The Mother of Perpetual Help
Among Christians, the title "the Mother Perpetual Help" is one of the better known titles of the Mother of God, especially among the most need and afflicted who feel the need for love and protection.
The original picture is an Eastern Icon that represents the Virgin of the Passion, painted to inspire hope and prayer. Its spiritual message far surpasses its artistic beauty. An icon is much more than the representation of a person or a historical event. The Icon of Perpetual Help raises our consciousness of the mysteries of the Redemption in Christ and of the intercession of Mary in favor of those who follow Christ, here in the arms of His Holy Mother.
Only with an attitude of faith and prayer can one admire this icon. The expression on Mary's face is that of a mother who knows pain, and yet, extends her help with serenity and tenderness, as she invites us to obey the Will of God, even when we find it in suffering and the cross, and to offer our lives in service to Him and our neighbor as He did unto death.
The image of Our Lady of Perpetual Help
The image of Our Lady of Perpetual Help is an icon, painted on wood, and seems to have originated around the thirteenth century. Traditionally, the image is also known as “Our Lady of Perpetual Succour.” The icon (about 54 x 41.5 centimeters) depicts our Blessed Mother Mary, under the title “Mother of God,” holding the Child Jesus. The Archangels Michael and Gabriel, hovering in the upper corners, hold the instruments of the Passion — St. Michael (in the left corner) holds the spear, the wine-soaked sponge, and the crown of thorns, and St. Gabriel (in the right corner) holds the cross and the nails. The intent of the artist was to portray the Child Jesus contemplating the vision of His future Passion. The anguish He feels is shown by the loss of one of His sandals. Nevertheless, the icon also conveys the triumph of Christ over sin and death, symbolized by the golden background (a sign of the glory of the resurrection) and the manner in which the angels hold the instruments, i.e. like trophies gathered up from Calvary on Easter morning.
In a very beautiful way, the Child Jesus grasps the hand of the Blessed Mother. He seeks comfort from His mother, as He sees the instruments of His passion. The position of Mary’s hands — both holding the Child Jesus (who seems like a small adult) and presenting Him to us — convey the reality of our Lord’s incarnation, that He is true God who became also true man. In iconography, Mary here is represented as the Hodighitria, the one who guides us to the Redeemer. She also is our Help, who intercedes on our behalf with her Son. The star painted on Mary’s veil, centered on her forehead, highlights her role in the plan of salvation as both the Mother of God and our Mother
The history of the image
The image of Our Lady of Perpetual Help had long been venerated on the Isle of Crete. According to popular tradition, a merchant acquired the icon of Our Lady of Perpetual Help from the island of Crete and had it shipped to Rome towards the end of the fifteenth century. During the voyage, a terrible storm arose, threatening the lives of all on ship. The passengers and crew prayed to our Blessed Mother, and were saved.
On March 27, 1499, the portrait of the Virgin of Perpetual Help was carried in triumph through the streets of Rome. The Blessed Mother expressed the desire for the image to be venerated in a Church between the Basilicas of St. Mary Major and St. John Lateran in Rome. The image, consequently, was housed at the Church of St. Matthew, and became known as “The Madonna of Saint Matthew.” Pilgrims flocked to the church for the next three hundred years, and great graces were bestowed upon the faithful.
During the disturbances of the French Revolution (1789–1793), the French troops occupying Rome destroyed St. Matthew's church. One of the friars serving in that sanctuary had the time to secretly remove the miraculous Madonna. He hid it so well that for sixty years, no one knew what had become of the famous painting.
God permitted a concourse of providential circumstances which led to rediscovery of the venerated image. In 1865, in order to return the holy picture to the same spot it had been prayed to before, Pius IX gave orders to have it taken to the Esquiline Hill, in St. Alphonsus Liguori's church, built on the site of old St. Matthew's.
On April 26, 1866, the Redemptorists solemnly enthroned Our Lady of Perpetual Help in their chapel. From that time on, thanks to the zeal of the sons of Saint Alphonsus and the countless miracles obtained in their pious sanctuary, devotion to Our Lady of Perpetual Help has had an extraordinary development.
Favors and graces
The holy image of the Mother of Perpetual Help was returned to public veneration on April 26, 1866. On that day a solemn procession was held, carrying the icon from the Basilica of St. Mary Major to the Church of St. Alphonsus:
"On one of the streets along the rout of the procession, there lived a seriously ill 4 year old boy who had suffered with a gastric infection and brain hemorrhages for 20 days. He was near death. When the icon passed in front of his house, his mother opened the window and presented him to the Virgin, exclaiming with tears: "O merciful Mother, heal my son or take him with you to Paradise!" Her prayer was not in vain; that same day the child got better and a few days later was completely cured.
"In another house there was an 8 year old girl that had suffered from paralysis of the legs for 4 years and could barely move them. When the icon passed her house, her mother also asked the Virgin to heal her daughter. At that very moment the girl recovered partial use of her legs. Afterwards, her mother took her to the Church of St. Alphonsus and presented her to Our Lady with great confidence: "O Mother, finish now what you have begun!" To the wonder of those present, her daughter stood up and began to walk on her own."
It is understandable that the faithful began to speak of "the miraculous picture" of Our Lady of Perpetual help. What that term means depends on the intentions and circumstances of each person who uses it. But the fact is that in order to describe Mary's favorable answer to their prayers, there is a constant expression, "miraculous intercession." And it is and has been used so often one is predisposed to think that the Virgin of the icon is inclined to grant extraordinary favors. We do not use the term "miracle" like that of the ones performed by Christ in the Gospels. Here we use it in the wider sense that the faithful through the centuries have used it, that is, a miracle is seen as a favor or grace asked for and received in inner peace.
To acknowledge and perpetuate the remembrances of these precious favors, the Vatican Chapter crowned the holy image in great pomp on June 23, 1867.
In 1876, Pope Pius IX erected an Archconfraternity in St. Alphonsus' church under the title of Our Lady of Perpetual Help.
Our Lady of Perpetual Help and Redemptorists Saints
In 1876, Pope Pius IX erected an Archconfraternity in St. Alphonsus' church under the title of Our Lady of Perpetual Help
Church of St. Alphonsus in Rome (Italy)
Church of St. Alphonsus in Rome (inside)
The altar with the image of Our Lady of Perpetual Help