Quote of the Day – 6 November – The Memorial of Blessed Christina of Stommeln (1242–1312)
“I am a person who believes in Christ.
I want to live so that all things in
me are strengthened by Christ.”
Quote of the Day – 6 November – The Memorial of Blessed Christina of Stommeln (1242–1312)
“I am a person who believes in Christ.
I want to live so that all things in
me are strengthened by Christ.”
One Minute Reflection – 9 July – Tuesday of the Fourteenth week in Ordinary Time, Year C, Gospel: Matthew 9:32–38 and the Memorial of Saints St Augustine Zhao Rong and Companions
And Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and preaching the gospel of the kingdom…Matthew 9:35
REFLECTION – “The presence of the Christian faithful in human groups, should be inspired by that charity, with which God has loved us and with which, He wills, that we should love one another (cf. 1 Jn 4:11). Christian charity truly extends to all, without distinction of race, creed, or social condition – it looks for neither gain nor gratitude. For as God loved us with an unselfish love, so also the faithful should in their charity care for the human person himself, loving him with the same affection with which God sought out man. Just as Christ, then, went about all the towns and villages, curing every kind of disease and infirmity as a sign that the kingdom of God had come (cf. Matt. 9:35ff; Acts 10:38), so also the Church, through her children, is one with men of every condition but especially with the poor and the afflicted… She shares in their joys and sorrows, knows of their longings and problems, suffers with them in death’s anxieties. To those in quest of peace, she wishes to answer in fraternal dialogue, bearing them the peace and the light of the Gospel.
Let Christians labour and collaborate with others in rightly regulating the affairs of social and economic life. With special care, let them devote themselves to the education of children and young people… Furthermore, let them take part in the strivings of those peoples who, waging war on famine, ignorance and disease, are struggling to better their way of life and to secure peace in the world…
However, the Church has no desire at all to intrude itself into the government of the earthly city. It claims no other authority, than that of ministering to men, with the help of God.”…Vatican Council II – Decree on the missionary activity of the Church, “Ad Gentes” # 12
PRAYER – True Light of the world, Lord Jesus Christ, as You enlighten all men for their salvation, give us grace, we pray, to herald Your coming, by preparing Your ways of justice and of peace. Let us invoke Mary Most Holy, who welcomes under her mantle all the tired and worn-out people, so that through an enlightened faith, witnessed in life, we can offer relief, for so many, in need of help, of tenderness, of hope. And may the prayers of Your Martyrs St Augustine Zhao Rong and Companions, strengthen us on our journey. Who live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, God forever, amen.
Saint of the Day – 17 September – St Hildegard von Bingen OSB (1098-1179) Doctor of the Church – born on 1098 at Bermersheim, Rhineland Palatinate (modern Germany) and died on 17 September 1179 at Bingen, Rhineland Palatinate (modern Germany) of natural causes. She was Beatified on 26 August 1326 by Pope John XXII and Canonised on 10 May 2012 by Pope Benedict XVI (equipollent canonisation) and declared a Doctor of the Church by the same Pope on 7 October 2012. St Hildegard is also known as Saint Hildegard and Sibyl of the Rhine, was a German Benedictine Abbess, Theologian, Writer, Composer, Philosopher, Poet, Mystic, Visionary, Founder, Scientist, Artist and Polymath. She is considered to be the founder of scientific natural history in Germany. Hildegard was elected magistra by her fellow nuns in 1136; she founded the monasteries of Rupertsberg in 1150 and Eibingen in 1165. One of her works as a composer, the Ordo Virtutum, is an early example of liturgical drama and arguably the oldest surviving morality play. She wrote theological, botanical and medicinal texts, as well as letters, liturgical songs and poems, while supervising miniature illuminations in the Rupertsberg manuscript of her first work, Scivias. She is also noted for the invention of a constructed language known as Lingua Ignota.
Proclaiming Saint Hildegard of Bingen,
professed nun of the Order of Saint Benedict,
a Doctor of the Universal Church
BENEDICTUS PP. XVI
FOR PERPETUAL REMEMBRANCE
1. A “light for her people and her time”: in these words Blessed John Paul II, my Venerable Predecessor, described Saint Hildegard of Bingen in 1979, on the occasion of the eight-hundredth anniversary of the death of this German mystic. This great woman truly stands out crystal clear against the horizon of history for her holiness of life and the originality of her teaching. And, as with every authentic human and theological experience, her authority reaches far beyond the confines of a single epoch or society; despite the distance of time and culture, her thought has proven to be of lasting relevance.
