This Beautiful One in His Robe

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Come With Confidence

The Church of Sant'Alfonso on the Via Merulana is one of my favourite neighbourhood pilgrimages. It enshrines the original precious and wonderworking icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help. Even on ordinary days the church is visited by pilgrims from all over the world. During the annual novena to Our Mother of Perpetual Help, multitudes converge on the church to kneel in prayer before the miraculous image and present their petitions to the Blessed Virgin Mary. Seeing this demonstration of faith, I am reminded of Adeamus, the Introit of the Mass of the Immaculate Heart of Mary: "Let us come with confidence to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and may find grace for a timely help" (Heb 4:16).

Christ the Redeemer

The original icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help is enthroned on the "high altar." Immediately above it, in the apse of the church, is a mosaic of Christ the Redeemer in the company of the Blessed Virgin and Saint Joseph. The mosaic depicts the risen and ascended Christ. He is seated in majesty and clothed in the crimson mantle that represents the outpouring of His Precious Blood. "Who is this that cometh from Edom, with dyed garments from Bosra? This Beautiful One in His robe?" (Is 63:1).

When I first began visiting the Church of Sant'Alfonso, I was so taken by the icon of the Our Mother of Perpetual Help, that I didn't notice the mosaic of Christ the Redeemer. Had I looked, and seen, I would have asked with the prophet, "Why then is Thine apparel red, and Thy garments like them that tread in the wine-press?" (Is 63:2). Had I looked, and seen, I would have been drawn immediately to the open wound in the Redeemer's Sacred Side.

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An Opening Onto the Kingdom of God

It was only after several visits to the sanctuary of Our Mother of Perpetual Help that I looked, and saw, and understood the significance of the mosaic in the apse. The apse of a church generally symbolizes an opening onto the Kingdom of God. An apse is, in some way, more window than wall, even when it is solid. This explains the meaning of the images traditionally found in the apse of our churches: Christ in glory; Christ in majesty; Christ seated on a rainbow and on the clouds of heaven. Looking closely at the image in the Church of Sant'Alfonso, I see that, at the heart of the apse that symbolizes the inbreaking of the Kingdom of God, there is another opening: the wound in the Sacred Side of Christ.

Pilgrimage to the Heart of Christ

The iconography of the Church of Sant'Alfonso suggests that every pilgrimage to the image Our Mother of Perpetual Help becomes, by her maternal mediation, a pilgrimage to the wounded Side of Christ and — through the wound in His Side — into the Holy of Holies that is His Sacred Heart. I think that my Redemptorist friend, Father Scott, would agree.

The Open Side of Christ

The Child held fast in His Mother's embrace is the "Beautiful One" (Is 63:1) "clothed in a robe sprinkled with blood, and His Name is called the Word of God" (Ap 19:13). Just as His Mother's Heart was open to receive Him in His littleness and weakness, so is His wounded Side open to receive us in our littleness, in our weakness, and even in our sin. So is His Blood poured out to cleanse, to refresh, and to heal. The way to the Heart of Jesus passes through the Heart of His Mother.

Special thanks to Redemptorist Father Luis Roballo for the photo of Christ the Redeemer in the apse of the Church of Sant'Alfonso.

2 Comments

Your elucidation of how the architecture and art of the church helps convey spiritual and religious truths is splendid. When I had the opportunity to visit Rome, I was struck by the immensity of visual images that seek to inform, uplift, and inspire. A fellow traveler, much younger in years, only saw alot of over decoration. This diverse observation not only speaks to a difference in life experience and the ability to see with the eyes of the heart and soul - I also think it reflects a comfort and familiarity with the plain, undecorated, uninteresting interiors which are found in far too many modern churches and chapels.

Fr. Mark,
Thanks for the great gift...I couldn't have asked for a more perfect mosaic that featured a rainbow...we need to get it back firmly in Christian hands.

God Bless You.

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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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