During this period leading up to the Feastday of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, I will be making the novena I posted about last year here and here, in which different aspects of Our Lady’s beautiful Icon are meditated upon each day. To all those who are making a novena at this time, may you be filled with trust and confidence in Mary’s love and solicitude for all her children.
I also wanted to share with you today a beautiful video I just discovered. It is of etched-glass windows at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish in Foremost, Alberta, Canada. The windows were created by Mary Mehlen, and there is one representing each of the Seven Sacraments, as well as one in honour of Mary and another in tribute to all who minister. Many thanks to the YouTube channel allsaintsparish for providing this beautiful footage for all to enjoy.
I am so surprised and pleased! Albert, of twelve star productions, is the director of the documentary I told you about here, and he has left a comment on my post, giving us more information about the documentary on the Icons of Sr. Magnificat Macé. Here is what Albert wrote:
“My name is Albert. I am the director for the Sister Documentary. I just happened to randomly find that you had linked to the trailer. I was pleasantly surprised. I am sorry it is late, but I did just finish the docu. the other week. We will be looking to put it on EWTN and have the DVD available for purchase. Keep an eye on the website for info. Thanks for helping support our efforts. There are more projects coming!”
Albert, thank you so much for letting us know. We’re really looking forward to it, and please feel free to email me with news or updates at any time (you can get my email address from my “About” page).
Anyone who wants to find out more about this and other possible upcoming projects, you can also go to the website of Corpus Christi Watershed.
In, “Our Lady of Perpetual Help. The Icon, Favors and Shrines”, the Redemptorist Fathers write:
“An icon is much more than a simple representation of events or persons of the past. An icon makes present that which it remembers. It is a meeting point between the mystery of God and the reality of Man.”
But what of the icon-writers, those co-creators who are inspired by God to bring to fruition this “meeting point between the mystery of God and the reality of Man”? The Redemptorists tell us that an icon is the “fruit of prayer”, that the artists compose their icons “in an atmosphere of penance and prayer”, and while doing so, “they would think of those who one day would pray before the icon…”
In our own little online world, I am aware of three iconographers: dear Laura, who so recently went home to be with the Lord; Terry Nelson, of Abbey-Roads2, and Renée, of Crazyacres.
Also, I have just recently come upon a sweet French contemplative nun by the name of Sister Magnificat Macé, and have the most wonderful things to share with you, one of which is a Youtube trailer for an upcoming documentary about her iconography (release date was to be Spring 2007, but I do not know if it is actually finished yet or not).
We also have an interview with Sr. Magnificat on the website of Corpus Christi Watershed, and last but not least, the website of Catholic Solitudes, the hermitage in Hebbronville, Texas where Sr. Magnificat lives and works.
The Icons of Sr. Magnificat
If you are a lover of all things Merton, but are not familiar with Beth’s blog, louie, louie, I encourage you to scoot over and spend a week (or two or three) reading her archives.
But first, sit back and enjoy one of Beth’s recent posts, in which she explains how it came to be that Merton acquired a beautiful icon of the Virgin and Child, and the powerful effect it had on him.
On my “Inter-Religious Dialogue Page”, I have linked to another recent post of Beth’s, in which she gives us a quote from Merton that captures both the core of my own beliefs on the subject of inter-religious dialogue as well as the reasons why I created the “Page” in the first place. As time permits, I will continue to add to this Page (primarily in video format).
In my research on the Icon of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, I happened upon Golgotha Monastery, home of the Transalpine Redemptorists. It is located in Papa Stronsay, an island in Orkney, north of Scotland.
On their website, they speak at length of the history of the Mother of God being referred to as Stella Maris, Star of the Sea, from St. Jerome in 400 A.D. to St. Bonaventure (d. 1274), who wrote: “This name is most fitting for Mary, who is to us as a star above the sea….She guides to the landfall in Heaven those who navigate the sea of this world in the ship of innocence or penance. Well do we compare Mary to a star of the sea, because of her shining purity, her brightness, all that she does for us.”
They also speak of the beautiful hymn, Ave Maris Stella! (Hail, Star of the Sea!), as having been composed between 800 and 900 A.D., and tell us that the first monks on Papa Stronsay sung it in 900 A.D. They go on to say: “Papa Stronsay resounds with this hymn again every night as the Fathers and Brothers make their way to the chapel for Night Prayers.”
So here is the beautiful hymn, Ave Maris Stella, as performed by Ambrose Karels, on the CD entitled, “Star of the Sea” . For the lyrics in Latin and English, you may go to the bottom of this page on the website of the Transalpine Redemptorists.
Living icons. We know it is possible. We’ve witnessed it. We must search our hearts to discover what is hindering us. What is holding us back?
Prayer to Jesus
by Mother Teresa, read by Bill Simpson on the CD entitled, “Quotations and Affirmations that Sustain, Inspire and Empower”.
Recently, a commentor said that she knew someone who, “wanted with all his soul to become a holy icon.”
Does this sound strange? It shouldn’t, really. In, “Our Lady of Perpetual Help. The Icon, Favors and Shrines”, the Redemptorist Fathers write:
“The Greek word ‘eikon’, from which comes the word ‘icon’, means ‘image’. Christians first used the word to describe Jesus Christ: He is the image (icon) of the invisible God (Col. 1:15; Heb. 1:3). The baptized, as well, since they are identified with Christ, are formed into the image (icon) of God and temples of the Holy Spirit (Rom. 8:14).”
