Holy Mary, Virgin Mother of God, Perpetual Help, pray for us.
Year: C(II). Psalm week: 1. Liturgical Colour: White.
Our Lady of Perpetual Succour
One of the most popular representations of Our Lady is the picture of Our Mother (or Our Lady) of Perpetual Succour. The icon shows the Blessed Virgin Mary wearing a dress of dark red, representing the Passion of Jesus; with a blue mantle representing her perpetual virginity; and with a cloaked veil representing her modesty. On the left side is the Archangel Michael; on the right side is the Archangel Gabriel. The star on Mary’s forehead signifies her title as Star of the Sea.
Towards the end of the fifteenth century, this picture was brought from Crete to Rome; it was in the possession of a merchant from Crete, who appears to have stolen it; it is reputed to have hung in his home for some years. In 1499, during the pontificate of Alexander VI, it was placed in the church of San Matteo in the via Merulana, where it was venerated for some three hundred years. In the aftermath of the French revolution the church was destroyed and the whereabouts of the picture were unknown. It was providentially rediscovered in 1865. Pius IX restored it to public veneration in the church of St Alphonsus Liguori in Rome.
When the new diocese of Leeds was created in December 1878, Our Lady of Perpetual Succour was declared principal patroness of the Diocese. In 2010 the title was changed to Our Lady of Unfailing Help.
The Diocese of Hallam was formed on 30 May 1980 by the division of the Dioceses of Leeds and Nottingham and consists of South Yorkshire, parts of the High Peak and the Chesterfield Districts of Derbyshire and the District of Bassetlaw in Nottinghamshire, under the patronage of Our Lady of Perpetual Succour.
Our Lady of Perpetual Succour is also patroness of other dioceses around the world.
Our Lady of Perpetual Succour
The popular devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary under this title derives from an ancient eastern icon of the Mother of God and the Child Jesus which has long been venerated under the name of Our Lady of Perpetual Help.
This icon appears to have been painted in Crete in the early 14th century and was venerated there with great devotion as a miraculous image. It was stolen from there and brought to Rome in 1499, and after a series of mysterious events was given into the charge of the Augustinians and placed in their church, St Matthew, in Rome where it became again the focus of much popular devotion and was given the title by which it is now known. The painting remained in St Matthew’s until 1798 when the church was razed to the ground during the occupation of Rome and the setting up of the Free Roman Republic in that year. Although the icon was saved, it was placed in the private oratory of another Augustinian house in Rome and largely forgotten. Only after some 50 years was it rediscovered and given into the care of the Redemptorists, who translated it with great splendour to their own church of St Alfonso in Rome in 1866 where it remains enthroned above the high altar.
The connection between this icon and the Diocese of Middlesbrough arises out of the personal devotion to the image by Richard Lacy, the first bishop of the diocese. As a student in Rome, the young Lacy had been present at the solemn enthronement of the icon at St Alfonso in 1866. It became one of the first dioceses to be dedicated to Our Lady under this title, and devotion to the icon has remained popular in the diocese since.
The traditional eastern icon of the Blessed Virgin presented Mary as the Mother of God and her child as the Lord enthroned in majesty. But from the 13th century onwards a new style of icon painting appeared which softened the aloof severity of the original icon and introduced more human elements. The icon of Our Lady of Perpetual Help belongs to this second period. The Mother inclines her head towards her Son who in turn seems to press closer to her. It seems as if the Christ child is caught in the very moment of shock and horror at the sight of the instruments of his passion carried by the angels, and his sandal all but falls off his foot in his fear. The image is full of a pathos and tragedy that gives it, for us, a more familiar Western appeal.
Even so, the image remains in essence an icon of the Eastern Church. As such it becomes an ecumenical image, a reminder of the rich heritage of the Easter Church, not least in her devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary. It also becomes a sign of unity as the Mother draws the attention of the East and West towards her Son and upon his suffering and death.
In other years: St Cyril of Alexandria (370 - 444)
Alexandria was the largest city in the ancient world. Rather like Los Angeles, it was a sprawling mixture of races and creeds; and it was a byword for the violence of its sectarian politics, whether of Greeks against Jews or of orthodox Christians against heretics. Cyril began his career as a worthy follower of this tradition. He succeeded his uncle as bishop of Alexandria in 412, and promptly solved a number of outstanding problems by closing the churches of the Novatian heretics and expelling the Jews from the city. This caused trouble and led to an ongoing quarrel with the Imperial governor of the city and to murderous riots. It is not for this part of his life that St Cyril is celebrated.