In Saint Hildegard of Bingen there is a wonderful harmony between teaching and daily life. In her, the search for God’s will in the imitation of Christ was expressed in the constant practice of virtue, which she exercised with supreme generosity and which she nourished from biblical, liturgical and patristic roots in the light of the Rule of Saint Benedict. Her persevering practice of obedience, simplicity, charity and hospitality was especially visible. In her desire to belong completely to the Lord, this Benedictine Abbess was able to bring together rare human gifts, keen intelligence and an ability to penetrate heavenly realities.
2. Hildegard was born in 1098 at Bermersheim, Alzey, to parents of noble lineage who were wealthy landowners. At the age of eight she was received as an oblate at the Benedictine Abbey of Disibodenberg, where in 1115 she made her religious profession. Upon the death of Jutta of Sponheim, around the year 1136, Hildegard was called to succeed her as magistra. Infirm in physical health but vigorous in spirit, she committed herself totally to the renewal of religious life. At the basis of her spirituality was the Benedictine Rule which views spiritual balance and ascetical moderation as paths to holiness. Following the increase in vocations to the religious life, due above all to the high esteem in which Hildegard was held, around 1150 she founded a monastery on the hill of Rupertsberg, near Bingen, where she moved with twenty sisters. In 1165, she established another monastery on the opposite bank of the Rhine. She was the Abbess of both.
Within the walls of the cloister, she cared for the spiritual and material well-being of her sisters, fostering in a special way community life, culture and the liturgy. In the outside world she devoted herself actively to strengthening the Christian faith and reinforcing religious practice, opposing the heretical trends of the Cathars, promoting Church reform through her writings and preaching and contributing to the improvement of the discipline and life of clerics . At the invitation first of Hadrian IV and later of Alexander III, Hildegard practised a fruitful apostolate, something unusual for a woman at that time, making several journeys, not without hardship and difficulty, to preach even in public squares and in various cathedral churches, such as at Cologne, Trier, Liège, Mainz, Metz, Bamberg and Würzburg. The profound spirituality of her writings had a significant influence both on the faithful and on important figures of her time and brought about an incisive renewal of theology, liturgy, natural sciences and music. Stricken by illness in the summer of 1179, Hildegard died in the odour of sanctity, surrounded by her sisters at the monastery of Rupertsberg, Bingen, on 17 September 1179.
3. In her many writings Hildegard dedicated herself exclusively to explaining divine revelation and making God known in the clarity of His love. Hildegard’s teaching is considered eminent both for its depth, the correctness of its interpretation and the originality of its views. The texts she produced are refreshing in their authentic “intellectual charity” and emphasise the power of penetration and comprehensiveness of her contemplation of the mystery of the Blessed Trinity, the Incarnation, the Church, humanity and nature as God’s creation, to be appreciated and respected.
These works were born from a deep mystical experience and propose a perceptive reflection on the mystery of God. The Lord endowed her with a series of visions from childhood, whose content she dictated to the Benedictine monk Volmar, her secretary and spiritual advisor and to Richardis von Stade, one of her women religious. But particularly illuminating are the judgements expressed by Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, who encouraged her and especially by Pope Eugene III, who in 1147 authorised her to write and to speak in public. Theological reflection enabled Hildegard to organise and understand, at least in part, the content of her visions. In addition to books on theology and mysticism, she also authored works on medicine and natural sciences. Her letters are also numerous — about four hundred are extant; these were addressed to simple people, to religious communities, popes, bishops and the civil authorities of her time. She was also a composer of sacred music. The corpus of her writings, for their quantity, quality and variety of interests, is unmatched by any other female author of the Middle Ages.
Her main writings are the Scivias, the Liber Vitae Meritorum and the Liber Divinorum Operum. They relate her visions and the task she received from the Lord to transcribe them. In the author’s view her Letters were no less important, they bear witness to the attention Hildegard paid to the events of her time, which she interpreted in the light of the mystery of God. In addition there are 58 sermons, addressed directly to her sisters. They are her Expositiones Evangeliorum, containing a literary and moral commentary on Gospel passages related to the main celebrations of the liturgical year. Her artistic and scientific works focus mainly on music, in the Symphonia Harmoniae Caelestium Revelationum; on medicine, in the Liber Subtilitatum Diversarum Naturarum Creaturarum and in the Causae et Curae and on natural sciences in the Physica. Finally her linguistic writings are also noteworthy, such as the Lingua Ignota and the Litterae Ignotae, in which the words appear in an unknown language of her own invention but are composed mainly of phonemes present in German.
