Saturday, June 09, 2007
Shrine of Our Lady of Perpetual Help
I have cultivated a devotion to Our Lady of Perpetual Help (or has it been cultivated in me by Our Lady herself?), and today, I made a mini-pilgrimage to a local shrine. I brought many intentions with me, including those of fellow bloggers, so I pray you all receive the blessings and consolations requested through Our Lady of Perpetual Help.
Many of you are likely unfamiliar with this icon, and truly, the icon itself deserves a post of its own, as so much is written into every line, every color, every diagonal and expression. For now, though, simply gaze at this image and allow it to enter your soul, become familiar with it, thus when I post further information about the symbolism, you will have a greater understanding.
The original iconographer is unknown; by legend dating from the 16th Century, it was found in Crete by a merchant who took the icon but gave it away on his deathbed to a Roman friend. Years later Our Lady appeared to his daughter, identifying herself as "Holy Mary of Perpetual Help", indicating that the icon should be placed in the Church of St. Matthew the Apostle.
I will not go into depth as to the other history of the icon, other than to say that, according to "Our Lady of Perpetual Help, the Icon, Favors and Shrines," in 1865, Redemptorist Superior General, Father Nicholas Mauron, petetioned Pope Pius IX to grant the icon to them to be placed in the new Church of the Holy Redeemer, in their care. He granted this request, directing them in his own handwriting, to "Make her known throughout the world!" (p. 14)
At that time in history, the Redemptorists were set spread to all corners of the globe, thus the Pope's directive, and to this day, the image of Our Lady of Perpetual Help remains their responsibility. The icon and devotions have indeed been spread throughout the world as that mission was successfully carried out by the Redemptorists.
A friend recently revealed to me that at her parish, St. Alphonsus in Brooklyn Park, MN, as they are a Redemptorist parish, they have a shrine to Our Lady of Perpetual Help. Before she said something, I'd had no idea. St. Alphonsus is only about 15 minutes away from me, maybe less, as I attend a parish in a neighboring city. I wondered why I didn't know a shrine was so close by?
I went online and found the parish's website, but no mention of the shrine. No mention of devotion to OLPH except for a Tuesday morning devotion after Mass. Her icon is in the upper left corner of the web pages, but other than that, it's a bland site with everyday information on the parish itself, what one would expect of an average parish website. Yesterday I called the parish, KNOWING I had to go there to visit the shrine. They explained that the icon is in the main church, which is apparently locked after the Masses. She explained that there is access through the parish office at other times, however. I thanked her and made plans to visit during a time in which I could enter quietly without having to go through the parish office.
I was looking for an unobtrusive visit to Our Lady of Perpetual Help; I did not want to announce my presence to anyone but God and of course anyone else who might be present and have the same desire for quiet, prayerful solitude in contemplation of this image.
This morning I got up earlier than I'd prefer and arrived at St. Alphonsus during the post-Mass rosary. There was only about seven people present, which was surprising to me as my own parish typically has droves of people remaining after daily and Saturday morning Masses to pray the rosary. As I've stated before, I struggle with the rosary, I don't like saying it with a group as I get more distracted than ever when attempting to do so, and so I thanked God for this small group's devotion.
St. Alphonsus is a very modern-styled church, modeled after a thrust-stage theater, an all-too-common design these days. The tabernacle is front and center on the altar, I realized, and did have a red candle lit, which I had not initially seen.
Although the church is quite ugly in appearance, (I'm not a fan of modern church architecture - it emphasizes the people and de-emphasizes God) it does have a few spots of great beauty, that being an alcove housing the baptismal font, a large suspended crucifix, a prie-dieu with an image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, and another prie-dieu with an image of Divine Mercy. Off to the far right side of the sanctuary is the icon of Our Lady of Perpetual help, surrounded by large vigil candles in blue and red, flowers, and about five prie-dieus in a half-circle around it.
I quietly walked around the small rosary group, again thanking God for their devotion, and knelt in front of the image. I actually saw a few things today I had not previously seen in the icon, and something else, too, in her expression.
Look at the icon: see the eyes, see the expression. At first the expression may seem bland, as it did to me when I first saw this image. Yet the more I look at it, the more I see in the total context and theological truth of it. I've been struck again and again at the communication in her eyes; they are wise, consoling, sorrowful, resigned, loving, tranquil...all that, at once. I have this icon on my wall at home and gaze upon it and pass by it frequently. I have actually seen reproach in her eyes!
But today, as I knelt there before her, she seemed to be smiling, her eyes had a loving gaze, if sorrowful and wise and consoling, but there was a joy I had not noticed before. I had not seen the "smile" before this and I was actually surprised.
I did not light a candle today, but I will be back with one. I looked around for a box for donations, for candles to light, and it seems that one either needs to request a candle from the parish office or bring one's own. As these are large novena candles, I can understand why they are not immediately available as they are far more costly than small vigil lights, not something to have on the "honor system". In the prie-dieu there is an alcove with a couple fliers; one is a little prayer card to Our Lady for vocations to the Redemptorists, and another is a prayer to Our Lady of Perpetual Help.
I would have thought that the shrine would also have something like a brochure or a sign explaining the history and devotion to Our Lady through this icon, but there was nothing. Finally I did find a small placque behind the candles, and as the candle holders are fixed in place, I was not able to read what it said. It seemed to indicate that candles were available in the parish office, but it seemed there was more on the sign that could not be read. I did observe a sign pointing to the parish office, but as I was in a pensive mood, I chose not to visit the office today. Perhaps next time, or I would bring my own candle to light.
I would encourage local Catholics to visit this shrine and do your own part to help renew devotion to Our Lady of Perpetual Help. In my opinion and through what I saw today, St. Alphonsus is not doing enough; they are not fulfilling their directive to make her known. Yes, they have placed the icon in a shrine in the church, but that's not "making her known" ~ not outside the parish, anyway. Had my friend not told me about the presence of this shrine, I would not have known about it. I spoke to a priest I know today, and he didn't know about it, either. I'm sure if I polled many faithful Catholics, they wouldn't have any idea.
The website at St. Alphonsus has an email for comments and suggestions, so I will be writing to suggest they do a better job of promoting devotion to Our Lady of Perpetual Help. Her feast day is June 27, and according to the bulletin, St. Alphonsus will be doing something special on that day.
If you are local, consider making your own pilgrimage to Our Lady of Perpetual Help, bring a large novena candle insert (they can be purchased at Catholic stores and gift shops or buy one at St. Alphonsus, and bring your intentions. This is a miraculous image, and has been so throughout history. Perhaps contained between her hands and the hands of the child Jesus, your own miracle is hidden, waiting only for your presence and your heartfelt request.
Our Lady of Perpetual Help, Pray for us!
Source for posted info:
Our Lady of Perpetual Help, The Icon, Favors, and Shrines, prepared by a team of Redemptorist Missionaries in Rome, Ligouri Publications, 2002.
For more information: