Most every day, my dad would stop by the same parish on his way home from work to pray for his children, their vocation, and their future spouses. He would lay these intentions before the parish’s icon of Our Lady of Perpetual Help. Knowing this, I hold a tender spot in my heart for this devotion to Our Lady. I look upon her with gratitude, knowing that she has been faithful to my father’s prayers.
The Icon of Our Lady of Perpetual Help
If you are not familiar with this icon, it is an icon which holds great symbolism and a beautiful representation of Jesus and Mary’s life.
Here are a few of the symbols in the image…
The star at the top of Mary’s mantle is a symbol for her namesake, Mary, Star of the Sea. She is the star leading us safely to our home in Heaven. Her love brings Christ’s light to a world in darkness.
Mary’s eyes are painted large to show that her gaze is fixed attentively upon us. She sees each and every need held closely within our hearts.
Her mouth appears small in order to express how little we read of her own words in Scripture. It is also a symbol of Mary’s deep prayer and contemplation, of her pondering heart.
The red she wears beneath her mantle was the color worn in her time by those who were virgins.
The deep blue of her mantle was the color worn by Palestinian mothers.
Mary and Jesus
You will see that Jesus’ Hands have His palms turned down. This shows that He is safeguarding the graces of redemption in His mother’s hand.
Mary’s left hand holds Jesus, emphasizing her maternal comfort and protection both to Jesus and to each of us, her children.
Finally, my favorite symbol in the icon is not easy to see upon first or even second glance. If you look closely at Jesus’ Feet, there is just one sandal falling from His Foot. This is a symbol to show His Divine Nature. His other Foot, with the sandal still secure, shows His human nature. A symbol of Jesus’ human and divine nature. Two natures in one Person.
The Basilica of Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Boston
As providence would have it, the first time I visited Boston’s Basilica of Our Lady of Perpetual help, the homily that morning focused on the power of prayer specifically through novenas. This is a form of prayer to which this Shrine is no stranger.
In fact, during World War II, between 1941-1945, over 20,000 people came together every Wednesday to participate in the Shrine’s Novena prayers dedicated to the Basilica’s patroness. It is by these people’s faith and prayer that several miracles have been received by those who have prayed at the Basilica for a Novena of nine Wednesdays. In fact, you can still see the crutches which have been left at the shrine from those who have been healed through Our Lady’s intercession. By 1984, the Novena could be viewed on television and can now be viewed online.
This towering and ornate Romanesque church with spires reaching two-hundred and fifteen feet high is a celebration of Boston’s religious freedom and is staffed by the Redemptorist religious order.
Celebrating Her Feast Day
Today, on the Feast of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, let’s go to her with confidence that our Star of the Sea will keep our feet Heavenward. Let’s embrace her depth of contemplation and trust that she will comfort us in our weariness and our fears. Trust that she will make our joy complete. She is our Mother, and just as she comforts Jesus and holds him close, she holds us close to her heart as well.
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Susanna Parent serves as Evangelization Manager for the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis in the Office of Evangelization. She is a recent graduate of the Master of Arts in Pastoral Ministry program with the School of Divinity at the University of St. Thomas. When she’s not reading and writing you can find her enjoying life with her new husband, brewing French press coffee in her kitchen, reading wine labels with friends in an effort to discover the perfect Pinot Noir and blogging about her travel adventures. You can learn more about her here.