and the icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help: an explanation

The Memorare is often attributed to Saint Bernard of Clairvaux


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Remember, O most gracious Virgin Mary, that never was it known that anyone who fled to your protection, implored your help or sought your intercession was left unaided. Inspired by this confidence, I fly unto you, O Virgin of virgins, my Mother. To you do I come; before you I stand, sinful and sorrowful. O mother of the Word Incarnate, despise not my petitions, but in your mercy, hear and answer me. Amen.




Look at the copy of the picture.  Frightened by the vision of two angels showing Him the instruments of the Passion, the Christ Child has run to His Mother, almost losing, in His haste, one of the tiny sandals. Mary holds Him in her arms reassuringly, lovingly. But notice her eyes. They look not at Jesus, but at us. Is this not a touch of genius? How better express Our Lady's plea to us to avoid sin and love her Son? 

Christ's little Hands, too, are pressed into Mary's as a reminder to us that, just as on earth He placed Himself entirely in her hands for protection, so now in Heaven He has given into her hands all graces, to distribute to those who ask Her.  This is the principal message of the picture. A Byzantine icon, however, it is replete with other symbols. Here are some of them.

Star on Our Lady's veil. She is the Star Of the Sea . . . who brought the light of Christ to the darkened world . . . the star that leads us to the safe port of Heaven.

Greek Initials
for "Mother of God"
Reproduction of the original miraculous painting of Our Mother of Perpetual Help in Rome

Golden Crown placed on the original picture by order of the Holy See in 1867 It is a token of the many miracles wrought by Our Lady invoked under the title of "Perpetual Help."
Greek Initial for St. Michael the Archangel " He is depicted holding the lance and gall-sop of Christ's Passion Greek Initial for "St. Gabriel the Archangel." He holds the Cross and the nails.
Mary's Mouth is small for silent recollection. She speaks little.

Mary's Eyes are large for all our troubles They are turned toward us always.
Red Tunic the color worn by virgins at the time of Christ.

Greek Initials
for "Jesus Christ."

Dark Blue Mantle the color worn by mothers in Palestine. Mary is both Virgin and Mother.

Mary's Left Hand
supporting Christ possessively: She is his Mother. It is a comforting hand for everyone who calls on Her.

Christ's Hands turned palms down into His Mother's indicate that the Graces of Redemption are in Her keeping

Falling Sandal
Perhaps, the symbol of a soul clinging to Christ by one last thread -- devotion to Mary.
The entire background is golden symbolic of Heaven where Jesus and Mary are now enthroned. The gold also shines through their clothing showing the heavenly joy. They can bring to tired human hearts.

The following poem puts in words many of these meanings of the icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help:

        Madonna, in thy eastern shrine reposing,
        We crown thee Empress of the adopted West,
        And hail thee Mother, for redemption's closing
        Left thee to us in Jesus' last bequest.
        Perpetual Help! Upon the breast of mother,
        Omnipotence here lisps His childhood's fears,
        And thou dost soothe His terrors as no other
        But thou couldst do, and kiss away His tears.

        But even while thy Infant's fingers tremble
        Their fright within thy palms, while cherubim,
        Golgotha's grim precursors, here assemble
        With spectral cross and lance, 'tis not on Him
        But on us Cains, whose sins have slain our brother,
        Thy eyes gaze sadly from thy frame above;
        The wayward child is dearest to his mother,
        The prodigal e'er nearest to her love.

        Behold us, like the loosened sandal cleaving
        To Jesus' feet by but a single strap --
        Should that thong fail, be thou our hope receiving
        Thy fallen children in a mother's lap.

                       (Rev. John T. Feeney)

Thanks to Wayne Homans for his gracious permission to use his wonderful diagram of the icon of OLPH. Wayne is webmaster of the former Redemptorist Parish of Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Ellicott City (Ilchester) MD.

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