In 428, Nestorius, the new Patriarch of Constantinople (and hence one of the most important bishops in the world) made statements that could be interpreted as denying the divinity of Christ. The dual nature – human and divine – has always been hard for us to accept or understand, and if it seems easy it is only because we have not thought about it properly. Those who dislike problems have had two responses: to deny the human nature of Christ or to deny his divinity: and either leads to disaster, since both deny the Incarnation and hence the divinisation of human nature.
The resulting battle was as unedifying as most of the early fights that defined the shape of Christianity, because both sides were concerned to defend something that they saw as being of infinite and eternal importance. If it had been a question of power politics, of who got what post and what revenues, the matter could have been settled quietly – but this was not about power, it was important, and the victory was more important than the methods. Seen from fifteen centuries later, the proceedings seem melodramatic and absurd: Cyril arriving at the Council of Ephesus accompanied by fifty bishops wielding baseball bats (or the fifth-century equivalent); the Emperor, burdened with a sister who supported Cyril and a wife who supported Nestorius; the ratification of the contradictory decrees of both the council that supported Cyril and the council that supported Nestorius; the imprisonment of both bishops; the bribery...
To revere Cyril of Alexandria is not to approve the methods he used: he fought according to the conventions of the time, and with its weapons. But he never sought to destroy Nestorius or any of his opponents, only to win the day for the truth of salvation: would that controversies today were fought with such pure motives.
After the fireworks of the Council, Cyril was moderate and conciliatory, and sought to reconcile to the Church any Nestorians who were willing to engage in dialogue. It is largely through his efforts that we can celebrate (even if we still fail to understand completely) the two natures of Christ, and that we can address Mary as “Mother of God”. It is as a theologian rather than as a politician that Cyril is honoured.
So let us give thanks that Cyril lived, and let us enjoy the fruits of his achievement; but although we ought all to share his pure zeal for the truth, let us not hurry to imitate his more vigorous methods!
Other saints: St John Southworth (1592? - 1654)
Liverpool, Salford, Westminster
John Southworth is normally included with the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales, and only in a handful of English dioceses is his feast kept separately, on the anniversary of his execution. But if he was worth canonizing, he is worth knowing; for saints are not canonized to make up an arbitrary quantity.
John Southworth was the only English martyr to suffer under a dictatorship. The English Civil War ended; the King was executed; the Elizabethan Prayer-Book outlawed; freedom of conscience proclaimed. But Catholics, who had been accused of plotting against the King, were still persecuted when there was no King; they had been fined for refusing to accept the Prayer-Book, and they were still persecuted when there was no Prayer-Book; all they asked was freedom of conscience for themselves and their countrymen, and freedom of conscience was given to everyone but them. Priests had to come and go, in secret, in fear of betrayal and death, as they had had to do for more than a generation.
John Southworth was ordained priest at the English College at Douai in 1618. After returning to England he was arrested in Lancashire in 1627 and condemned to death, but the sentence was commuted to imprisonment; in 1630 he was handed over, with several other priests, to the French Ambassador for transportation abroad. Whether he actually went or not seems uncertain, but he was certainly in England in 1637, when Westminster was devastated by the plague. He was seen visiting an infected house, and since there could be only one reason for anyone to visit the sick under such dangerous circumstances, he was arrested and charged with being a priest. On that occasion the authorities quietly set him free and he disappeared underground once more; but such clemency enraged the Puritans, and, seventeen years later, in 1654, when they were in power, they had their revenge.
At his trial, it was open to John Southworth to plead Not Guilty to the criminal and capital charge of being a priest – most of the missionaries did, to cause as much trouble as possible to the persecutors. But Southworth did not. If he had pleaded Not Guilty, the court might have acquitted him; as it was, the judge wept as he passed sentence. He would have saved his life, but he would have been denied the glory of solidarity with all the other English martyrs.
The body of John Southworth was bought from the executioner by the Spanish Ambassador, who returned it to Douai for burial. At the time of the French Revolution he was re-buried in an unmarked grave for protection. The grave was rediscovered in 1927 and the body returned to England – the only complete remains of any of the English martyrs. Upon Southworth’s beatification in 1929, his relics were enshrined in London’s Catholic cathedral in Westminster.
