January always feels like an extra long month to me. Maybe it’s because the holidays seem to rush by in a blur. Then once things slow down, they seem to really slow down. January in Western New York has been cold and snowy, with winter finally arriving. But sub-zero temperatures have never stopped anyone in Buffalo from enjoying life.
I’ve been enjoying my 2022 adventures with the Saints and the Blessed Mother and visited my first church of the year dedicated to the Blessed Mother. For January, I’ll be sharing about the Blessed Mother under the title Our Mother of Perpetual Help, also called Our Lady of Perpetual Help.
Before I get into specific titles, I’d like to address the two most common references to Mary, the Mother of Jesus Christ. When Catholics refer to Mary, we typically call her either the Blessed Mother or Our Lady. But why do we do that? Why not just call her Mary?
The titles Mother and Lady are two titles of great honor and respect. The title Lady does not simply refer to someone who is female, but has long been a title of great honor, privilege, and respect. A title such as “the Lady of the house,” doesn’t refer to any woman living in a house but to the woman who oversees the house, a woman to whom respect and authority are due. So in a way, we Catholics think of Mary as the Lady of the house, or the Church.
The reason we Catholics call Mary our mother is because Jesus gave her to us to be our mother. In John 19: 27, Jesus gave His mother to the beloved disciple (John). “Then he said to the disciple, ‘Behold, your mother.’ And from that hour the disciple took her into his home.” In doing this, Jesus also made Mary the mother of all of Jesus’ beloved disciples, including believers today! The title Blessed also comes from scripture. In Luke 1:42, Mary visits her cousin Elizabeth. Upon hearing Mary’s voice, Elizabeth’s child (John the Baptist) leaped inside Elizabeth’s womb. Elizabeth’s response was, “’Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.’” Elizabeth goes on to say in verse 45, “’Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.’” Mary herself even states while proclaiming glory to God that, “’from now on will all ages call me blessed.’” (Luke 1:48). Mary was especially blessed by God, full of grace, preserved from original sin, and continues to intercede on our behalf as our Blessed Mother and Our Lady today. Without her faithful “yes” to God’s plan of salvation, we would not have received our savior.
Also, let’s be clear on something – Catholics do not pray to Mary in the same way we pray to God, and we do not worship her. Worship is reserved for God alone. When we pray to Mary, we are really asking Mary to pray for us, the same way you might ask a friend or loved one to pray for you if you were in need of prayer. No human was ever closer to Jesus than Mary, His mother. And we believe she is with Him now in Heaven. So her prayers must be pretty powerful prayers! Wouldn’t you want her praying for you? I certainly do!
Hopefully this has helped clear up some misunderstandings about Mary and helped clarify why we Catholics call her our Blessed Mother and Our Lady and why we show her such great honor and respect.
Each month this year, I’ll be learning about a new title of our Blessed Mother. For January, I chose Our Mother of Perpetual Help, also sometimes called Our Lady of Perpetual Help. Our Mother of Perpetual Help is a title that refers to an icon (painting) that depicts the Blessed Mother and the Child Jesus. A religious icon is more than just a painting as it is viewed as something sacred, and often has miracles associated with it. Here is an image of Our Mother of Perpetual Help.
This icon is centuries old, but it is unknown exactly when or by whom it was created. Some legends hold that St. Luke painted it and received a special blessing on it from Mary herself. But most historians place the creation of it around the 13th – 15th century. For a long time, the icon was owned by a family in Rome for private viewing. In one story, the Blessed Mother appeared to the little girl of the family and expressed her wishes that her picture be placed in a church in a specific location. In another story, the master of the house insisted before he died that the painting be displayed in a church. Perhaps his insistence came about from the little girl’s vision of the Blessed Mother, bringing the two stories together.
Per the family’s wishes, the painting was exposed for veneration on March 27, 1499 in St. Matthew Church, where it remained for three centuries. Many miracles have been granted to those who prayed before the icon and showed honor and reverence to Our Mother. During the procession of the icon to St. Matthew Church, a paralyzed man was healed as the icon processed in front of his home. Many more favors were granted to those who prayed before the icon, which had many names before finally becoming known as Our Mother of Perpetual Help.
In 1798, St. Matthew Church was destroyed by war. The icon was saved by Augustinian monks. In 1855, Redemptorists built a new church on the site of the old St. Matthew Church in Rome. The Redemptorists requested of Pope Pius IX to bring the icon back to its original home. The Pope agreed, and on April 26, 1866, the icon was brought to the new church, the Church of St. Alphonsus Liguori. It has been there ever since. Many miracles have been attributed to the icon. Numerous healings have occurred for those who prayed in front of it and sought Our Mother’s intercession.
The icon is rich in imagery. Every piece of it has significance, from the colors used, to the positioning of the Blessed Mother and the Child Jesus, to the Archangels St. Gabriel and St. Michael, and the objects they hold in their hands. Read more details about the imagery here.
Like many titles of the Blessed Mother, there is a novena to Our Mother of Perpetual Help to ask for her help and intercession. A novena is a prayer that you pray each day for nine consecutive days to ask for a special intention or to give thanks and praise for answered prayers and blessings. The Novena to Our Mother of Perpetual Help can be found here.
In honor of this title of The Blessed Mother, I visited Our Lady of Perpetual Help parish in Buffalo. It was an honor to pray the Mass and receive the Eucharist there while paying special honor to the Blessed Mother. I’ve included pictures of my visit below as well as some additional resources.
Our Mother of Perpetual Help, pray for us!