Our Mother of Perpetual Help, the Icon and the Devotion
The feast of Our Mother of Perpetual Help is celebrated on June 27.
Our Mother of Perpetual Help (Succour) or Our Lady of Perpetual Help is a title given to the Blessed Virgin Mary, associated with the Byzantine icon of the same name, said to be from the 13th or 14th century, but perhaps 15th century, which has been in Rome since at least the late 15th century. The image is very popular among Catholics throughout the world, and has been much copied and reproduced. In the Byzantine Church this iconography is known as the Theotokos of the Passion.
The icon depicts the Blessed Virgin Mary wearing a dress of dark red with blue mantle and veil. On the left is the archangel Michael, carrying the lance and sponge as instruments of Jesus Christ's crucifixion. On the right is the archangel Gabriel carrying a 3-bar cross and nails. This type of icon is a later type of the Hodegetria composition, where Mary is pointing to her Son, known as a Theotokos of the Passion. The Christ-child has been alarmed by a pre-sentiment of his Passion, and has run to his mother for comfort. The facial expression of the Virgin Mary is solemn and is looking directly at the viewer instead of her son. The Greek initials on top read Mother of God, Michael Archangel, Gabriel Archangel, and Jesus Christ, respectively. Jesus is portrayed clinging to his mother with a dangling sandal. The icon is painted with a gold background. The icon is on a walnut panel, and may have been painted in Crete, then ruled by Venice, and the main source of the many icons imported to Europe in the late Middle Ages and through the Renaissance. It was cleaned and restored in 1866 and again in the 1940s.
The earliest written account of the image comes from a Latin and Italian plaque placed in the church of Saint Matthew where it was first venerated by the public in 1499. The writer of the icon is unknown, but according to legend the icon was stolen by a merchant from Crete who was sailing to Rome. The merchant supposedly sailed and hid the icon while traveling at sea, until a storm hit hard and the sailors prayed to the icon for help. When the merchant arrived in Rome he fell ill, and as his dying wish he asked another merchant to place the icon in a church where it could be venerated. The merchant then confided to his wife about the icon. Upon seeing the beautiful icon, the merchant's wife refused to give it to the church but instead hung it in her home. Later on, the Virgin Mary appeared to the merchant's daughter, requesting that the icon be turned into a parish for veneration. The Virgin Mary indicated to the little girl that she ought to be placed between the basilicas of St. Mary Major and St. John Lateran. The wife then went to the Augustinian Friars to whom she gave up the icon. On March 27, 1499, the icon was transferred to the church and the icon was venerated there for 300 years.
In 1798, the governor of Rome, General Massena, ordered several churches in Rome closed and destroyed. St. Matthew's was one of these churches. The Perpetual Help icon was taken by the Augustinian fathers to a nearby church, St. Eusebius. Later on they moved it to Santa Maria Posterula to a side altar. Pope Pius IX had invited a group of priests called the Redemptorists to set up a Marian house of veneration in Rome. They stationed in Via Merulana, not knowing that it was once the church of San Mateo and shrine of the once-famous icon. One day, a Redemptorist father heard stories of the icon and of the church in which it was once enshrined. The Redemptorists built a small church next to the building called St. Alphonse of Ligouri.
The Father General of the Redemptorists, Most Rev. Nicholas Mauron, decided to bring the whole matter to the attention of Pope Pius IX. The Pope decided that the icon should be exposed to public veneration and the logical site was their church of St. Alphonse of Ligouri, standing as it did between the Basilicas of St. Mary Major and St. John Lateran. Pope Pius IX wrote a short memorandum ordering the Augustinian Fathers of St. Mary in Posterula to surrender the picture to the Redemptorists, on condition that the Redemptorist supply the Augustinians with another picture of Our Lady of Perpetual Help or a good copy of the icon of Perpetual Help in exchange. Upon the return of the icon, Pope Pius IX gave the icon the title Our Mother of Perpetual Help. In June 23, 1867, the image was crowned by the Dean of the Vatican Chapter in a solemn and official recognition of the Marian icon under the title of Our Mother of Perpetual Succour. In April 21, 1866, the Redemptorist Superior General gave one of the first copies to Pope Pius XI, which is now preserved in the chapel of the Redemptorists' General Government in Rome. The icon is under the care of the Redemptorist fathers of St. Alphonse of Ligouri Church where the icon is now enshrined.
Since then, the icon has been venerated all around the world. The icon has been popularized among many cultures and has had several titles in different languages such as Nuestra Señora del Perpetuo Socorro, Perpetuo Succursu, Beata Virgo de Perpetuo Succursu, Ina ng Laging Saklolo and Mother of Perpetual Soccour.
According to tradition, when handing over the Icon to the Redemptorist in 1866, Pope Pius IX expressed the desire that they should make her known to the world. From that time until present day, devotion to the Mother of Perpetual help has spread all over the world. Thousands of copies of the Picture have been dispatched throughout the world and there are many shrines where copies of the original Icon are venerated and regarded as miraculous.
Among the best known shrine are those in Boston and New York (USA), Haiti, where Our Lady of Perpetual Help is the Patroness of the country; Santiago (Chile, Curitiba, Belém and Manaus in Brazil, Tequisquiapan in Mexico; Belfast and Limerick in Ireland; Bussolengo in Italy; Torun and Cracow in Poland; Singapore and the most famous of all in Manila (Philippines).
The Perpetual Novena which began in St. Louis (USA) in 1927, has made a notable contribution to the spread of this devotion. The Novena has been called "Perpetual", because it is held on a fixed day each week of the year. During the Novena devotions, the faithful not only say the traditional prayer, but they also present written petitions and thanksgivings for favors received. There is also a meditation on some aspect of the spiritual life.
Prayer to Our Mother of Perpetual Help
O Mother of Perpetual Help! With the greatest of confidence I approach you to implore your aid. You have seen the wounds of your Son and His blood shed for our salvation. You know how He desires our salvation. Because of this, I kneel before you and beseech you to obtain for me the mercy of which I stand in such great need. 0 Mary, most amiable among women, obtain the favor I seek from Jesus, the source of all good. Here, state intention. 0 Mother of Perpetual Help, you desire our salvation more than we ourselves do. Your Son has given you to be our mother, and you have chosen for yourself the name: Mother of Perpetual Help. I do not trust in my own merits, but in your powerful intercession. I trust in your goodness and in your motherly love. For the love that you have for Jesus, your Son, and my Savior, for the love of the souls faithful to you, and for the sake of your love for my soul, obtain for me all the graces and favors I ask of you. Amen.