Today, the Feast of St. Lawrence, is also the anniversary of the foundation of the Order of Mercy. On this day, in 1218, in the Cathedral of the Holy Cross, the Order was established, with St. Peter Nolasco, founder and Master General. It is particularly fitting that our foundation is also the Feast of St. Lawrence. St. Lawrence spent his life at the service of the poor, giving of the Church's treasure to feed them, minister to them, show them the loving heart of Christ. Likewise, our Order has as its essential Mission, to be at the service of the poor -- those held captive by the Devil and "other enemies of our Law". Historically, our friars would even sell sacred vestments and vessels, to raise money to ransom souls back from captivity.
Today, we begin the 793rd year of mission and ransoming in the world. The world is still far from being saved and is in need of that true ransoming. We, the Mercedarians, called by God to manifest the Redemptive Mission in the world continue the same work, in the authentic spirit of our Father and Founder, St. Peter Nolasco.
From the Historical Survey:
After fifteen years of admirable mercy in the redemption of Christian captives, Peter Nolasco and his friends were seeing with concern that, instead of decreasing, day by day the number of captives was growing excessively. Our determined leader, with a strong personality, clear ideas, a strong faith, a solid and balanced devotion to Christ and to his Blessed Mother, a compassionate heart, a serene and resolute trust in God, Peter Nolasco did not feel overwhelmed by the magnitude of the mission undertaken and his own insignificance. In his fervent prayer, he 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 which, with the Church’s approbation and the protection of the king of Aragon, would pursue the great work of mercy which had started.On 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 proposal pleased the king and his advisers since, after the failed attempt by Alfonso II with the Order of the Holy Redeemer which did not prosper, the noble aspiration of the royal house of Aragon to have its own redemptive order was becoming a reality.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.For his part, King James I the Conqueror established the Order as an institution recognized by the civil law of his kingdom. In the very act of the foundation and as an important rite of the ceremony, the monarch gave the Mercedarian friars the habit which, in the language of military orders, is the shield with four red stripes over a gold background, that is to say, the sign of the king himself. Along with the cross of the cathedral, this emblem would form the Order’s own shield. On that memorable day, James I endowed the Order, of which he considered himself the founder, with the Hospital of Saint Eulalia which served as the first Mercedarian convent and as a house of welcome for redeemed captives.In the proem of the first Constitutions of the Mercedarian Order of 1272, three very important elements referring to the foundation stand out: the name, the founder and the purpose of the Order.The name with which the Order founded by Peter Nolasco is identified, is mentioned first. Prior to the 1272 Constitutions, the Order had several names among which: Order of Saint Eulalia, Order of the Mercy of Captives, Order of the Redemption of Captives, Order of Mercy. But the proper and definitive title is: Order of the Virgin Mary of Mercy of the Redemption of Captives.Then it is stated that Brother Peter Nolasco has been constituted “servant, messenger, founder and promoter” of the new Institute. Peter Nolasco is the real founder of the Order or the “Procurator of the alms of captives” as defined on March 28, 1219, by the first document referring to him after the foundation.Finally, it is clearly specified that the purpose of the Order is “to visit and to free Christians who are in captivity and in power of the Saracens or of other enemies of our Law… By this work of mercy… all the brothers of this Order, as sons of true obedience, must always be gladly disposed to give up their lives, if it is necessary, as Jesus Christ gave up his for us.”All these valuable and reliable historical details of the foundation of the Order of Mercy are gathered in the letter of January 11, 1358, sent by King Peter IV the Ceremonious to Pope Innocent VI and kept to this day in the Archives of the Aragon Crown, a reliable guarantee of all the Mercedarian history of the first centuries.The first friars who received the white habit of Holy Mary of Mercy with Peter Nolasco may have been laymen. Peter Nolasco was not a priest. There is, however, the possibility that on the day of the foundation, there may have been a priest present to serve as chaplain. From the lieutenants designated by Brother Peter Nolasco, we can make up the list of those who donned the Mercedarian habit with him on the day of the foundation: Brother Pascual of Perpignan, Brother Juan de Laers, Brother Bernardo de Corbaria, Brother Guillermo de Bas, Brother Juan de Verdera, Brother Bertrando, Brother Bernardo de Cassoles and Brother Carbó de Llagostera.With the solemn and official support of the Church and of the state, Peter Nolasco and his friars, constituted as a Redemptive Religious Order of lay brothers, gained new energy and, with renewed fervor, they continued their peregrinations of charity to collect alms for the redemption of captives in Saracen lands.