Mercy and Mary work together

By Fr. Jim McCormack, MIC

Two reasons why I joined the Marians were their love for Our Lady and their mission of spreading the message of Divine Mercy throughout the world. Sometime after I had joined, while I was still a seminarian, I was curious to know the date of my Baptism, and wanted to see if it had any significance. Perhaps it was a saint’s feast day. I found my baptismal certificate and, on it, the date: Sept. 24. 

Wondering whether this date had any significance, I did a quick search online and discovered, to my happy surprise, that it was the memorial of “Our Lady of Mercy.” 

Since Mary and Mercy were so significant in my vocational journey, and since the Lord had led me to a Congregation that is so well known for their dedication to both, it seemed like a beautiful gift to me from God — almost a divine predilection — that He had chosen the Feast of Our Lady of Mercy for my Baptism.

Vilnius connection
But then I wondered: What is the significance of this feast, and does it have any connection to the Marians?

I knew that the title of our province is the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of Mercy, whose feast day is Nov. 16. That title for Mary is also known by the alternative names: Our Lady of Vilnius, Ostra Brama (Polish) or Ausris Vrtai (Lithuanian). The full title is “Our Lady of Mercy of the Dawn Gate.”

The image associated with this title is believed to have been painted in the 17th century, and is located in the chapel above the eastern gate of the city of Vilnius, Lithuania. It is the gate through which, each day, the rising sun first enters the city. 

Providentially, Vilnius is also home to the Divine Mercy Image, now housed behind the main altar in the Church of the Holy Trinity, not far from the chapel of Our Lady of Mercy. And it was in Vilnius where St. Faustina and Bl. Michael Sopoćko were both living when he served as her spiritual director. The artist Eugene Kazimirowski, who painted the original image of Divine Mercy, lived in the apartment downstairs from Bl. Michael. 

When Bl. Michael first displayed the Divine Mercy Image in public, where did he choose to do so? From a window adjacent to the Chapel of Our Lady of Mercy! In fact, it was in 1935 in the three days leading up to and including the Second Sunday of Easter, which would eventually be called Divine Mercy Sunday. As part of the celebration, Bl. Michael gave a talk from the chapel of Our Lady of Mercy looking out over the people gathered in the street below. 

So, in God’s Providence, the Image of Divine Mercy and the chapel of Our Lady of Mercy are intricately connected.

Our Lady of Ransom
Eventually, I realized that the feast day corresponding to my baptismal feast is different than Our Lady of Vilnius. It’s an older title of Our Lady, also known as Our Lady of Ransom, and it is associated with the Mercedarian Order. The Mercedarians are a mendicant order founded in 1218 whose charism is to help ransom Christians captured by Muslims in the Holy Land by collecting donations to buy their freedom. If, however, they could not raise the money, the members had a fourth vow to offer themselves in exchange for their Christian brothers and sisters in order to buy their freedom. 

This religious order still exists today, and their charism has been expanded so as to serve and even offer one’s life for all those who, according to their website, are “in need of redemptive love,” which, of course, is everyone. The friars are involved with ministering in parishes, providing education, and serving in hospitals and prisons.

So, although this feast day is not the same as the titular feast day of our Province, nevertheless, the very name “Our Lady of Mercy” is a beautiful way to honor Mary in a way that connects her with God’s Mercy. I see the Lord’s gift to me of choosing this day for my Baptism as a kind of confirmation of my vocation — a sense that I was chosen since my Baptism (if not long before) to be a member of the Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception, who, in the words of Pope St. John Paul II, have been entrusted with the responsibility of serving as “apostles of Divine Mercy under the maternal and loving guidance of Mary.”

Our Lady of Mercy, pray for us!

Father Jim McCormack, MIC, is head of formation for the Marian Fathers, based in Washington, D.C.
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MBK

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