Our Lady of Ransom

In all the heat of “events,” I neglected yesterday to insert a prayer to Our Lady of Ransom, whose feast it was (in the Tridentine rite). Retentive gentle reader may recall my post last 28th January, about the Order of Mercedarians which survives, and which I should like to see fully restored to its original purposes.

This work began in the (blessed) thirteenth century, and coalesced into a Catholic Order around an apparition of Our Lady. It was, too, a response to conditions very much like those of today: Christians under siege in what we now call the Middle East. The task of the manly monks was to “ransom” them, to redeem and to free them — putting their own lives and freedom on the line, like United States Marines.

Cash ransom was raised and paid in some instances, prisoner exchanges arranged in others, direct military action where it promised to work. In my understanding, much of the early success of the Order depended upon “shock and awe.” That is to say, the Mohammedans were shocked and awed that Christians would go to such lengths on behalf of their enslaved co-religionists, as to offer themselves up instead, when necessary; and do many other selfless things, that projected off their own familiar moral charts.

Years and years ago, in the time between the Wars of 1967 and 1973, a Palestinian in Hebron (under Israeli occupation) told me, quite privately, how impressed many Muslims were by the strange behaviour of Israeli, as typically other Western forces — by the lengths they would go to recover a prisoner, or to protect the lives of non-combatants, usually involving huge personal risk. They knew that, for instance, the Israelis would exchange dozens of Arab prisoners of war, even convicted terrorists, for “just one Jew.”

This man was not ripe for conversion. Instead, his hope was that, some day, Muslim Palestinian children would be like Israeli Jewish children — their lives worth more than pieces on a chess board. (How much blood under the bridge, since then!)

And yet, in the Christian view, the ransom of prisoners is only a metaphor, done as an embodiment of the Commandments lest they become too “abstract” — mere theory or ideal, having little to do with “pastoral practice.” It is the ransoming of the soul, including one’s own soul, from the clutches of the Evil One, to which this metaphor refers.

Deus, qui per gloriosissimam Filii tui Matrem, ad liberandos Christi fideles a potestate paganorum, nova Ecclesiam tuam prole amplificare dignatus es.

“O God, by means of the most glorious Mother of your Son, you were pleased to give new children to your Church for the deliverance of Christ’s faithful from the power of the heathen; grant, we pray you, that we who love and honour her as the foundress of so great a work may, by her merits and prayers, be ourselves delivered from all sin and from the bondage of the evil one.”

Saint Peter Nolasco, pray for us. Saint Raymund of Pennafort, pray for us.

Our Lady of Ransom, pray for us.

O Christ, help us.