I’ve put up our Icon again so that we can refer to it easily as we go through the points of meditation outlined a few days ago.
This Icon contains four holy figures – the Blessed Virgin, the Christ Child and two of the archangels, Michael and Gabriel. The uppermost letters on either side (MP – OY) mean, “Mother – of God”. The letters to the right of Christ’s head (IC – XC) mean, “Jesus – Christ”. As you look at the left side of the Icon, you will see letters directly above the angel wearing green; they indicate the Archangel Michael. As you look at the right side of the Icon, you will see letters directly above the angel wearing red; they indicate the Archangel Gabriel.
Now, let’s take a brief look at the points for meditation, as outlined by the Redemptorists:
- Contemplating the Archangel Gabriel: It was Gabriel who came to the Blessed Virgin at the Annunciation, and so he reminds us of this Joyful Mystery. Yet in this Icon, he carries a cross and nails. The Redemptorist Fathers write that the fallen sandal of Jesus, as well as the position of His feet and neck, indicate a movement of fear of something sensed, perhaps a vision of the Archangel Gabriel with the cross and nails in his hands, a vision of the Passion.
- Contemplating the Archangel Michael: We know that Michael is the, “leader of the celestial armies and zealous defender of the Lord’s glory” , yet here he appears carrying the instruments of the Passion: the lance, the pole with a sponge, and a vessel containing vinegar. But rather than defeat on the cross, they are “the symbols of Jesus’ victory over sin and death. What were signs of disgrace are now symbols of triumph.”
- Contemplating the Letters on the Icon: Here we reflect on the letters which name the Blessed Virgin as “Mother of God”, and on the letters which name “Jesus Christ”. As we do so, we can experience these titles coming into relationship with each other, resulting in a deeper awareness of why we can call Mary our Mother of Perpetual Help: because she is the, “Mother of God, the Mother of the Son of God made man, Jesus Christ.”
- Contemplating the Left Hand of Mary: With her left hand, Mary is holding the Child Jesus against her heart. She wants to protect Him, but she cannot shield Him from the vision of the Passion, nor from His interior sufferings. Mary shared His infancy and childhood, yet, just as both Nazareth and Calvary are present in the Icon, so too they were both always with Mary, from the day she presented the baby Jesus in the temple, and Simeon told her that a sword would pierce her heart.
- Contemplating “Hand in Hand“: With her right hand, Mary takes both of Jesus’ hands. Her fingers point upwards, towards His face. She is directing our attention to Him, exactly, the Redemptorist Fathers tell us, as she did at the wedding feast at Cana, when she said, “Do what He tells you.” Mary always points the way to Jesus.
- Contemplating the Child in Your Arms: Jesus in Mary’s arms is no longer an infant, but a child. We reflect on their homelife in Nazareth, the simple, domestic chores, the friends, the life of the village, the humble home and daily life with Jesus’ earthly father, Joseph. We can reflect then on Our Heavenly Father caring for us, helping us in our daily struggles and difficulties, and pray to Him as Jesus taught us.
- Contemplating the Star: In the Icon, Mary is wearing a cobalt-blue head dress. In the centre of the hood is a star of eight golden, linear rays (and next to it is a gold cross in the form of a star). The star reminds us of the Star of Bethlehem, which guided the Three Wise Men to the baby Jesus. Mary is like the Star of Bethlehem, say the Redemptorists, always pointing to Jesus, “in His Word, in the Eucharist, in the silence of prayer, and in our brothers and sisters, and especially, in the poor and abandoned.” Because Mary was with the Apostles at Pentecost and accompanied this first group of people who preached the Good News, we can also call her, Holy Mary, Star of Evangelization.
- Contemplating the Colours of the Icon: The Redemptorists give us a few things to reflect on, having to do with contrasts. The Blessed Virgin’s tunic is red (created person?) with a blue covering cloak (the Holy Spirit’s Presence and grace?) The Christ Child wears a green tunic (Divine Life?) with a red cloak and sash (because He has taken on our humanity?) Reflecting on the contrasts in the colours can help us deepen our meditation on the other contrasts present in the Icon, and therefore in the life of Christ – the falling of the sandal versus the tightly clutched hands; also, the instruments of the Passion being carried, but wrapped in a cloak, as if after the Resurrection. Levels of depth are also pointed out by the Redemptorists, there being five levels of depth in this Icon: first level, the hand that points to the Savior; second level, the Christ Child; third level, the Blessed Virgin; fourth level, the archangels; fifth level, the general background of golden light. So we see the levels of contrast in Jesus’ life: Nazareth, the Passion, His glory – and we can pray to the Lord for aid in understanding and living out the contrasts in our own lives.
- Contemplating the Eyes of Mary: “With a sad tenderness, she looks not to her Son but appears to be in dialogue with whomever looks to her (universal perspective). Her almond-shaped, honey colored eyes and emphasized eyebrows give her face a sense of beauty and solemnity.” “We end this wonderful novena of discovering in your image the reason for your name. It is all present in your eyes. You are our Perpetual Help because of your eyes, those eyes that follow us from left to right, that see us from any point from which we seek you. They watch us as eyes filled with love and a desire to protect us. They follow us perpetually, whatever our situation be, our detours, our absences, our returns.”