Presently, at Sir Anthony Mamo Oncology Centre, we are having the grace of hosting the Icon of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, also known as Our Lady of Perpetual Succour.
The original wooden icon, which its measures are 17″ × 21″ inches, is suspended on the altar. It is normally written on hard wood with a gold leaf background. The symbolism of this icon is particularly rich.
First, one notices the Blessed Virgin Mary, who is wearing a dress of dark red. In the Byzantine iconography this colour means that of the empress and the Queen. Mary is looking at the faithful while pointing at her son, Jesus Christ, who is frightened by the instruments of crucifixion. In fact, he is depicted with a fallen sandal.
On the left side of the icon we find the St Michael the Archangel, who is carrying the lance and sponge of the crucifixion of Jesus. Whereas on the right side we encounter St Gabriel the Archangel who is carrying a 3-bar cross and nails. The Virgin Mary has a star on her forehead. This suggests her role as Star of the Sea while the cross on the side has been believed as alluding to the Greek monastery which wrote this icon.
Byzantine representations of the Blessed Virgin Mary always have three stars. These are put one on each shoulder whilst the other one on the forehead. The appellative of this kind of icon is Hodegetria. The name shows that Mary is showing her Son. It is called a Theotokos of the Passion.
This icon was most probably written by a Greek artist. Mary’s physical characteristics of slender nose, thin lips, as well as smoothly arched eyebrows, substantiate this claim. Other features well studying are the veil and her face which are rounded. They show holiness. Moreover, the size of the Mother is out of proportion to her son. This technique is intended by the artist to show that Mary is larger than life. The Greek inscriptions to be read on the icon are MP-ΘΥ (Μήτηρ Θεοῦ, Mother of God), ΟΑΜ (Ὁ Ἀρχάγγελος Μιχαήλ, Michael the Archangel), ΟΑΓ (Ὁ Ἀρχάγγελος Γαβριήλ, Gabriel the Archangel) and IC-XC (Ἰησοῦς Χριστός, Jesus Christ), respectively.
Michael Dubruiel gives us a very interesting historical insights about the icon of Perpetual Help. He says:
The icon arrived in Rome in the 15th century after a merchant who had heard about a miraculous image on the island of Crete went to the island and stole it. When he arrived in Rome with the icon among his wares, he fell very ill. As he lay dying, he ordered that a friend place the icon in a church, perhaps hoping that it would alleviate his suffering. The friend took the icon to his own home, where his wife hung it in their bedroom.
The Virgin evidently was not pleased with this arrangement, and several times appeared to the man and told him that she wished for her image to be placed in a church. The man, despite the miraculous visitation, was not moved to relinquish control of the image. The Blessed Virgin next appeared to the man’s daughter and asked that the icon be enshrined in a church between the two very large churches of St. Mary Major and St. John Lateran. The daughter communicated this to her father and he relented, and so the icon was enshrined in 1499 in St. Matthew’s, the church that lies between the two larger edifices.
Pilgrims flocked to the small church for 300 years to pray before the miraculous image, until Napoleon’s invading army destroyed the church in 1798. Once the soldiers had left the area, people searched the ruins looking for the image but could not locate it anywhere. It seemed that the image had been lost, and for the next 60 years there was no mention of it.
In 1855, the Order of Redemptorists came to Rome and were granted possession of the location where St. Matthew’s had once stood to build a church in honor of their founder, St. Alphonsus Liguori. It happened that a young Redemptorist priest remembered that as a young boy he had been told of a miraculous image that had once been enshrined in the previous church. The image had been safely transferred to an Augustinian monastery near Rome.
When the Redemptorists heard of this, they petitioned the pope to allow the image to be returned to the spot that the Blessed Virgin had requested. The pope granted their request and further commissioned the Redemptorist order to spread devotion to Our Lady of Perpetual Help throughout the world. The image was transferred in a solemn procession on April 26, 1866, to the Church of St. Alphonsus.
Presently, one can find countless of replicas or Our Lady of the Perpetual Help that bless our churches in our world.
Here is the a Novena To Our Mother Of Perpetual Help:
(The following prayers to Our Lady are repeated once a day for nine consecutive days):
Behold at your feet, O Mother of Perpetual Help, a wretched sinner who has recourse to you and confides in you. O Mother of Mercy have pity on me.
I hear you called by all, the Refuge and the Hope of sinners; be then, my refuge and my hope.
Assist me, for the love of Jesus Christ; stretch forth your hand to a miserable fallen creature, who recommends himself to you, and who devotes himself to your service forever. I bless and thank Almighty God, Who in His mercy has given me this confidence in you, which I hold to be a pledge of my eternal salvation.
It is true, dearest Mother, that in the past I have miserably fallen into sin, because I had not turned to you. I know that with your help, I shall conquer. I know, too, that you will assist me, if I recommend myself to you; but I fear, dear Mother, that in time of danger, I may neglect to call on you, and thus lose my soul. This grace, then, I ask of you with all the fervor of my soul, that, in all the attacks of hell, I may ever have recourse to you.
O Mary help me; O Mother of Perpetual Help, never suffer me to lose my God.
Three Hail Marys
Mother of Perpetual Help, grant that I may ever invoke your most powerful name, which is the safeguard of the living and the salvation of the dying. O Purest Mary, O Sweetest Mary, let your name henceforth be ever on my lips. Delay not, O Blessed Lady, to help me whenever I call on you; for, in all my temptations, in all my needs, I shall never cease to call on you, ever repeating your Sacred Name, Mary!
O, what consolation, what sweetness, what confidence, what emotion fills my soul when I utter your Sacred Name, or even only think of you! I thank the Lord for having given you, for my good, so sweet, so powerful, so lovely a name. But I will not be content with merely uttering your name, let my love for you prompt me ever to hail you, Mother of Perpetual Help.
Three Hail Marys
Mother of Perpetual Help, you are the dispenser of all the gifts which God grants to us miserable sinners; and for this end He has made you so powerful, so rich and so bountiful, in order that you may help us in our misery. You are the advocate of the most wretched and abandoned sinners who have recourse to you; come to my aid, dearest Mother, for I recommend myself to you. In your hands I place my eternal salvation, and to you I entrust my soul. Count me among your most devoted servants; take me under your protection, and it is enough for me. For, if you protect me, dear Mother, I fear nothing; not from my sins, because you will obtain for me the pardon of them from Jesus your Divine Son. But one thing I fear, that in the hour of temptation, I may through negligence fail to have recourse to you and thus perish miserably.
Obtain for me, therefore, the pardon of my sins, love for Jesus, final perseverance, and the grace to have recourse to you and (mention your request), O Mother of Perpetual Help.
Three Hail Marys
Pray for us, O Mother of Perpetual Help, that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.
Let us pray:
Lord Jesus Christ who gave us your Holy Mother Mary, whose renowned image we venerate, to be a Mother ever ready to help us, grant, we beseech You, that we who constantly implore her maternal aid may merit to enjoy perpetually the fruits of Your redemption, Who lives and reigns with God forever and ever. Amen.
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.
Fr Mario Attard OFM Cap