The 1950’s debuted rock and roll, pop art, and booming sales of television. That was part of the cultural scene in America. But what was going on in religious orders? And in Spain, especially with such men’s orders as the Mercedarian Friars?
The Spaniards endured a bitter civil war that lasted from 1936 to 1939. The official history of the Mercedarians, or Order of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mercy, states that, “A collusion of liberals, socialists, Marxists and masons imposed the 1931 Constitution which was nothing less than a frontal attack against the Church and religious orders.”
In fact, 19 Mercedarian Friars who died during the war were named martyrs by the Vatican in 2011. The Nationalist force, however, led by General Francisco Franco, was eventually victorious, and now Christians were finally free to practice their faith.
Video Offers Glimpse
A black and white video – in Spanish naturally – that was filmed in 1951 by the Mercedarians has been made public by the Order recently. (See all of our videos on YouTube.) Although the clip sidesteps the recent civil strife — no doubt as to avoid bitter memories — it relates the noble calling of Mercedarian men that began centuries ago in this country.
With stirring music, it shows everyday community life: the celebration of the old Latin Mass, eager young friars studying subjects both ancient and new, chores, praying in choir, recreation, and the beautiful architecture of their monastery.
The video discusses the Order’s foundation, the early martyrdom of its members, and life within their huge and ancient monastery. Only eleven minutes long, and clearly made to attract new vocations, it shows young men in clean white habits not only praying and studying, but sewing, reading the newspaper, playing handball against a wall, washing clothes in an outdoor cistern, and enjoying a lively game of ping pong.
“We don’t wash clothes in outdoor cisterns any more — at least in the U.S.,” joked Fr. Joseph Eddy, O. de M., vocation director of the U.S. province. “But the noble history of the Mercedarians, the devotion to communal prayer, and the spirit of fraternity among the friars is the same.”
At Work, Prayer, and Rest
In the video, two friars play chess while another, older friar is seen leaning back in his garden seat, apparently in quiet sleep with a prayer book in his lap. A group of friars say common prayers in an outdoor garden while one man reads the Hail, Holy Queen in Spanish. In another dramatic scene against the backdrop of the monastery’s tall arches and towers, hooded friars carry long, lit candles down a stairway and enter the chapel for a ceremony in which they receive a blessing from a priest shaking the aspergillum, a tool used to sprinkle holy water.
The Saturday Mass and the Salve
This is the Saturday Mass of Saint Mary, along with the singing of the Salve in her honor, and it is a beautiful custom. It is a fact that in 1307, Galcerán de Miralles donated three pounds of wax to the church of Santa María de Bell-lloch so that, every Saturday, it would have lighted candles during the celebration of the Mass of the Virgin and the singing of the Salve.
“The friars in the video are taking part in one of the oldest rituals of our Order, ‘the Saturday Salve,’” Fr. Joseph said. “This beautiful rite, which we still do today, was started by our founder, St. Peter Nolasco to give honor to Mary on her day, Saturday. This immemorial Marian custom was also performed in thanksgiving when the redeemers returned with the redeemed Christian Captives.”
At the end of the video, one priest walks down the hallway shaking the aspergillum, with holy water, at the doors as a good night blessing for the men.
Active in Four States
The Order of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mercy is active in Pennsylvania, New York, Florida and Ohio in the United States, with its U.S. headquarters in Philadelphia. Active in twenty-two countries, it was founded in 1218 in Spain to support the work of ransoming Christian captives from the Saracens. The Mercedarians take a “Fourth Vow” — to give one’s life for someone in danger of losing their Christian faith.
Do you have a vocation as a Mercedarian friar? Read a letter from our vocation director, or visit our Mercedarian Facebook page. Contact Vocation Director Fr. Joseph Eddy, at firstname.lastname@example.org.