in this initiative. In May 1976, he sent to all provinces a valuable study and reflection document for the actualization of Mercedarian lay associations.
From September 26 to September 30, 1976, a national Congress was held in Guayaquil (Ecuador) for the renewal and actualization of the Mercedarian Third Order of Ecuador and to come up with a joint response to the questionnaire sent by the responsible for the general Secretariat of Mercedarian pastoral ministry, in view of the projected new Constitutions. On that occasion, Master General Domingo Acquaro sent a letter on September 12, to lay people affiliated to the Order, in order to encourage them in their work and in their membership in the Order.
On September 8, 1976, in writing to the religious of the province on the occasion of the Mercedarian feast, the Provincial of Argentina, Manuel Orellano, particularly emphasized the need to revitalize the lay institutes of the Order and to adapt them to the demands of the time.
The Master General suggested to the responsible for the general Secretariat of pastoral ministry to have a personal encounter with the Mercedarian lay associations existing in Latin America. The initiative was concretized in the first months of 1977, through meetings of the different Mercedarian associations in the Provinces of Argentina, Chile, Peru and Ecuador. Various realities surfaced, according to the different local circumstances of each association, with perspectives and expectations of renewal proportional to the fact that the Order assumed responsibility for that renewal. When these encounters were concluded, in September, 1977, Father Alfonso Morales sent to all provinces a study and reflection on the pastoral commitment which the Order should make to the Mercedarian laity. In turn, some provinces tried to publish some general ordinances for Mercedarian lay associations.
The 1986 Constitutions underscored the importance of Mercedarian lay associations, the need to promote the spiritual maturity and permanent formation of their members and their active participation in the Order’s apostolic works.
In its concern for these associations, the 1992 General Chapter approved the General Statutes of Lay Mercedarian Associations which constitute the Order’s common basis for the renewal of these associations.
In the new evangelization plan, special importance is given to the contribution of lay people to whom the Order addresses a call inviting them to cooperate, according to its tradition, in the redemptive task.
In the work of looking more deeply into the charism and spirituality of the Order, a special reference to Mary of Mercy has always been present. Pertinent publications bear witness to this by emphasizing Mary’s function in Mercedarians’ consecrated lives. There were other occasions when the Order felt the need to return to this theme.
At the first meeting of the council of provincials, in Caracas, in 1981, participants reflected on the title Mother of Mercy along the line of liberation. In 1988, Estudios dedicated a special issue to looking deeply at this title and at this Marian line of liberation. The title of the issue was Santa María de la Merced and the most accredited writers of the Mercedarian family collaborated. On the occasion of the fifth centennial of the evangelization of the Americas, in Santiago (Chile), in 1989, Father Alfonso Morales published: María, Merced de Dios para los hombres, a work filled with details on the origin, expansion—in America in particular—and the theological significance of the title of Mercy given to Mary as the Mother of the Redeemer and on the influence which the Blessed Virgin, invoked under the title of Mercy, had in the formation of American Christian communities. Finally, we should point out that in 1995, Father Xabier Pikaza wrote a brief treatise of Mariology with the title Santa María de la Merced — Introducción bíblica. Before speaking explicitly of Mary of Mercy in the life of Saint Peter Nolasco and in the history of the Order founded by him, the author examines the biblical texts referring to Mary and he concludes that, in the history of salvation, Jesus’ Mother is liberating captives according to God’s plan achieved in her and that Peter Nolasco and the Mercedarians have simply made this function of Mary emerge within the Church.
In reference to this Marian aspect, in a discourse addressed to the 1986 capitulars, Pope John Paul II stated: “May the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mercy be your Mother and model, especially as you live your fourth vow. The very title of your Marian dedication which also gives its name to the Order, constitutes in itself a marvelous plan of life which speaks of mercy, redemption, conversion and forgiveness: the same values through which the Son of God came into the world, became incarnated and gave his life for us.”