Today in the old liturgical calendar and for Marian religious orders, the Church celebrates the Feast of Our Mother of Perpetual Help, otherwise known as Our Lady of Perpetual Succor. Even if you didn’t know the name, chances are you’ve seen the famous icon representing this title of Our Lady, as it is replicated and displayed in many Catholic churches to this day.
The Byzantine icon, which dates to before 1499, is enshrined at the Church of San Alphonso in Rome, and has been under the care of the Redemptorists since 1865. This map and key can help you to understand the meaning written into icon, as icons are not simply paintings in the modern sense – made to visually adorn a space. Rather, they are like a visual book, to be read, and which communicate handed-down sacred traditions and truths. As the Redemptorists say, “We approach the icon in a spirit of faith and humility. Only those of faith can uncover the hidden messages contained in the image before us.”
And, so, gazing upon the image is itself a form of prayer, perhaps one we can and ought to rediscover in this age of over-stimulation by glowing hand-held, laptop or flat-screen portal of unreality. As much mention as has been given of late to cultivating auditory silence for the sake of our prayer life, I wonder how much we might all benefit from visual silence, namely, disconnecting from our phones, ipads and laptops in order to rest our eyes… to retrain our eyes to see like Mary and through Mary. After all, isn’t the ultimate end of our visual capacity to gaze upon the face of God?
Many miracles have been attributed to the image throughout the centuries, and even today, many churches offer weekly devotional prayers in the form of a perpetual novena to Our Mother of Perpetual Help. Do you have a devotion to Our Lady under this title? Maybe it’s time to start one!
You can visit her icon in your church after receiving Holy Communion and the conclusion of the Mass. You can also enshrine her in your own home by obtaining a copy of the icon. Don’t forget to have it blessed by a priest! I just love the idea I came across somewhere, describing “Marian space” – the set-aside space around and in front of a place in your home where you display this icon. Why not carve out a sacred space for Mary, where she can, having been given room, watch over you and your family and reclaim for her Son a greater earthly territory.
The Redemptorists of Denver, Colorado offer this lovely Novena and Litany to Our Mother, here. We recommend this as a beautiful way to learn to “read” the icon and to draw closer in devotion to Our Lady. And, below, here is a short and well-known version of a prayer to Mary, Mother of Perpetual Help. Never hesitate or neglect to call on her, as she asked and as Our Lord deigned to order things for our benefit!
Prayer to Our Mother of Perpetual Help
O Mother of Perpetual Help, grant that I may ever invoke thy most powerful name, which is the safeguard of the living and the salvation of the dying. O Purest Mary, O sweetest Mary, let thy name henceforth be ever on my lips. Delay not, O Blessed Lady, to help me whenever I call on thee, for, in all my needs, in all my temptations, I shall never cease to call on thee, ever repeating thy sacred name, Mary, Mary.
O what consolation, what sweetness, what confidence, what emotion fill my soul when I utter thy sacred name, or even only think of thee. I thank God for having given thee, for my good, so sweet, so powerful, so lovely a name. But I will not be content with merely uttering thy name: let my love for thee prompt me ever to hail thee, Mother of Perpetual Help.
Hail Mary… (3 Times)