Our Lady of Perpetual Help
Since 1866, the Redemptorists have spread devotion to Mary under the icon and title of Mother of Perpetual Help. According to tradition, the ancient Byzantine icon of Our Mother (or Our Lady) of Perpetual Help was stolen from a church in Crete where many miracles had occurred. The image remained in the private possession of a Roman merchant and his family until 1499 when it was publicly displayed in the Church of St. Matthew in Rome between the Basilicas of St. Mary Major and St. John Lateran.
When St. Matthew’s was destroyed in 1789, the icon was rescued and hung in an obscure monastery chapel until the Redemptorists learned that the site of their new headquarters in Rome had once been the site of St. Matthew’s, the one-time home of a miraculous icon of Our Lady. A Redemptorist priest who, as a young man, had frequented the monastery chapel that displayed the icon informed his brothers where to find the image.
The Redemptorists asked Pope Pius IX for permission to move the icon to their new church, San Alfonso, which was built on the location of the icon's earlier home. The pope granted his permission, and told the Redemptorists to “make her known throughout the world.”
Read about the symbolism of the icon’s elements here.
Mary: woman of hope
Throughout two millennia, she has gone by many names. For sailors she was the Star of the Sea; for contemplatives, a Mystical Rose; and for students, Good Counsel. But no matter what you call Mary, she will always be Perpetual Help.
Scripture tells us that Jesus’ first miracle was accomplished for desperate newlyweds at their dinner reception. Perhaps before water was turned into wine, the first miracle was the fact that this couple chose to invite Mary and Jesus into the beginning of their lives together.
Where is Mary in my life? Have I asked her for help lately?
Her perpetual help is a constant hope. Author Rev. Ron Rolheiser writes that Mary turns hope into reality. For hope is not optimism; it is not a good feeling, nor merely based on facts. Hope is real when we see beyond the present into the presence and promise of God.
George Fredric Watts, in a famous painting, portrays Hope as a serene figure over the earth. Head bowed, she plucks the remaining string on a harp. Now take a moment to look at the icon of Our Lady holding the frightened Jesus.
See the hope in her eyes even as foreboding angels surround them with reminders of his future passion and death. Where does Mary’s hope come from?
In one sense, Gabriel’s message to Mary was incomplete. She did not know the full picture, the whole story. This young woman had no idea what was ahead of her.
All Mary had to go on were two angelic truths: she did not have to be afraid (“Do not fear, Mary!”) and God’s presence would be with her (“the Holy Spirit will overshadow you”). Pledged with this comfort, she could and would endure many hardships. And so shall we.
Like Mary, we do not know the end of the story. But we are also given gifts from God. God is with us; we do not have to be afraid. This is hope turned real.
Mary's traditional titles are many. Perhaps we could add a few more:
- Courage of Single Parents
- Determination of Widows
- Woman of Confidence
- Help of the Worried
- Model for Parents of Teenagers
- Mother of Prisoners
- Lady of Grace
- Hope for the World
Mother of Perpetual Help, Woman of Eternal Hope, your wordless gaze tells us so much about you. Knowing eyes look upon us with tender love. The slight bend of your head reveals such maternal concern. While your left hand supports the Child, your right hand is ready to receive us, too. Just as He feels the beating of your heart, so you encourage us to lead a life of hope and holiness. Just as His sandal will fall on your lap, through your intercession may God pick us up as we stumble and fall. Never let us be parted from you and your son, Jesus. Lady of love, you invite us to place our hand where His fingers touch yours — near a heart of endless hope — so that we may be united often in prayer here on earth and joined forever with you in heaven. Amen.
Prayer to Our Mother of Perpetual Help
Mother of Perpetual Help, your very name inspires confidence. We come before your holy picture in praise and thanksgiving to God seeking your intercession with Jesus, your son for all the needs of our lives today. We celebrate your holy motherhood as we proclaim Jesus Christ our Lord and Redeemer.
You answered when called to be mother of our Lord. Obtain for us the grace to be alive to our baptismal call and especially to embrace the gospel of life and to respect all life on earth.
You wondered as your Son grew in wisdom, knowledge and grace. Intercede for us so that we may welcome the Word of God in our lives and be bearers of the good news to everyone.
You delighted as your Son healed the sick. Intercede for our sick that they may receive good health and that they in their turn may be healers to others.
You enjoyed peace as your Son comforted the afflicted. Intercede for all who suffer so that they may know that we carry their burdens with them and in this way we keep the law of Christ.
You rejoiced as your Son forgave sins. Obtain for us the forgiveness of our sins and lead us to unbind others and set them free.
You suffered at the wounds your Son endured for our salvation. Help us to bind up the broken hearted and to give hope to the down trodden.
You exulted in your Son's resurrection. Obtain for us the grace to persevere in His way all the days of our life and be granted a place in heaven.
You are the first of all the disciples and saints. We trust in your motherly love and care. Obtain for us all the graces we need to fulfill God's plan each day in our lives. Amen.