Our Lady of Oxford, Mother of Mercy
In mediaeval Oxford there were many well-known images of Our Lady, including the one before which St Edmund of Abingdon made his vow of perpetual virginity, at the age of twelve, placing a gold ring on the statue's finger. Tragically, this and other signs of devotion to the Mother of God were destroyed by a later age and it was not until the nineteenth century, at the time of the 'Second Spring', that Our Lady of Oxford was to return. Hartwell de la Garde Grissell was an Oxford convert who became a Private Chamberlain and personal friend of Pope Pius IX. The Pope granted him indulgences for a painting of Our Lady as "Mother of Mercy". This picture, together with a large collection of relics and other treasures were installed in a private chapel, dedicated to Our Lady, on the High Street.
The devotion to the Mother of Mercy has its origins with the Order of Mercy (the Mercerdarians), who were founded in the thirteenth century for the special purpose of redeeming captives in the Holy Land. Mercerdarians and others would offer themselves as substitutes for those who were imprisoned. In England this work proved especially popular, and Mary was invoked under the title of "Our Lady of Ransom". Today, Our Lady of Ransom is still the patroness of our country, and is particularly associated with conversions to the Faith. The second line of the Salve Regina addresses Our Lady as the Mother of Mercy, reminding us that she is the Mother of all Christians, one to whom we may turn without fear in all our difficulties.
After Grissell's death in June 1907, he left his collection, with Our Lady of Oxford as the centrepiece, to St Aloysius' Church, on condition that a suitable chapel should be built. This relic chapel is where the image is venerated today, amid the bones of the martyrs who hid in the Roman catacombs and laid down their lives for Christ and His Church.
Pope John Paul II has spoken many times about the importance of the Mother of Mercy. In 1980 he said that because Mary has experienced the mystery of the Cross to a greater degree than anyone else, she 'is the one who has the deepest knowledge of the mystery of God's mercy. She knows its price, she knows how great it is. In this sense, we call her the Mother of Mercy'. In 1996, on the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, an enlarged copy of the picture of Our Lady of Oxford was taken to Rome, and in St Peter's Square, the Pope gave his blessing to this and many other representations of Our Lady from around the world. John Paul II had held up Mary as a model to all, and has given honour to Our Lady of Oxford, as did his predecessor Blessed Pius IX. On the Feast of Our Lady of Mercy in 2001, Cardinal Stafford, the President of the Pontifical Council for the Laity, said Mass in our church and prayed at the shrine of Our Lady of Oxford.
That we can address Mary as Our Lady of Oxford, reminds us that although the Virgin's care and intercession is universal, she is also able to care for each one of us individually. To have her image set up in a particular place shows that she is not remote or unapproachable, but rather our Mother, whose love for each of us is intimate and personal. Today we need our Mother's prayers more than ever, and we know that in all our struggles and difficulties, she is there with her protecting mantle to shield us from all harm. When we are conscious of our own sinfulness and unworthiness, we need not hold back, for Mary is the Mother of Mercy, whose arms are always ready to receive us. Just as Christ was given to the world through Our Lady's acceptance of her vocation, so our way to heaven is through her. If we trust in Mary, we need have no fear, for a loving Mother will never abandon her children.
Merciful Father and God of all consolation, you have shown yourself to be wonderful in the glorious Virgin Mary, Mother of Christ, and have given her to us as the Mother of Mercy. May all of us who venerate her with devotion, always experience her powerful intercession, and enjoy your immense mercy. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.