Notes from the Novitiate: The Montserrat Shrine.

Fr Eugene, the Order’s novice master, speaks to us about the inspiration St Peter Nolasco found while on pilgrimage to the Shrine of Our Lady of Montserrat.

Dear Mercy Family,

It was at Montserrat, in Spain, that St. Peter Nolasco gained the supernatural courage and strength that sustained him in his work for the captives.

Montserrat Shrine

We see in our Saint (St Peter Nolasco) a fundamental progression within the Marian perspective.

First: A road from Mercy to Mary. We already know that mercy or the redemption of captives was achieved without taking Jesus’ mother into account. Yet at a specific time, Peter discovered the in depth connection binding the work of mercy with Mary’s ecclesial presence. From then on the paths are joined. Mary is linked to the program of liberation. She is the model, the inspiration, and the beginning of the redemptive work. Upon reaching the end of the path, one discovers Mary as “the radical expression of mercy”; she is the depth and the inner stability of all apostolic works.

Second: From then on we understand the road leading from Mary to the Mercedarians. Uniquely, Peter Nolasco discovers that Mary is the foundation of mercy and freedom. She sustains and determines the meaning of the liberation movement, giving it a maternal and mysterious aspect, always receptive to the Heart of Jesus and of His Loving Father (Constitutions of the Order of the B.V.M. of Mercy, #7).

At the end of that process the paths are mutually fruitful and complementary, so much so that St. Peter’s redeeming endeavor is forever called the Order of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mercy. From then on St. Peter’s Friars, Sisters, and the Third Order will always consider Mary as the Mother of Freedom, the one who encourages the redemptive plan of mercy, and sustains it with her presence. Mary specifies, promotes, and gives meaning to God’s liberation among mankind. This is why we can begin from Mary as Mother of Compassion; she appears as the Mother of Captives: the Blessed Mother came to Peter Nolasco and enabled him to understand the mystery of God’s redemption made visible in people’s distress and captivity.

As our older sister, Mary is the first and most privileged disciple of the Lord. She shows us the road of faith lived in accordance with the teaching of Jesus and His redemptive work. The imitation of this type of committed discipleship brings us to discover the essential moments of service and sacrifice, from the Church to others. Mary “presides over and inspires our prayers” (Constitutions #73). She brings us the risk to live faith, challenge to trust, which is not void but rather authentic acceptance of the Divine Will.

Yes, the Marian way of our Mercedarian commitment is being in love with God, so completely, with surrender and abandonment, which is a tradition of choice by being for others in mercy to secure true liberation in Christ.

Let us always say: Yours in Christ through Mary,

Fr. Eugene Costa, O. de M., Novice Master

The Week that would Change the World

For many of us, the 1st week of August means the “dog days of summer”. This is the time when the summer heat can be oppressive. It is in this time of year that many of us take vacations spending time at a local pool or at the shore. In Spain things are not much different. August can be painfully hot in Spain so most people head to the beaches or other spots to “beat the heat”.

The Blessed Virgin appears to St Peter Nolasco

As August approached in the summer of 1218, Peter Nolasco, a young Spanish merchant, was enduring the summer heat in a much different way. For several years now, he had been working with friends to redeem captives who were in danger of losing their faith in Moorish Lands. Many of these Christians were in real danger of apostatizing in order to obtain their freedom and even preserve their lives. For Peter and his companions something had to be done. For several years, they dedicated themselves daily to collecting alms from the pious faithful throughout the Province of Catalonia and the kingdom of Aragon. Many were ransomed and their faith was preserved, but many more were left to suffer at the hands of their captors. It became clear to Peter that the problem of captivity was too great for such a small band. He wondered what could be done to preserve the faith so many.

In his fervent prayer, Peter sought divine inspiration to be able to continue God’s work which he had started. At that point and in these circumstances, during the night of August 1, 1218, a special intervention of Blessed Mary occurred in Peter Nolasco’s life: an amazing Marian experience which illumined his mind and stirred up his will to transform his group of lay redeemers into a Redemptive Religious Order. The experience was so profound that it touched the very fabric of Peter’s being. He now knew what must be done.

