Icon of Our Lady of Perpetual Help

Our Lady of Perpetual HelpI’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.”    

14 thoughts on “Icon of Our Lady of Perpetual Help

  1. A beautiful lesson. On the feast day of Our Lady of Perpetual Help one of the readings at Mass is from Ecclesiasticus, the last line of which is :They that explain me shall have life everlasting.
    A Carmelite site I visit describes icons as windows unto heaven.

  2. Today with the aid of this beautiful icon I contemplate the Holy Family, the protection of Our Lady and Her care for us in what lies ahead in life unknown to us.(I especially am caught up in the expressions on the MOther and Christ Child’s faces).
    Thank you for this Gabrielle…I will use it as an aid to prayer for a few days.

  3. Teresa, the link is: St. Teresa’s Clarendon Street.

    Two of Ireland’s leading iconographers were invited along to a recent Art Exhibition hosted by the Discalced Carmelites in Dublin.

    I should also explain that it was on Fr Mark Kirby’s Vultus Christi blog I came across the reading I referred to in my earlier post.

    I actually have hanging on my bedroom wall a wood -block mounted Nativity Icon – or at least a copy of it, that was commissioned for the opening of a new church of the same name. If I can get a good enough photograph of it I’ll post it later.
    Thanks again, Gabrielle, for this. I’ve looked at the Our Lady of Perpetual Help icon for years, but only now am I beginning to really see it for what it is.

  4. Good gravy, Ann, I just got waylaid by 8 or 10 Carmelite sites. 🙂 (I tried to make it more, but I wanted to post here before bed, so I came back to earth.)

    G, what a stunning icon and explanation of it.. I’m going to print that out and go very slowly through it all. Thank you so much on behalf of all who aren’t familiar with praying with icons. Mary’s eyes, here, are exquisite, and something tells me yours are very much like them.

  5. Hello, everyone. I will be back during the day on Friday to “comment on your comments”, and to look at the site Ann has given us as well (and to pay you some visits, finally.  Painting is finished for the time being).   Ann, I put a direct link in your earlier comment – hope you don’t mind me editing that a bit).

    But truly, all the thanks for this go to the Redemptorists who wrote the book I mentioned in my post on the Feastday of Our Lady of Perpetual Help. Like you, Ann, I have been personally blessed to have had this particular icon in my life for decades, but until I read that little book (which contains much, much more than I could possibly post here), I was not aware of the significance of its elements either. In fact, until fairly recently, I was not even aware that meditating upon an icon was a method of being drawn into contemplation (I believe I experienced this for years gazing at that icon, but I didn’t know anything about it.)

  6. thank you for this icon meditation, Gabrielle. I am going through a dark time now, and the icon is not just comforting, it seems to, in some way, illuminate (or “explain”, but that’s not right, either) the mystery of the darkness.

  7. Ann, as always, thank you for your generosity and encouragement. That is a wonderful site you gave us the link for. “Windows unto Heaven” is a beautiful description of Icons, as is the phrase they used: “visual Scripture”.

    teresa, one thing I am appreciating more and more is the way we all learn and discover together. It’s truly a pleasure to share things – I receive so much from all of you!

    C.O., I think I mentioned to you before that my maternal grandparents had this Icon over their bed for decades, and after they passed away, my aunt, who had taken care of them for years, decided to sell the house and move into a small apartment. Anyway, she asked us all to take anything we wanted, so I asked for this Icon, because I had loved it since my childhood. It hangs in our bedroom now.

    Beth, I’m very sorry you’re going through a dark time. If it’s anything you’d like to talk about, we’ve got a wonderful little group of good listeners here, or you can email me (I mean that). I’m happy the Icon is bringing you some comfort and light. I think I will do one more short post on Icons to wrap things up a bit. God bless.

  8. Ah, yes. And I hope I told you that the enormous Corpus Christi that hung over my grandmother’s bed was retrieved by me many years ago when my cousin got tired of it and put it out on the street with a lot of other “stuff.” I hung it over my own bed for many years. It’s dismal and it’s beat all to smithereens.. and I’d forgotten about it until the other night when reading this response of yours. It’s out in the garage awaiting repair. It’s been out there for years. I am even worse than my cousin! I’ll go look for it tomorrow. To heck with repairs.

  9. Fascinating reading, Gabrielle. I don’t have any icons on display in my home, but this post has evoked many beautiful memories of my late grandmother’s home where – as a child – I was mesmorised by the various icons that filled each room. She would tell me such gentle stories about ‘the pictures’ as I then called them. My late (Spanish) mother-in-law’s home was just the same and I am left wondering whatever happened to them all. More important, I am left with the memories of Grandma’s teachings.

  10. If you remember the “gentle stories”, Driftwood, I’m sure we would love to hear some of them, over at your place, and some of the memories of your Grandma’s teachings. I know I would love it!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s