Feast of Our Mother of Perpetual Help

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This morning I walked to the Church of Sant' Alfonso, the Shrine of Our Mother of Perpetual Help. It was quiet and peaceful there with but a few pilgrims kneeling before the miraculous icon. Earlier, I had celebrated the Mass of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Perpetual Help in the Chapel of San Gregorio here at Santa Croce in Gerusalemme.

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Introit

Rejoice we all in the Lord,
as we keep festival in honour of the Blessed Virgin Mary:
whose solemnity makes angels joyful
and sets them praising the Son of God.
V. Joyful the thoughts that well up from my heart,
I shall speak of the works of the King (Ps 44:2).

Gaudeamus is a magnificent festal chant originally composed for the virgin martyr Saint Agatha, and then adapted to other occasions. It is used on a number of other feasts of the Blessed Virgin Mary, making it familiar enough to be sung with a certain jubilant ease. The gentle balancing of the first mode melody evokes the ceaseless, sweeping joys of the heavenly liturgy celebrated by "the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands" (Ap 5:11). The verse, drawn from Psalm 44, the exuberant messianic wedding song, is placed in the mouth of the Church, the Bride of Christ, as she declares the wonders wrought through the intercession of the Virgin Mother of Perpetual Help.

Collect

Lord Jesus Christ, by whose gift Mary Thy Mother,
that Mary whose glorious image we revere,
is our Mother too, and ready at all times to succour us,
we pray Thee grant that we,
who earnestly beg her maternal help,
may be counted worthy to reap through all eternity
the fruit of Thy redeeming work.
Thou who art God living and reigning with God the Father,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
forever and ever.

As are many liturgical prayers of recent composition, the Collect is addressed to Christ rather than to the Father. Orations addressed to the Son are exceptional in the Roman liturgy; in the East they are the norm. While it is not traditional to direct the Collect to the Son in the classic Roman liturgy, there are moments when it can be quite fitting to do so. The feast of Our Mother of Perpetual Help may be one of those moments.

The Collect refers straightaway to the gift of the Virgin Mary's motherhood extended to every disciple of her Son, the very mystery that will be evoked in the Gospel; and to the veneration of her glorious image. It acknowledges that Mary is perpetually ready to help us, and asks that, through her motherly power, we may reap through all eternity the fruit of Christ's redemption. The last phrase is certainly an allusion to the charism of the Redemptorists, custodians of the miraculous icon and, in the tradition of Saint Alphonsus, tireless preachers of Mary's universal mediation and inexhaustible clemency.

Reading (Ecclesiasticus 24:23-31)

As the vine I have brought forth a pleasant odour:
and my flowers are the fruit of honour and riches.
I am the mother of fair love, and of fear, and of knowledge, and of holy hope.
In me is all grace of the way and of the truth, in me is all hope of life and of virtue.
Come over to me, all ye that desire me, and be filled with my fruits.
For my spirit is sweet above honey,
and my inheritance above honey and the honeycomb.
My memory is unto everlasting generations.
They that eat me, shall yet hunger: and they that drink me, shall yet thirst.
He that hearkeneth to me, shall not be confounded:
and they that work by me, shall not sin.
They that explain me shall have life everlasting.

I so regret that the reformed liturgy uses this text so sparingly in the context of Marian feasts. It is quoted by all the great Marian doctors and mystics. It articulates the ineffable experience of those who, having consecrated themselves to Mary, found themselves inwardly changed. The very last line is a promise to those who promote the icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help and explain its significance.

Gradual

All lovely and gentle art thou,
daughter of Sion;
beautiful as the moon, bright as the sun,
terrible as an army drawn up for battle (Ct 6:3,9).
V. What blessing the power of the Lord hath granted thee,
making use of thee to bring our enemies to nothing (Jud 13:22).

The Gradual artfully juxtaposes two traditional Marian texts. In the Canticle of Canticles the Church sees her as lovely, gentle, beautiful, radiant and . . . terrible as an army drawn up for battle. The imagery is related to that of the "woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars" (Ap 12:1). The verse from the book of Judith says that it has pleased God to grant Mary a singular blessing, that of bringing our enemies to nothing. Again, this reflects the experiece of the Church through the ages, as well as the intimate experience of the saints who, in the thick of spiritual combat, had recourse to Mary and prevailed over the powers of darkness.

Alleluia

Alleluia, alleluia.
V. Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee;
blessed art thou among women (Lk 1:28).
Alleluia.

The Alleluia Verse repeats the salutation of the Archangel Gabriel at the Annunciation at Nazareth; but here the words of the Angel serve to introduce another annunciation, the words of Jesus from the Cross on Calvary.