Hildegard’s language, characterised by an original and effective style, makes ample use of poetic expressions and is rich in symbols, dazzling intuitions, incisive comparisons and evocative metaphors.
4. With acute wisdom-filled and prophetic sensitivity, Hildegard focused her attention on the event of revelation. Her investigation develops from the biblical page in which, in successive phases, it remains firmly anchored. The range of vision of the mystic of Bingen was not limited to treating individual matters but sought to offer a global synthesis of the Christian faith. Hence in her visions and her subsequent reflections she presents a compendium of the history of salvation from the beginning of the universe until its eschatological consummation. God’s decision to bring about the work of creation is the first stage on this immensely long journey which, in the light of sacred Scripture, unfolds from the constitution of the heavenly hierarchy until it reaches the fall of the rebellious angels and the sin of our first parents.
This initial picture is followed by the redemptive Incarnation of the Son of God, the activity of the Church that extends in time the mystery of the Incarnation and the struggle against Satan. The definitive Coming of the Kingdom of God and the Last Judgement crown this work.
Hildegard asks herself and us the fundamental question, whether it is possible to know God: This is theology’s principal task. Her answer is completely positive: through faith, as through a door, the human person is able to approach this knowledge. God, however, always retains his veil of mystery and incomprehensibility . He makes himself understandable in creation but, creation itself is not fully understood when detached from God. Indeed, nature considered in itself provides only pieces of information which often become an occasion for error and abuse. Faith, therefore, is also necessary in the natural cognitive process, for otherwise knowledge would remain limited, unsatisfactory and misleading.
Creation is an act of love by which the world can emerge from nothingness. Hence, through the whole range of creatures, divine love flows as a river. Of all creatures God loves man in a special way and confers upon him an extraordinary dignity, giving him that glory which the rebellious angels lost. The human race may thus be counted as the tenth choir of the angelic hierarchy. Indeed human beings are able to know God in Himself, that is, His one nature in the Trinity of Persons. Hildegard approached the mystery of the Blessed Trinity along the lines proposed by Saint Augustine. By analogy with his own structure as a rational being, man is able to have an image at least of the inner life of God. Nevertheless, it is solely in the economy of the Incarnation and human life of the Son of God that this mystery becomes accessible to human faith and knowledge. The holy and ineffable Trinity in supreme Unity was hidden from those in the service of the ancient law. But in the new law of grace it was revealed to all who had been freed from slavery. The Trinity was revealed in a special way in the Cross of the Son.
A second “space” in which God becomes known is His word, contained in the Books of the Old and New Testament. Precisely because God “speaks”, man is called to listen. This concept affords Hildegard the opportunity to expound her doctrine on song, especially liturgical song. The sound of the word of God creates life and is expressed in his creatures. Thanks to the creative word, beings without rationality are also involved in the dynamism of creation. But man of course is the creature who can answer the voice of the Creator with his own voice. And this can happen in two ways: in voce oris, that is, in the celebration of the liturgy, and in voce cordis, that is, through a virtuous and holy life. The whole of human life may therefore be interpreted as harmonic and symphonic.
5. Hildegard’s anthropology begins from the biblical narrative of the creation of man (Gen 1:26), made in the image and likeness of God. Man, according to Hildegard’s biblically inspired cosmology, contains all the elements of the world because the entire universe is recapitulated in him; he is formed from the very matter of creation. The human person can therefore consciously enter into a relationship with God. This does not happen through a direct vision, but, in the words of Saint Paul, as “in a mirror” (1 Cor 13:12). The divine image in man consists in his rationality, structured as intellect and will. Thanks to his intellect, man can distinguish between good and evil; thanks to his will, he is spurred to action.
