In the early part of the thirteenth century, much of Spain lay crushed under the yoke of the Saracens. By whom countless numbers of the faithful were held in brutal slavery, with the lively danger of being made to deny, and so to forfeit, everlasting salvation. Amid such sorrows as these a wealthy and godly man, Peter Nolasco, was earnestly pondering within himself how he could succour so many suffering Christians dwelling in bondage to the Moors. And it is related that the Blessed Virgin appeared to him, and told him that it would be well-pleasing to her Son, if an Order were founded in her honour, for the purpose of redeeming prisoners from their slavery to the infidels. Strengthened by this heavenly vision, the man of God (so it is said ) began to burn with the desire that he himself, and the Order which he should found, might exercise that live, greater than which hath no man, that a man lay down his life for his friends.
Upon the same nigh (so the story hath it) the Virgin also appeared to Saint Raymund of Pennaforte, and to King James of Aragon, charging them concerning the funding of the Order. Now it happened that Peter had for his confessor this same Raymund, to whose governance he right humbly submitted himself. Then came King James, and the three took counsel together, and all with one consent entered upon the institution of an Order, under the invocation of Saint Mary of Ransom, for the redemption of captives.
From lack of historical records, no verification of the foregoing stories is possible, but it is known that Peter Nolasco founded such an Order. The brethren whereof took (in addition to the vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience) a fourth vow, whereby they bound themselves to give themselves in pawn to the unbelievers, if need so required, for the liberation of Christians from their bondage, and this Institute, under the Blessed Virgin’s patronage, spread through all the world. That due thanks might be rendered for the many mighty works which have come to pass form these examples of Christian charity, this Feast of our Lady of Mercy hath been instituted, and is become the titular feast of those works of mercy undertaken under her patronage.
CollectO God, who through the most glorious Mother of thy Son didst vouchsafe to increase thy Church with a new offspring for the redemption of thy Christian people from the powere of the heathen : grant, we beseech thee, that like as we on this day do honour her for the work of her institution, so by her merits and intercession we may be delivered from all our iniqiuties and the bondage of the devil, through the same thy Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.