I have recently been the recipient of multiple odd ocurrences of the image of Our Lady of Perpetual Help (OLPH). The seeming randomness has gone beyond being mere coincidence; I think it has reached the point of being a ‘signal grace.’
I could be watching a Catholic YouTube channel and the host has images of the walls of his home and studio. I am looking up stuff on Catholic sites or blogs and there are references to her or the image. I go to Saturday Vigil Mass with my wife wants to sit in a particular pew, but there’s an AC unit blasting arctic air and so we move to a pew in the rear of the church right next to a huge image of OLPH. At home I find a random image of OLPH sticking out of a pile of books. I go to Facebook and search for OLPH, I get as far as typing ‘our’ and the search result start appearing…. OLPH is the first. (Granted Facebook tracks you away from itself, but I think I have enough addons to block that.) An image I forgot I had peeks out from a stack of books. I go to a med appointment and arrive early, leave early, and so have time to go to Mass. It’s the new Memorial of Mary, Mother of the Church. While not tied to the devotion to OLPH, in my mind I make theological and spiritual connections between my being called to go to Mass on that day and the feasts. (Mary is the Mother of the Church, and as we Catholics are members of the Mystical Body pf Christ, which is the church, she is the Mother of us. And under her title of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, she is our Mother who will help us forever, regardless of space and time or any other situation, since the Church and Her teachings are applicable to anyone, anywhere, in any time.)
Our Lady of Perpetual Help is among the most descriptive titles of the Blessed Virgin in her role as our Heavenly Mother, and her maternal care over us.
Here’s the image:
- The original wooden icon measures 17″ × 21″ inches, and is written on hard nut wood with a gold leaf background. The image depicts the following symbols:
- The Blessed Virgin Mary — wearing a dress of dark red, in Byzantine iconography the color of the empress, the Queen.
- The subject shows Mary looking towards the faithful while pointing at her son, Jesus Christ who is frightened by the instruments of crucifixion and is depicted with a fallen sandal.
- The left side is Saint Michael Archangel — carrying the lance and sponge of the crucifixion of Jesus.
- On the right side is Saint Gabriel Archangel carrying a 3-bar cross and nails.
- The Virgin Mary has a star on her forehead signifying her role as Star of the Sea while the cross on the side has been claimed as referring to the Greek monastery which produced the icon.
More on the symbolism here.
It is one of the most venerated images of Our Lady; largely due to its beauty and intricate design and deep symbolism, but also through the numerous miraculous cures and conversions rendered through it. Its history is sketchy and some parts contradict each other, but such is often the case when records are oral, lost or there are gaps within the various accounts. It is reputed to be a copy of a painting of Our Lady done by St. Luke, the author of the third Gospel and the Acts. That painting was destroyed by the Moslem invaders of Constantinople in the 15th Century. It had been copied numerous times and these made their way throughout Eastern Christendom. This particular copy, with some emendations by later artists, possibly dates from the 13th or 14th Centuries. It wound up in Rome in the 16th Century after being stolen or spirited out of Crete by a Cretan merchant. This is one of the contradictions. One story claims the merchant was a pious man who merely sought to protect the image from Moslems who were invading Crete; another story holds that he was hired by rich Italians who wanted spectacular eastern images to decorate the churches they sponsor, and thus reap the rewards of pilgrimages and such. At any rate, his piety, if not present when he brought the image out of Crete, was in evidence on his deathbed when he made a promise to Our Lady to find a suitable home for it. She appeared to him and mentioned a church in Rome in between St. John Lateran and St. Mary Major. This church was named after St. Matthew. It supposedly did not make it there right away. The merchant died and the image fell into the possession of his best friend, present at his death, who temporarily kept it. The story, which is rather complicated, goes that this man’s wife and father coveted the image because of her pride and his greed. Only after repeated apparitions of Our Lady to convince them to release it to the Church where she had wanted it, the image was finally transferred to St. Matthew’s, but not before initially failing to achieve that goal until after the predicted death of the merchant’s friend and the sheer terror of the wife and father upon realizing they were opposing the will of Heaven. Like I said, the story is complicated and you should really look it up. It would make a great movie by Mel Gibson or better yet, Leonardo Defilippis.
The image remained in St. Matthew’s for a few centuries until that church was destroyed by invading French in the 19th Century. It was spirited out to another church in Rome, where its initial identity became largely forgotten. Eventually, the Institute of the Most Holy Redeemer, an Order founded by St. Alphonsus Liguori, needed to build a headquarters in Rome, and they coincidentally built it on the site of the old St. Matthew’s Church (remember? the original desired home by Our Lady for the image!) Well, they wanted a suitable image for their HQ. And one day, one of the Redemptorists was looking through some old books and discovered the history of the area and found out about St. Matthew’s and that it was the home of the renowned image of OLPH. Some of its history was told, and the Redemptorists wondered about its current whereabouts. Then, through a series of coincidences, chance circumstances, and the fortuitous memory of an altar boy-turned-priest who was at the right place at the right time and heard the right thing said by the right person, the picture was retrieved from where it had been moved after St. Matthew’s was destroyed and the Redemptorists moved it to their Church, where it has been since the late 19th Century.
I think I got the details correct, I recalled this from memory after reading a little book on the history of the image and my short-term memory at times sucks. Come to think of it, Leonardo Defilippis could make a trilogy of the image’s history.
Anyway, I’m writing all this just to let you know of this image. It is a devotion to Our Lady that I think should be popular amongst sober Catholics. Why I haven’t developed such a devotion before now is a mystery, but better late than never! Who else needs the assistance of such a Lady, but those of us who have struggled with alcohol and drugs; and oftentimes for years? Including spending years trying to get clean and sober? Any especially since many of us (like me) have been abandoned by their families?
Look up Our Lady of Perpetual Help (sometimes called Mother of Perpetual Help.) Her feast day is June 27th. The Novena begins June 18th. I will post one or more just before. Also, try and get yourself an image of Our Lady of Perpetual Help; it would make a nice addition to your prayer area or just your home.Know someone, perhaps yourself, who might like Catholic devotionals for alcoholics? Please take a look at my books! "The Stations of the Cross for Alcoholics" and "The Recovery Rosary: Reflections for Alcoholics and Addicts" (Thank you!!)