Human beings are seen as a unity of body and soul. The German mystic shows a positive appreciation of corporeity and providential value is given even to the body’s weaknesses. The body is not a weight from which to be delivered. Although human beings are weak and frail, this “teaches” them a sense of creatureliness and humility, protecting them from pride and arrogance. Hildegard contemplated in a vision the souls of the blessed in paradise waiting to be rejoined to their bodies. Our bodies, like the body of Christ, are oriented to the glorious resurrection, to the supreme transformation for eternal life. The very vision of God, in which eternal life consists, cannot be definitively achieved without the body.
The human being exists in both the male and female form. Hildegard recognised that a relationship of reciprocity and a substantial equality between man and woman is rooted in this ontological structure of the human condition. Nevertheless the mystery of sin also dwells in humanity and was manifested in history for the first time precisely in the relationship between Adam and Eve. Unlike other medieval authors who saw Eve’s weakness as the cause of the Fall, Hildegard places it above all in Adam’s immoderate passion for her.
Even in their condition as sinners, men and women continue to be the recipients of God’s love, because God’s love is unconditional and, after the Fall, acquires the face of mercy. Even the punishment that God inflicts on the man and woman brings out the merciful love of the Creator. In this regard, the most precise description of the human creature is that of someone on a journey, homo viator. On this pilgrimage towards the homeland, the human person is called to a struggle in order constantly to choose what is good and avoid evil.
The constant choice of good produces a virtuous life. The Son of God made man is the subject of all virtues, therefore the imitation of Christ consists precisely in living a virtuous life in communion with Christ. The power of virtue derives from the Holy Spirit, poured into the hearts of believers, who brings about upright beha viour. This is the purpose of human existence. In this way man experiences his Christ-like perfection.
6. So as to achieve this goal, the Lord has given his Church the sacraments. Salvation and the perfection of the human being are not achieved through the effort of the will alone but rather through the gifts of grace that God grants in the Church.
The Church herself is the first sacrament that God places in the world so that she may communicate salvation to mankind. The Church, built up from “living souls”, may rightly be considered virgin, bride and mother and thus resembles closely the historical and mystical figure of the Mother of God. The Church communicates salvation first of all by keeping and proclaiming the two great mysteries of the Trinity and the Incarnation, which are like the two “primary sacraments” and then through administration of the other sacraments. The summit of the sacramental nature of the Church is the Eucharist. The sacraments produce the sanctification of believers, salvation and purification from sin, redemption and charity and all the other virtues. However, to repeat, the Church lives because God within her has manifested his intraTrinitarian love, which was revealed in Christ. The Lord Jesus is the mediator par excellence. From the Trinitarian womb He comes to encounter man and from Mary’s womb He encounters God. As the Son of God, He is love incarnate; as the Son of Mary, He is humanity’s representative before the throne of God.
The human person can have an experience of God. Relationship with Him, in fact, is not lived solely in the sphere of rationalit but involves the person totally. All the external and internal senses of the human being are involved in the experience of God. “But man was created in the image and likeness of God, so that he might act through the five bodily senses; he is not divided by them, rather through them he is wise, knowledgeable and intelligent in doing his work (…). For this very reason, because man is wise, knowledgeable and intelligent, he knows creation; he knows God — whom he cannot see except by faith — through creation and his great works, even if with his five senses he barely comprehends them” (Explanatio Symboli Sancti Athanasii in PL 197, 1073). This experiential process finds once again, its fullness in participation in the sacraments.
Hildegard also saw contradictions in the lives of individual members of the faithful and reported the most deplorable situations. She emphasised in particular that individualism in doctrine and in practice on the part of both lay people and ordained ministers is an expression of pride and constitutes the main obstacle to the Church’s evangelising mission to non-Christians.
One of the salient points of Hildegard’s magisterium was her heartfelt exhortation to a virtuous life addressed to consecrated men and women. Her understanding of the consecrated life is a true “theological metaphysics”, because it is firmly rooted in the theological virtue of faith, which is the source and constant impulse to full commitment in obedience, poverty and chastity. In living out the evangelical counsels, the consecrated person shares in the experience of Christ, poor, chaste and obedient and follows in his footsteps in daily life. This is fundamental in the consecrated life.
7. Hildegard’s eminent doctrine echoes the teaching of the Apostles, the Fathers and writings of her own day, while it finds a constant point of reference in the Rule of Saint Benedict. The monastic liturgy and the interiorisation of sacred Scripture are central to her thought which, focusing on the mystery of the Incarnation, is expressed in a profound unity of style and inner content that runs through all her writings.
