Ordinary of the Mass
Fifth Sunday after Pentecost - Latin
Fifth Sunday after Pentecost - English
June 27th Our Lady of Perpetual Help - Latin
June 27th Our Lady of Perpetual Help - English
Were it not Sunday
we would be celebrating the feast of Our Lady of Perpetual Help. And since
we have a copy of the icon which portrays our Lady under that title on display
at the epistle side of our altar, I thought it appropriate to tell you a little
about its veneration.
It is believed that
the icon was painted on the Isle of Crete in the thirteenth century, that it was
stolen by someone who brought it to Rome just before his death. The dying
man turned it over to a merchant who was supposed to donate it to a church, but
whose wife insisted on keeping the picture in their home. The Blessed
Virgin is said to have appeared to the couple’s daughter, requesting that the
image be placed in a church between the major basilicas of Saint Mary and Saint
John Lateran. So on March 27th AD 1499, the icon was placed in the Church
of Saint Matthew on the Esquiline Hill, one of the seven hills in Rome, under
the care of the Augustinian Friars, where it was placed between two beautifully
carved columns of black Carra marble above a splendid white-marble altar.”
It was venerated by those of high estate and low estate—the rich and the poor,
the clergy and the laity—for nearly three hundred years.
But then in 1798,
the French, under Napoleon Bonaparte, invaded Rome and destroyed several of the
churches, including the Augustinian church of Saint Matthew. The icon of
Our Lady of Perpetual Help was rescued and brought to the nearby church of Saint
Eusebius where it remained for twenty years before being transferred to the
church of Santa Maria in Posterula, on the other side of Rome.
In 1865, a priest
who had served Mass as a young man in the Augustinian church of Santa Maria, and
knew the origin of the icon approached Pope Pius IX about returning it to a
site between the basilicas of Saint Mary and Saint John Lateran. In the
years while the picture was in “exile,” a new church had been built on the
site of Saint Matthew’s on the Esquiline Hill. It was dedicated in honor
of Saint Alphonsus, and staffed by the religious of the Redemptorist Order.
The Pope ordered that the icon be transferred to the Redemptorist church, with
the condition that the Redemptorists would have a copy made for the monks at
Santa Maria in Posterula.
had an artist repair and clean the icon, and then held a procession so that
everyone in the neighborhood could see the restored picture. The
procession was held on April 26, 1866, the Feast of Our Lady of Good Counsel.
Along the route a boy was healed of a severe fever as his mother prayed to Our
Lady, and a girl of eight years who had been crippled since age four was
restored to health at the prayer of her mother. A religious celebration of
three days took place, with the highest officials of the Church taking part.
Pope Pius himself visited the icon in early May. A year later he ordered
that gold crowns be placed on the heads of Jesus and Mary in the picture.
If you look closely
at a copy of the Perpetual Help icon, you will see Greek letters that identify
Mary as the “Theotokos”—that is the “Mother of God.”
Jesus is identified with the monogram that we would read in English as “ICXC.”
The figure on the right, holding a lance and a sponge, is Saint Michael the
Archangel. The one on the left, holding a three-barred cross is the
Archangel Gabriel. The image depicts our infant Lord being terrified by
the symbols of His future death, and taking refuge in the arms of His Blessed
Mother. The Blessed Mother appears to be pointing to her Son—a style
among the Greeks and Russians known as Hodegetria (Οδηγήτρια;
Одигитрия), which means
literally: “She who shows the Way,” for Jesus is the only way to salvation.
Our Lady of
Perpetual Help has been venerated as a miracle working help of Christian people
for centuries. Numerous cures and other miracles are attributed to her.
In 1882 she was credited with the halting of a deadly smallpox epidemic in Haiti
after a nine day novena. We have among us an eyewitness to the fact that
her relatives who were exposed to the disease suffered very little of the
scaring that is associated with the pox.
Finally, so that
this is more than just a history lesson, the novena to Our Lady of Perpetual
Help contains some beautiful sentiments that we should make part of our prayers.
The first is an
acknowledgement that God does not always take away all of our difficulties.
He answers all our prayers, but sometimes His answer is not exactly what we
asked for. We must be resigned to the will of God:
We too, have our
crosses and trials. Sometimes they almost crush us to the ground. Dearest Mother
* share with us your abundant faith and confidence in God. Make us aware that
God never ceases to love us; * that He answers all our prayers * in the way that
is best for us. Strengthen our hearts to carry the cross * in the footsteps of
your Divine Son. Help us to realize * that he who shares the cross of Christ *
will certainly share His resurrection.
We must also
recognize that prayer should not be selfish. There are many around us who
are in need—many who would stand to benefit from our prayers if we would but
Dearest Mother, as
we worry about our own problems * let us not forget the needs of others. You
always loved others so much; * help us to do the same. While praying for our
intentions * and for the intentions of all here present at this Novena * we
earnestly ask you, our Mother * to help us comfort the sick and the dying * give
hope to the poor and the unemployed * heal the broken-hearted * lighten the
burden of the oppressed * teach justice to their oppressors and bring back to
God all those who have offended Him.
And finally, we are
reminded that the most important grace we can pray for is the avoidance of sin:
help us to avoid sin which separates us from our heavenly Father * and from one
another. Full of trust in you * we place ourselves under the mantle of your
maternal protection * and confidently hope for your powerful help. Amen.
Resignation to the
will of God; unselfish prayer; the careful avoidance of sin.
If we make these part of our daily prayers we can be sure that our Blessed Lady
will care for us with the same tenderness that earned her the title: Our Lady of