Our Lady of Perpetual Succour
Mary from thy Sacred Image with those eyes so sadly sweet
Mother of Perpetual Succour see us kneeling at thy feet
In thine arms
thy Child thou bearest;
Source of all thy joy and woe;
What thy bliss,
how deep thy sorrows,
Mother thou alone canst know.
On thy face He is not gazing,
Nor on us is turned His
For His anxious look He fixes
On the Cross and Reed and Lance
To thy hands His hands are clinging
As a child would cling in fear,
Of that vision of the torments
Of His Passion drawing near.
And for Him thine eyes are pleading
While to us they look
"Sinners spare my Child your Saviour,
seek not still to
Yes, we hear thy words sweet Mother,
But poor sinners we are
At thy feet thy helpless children
Thy Perpetual Succour seek.
Succour us in clouds of sadness;
Hide the light of heaven
Hope expires and faith scares lingers;
And we dare not think we
In that hour of gloom and peril,
Show to us thy radiant face,
Smiling down from thy loved Image,
Rays of cheering light and grace.
Succour us when stormy passion,
Sudden rise within the
Quell the tempest, calm the billows,
Peace secure to us impart.
Through this life of weary exile
Succour us in every need;
death shall come to free us,
Succour us ah! then indeed.
SYMBOLISM OF THE ICON OF OUR LADY OF PERPETUAL SUCCOUR
In the Icon, the face of Our Lady appears full of sorrow, yet supremely dignified in her contemplation of the sufferings of her Son. His passion is represented by angels holding instruments of His passion, the cross, the lance, the sponge, and the nails.
The angels holding the instruments of the Passion have their hands covered with a protecting veil as a sign of reverence in handling sacred objects. In some Eastern rites, for example the Armenian, the deacon has his hand covered with a silken veil when he carries the gospel book. And in the Roman Rite, the priest covers his hands with the humeral veil when blessing the people at Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament.
The Child Jesus is shown with an adult face and a high brow, indicating His divine Mind of infinite intelligence. As God, He knew that the angelic apparition was prophetic of His future passion. Yet in His human nature as a small child, He is frightened and runs to His Mother for protection. Our Lady hastily picks Him up and clasps Him to her bosom. This action is indicated by the fact that the Lord’s right foot is nervously curled about the left ankle and in such haste that His right sandal has become loosened and hangs by a single strap. Further action is indicated by the way the Child Jesus clasps His Mother’s right hand with both of His, holding tightly to Our Lady’s thumb.
Our Lady is clothed in a dress of dark red which was long reserved in the Byzantine world for the Empress alone, indicating the Queenship of Mary. We know that reddish purple was considered the noblest colour in the anciet world. Recall that Our Lord said “Those who are clothed in purple and fine linen are in the houses of kings.”
Some commentators on colour claim that bluish purple became the colour of penance in the Western Church (during Lent and Advent) because purple is a combination of blue and red. The blue reminds us of heaven, to which we wish to arrive by our penance, and the red recalls martyrdom, because all penance requires a dying to oneself, especially mortifying inordinate desire for food and pleasure. The archangels Gabriel and Michael wear tunics of purple since they carry the instruments of the passion and death of Christ. In the usual Byzantine style, the figures of the icon are identified with abbreviations of their names. In this icon Mary is designated by her chief title to glory: Mother of God.
Thus the picture of the Mother of Perpetual Help is a traditional Byzantine icon of Our Lady, but modified by the medieval softening of features in Cardiotissa style, touching the emotion and showing an action story proper to this art form. Our Lady’s face is of unspeakable majesty and calm and yet her large eyes, partly closed, express ineffable sorrow and sympathy. Our Lady is not looking at Jesus, but rather to us, her adopted children, as if to express compassion for us in our fears and sorrows.
The picture of Our Lady of Perpetual Succour is painted on wood, with background of gold. It is Byzantine in style and is supposed to have been painted in the thirteenth century. It represents the Mother of God holding the Divine Child while the Archangels Michael and Gabriel present before Him the instruments of His Passion. Over the figures in the picture are some Greek letters, which form the abbreviated words Mother of God, Jesus Christ, Archangel Michael, and Archangel Gabriel respectively. It was brought to Rome toward the end of the fifteenth century by a pious merchant, who, dying there, ordered by his will that the picture should be exposed in a church for public veneration. It was exposed in the church of San Matteo, Via Merulana, between St. Mary Major and St. John Lateran. Crowds flocked to this church, and for nearly three hundred years many graces were obtained through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin. The picture was then popularly called the Madonna di San Matteo. The church was served for a time by the Hermits of St. Augustine, who had sheltered their Irish brethren in their distress. These Augustinians were still in charge when the French invaded Rome (1812) and destroyed the church. The picture disappeared; it remained hidden and neglected for over forty years, but a series of providential circumstances between 1863 and 1865 led to its discovery in an oratory of the Augustinian Fathers at Santa Maria in Posterula.
The pope, Pius IX, who as a boy had prayed before the picture in San Matteo, became interested in the discovery and in a letter dated December 11, 1865 to Father General Mauron, C.SS.R., ordered that Our Lady of Perpetual Succour should be again publicly venerated in Via Merulana, and this time at the new church of St. Alphonsus. The ruins of San Matteo were in the grounds of the Redemptorist Convent. This was but the first favor of the Holy Father towards the picture. He approved of the solemn translation of the picture (April 26, 1866), and its coronation by the Vatican Chapter (June 23, 1867). He fixed the feast as duplex secundae classis, on the Sunday before the Feast of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist, and by a decree dated May 1876, approved of a special office and Mass for the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer. This favor later on was also granted to others. Learning that the devotion to Our Lady under this title had spread far and wide, Pius IX raised a confraternity of Our Lady of Perpetual Succour and St. Alphonsus, which had been erected in Rome, to the rank of an arch-confraternity and enriched it with many privileges and indulgences. He was amongst the first to visit the picture in its new home, and his name is the first in the register of the arch-confraternity. Two thousand three hundred facsimiles of the Holy Picture have been sent from St. Alphonsus’s Church in Rome to every part of the world. At the present day not only altars, but churches and dioceses (e.g. in Singapore, in the Philippines etc.) are dedicated to Our Lady of Perpetual Succour.
(Principal Source – Catholic Encyclopedia – 1913 edition)
Jesus, Mary, I love Thee; Save Souls!
Jesu mitis et humilis corde, Fac cor nostrum secundum Cor tuum. (ter)