The teaching of the holy Benedictine nun stands as a beacon for homo viator. Her message appears extraordinarily timely in today’s world, which is especially sensitive to the values that she proposed and lived. For example, we think of Hildegard’s charismatic and speculative capacity, which offers a lively incentive to theological research; her reflection on the mystery of Christ, considered in its beauty; the dialogue of the Church and theology with culture, science and contemporary art; the ideal of the consecrated life as a possibility for human fulfilment; her appreciation of the liturgy as a celebration of life; her understanding of the reform of the Church, not as an empty change of structure but as conversion of heart; her sensitivity to nature, whose laws are to be safeguarded and not violated.
For these reasons the attribution of the title of Doctor of the Universal Church to Hildegard of Bingen has great significance for today’s world and an extraordinary importance for women. In Hildegard are expressed the most noble values of womanhood – hence the presence of women in the Church and in society is also illumined by her presence, both from the perspective of scientific research and that of pastoral activity. Her ability to speak to those who were far from the faith and from the Church make Hildegard a credible witness of the new evangelisation.
By virtue of her reputation for holiness and her eminent teaching, on 6 March 1979 Cardinal Joseph Höffner, Archbishop of Cologne and President of the German Bishops’ Conference, together with the Cardinals, Archbishops and Bishops of the same Conference, including myself as Cardinal Archbishop of Munich and Freising, submitted to Blessed John Paul II the request that Hildegard of Bingen be declared a Doctor of the Universal Church. In that petition, the Cardinal emphasized the soundness of Hildegard’s doctrine, recognized in the twelfth century by Pope Eugene III, her holiness, widely known and celebrated by the people, and the authority of her writings. As time passed, other petitions were added to that of the German Bishops’ Conference, first and foremost the petition from the nuns of Eibingen Monastery, which bears her name. Thus, to the common wish of the People of God that Hildegard be officially canonized, was added the request that she be declared a “Doctor of the Universal Church”.
With my consent, therefore, the Congregation for the Causes of Saints diligently prepared a Positio super Canonizatione et Concessione tituli Doctoris Ecclesiae Universalis for the Mystic of Bingen. Since this concerned a famous teacher of theology who had been the subject of many authoritative studies, I granted the dispensation from the measures prescribed by article 73 of the Apostolic Constitution Pastor Bonus. The cause was therefore examined and approved by the Cardinals and Bishops, who met in Plenary Session on 20 March 2012. The proponent (ponens) of the cause was His Eminence Cardinal Angelo Amato, Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints. At the audience of 10 May 2012, Cardinal Amato informed us in detail about the status quaestionis and the unanimous vote of the Fathers at the above-mentioned Plenary Session of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints. On 27 May 2012, Pentecost Sunday, I had the joy of announcing to the crowd of pilgrims from all over the world gathered in Saint Peter’s Square the news of the conferral of the title of Doctor of the Universal Church upon Saint Hildegard of Bingen and Saint John of Avila at the beginning of the Assembly of the Synod of Bishops and on the eve of the Year of Faith.
Today, with the help of God and the approval of the whole Church, this act has taken place. In Saint Peter’s Square, in the presence of many Cardinals and Prelates of the Roman Curia and of the Catholic Church, in confirming the acts of the process and willingly granting the desires of the petitioners, I spoke the following words in the course of the Eucharistic sacrifice: “Fulfilling the wishes of numerous brethren in the episcopate and of many of the faithful throughout the world, after due consultation with the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, with certain knowledge and after mature deliberation, with the fullness of my apostolic authority I declare Saint John of Avila, diocesan priest and Saint Hildegard of Bingen, professed nun of the Order of Saint Benedict, to be Doctors of the Universal Church. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”
I hereby decree the present Letter to be perpetually valid and fully effective, and I establish that from this moment anything to the contrary proposed by any person, of whatever authority, knowingly or unknowingly, is invalid and without force
Given in Rome, at Saint Peter’s, under the ring of the Fisherman, on 7 October 2012, in the eighth year of my Pontificate.
BENEDICTUS PP. XVI
Quote/s of the Day – 17 August – Friday of the Nineteenth week in Ordinary Time, Year B – Today’s Gospel: Matthew 19:3–12
“Have you not read that he who made them from the beginning made them male and female and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder.” Matthew 19:4-6
“By their very nature, the institution of matrimony itself
and conjugal love are ordained for the procreation
and education of children and find in them their ultimate crown.”
