A vision given to St. Peter Nolasco

Saint Peter Nolasco, Confessor
from the Liturgical Year, 1904

The Ransomer of Captives, Peter Nolasco, is thus brought before us by the Calendar, a few days after having given us the Feast of his master, Raymond of Penafort. Both of them offer to the Divine Redeemer the thousands of Christians they ransomed from slavery. It is an appropriate homage, for it was the result of the Charity, which first began in Bethlehem, in the heart of the Infant Jesus, and was afterwards so fervently practised by these two Saints.

Peter was born in France, but made Spain his adopted country, because it offered him such grand opportunities for zeal and self-sacrifice. In imitation of our Redeemer, he devoted himself to the ransom of his brethren; he made himself a prisoner to procure them their liberty; and remained in exile, that they might once more enjoy the happiness of home. His devotedness was blessed by God. He founded a new Religious Order in the Church, composed of generous hearted men, who, for six hundred years, prayed, toiled, and spent their lives, in obtaining the blessing of liberty to countless Captives, who would else have led their whole lives in chains, exposed to the imminent danger of losing their faith.

Glory to the Blessed Mother of God, who raised up these Redeemers of Captives! Glory to the Catholic Church, whose children they were! But above all, glory be to our Emmanuel, who, on His entrance into this world, thus spoke to His Eternal Father: Sacrifice and oblation Thou wouldst not, neither are they pleasing to thee--but a Body thou hast fitted unto me. Then, said I, behold I come (Ps. xxix. 7, 8): that is, Behold, I come to offer myself as a Sacrifice. The Divine Infant has infused this same spirit of love for mankind, (for whom He so mercifully became the Ransom,) into the hearts of such men as the Saint of today: they saw what God had done for man, and they felt it a necessity to go and sacrifice themselves for the redemption of their suffering fellow creatures.

Our Lord rewarded St. Peter Nolasco, by calling him to heaven, at that very hour, wherein, twelve hundred years before, himself had been born in Bethlehem. It was on Christmas Night that the Redeemer of Captives was united to Jesus, the Redeemer of Mankind. Peter's last hymn on earth was the 110th Psalm: and as his faltering voice uttered the words: He hath sent redemption to his people; He hath commanded His covenant for ever, his soul took its flight to heaven.

The Church, in fixing a day for the Feast of our Saint, could not of course take the anniversary of his death, which belongs so exclusively to her Jesus; but it was just, that he, who had been honoured with being born to heaven at the very hour which God had chosen for the Birth of His Son upon the earth, should receive the tribute of our festive commemoration on one of the forty days of Christmas: this last day of January was selected.

Let us now learn from the Liturgy the claims of Peter Nolasco to our veneration and love.

Peter Nolasco was born at Recaud, near Carcassonne, in France, of noble parents. His distinguishing virtue was the love of his neighbour, which seemed to be presaged by this incident that when he was a babe in his cradle, a swarm of bees one day lighted upon him, and formed a honey-comb on his right hand. He lost his parents early in life. The Albigensian heresy was, at that time, making way in France . Peter, out of the hatred he had for that sect, withdrew into Spain, after having sold his estates. This gave him an opportunity of fulfilling a vow at our Lady's of Mount Serrat, which he had made some time previous. After this, he went to Barcelona; and having there spent all his money in ransommg the Christian captives from the slavery of their enemies, he was often heard saying, that he would willingly sell himself to redeem others, or become a slave in the stead of any captive.

God showed him, by the following event, how meritorious in his sight was this desire. He was one night praying for the Christian captives, and deliberating with himself how he might obtain their deliverance, when the Blessed Virgin appeared to him, and told him, that he would render himself most dear to her Son and herself, if he would institute, in her honour, an Order of Religious men, who should devote themselves to the ransoming Captives from the infidels. He delayed not to follow the heavenly suggestion, and instituted the Order of Our Lady of Mercy for the redemption of Captives, in which he was aided by St. Raymund of Pegnafort, and James the First, King of Aragon, both of whom had, on that same night, received the intimation from the Mother of God. The Religious of this Order take a fourth vow, namely, to offer themselves as slaves to the Moors, if they can in no other way obtain the ransom of the Christians.

Having taken a vow of virginity, he spent his whole life in the most perfect purity. He excelled in every virtue, especially in patience, humility, and abstinence. He foretold future events by the gift of prophecy, wherewith God had favoured him. Thus, when king James was laying siege to Valentia, then in the possession of the Moors, he received assurance from the Saint that he would be blessed with victory. He was frequently consoled with the sight of his Angel Guardian and the Virgin Mother of God. At length, worn out with old age, he received an intimation of his approaching death. When he was seized with his last sickness, he received the holy Sacraments, and exhorted his Religious Brethren to love the Captives. After which, he began most devoutly to recite the Psalm, I will praise thee, O Lord, with my whole heart; and at these words: He hath sent Redemption to his people, he breathed forth his soul into the hands of his Creator, at Christmas midnight, in the year 1256. Pope Alexander the Seventh commanded that his Feast should be kept on the thirty-first day of January.


