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Feast of Our Lady of Perpetual Help

Our Lady of Perpetual Help“He is the image [Greek: icon] of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation” (Colossians 1:15).
When an icon is created it is referred as being “written,” not painted. Iconography is a prayerful practice, one exercised humbly before God. Usually incorporating highly symbolic images, including shapes, colors, and forms, icons contain symbols of various spiritual realities. Inspired works of art, they are usually not signed and certainly not signed on the front. Iconographers are generally not famous artists but unpretentious men and women. It is not known who authored the Our Lady of Perpetual Help icon pictured here.
This icon of Our Lady of Perpetual Help is believed to date from the 15th century. The icon has a storied past; it traveled through the centuries from Crete to where it is now enthroned at St. Alphonsus Church in Rome. By order of Pope Pius IX, it was given to this church for safe keeping by the Redemptorists. Pope Pius IX also fixed the feast day of the image. Countless miracles attributed to the image extend from the beginning of its documented history in 1495 until the present day.
Praying with icons is an ancient practice. While we often long for silence and time to “close our eyes to pray,” praying with an icon requires us to engage our sense of sight with the image before us, opening our hearts to what the image communicates. We seek a deeper meaning within the image of the icon as it draws us into what lies beyond what we can see, into the very heart of God.
In the icon of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, Sts. Michael and Gabriel flank the Blessed Mother while Jesus is depicted as holding the hands of his mother from whom he receives succor. The initials beside Mary’s crown identify her as “Mother of God.” Those beside the child, “ICXC,” are abbreviations meaning “Jesus Christ.” From the viewer’s perspective the smaller letters identify the angel on the left as “St. Michael the Archangel.” He is depicted holding the lance and spear with the vessel of vinegar and gall of Christ’s Passion. The angel on the right is identified as “St. Gabriel the Archangel.” He holds the cross and the nails. The depiction of Jesus with one sandal on and the other hanging off his foot is thought to represent both his human and divine nature, respectively. Mary’s robes are red (a color reserved for an empress and therefore representing the Queenship of Mary) and blue (believed to represent the color of motherhood).
Although the symbolism “written” into the icon explains its meaning, we are meant to “read” the icon for ourselves.
Spend some time today praying with this icon of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, and perhaps Mary will offer you succor as she leads you to more closely follow her son.
Dr. Laura Kolmar is Director of Pastoral Services at RENEW International, and has worked in parish social ministry, workshop and retreat leadership, and pastoral care and counseling.

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