The next day, Peter Nolasco went to the royal palace to explain his project to young King James I and his advisers, the first of whom was the Bishop of Barcelona, don Berenguer de Palou. Peter’s plan, inspired by God through Mary, was to establish a well-structured and stable Redemptive Religious Order under the patronage of Blessed Mary. The King was very pleased with the project and gave his approval and support to the endeavor. He would even give his “coat of arms” to be worn as a sign of the kingdom’s support and protection.

On August 10, 1218, the new Religious Order for the Redemption of Captives was officially and solemnly constituted at the main altar erected over Saint Eulalia’s tomb in the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in Barcelona. Bishop Berenguer de Palou gave Peter Nolasco and his companions the white habit that they would wear as characteristic of the Order; he gave them the Rule of Saint Augustine as a norm for their life in common and he gave his authorization for the sign of his cathedral, the Holy Cross, to be on the habit of the Order. After that, Peter Nolasco and the first Mercedarians made their religious profession right there before the bishop.

That was the beginning of an Order that was destined to endure for nearly 800 years. Countless captive Christians have been aided by this Institute. Several women’s communities, lay confraternities, and other groups have been inspired by the same spirit given to Peter Nolasco on that night of August 1st. Truly that first week of August 1218 was a week that would change the history of the world and influence millions for centuries.

So as we endure the heat of early August, let us thank God for sending his mother, Our Lady of Mercy, to inspire this great work of redemption.  She is the one who first inspired it and continues to do so today.  What started in Spain has now spread to four continents. May this mission of redemption continue to grow throughout the world in order that all may be free to practice the Catholic faith.


Solemnity of St Peter Nolasco

Mercedarian’s throughout the world celebrated today, May 6th, as the Solemnity of our father and founder, St. Peter Nolasco.

St Peter Nolasco having a vision of Our Lady of Mercy

St Peter is recognized as the founder of the Order on August 10, 1218. It was St Peter who was first inspired to begin collecting alms to ransom Christian captives in Muslim occupied areas of Spain. On January 17th 1235, the Holy See recognized the action of the Holy Spirit in the founding of the Order.  The charism of redemption that came through St Peter Nolasco is the specific gift of grace given to the Church. This is what the Church approved.  It is what unites the Order and brings us together with one purpose to serve the Church.

In modern times, the some communities have left the original charism or spirit of their founder. The result is that they lose their identity and purpose. To leave the founders charism is to separate the institute from what was approved by the Church. The Holy See has asked communities repeatedly to return to the spirit of their founder. They are to adapt this spirit to the present circumstances of the world. Recently, Pope Benedict XVI spoke about this issue saying that today many “communities have chosen to return to the origins and live in a way more in keeping with the spirit of the founder. In almost all recent general chapters of religious institutes the recurring theme has been precisely that of rediscovering the original charism, to then incarnate it and renew it in the present.”

It is for this reason that the Mercedarian have a very special veneration for St. Peter Nolasco.  We strive daily to imitate his redemptive love for Christians in danger of losing their faith. We have statues and images of St Peter in our chapels and throughout our friaries. We pray to him in common each day. On Saturdays, we sing an ancient hymn in St Peter’s honor; praying for his intercession and to imitate his profound love for the captives. The Order’s Constitution also asks each Mercedarian Friar to “study diligently his life and mission in the Church”.

On May the 6th, the Order celebrates solemnly the feast of our founder. Here in the United States this means that we place a special emphasis on praying the Office and celebrating Mass with great solemnity. The Office is often times chanted and the Blessed Sacrament may be exposed. Mass is offered at our parishes with the Gloria being sung and the Creed recited. The main celebrant will preach setting forth the virtues and example of our beloved founder. The celebration continues throughout the day as Mercedarian friars, sisters, and the third order get together for a meal and to socialize.

It is in this way the we keep the memory of our founder strong in our minds. We know that his is still present with all the Mercedarian Saints praying and interceding for the work of the Order. For our part, we strive to continue the charism of St Peter Nolasco on into the third millennium of Christianity.

St Peter Nolasco, pray for us that we may always be faithful to your spirit of redeeming love for Christians in danger of losing their faith!