Thou, O Jesus! camest to cast fire upon the earth, and Thy desire is that it be enkindled in the hearts of men. Thy desire was accomplished in Peter Nolasco, and the children of his Order. Thus dost Thou permit men to co-operate with Thee in the designs of Thy sweet mercy, and, by thus restoring harmony between man and his Creator, Thou hast once more given to the earth the blessing of fraternal love between man and man. Sweet Infant Jesus! we cannot love thee, without loving all mankind; and thou, who art our Ransom and our Victim, willest that we, also, be ready to lay down our lives for one another.

Thou, O Peter! wast the Apostle and the model of this fraternal charity; and our God rewarded thee by calling thee to Himself on the anniversary of the Birth of Jesus. That sweet Mystery, which so often encouraged thee in thy holy labours, has now been revealed to thee in all its glory. Thy eyes now behold that Jesus as the great King, the Son of the Eternal Father, before whom the very Angels tremble. Mary is no longer the poor humble Mother, leaning over the Crib, where lies her Son; she now delights thy gaze with her queenly beauty, seated as she is on a throne nearest to that of the divine Majesty. Thou art at home amidst all this glory, for heaven was made for souls that love as thine did. Heaven is the land of love, and love so filled thy heart even when on earth, that it was the principle of thy whole life.

Pray for us, that we may have a clearer knowledge of this love of God and our neighbour, which makes us like to God. It is written, that, he that abideth in charity, abideth in God, and God in him (I. Joh, iv. 16); intercede for us, that the Mystery of Charity, which we are now celebrating, may transform us into Him, who is the one object of all our love during this season of grace. May we love our fellow-creatures as ourselves; bear with them, excuse their weaknesses, and serve them. May our good example encourage them, and our words edify them; may we comfort them and win them to the service of God by our kindness, and our charities.

Pray for France, which is thy country, and for Spain, where thou didst institute thy grand Order. Protect the precious remnants of that Order, by whose means thou didst work such miracles of charity. Console all prisoners and captives. Obtain for all men that holy Liberty of Children of God, of which the Apostle speaks (Rom. viii. 21), and which consists in obedience to the law of God. When this liberty is in man's soul, he never can be a slave; but when the inner man is enslaved, the outward man never can be free. Oh! pray that the fetters of false doctrines and passions may be broken, and then the world will enjoy that true Liberty, which would soon put an end to tyranny, and make tyrants impossible.

God gives St. Peter Nolasco a clock for his church (a.d. 1189-1256).

St. Peter Nolasco built in Spain the church of St. Mary del Puche. For four Saturdays, seven strange lights were seen at night over a certain spot, and looked like seven stars. They were observed to drop from heaven seven times, and disappear in the earth in the same place. St. Peter Nolasco felt certain that this strange phenomenon announced something; so he commanded men to dig about the spot. They had not gone far into the earth, when they came upon a clock of prodigious size, bearing a beautiful image of the Virgin Mary. Nolasco took it up in his arms as avaluable gift from heaven, and built an altar on the spot where it was buried. This altar became very celebrated for the number of miracles performed there.--R. P. F. Zumel, Life of St. Peter Nolasco.

A Prayer to Mary, the Gate of Paradise

"By one woman came death, by another life;
through Eve came perdition, through Mary, salvation."--St. Augustine.

Hail, thou resplendent star,
Which shineth o'er the main,
Blest Mother of our God,
And ever Virgin-Queen.

Hail, happy gate of bliss,
Greeted by Gabriel's tongue,
Negotiate our peace,
And cancel Eva's wrong.

Loosen the sinner's bands;
All evils drive away;
Bring light unto the blind;
And for all graces pray.

Exert the mother's care,
And thus thy children own;
To Him convey our prayer,
Who chose to be thy Son.

O pure, O spotless Maid,
Whose virtues all excel;
Oh make us chaste and mild,
And all our passions quell.

Preserve our lives unstained,
And guard us on our way,
Until we come to thee,
To joys that ne'er decay.

Praise to the Father be,
With Christ, His only Son,
And to the Holy Ghost,
Thrice blessed Three in One.

St. Peter Nolasco, Confessor
by Fr. Francis Xavier Weninger, 1877

St. Peter, founder of the Order of the most holy Virgin Mary, for the redemption of captives, was born at Recaudo, near Carcasson, an Episcopal See in Languedoc, France, in the year of Christ 1190. His family belonged to the noble house of Nolasco. Even when a child he wept on seeing a poor person, and could be consoled only by giving him some alms for the distressed. When he became of age he divided the inheritance bequeathed him by his parents among the poor. Without neglecting the practice of virtue, he industriously and perseveringly applied himself to his studies. His anxiety to preserve his baptismal robe unspotted, and to act as a true servant of his Lord, made him avoid the least sin, for he feared that, any negligence would dampen his fervor in the service of God, and lead to more grievous sins. Having at an early age been deprived of his parents, he withdrew to Spain, to escape the contagion of the Albigensian heresy, which had already devastated many parts of France. For a long time he occupied the post of tutor to James, the heir apparent to the crown of Aragon, and while at Barcelona he wore the livery of Christ beneath the robes of State.

