Our Lady of Perpetual Help

June 27: Our Lady of Perpetual Help, 13th Century

The name of Our Lady of Perpetual Help derives from one of the most famous of all pictures of Mary, an icon of the fourteenth century painted on walnut wood perhaps in Crete; from where it was thought to have been stolen by an Italian merchant and brought to Rome.

It was venerated, famous for miracles in the Roman Church of Saint Matthew, in charge of the Irish Augustinians for a century, when the church was destroyed by fire. The picture was saved, however, and in 1866 it was set up in the Redemptorist Church of Saint Alphonsus, on the site of Saint Matthew’s. In the following year it was crowned. Since then numberless copies and reproductions of the icons have gone all over the world, some of them themselves wonder-working.

Two angels in the picture, Michael and Gabriel, are showing the instruments of the passion to the Child, who clings to the Mother’s hand, shaking loose a sandal. The Mother reassuringly holds tightly to the Child’s hand.

One cannot look at the picture without being struck by the anxious, pained expression on the face of Our Blessed Mother. On the child’s face is seen the same shrinking fear He had during His agony in the garden – a shrinking fear not incompatible with a perfect resignation to God’s will. And in His fear He turns to His Mother for help.

What does the loosened sandal mean? All babies manage to kick off their shoes, and the Christ child was a perfectly human baby. There is a meaning in his act, however, for His is more than just a human baby. If it were not for this loosened sandal, the picture would not be a complete one. In the Old Law, the putting off of the shoe meant (1) the yielding of one’s right to another, (2) the wish to be treated as a servant or a captive, (3) readiness for reproach or infamy.

As the Child looks at the frightening instruments, and clings to His Mother’s hand, the little shoe slips from His baby foot and He says His Fiat – “Not my will but Thine be done.” We may even imagine the two archangels going back to heaven and being asked, “What did He say?” – and their reply would be something like this: “He was very frightened and clung to His Mother, but He took of His little shoe.”

Our Lady of Perpetual Help

*from The Woman in Orbit

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