“The obvious effect
of frivolous divorce
will be frivolous marriage.
If people can be separated
for no reason,
they will feel it easier,
to be united for no reason.”
“To defend his purity,
Saint Francis of Assisi rolled in the snow,
Saint Benedict threw himself into a thorn bush
and Saint Bernard plunged into an icy pond…
You – what have you done?”
“Do not forget,
that true love sets no conditions,
it does not calculate
but simply loves.”
“No one justifies lying, cheating,
betraying, promise breaking,
devastating and harming strangers.
But we expect and we tolerate doing this,
to the one person in the world,
we promised most seriously,
to be faithful to forever –
we justify divorce.”
“Marriage is the real vocation crisis in the United States…
We have a vocation crisis to life-long,
life-giving, loving, faithful marriage.
If we take care of that one,
we’ll have all the priests and nuns
we’ll need for the Church.”
Quote/s of the Day – 8 July – The Memorial of Sts Priscilla and Aquila – Patrons of Catholic Marriage and Families
“Authentic married love is caught up into divine love . . .
so that this love may lead the spouses to God . . .
and in God, they find the strength,
to carry on their roles and responsibilities.”
“Merciful love is supremely indispensable
between those who are closest to one another:
between husbands and wives,
between parents and children,
and it is indispensable
in education and in pastoral work.”
“The future of humanity passes by way of the family.
It is therefore indispensable and urgent,
that every person of good will should endeavour
to save and foster the values and requirements of the family.
I feel that I must ask for a particular effort in this field,
from the sons and daughters of the Church.
Faith gives them full knowledge of God’s wonderful plan,
they, therefore, have an extra reason for caring for the reality
that is the family in this time of trial and of grace.
They must show the family special love.
This is an injunction that calls for concrete action.”
“We speak a lot about behavioural problems,
mental health, the well-being of the child,
the anxiety of the parents and the children—
but do we even know what a wound of the soul is?
Do we feel the weight of the mountain
that crushes the soul of a child in those families,
where members mistreat and hurt one another
to the point of breaking the bonds of marital fidelity?
What effect do our choices — often poor choices—
have on the souls of children?”
“During these days, we will reflect in particular on the family,
which is the fundamental cell of society.
From the beginning the Creator blessed man and woman,
so that they might be fruitful and multiply
and so the family then,
is an image of the Triune God in the world.”
To be continued……
Thought for the Day – 27 June – The Feast of Our Lady of Perpetual Succour ( Under the Protection of the Redemptiorists – CSsr)
An artist about to paint an icon prepares himself spiritually by prayer, confession, Holy Communion and sometimes fasting. He prays even while painting, for he sees himself as an instrument of the Holy Spirit, the principal artist, Who will use the icon as an instrument to channel graces to those who reverence it and pray before it. In most cases, the artist does not even sign his name to his work.
In Western art, there is little difference in the styles used in sacred art as compared to secular art; only the subject matter is different. Icons, however, are not meant to be realistic as far as physical representation, but rather to portray eternal truths in a way that immediately transports the viewer to a spiritual plane. Perhaps the simplest way to describe it is as theology in line and colour. The images are rendered in an extremely stylised, non-naturalistic way. The folds of garments appear as simple geometric forms, while faces and bodies show portray human nature transformed by grace into the divine.
In the icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help, the Child Jesus is not portrayed with the physical proportions of an infant but appears almost as an adult in miniature form. This has been interpreted to indicate that He is God, having infinite knowledge. Yet He is human as well, for He clings to His Mother’s hand in fear, while gazing up toward the angel over His shoulder. One of His sandals has come loose, indicating the haste with which He had run to her.
Why is the Child Jesus so frightened? The angels in the picture are holding instruments of His Passion and death, with the angel on the left bearing the gall, the lance and the reed, while the angel on the right holds the cross and nails. Their hands are covered with a cloth or veil, much like the humeral veil that the priest holds when blessing with the Blessed Sacrament in the monstrance at Benediction.