Although the penal laws remained in force, perhaps the sight of such an obviously innocent man being cruelly killed discouraged their application; for it was 24 years before the next priest was martyred. And no doubt his prayers have helped to win the temporary liberty of conscience that England now enjoys, imperfect and threatened though it is.
May the prayers of all martyrs, everywhere, win true liberty for us all.
Other saints: Blessed Nykyta Budka (1877 - 1949)
He was born in 1877 in the village of Dobromirka in the Austro-Hungarian province of Eastern Galicia. He was ordained a Ukrainian Catholic priest in Lemberg (later Lwów and currently Lviv) in 1905. He was consecrated as the Ukrainian Catholic Bishop for Canada in 1912.
He returned to Eastern Galicia in 1927 and became Vicar-General of the Metropolitan Curia in Lwów. After the Second World War Britain and America gave Eastern Galicia to the Soviet Union. The Soviet authorities decided to put the Ukrainian Catholic Church under their own authority and separate it from Rome, and when he resisted, Budka was imprisoned, along with other bishops, on 11 April 1945 and was worked to death in a labour camp in Kazakhstan, where he died on 28 September 1949.
He was beatified as a martyr on 27 June 2001 by Pope John Paul II.
Other saints: Blessed Vasyl Velychkovsky (1903 - 1973)
He was born on 1 June 1903 in Stanislav in Eastern Galicia, then a province of the Austro-Hungarian Empire (the town was later Stanisławów in Poland, then Ivano-Frankovsk in the Ukrainian SSR, and is currently Ivano-Frankivsk in western Ukraine). He entered the seminary in Lwów (currently Lviv) in 1920 and was ordained priest in 1925. He became abbot of the monastery at Ternopil. He was therefore arrested by the Soviet secret police in 1945 and sentenced to death. The sentence was commuted to 10 years’ hard labour.
He returned to Lviv in 1955 and was ordained bishop in 1963. He was arrested once more in 1969, imprisoned for three years and then exiled to Canada in 1972. He died in Winnipeg on 30 June 1973. He was beatified in 2001.
About the author of the Second Reading in today's Office of Readings:
Second Reading: St Alphonsus Mary de' Liguori (1696 - 1787)
Alphonsus started his career as a lawyer in Naples, but then abandoned the law and became a priest.
He preached in the rural districts around Naples, and it was his boast that he never delivered a sermon that the poorest old woman in the congregation could not understand. His bishop asked him to establish an order of missionaries to work in the countryside, and the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer (the Redemptorists) was formally established in 1749.
He was a bishop from 1762 to 1775, insisting on the dignified and unhurried celebration of the Mass and the firm treatment of persistent wrongdoers. He was also an outstanding moral theologian, and won back sinners to the fold by patience and moderation.
Liturgical colour: white
White is the colour of heaven. Liturgically, it is used to celebrate feasts of the Lord; Christmas and Easter, the great seasons of the Lord; and the saints. Not that you will always see white in church, because if something more splendid, such as gold, is available, that can and should be used instead. We are, after all, celebrating.
In the earliest centuries all vestments were white – the white of baptismal purity and of the robes worn by the armies of the redeemed in the Apocalypse, washed white in the blood of the Lamb. As the Church grew secure enough to be able to plan her liturgy, she began to use colour so that our sense of sight could deepen our experience of the mysteries of salvation, just as incense recruits our sense of smell and music that of hearing. Over the centuries various schemes of colour for feasts and seasons were worked out, and it is only as late as the 19th century that they were harmonized into their present form.
|Mid-morning reading (Terce)||Zephaniah 3:14,15 ©|
Shout for joy, daughter of Zion, Israel, shout aloud! Rejoice, exult with all your heart, daughter of Jerusalem! The Lord, the king of Israel, is in your midst; you have no more evil to fear.
|Noon reading (Sext)||Zechariah 9:9 ©|
Rejoice heart and soul, daughter of Zion! Shout with gladness, daughter of Jerusalem! See now, your king comes to you; he is victorious, he is triumphant.
|Afternoon reading (None)||Judith 13:18-19 ©|
May you be blessed, my daughter, by God Most High,
beyond all women on earth;
and may the Lord God be blessed,
the Creator of heaven and earth,
by whose guidance you cut off the head
of the leader of our enemies.
The trust you have shown
shall not pass from the memories of men,
but shall ever remind them
of the power of God.