Since 1865 the Redemptorists have spread devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary under the icon and title of Our Mother of Perpetual Help. According to tradition, the ancient Byzantine icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help was stolen from a church in Crete where many miracles had occurred.
The image remained in the private possession of a Roman merchant and his family until 1499, when it was publicly displayed in the Church of St. Matthew in Rome between the Basilicas of St. Mary Major and St. John Lateran.
When St. Matthew's was destroyed in 1789, the icon was rescued and hung in an obscure monastery chapel until the Redemptorists learned that the site of their new headquarters in Rome had once been the site of St. Matthew's, the one-time home of a miraculous icon of Our Lady.
A Redemptorist priest who as a young man had frequented the monastery chapel that displayed the icon informed his brothers where to find the image.
The Redemptorists asked Pope Pius IX for permission to move the icon to their new church, San Alfonso, which was built on the location of the icon's earlier home. The pope granted his permission and told the Redemptorists to "make her known throughout the world."
The Symbolism of the Icon
In the Eastern world, religious art is seen as an extension of God's presence in creation. Icons are much more than beautiful images: they're meant to help us connect directly with God.
The artist who writes the icon strives to illuminate the viewer's soul with divine truth. Above is a photo of the icon of Our Lady of Perpetual Help—the most widely known icon in the world. This sacred image has special importance for the Redemptorists, who were asked by Pope Pius IX to "make her known throughout the world."
Each element of the icon has a specific meaning:
- Mary's eyes, filled with compassion and love, are directed toward us.
- Our Lady is clothed in the colors of virgins (red) and of mothers (blue). These are also royal colors.
- Jesus, depicted as a young boy, wears the colors of a king.
- The star on Mary's veil reminds us that she is the dawn announcing the coming of Christ.
- Our Lady's hands hold her Son securely, and her right hand directs our gaze to Him.
- The Christ Child grasps his mother's hand as though he is frightened by what he sees.
- In His hurry to reach his mother, Jesus has almost lost one of his sandals. He became human, like us, in all things but sin.
- On Our Lady's left and right we see the reasons for the child's fear. On the right is the Archangel Gabriel, holding a cross and four nails. On the left is the Archangel Michael, holding a lance, a pole with a sponge, and a vessel of vinegar. This vision of the instruments of the crucifixion has driven the young Jesus to his mother's protective embrace.
- Yet Our Lady's gaze is fixed on us, her children on earth. She is our source of constant comfort and hope.
Prayer to Our Mother of Perpetual Help
Mother of Perpetual Help, your very name inspires confidence. We come before your holy picture in praise and thanksgiving to God, seeking your intercession with Jesus, your son, for all the needs of our lives today. We celebrate your holy motherhood as we proclaim Jesus Christ our Lord and Redeemer.
You answered when called to be mother of our Lord. Obtain for us the grace to be alive to our baptismal call and especially to embrace the Gospel of life and to respect all life on earth.
You wondered as your Son grew in wisdom, knowledge, and grace.
Intercede for us so that we may welcome the Word of God in our lives and be bearers of the good news to everyone.
You delighted as your Son healed the sick.
Intercede for our sick that they may receive good health and that they in their turn may be healers to others.
You enjoyed peace as your Son comforted the afflicted.
Intercede for all who suffer so that they may know that we carry their burdens with them and in this way we keep the law of Christ.
You rejoiced as your Son forgave sins.
Obtain for us the forgiveness of our sins and lead us to unbind others and set them free.
You suffered at the wounds your Son endured for our salvation.
Help us to bind up the broken-hearted and to give hope to the downtrodden.
You exulted in your Son's resurrection.
Obtain for us the grace to persevere in His way all the days of our life and be granted a place in heaven.
You are the first of all the disciples and saints. We trust in your motherly love and care.
Obtain for us all the graces we need to fulfill God's plan each day in our lives. Amen.