The face of Our Lady is grave and sorrowful, with her large eyes directed not at Jesus, but at us. One feels that she is pleading with us to avoid sin, which has caused her Son to suffer so much for us. Her gaze makes us a part of the picture and the pain it portrays. “Will you not love my Son, Who has loved you so much?” she seems to say.
Our Lady is clothed in the colours of royalty; her tunic is of dark red and her mantle is dark blue with a green lining. (According to another interpretation, the dark red is said to be the colour worn by virgins at the time of Christ, while blue was the colour worn by mothers in Palestine.) The Child Jesus also wears the colours of royalty. Both Jesus and Mary have golden halos, but Christ’s halo is decorated with a cross as a sign of His Divinity and Passion. Jewelled crowns were placed on the heads of both Mother and Child of the original icon by order of the Vatican in 1867. (The crowns were removed when the icon underwent restoration in the 1990’s.)
The Greek initials next to the head of Our Lady identify her as “Mother of God,” while those next to the Child are the abbreviation for “Jesus Christ.” The letters over the angels’ heads indicate the one on the left as St Michael and the one on the right as S. Gabriel.
The 8-pointed star on Our Lady’s veil tells us that she is the Star of the Sea, the Star that leads us to Jesus. The small ornate cross to the left of the star reinforces this concept.
Mary’s mouth is small to indicate her spirit of silence and prayer. Her eyes are large, for they see all of our troubles and needs and are always turned toward us.
Christ’s hands, turned palms down into His Mother’s, indicate that He has placed the graces of the Redemption in her keeping. Our Lady’s hand does not clasp those of her Son but remains open, inviting us to put our hands in hers along with those of Jesus.
As in other icons, the background of the painting is gold to symbolize Heaven, where Jesus and Mary now reign in glory. This light of Heaven shines through their clothing, illuminating not only the picture itself but those who behold it. This radiance speaks to us of God’s light and grace, strengthening and consoling us as we journey through life to our heavenly goal.
Finally, it is of no small significance that Our Blessed Mother herself referred to the icon by the title of “Holy Mary of Perpetual Succour.” Surely this, along with the symbolism we see in the picture, should assure us of the loving concern and tenderness our Blessed Mother has for us and her ardent desire to be a source of perpetual help to all who call upon her.
In answer to Pope Pius IX’s injunction to “make her known,” the Redemptorists commissioned several artists to paint copies of the original icon. More than 2,300 such copies, similarly touched to the original, have been sent to other houses of the order around the world. Pope Pius IX also received a copy, which he enshrined in his private chapel and was often seen kneeling before it in prayer. (Excerpt from Sister Mary Agatha, CMRI)
Part of the tradition is that Mary had made it clear that she wished her image to be situated between the great basilicas of St John Lateran (the Pope’s Cathedral) and St Mary Major, her own basilica. For the best part of 300 years from the year 1500, it was famous for the many miracles and graces granted to those who made the pilgrimage to the church of St Matthew on the Via Merulana, which was destroyed during the Napoleonic war.
In January 1855, the Redemptorist priests purchased Villa Caserta in Rome along the Via Merulana and converted it into their headquarters. Without realising it, the property they had purchased was once the church and monastery of Saint Matthew, the site which the Virgin reportedly chose as the icon’s shrine.
Decades later, Pope Pius IX invited the Redemptorist Fathers to set up a Marian house of veneration in Rome, in response to which the Redemptorists built the Church of St Alphonsus Liguori at that location. The Redemptorists were thus established on the Via Merulana, not knowing that it had once been the site of the Church of San Matteo and shrine of the once-famous icon.
O Mother of Perpetual Succour,
with grateful hearts we join you
in thanking God
for all the wonderful things
He has done for us,
especially for giving us,
Jesus, your Son, as our Redeemer.
O God, our Creator,
we thank You for the gift of life
and all the gifts of nature:
our senses and faculties,
our talents and abilities.
We thank You for creating us
in Your image and likeness
and for giving us this earth
to use and develop,
to respect and cherish.
Despite our failures,
you continue to show Your love for us today
by increasing the life of Your Spirit in us
at the Eucharistic table.
Finally, we thank You, loving Father,
for giving us Mary,
the Mother of Your Son,
to be our Mother of Perpetual Succour.
We are grateful for all the favours
we have received through her intercession.
We pray that those past favours
may inspire us to greater confidence,
in your loving mercy and to seek the aid
of our Mother of Perpetual Succour.