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Sunday, June 20, 2010

Our Lady of Perpetual Help

Feast of
Our Lady of Perpetual Help
June 27

Our Blessed Mother is known by many names, Our Lady of Grace, Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception, and among others, Our Lady of Perpetual Help. As Our Lady of Perpetual Help she is the Patroness of the Redemptorist Order founded by Saint Alphonsus in 1732. The history recorded by the Redemptorist, of the original icon of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, which now resides in the Redemptorist Church of St. Alphonsus is shrouded in obscurity. “It is the story of an unknown artist, a repentant thief, a curious little girl, an abandoned church, an old religious and a Pope.”

It is known to have been stolen from the island of Crete over 500 years ago, credited with a miracle by surviving a wild storm at sea while transported to Rome, its thief repentant made his dying wish to a friend that the picture be placed in a church, but the friend dies before carrying out his friends wish.

The wife of the person charged with this request was not told of deathbed appeal and chose to keep the beautiful picture. Her daughter is graced with a vision by Our Blessed Mother petitioning that the picture of Our Lady of Perpetual Help be placed in the Church of St. Matthew on Esquiline Hill between the two basilicas of Saint Mary Major and Saint John. The mother obeyed and placed the icon in St. Matthew’s in 1499. This church which was under the care of the Irish Augustinians was destroyed in 1798 and the icon saved by the Augustinians was eventually transported to Saint Mary in Posterula in1819.

Saint Mary's Church already had a picture of Our Blessed Mother as Our Lady of Grace so Our Lady of Perpetual Help was placed in a private chapel and would have been forgotten but for Brother Augustine Orsetti a friar from Saint Matthew who entrusted an altar boy from Saint Mary's, Michael Marchi, with information surrounding the placement of the icon of Our Lady of Perpetual Help. He was told that it was a miraculous picture and not to ever let it be forgotten.

Brother Augustine died in 1853 without fulfilling his desire to see the Virgin of Perptual Help be exposed for public veneration. Two years later the Redemptorist Missionaries purchased property, unknown to them at the time, that contained the ruins of the Church of Saint Matthew. On this property they constructed a church in honor of the Most Holy Redeemer and dedicated it to Saint Alphonsus Liguori their founder.

Late in December of 1855 the first group of young men began their novitiate here, one of them was Michael Marchi. This new Redemptorist community was interested in the history of their congregation and after examining authors of antiquities discovered that on the site of their church, the Most Holy Redeemer lay the remains of the Church of Saint Matthew, a church it was said, to have been the home of an ancient icon of the Mother of God. This information jogged the memory of Father Michael Marchi who believed he knew where this icon could be found. Under decree of Pope Pius IX, Our Lady of Perpetual Help was retrieved from Saint Mary's Church, carefully restored by Leopold Nowotny and finally presented to the public for veneration in the Church of Saint Alphonsus on the Via Merulana in Rome on April 26, 1866 where it can be seen today behind the altar.

The picture of Our Lady of Perpetual Help is called an icon (Greek eikon which means image). An icon is a special picture that actually makes present to those who gaze upon them, the person pictured in a spiritual way. It is a window through which we gaze into the mystery of God, and are brought into the presence of the holy person or incident pictured; we are seeing the written Gospel message that Scripture communicates by words.The beauty of an icon can move a soul in prayer to a more intimate relationship with the Holy Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

"All the signs in the liturgical celebrations are related to Christ: as are sacred images of the holy Mother of God and of the saints as well. They truly signify Christ, who is glorified in them. They make manifest the “cloud of witnesses” who continue to participate in the salvation of the world and to whom we are united, above all into sacramental celebrations.” (CCC 1161, Hebrews 12:1) "The contemplation of sacred icons, united with meditation on the Word of God and the singing of liturgical hymns, enters into the harmony of the signs of celebration so that the mystery celebrated is imprinted in the heart's memory and is then expressed in the new life of the faithful." (CCC 1162) “The veneration of sacred images is based on the mystery of the Incarnation of the Word of God. It is not contrary to the first commandment.” (CCC 2141)

The icon of Our Lady of Perpetual Help painted by an unknown artist depicts the moment when the Archangels reveal the instruments of the Passion to the Infant Jesus. The Greek letters which appear on the icon indicate the names of the four figures: Jesus Christ, Mother of God, Archangel Gabriel and Archangel Michael. The gold background of the icon symbolizes heaven. Our Blessed Mother appears to be looking directly at those who view this image as she presents Jesus to us with her right hand. She is portrayed as both Virgin and Mother with her tunic red, the color virgins wore in the time of Christ and her mantle blue, the color mothers wore in Palestine. The Archangel to the right is Gabriel, who holds a cross and nails. On the left Michael holds the urn filled with gall, the lance and the reed with the sponge.

Many have contemplated the meaning of the sandal of Jesus which hangs by a “thread” in this icon. Some attributed this to His alarm at the thought of His Passion and death, others attributed this image to a reminder to cling to Our Blessed Mother, who always leads to Jesus, and protects us as our spiritual mother, a roll given to her at the foot of the cross by her Son. (John 19:26-27) Besides these I saw this as an image of my own spiritual journey, which at times “hung by a thread” due to my pride, indifference, ignorance or stubbornness to place my trust in God. My unwillingness to even consider that the goals He set for my life could truly trump any goals I set for myself or that His ways far exceeded mine. Fortunately (for all of us), Jesus, in His Divine Mercy, never lets go of that thread, and in time, by the grace of God I grabbed that thread and pulled myself back into His loving arms.

The Feast of Our Lady of Perpetual Help is celebrated on June 27 with the Novena beginning June 19. Please visit my store Lynn's Timeless Treasures for items related to Our Lady of Perpetual Help.

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