Gospel (John 19:25-27)

Now there stood by the cross of Jesus, his mother, and his mother's sister, Mary of Cleophas, and Mary Magdalen.
When Jesus therefore had seen his mother and the disciple standing whom he loved,
he saith to his mother: Woman, behold thy son.
After that, he saith to the disciple: Behold thy mother.
And from that hour, the disciple took her to his own.

The words of Our Lord to His beloved disciple, "Behold thy mother," are an invitation to contemplate Mary. In the context of today's feast of the icon of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Perpetual Help, the words of the Crucified invite us to behold our Mother as she is depicted in her miraculous image. "And from that hour, the disciple took her to his own" (Jn 19:27). Wheresoever the image of Our Mother of Perpetual Help is given a place of honour, Mary herself is welcomed and received there. It has been said that there is scarcely a family in Ireland without an image of Our Lady of Perpetual Help. I have heard similar reports coming from the Philippines and from Haiti. When families, communities, and individuals welcome an image of Our Lady of Perpetual Help in their homes, they are, in effect, imitating the Apostle Saint John. The presence of the icon expresses a spiritual desire to abide with Mary and to remain beneath her gaze in an attitude of total consecration to her.

Offertory

Remember, O Virgin Mother,
where thou standest before the face of God,
to plead on our behalf,
and to avert His anger from us (Jer 18:20).

The Church lifts this text directly from the prophet Jeremiah and, in the liberty that comes from the Holy Spirit, addresses it to the Virgin Mother. The antiphon acknowledges that Mary stands before the face of God to plead on our behalf: a clear allusion to her role as Mediatrix and Advocate. As Mediatrix, Mary participates in the work of her risen and ascended Son; as Advocate, she participates in the work of the Holy Spirit. We ask her to plead on our behalf that, in spite of our sins, the anger of God may be turned away from us.

Secret

By thy gracious mercy, O Lord,
and at the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mother Mary,
let this offering bring us prosperity and peace,
now and forevermore.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, Thy Son,
Who is God, living and reigning with Thee,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
forever and ever.

Here the gracious mercy of God and the intercession of the Blessed Virgin meet. The Most Holy Eucharist is the fulfillment of what God, in His mercy, seeks to give us, and of what Mary, in her maternal solicitide, seeks to obtain for us: prosperity and peace.

Communion

Most worthy Queen of the world,
O Mary ever-virgin,
who didst bear Christ, the Lord and Saviour of us all,
intercede for our peace and salvation.

It is unusual that a Communion Antiphon should be addressed to the Mother of God. Here the Church calls her "most worthy Queen of the world" and "Mary ever-virgin who didst bear Christ, the Lord and Saviour of us all." All who partake of the Sacred Mysteries become, with Mary, bearers of Christ, the Lord and Saviour of all. The peace and salvation for which we ask Mary's intercession, are given us sacramentally in Holy Communion.

Postcommunion

May the august intercession
of Thy immaculate and ever-virgin Mother Mary help us,
we beseech Thee, O Lord,
that through her lovingkindness,
we, upon whom she has heaped lasting benefits,
may be freed from every peril
and made one in heart and mind.
Thou who art God, living and reigning with the Father,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
forever and ever.

This prayer alludes to the countless favours attributed to Our Mother of Perpetual Help. She has, in fact, "heaped lasting benefits" on those devoted to her. She continues to do so. We ask that we may be freed from the perils that threaten our souls and bodies, and we pray that the full effect of the Most Holy Eucharist be given us, that is: oneness in heart and mind.

The Redemptorists offer the Mass of Our Lady of Perpetual Help as celebrated in the current reformed liturgy here.

4 Comments

Caro Don Marco,
Auguri on this most Joyful Feast! May she who so tenderly holds the Child Jesus in her arms succor you in all your trials and fears! May she who gazes so lovingly from her place in heaven always look upon you with a Mother's love. And may she be always your Perpetual Help.
Scott, C.Ss.R.

Happy Feast Day, Father.

A lovely post as always.

The Redemptorists of the Denver Province have posted on their ‘Home’ page a permanent devotion to Our Mother of Perpetual Help. Visitors can now light the virtual candle to her online while listening to the glorious strains of Salve Regina, a Redemptorist singing staple. While on the candle page, visitors can also submit their prayer intentions to her, request a prayer card, join the Perpetual Help Confraternity, or make a donation. Visitors can also read the fascinating story behind this famous icon and of how it became the responsibility of the Redemptorists in 1866 to “make her known throughout the world.? The candle banner will stay up in perpetuity and honor every Marian feast day recognized by the Roman Catholic Church. The Redemptorist website is www.redemptorists-denver.org

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About Dom Mark

Dom Mark Daniel Kirby is Conventual Prior of Silverstream Priory in Stamullen, County Meath, Ireland. The ecclesial mandate of his Benedictine community is the adoration of the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar in a spirit of reparation, and in intercession for the sanctification of priests.

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