The miserable condition of the Christians who were in captivity under the Moors and other enemies of the Christian name, as well as their imminent danger of losing the Faith, deeply touched his heart: he therefore gave up all his goods and possessions for their ransom, and expressed his wish to be himself sold for their sakes, or held captive in their stead. His generosity was rewarded at one time with the liberation of three hundred Christian slaves. On the following night, while he was engaged in prayer, and considering how he could rescue others from their sad fate, the Mother of God appeared to him, commended his generosity, and told him that it would be highly pleasing to her Divine Son and to herself, if he would found a Religious Order whose chief aim should be the redemption of captives. Peter gave an account of this apparition to St. Raymond of Pennafort, his confessor, who also had a similar vision on the same night. Both of them then went to the King, James, and found that he had already been informed of Heaven's will by the Queen of heaven.

As they could no longer doubt the designs of God, they eagerly set about the prosecution of so holy a work. Raymond wrote rules for the new Order, and Peter, who received at his hands in the Church of the Holy Cross, the habit which they had adopted, was named its first General. Besides the three customary vows of Poverty, Chastity and Obedience, this Order binds itself to a fourth, which consists in the readiness of each of its members to offer himself as a substitute for any Christian captive, if it be deemed necessary. This Order, so well deserving of the highest appreciation, was at first exposed to violent persecutions; but Peter overcame all opposition, and, before the end of his life, had the consolation of witnessing a great number of generous souls in different monasteries, devoted heart and soul to so noble a work. When the persecution was at its height, he addressed his disciples: "Let us fear and praise God: He has the hearts of men in His hands, and can bend them as He wishes." Peter governed his Order for thirty years, within which time he opened their prison doors to thousands of captives, whom his own incessant labors, joined with those of his disciples, rescued from a miserable fate, and, in all probability, from eternal death.

Before his death, he called his children to his bedside, and exhorted them to perseverance in their love for captives. His last words were those of the Psalmist: "I will praise Thee, O Lord, who hast sent redemption to Thy people!" Previous to this hour he had long and ardently cherished the desire of visiting the tomb of his patron, the Prince of the Apostles, whose name he bore, and was saddened at not finding an opportunity to execute this project. But now this holy Apostle appeared to him and addressed him: "Not all of our pious desires can be fulfilled. God is, however, satisfied with the intention. I know your longing to visit me at Rome; but such is not the good pleasure of the Lord. Yet, because you cannot visit me, I have now come to see you, and to assure you of my assistance till your last breath." St. Peter Nolasco obtained a similar favor from his Guardian Angel and other Saints, who visibly appeared to him, no doubt to reward his special devotion to them. But Mary, the Queen of all Saints, gave him special proofs of her love and esteem. He saw her in person several times, and was filled with such sweet joy and consolation at her promise always to befriend him, that he cried out ecstatically at his last hour: "O how sweet it is to die under the protection of Mary." He expired in the year 1256.

Practical Considerations

St. Peter fled in abhorrence from the least sin, through fear of growing lax in the service of God and of falling a prey to more glaring and serious crimes. Happiness for all eternity essentially depends on flight from all grievous offences; for the commission of even one, forever debars us from the joys of heaven. Venial sins do not, it is true, exclude us from the portals of Paradise; but they cause us to relax by degrees in God's service, and carelessness in this point gradually leads to serious faults, which will imperil our eternal happiness. Imprint in your mind a truth so terrible, yet so certain, and after the example of St. Peter Nolasco, cherish a just horror of every venial sin, especially such as imply previous deliberation. "In temporal matters," writes St. Ephrem, "a trivial circumstance is often the cause of a great, overwhelming misfortune. A small oversight is an occasion of irremediable disaster. A small spark may generate a great conflagration.

It is the same with venial sins, which we are apt to disregard: they are followed by deadly crimes, irreparable loss and eternal ruin, not indeed at once, but by degrees. The unmistakable testimony of Holy Writ on the same point is positive and explicit: "He that contemneth small things, shall fall by little and little" (Eccl. xix. i) into the depths of grievous sin, yea, into the abyss of hell. He who is sensible, smothers the little spark, lest it rise into a great flame; so the man who is eager for his eternal salvation, shuns and abhors venial offences, that he may not fall into grievous sins and be ruined forever. "If we do not attend to slight faults, we shall imperceptibly commit greater offences," says St. Gregory.