Homily for Jubilee, 150thanniversary of the arrival of a copy of the Icon of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, 28thof December, 1867 – Mount St. Alphonsus, Limerick
With a sense of great joy and devotion we celebrate this historic evening as we mark the Jubilee of the arrival of the copy of Our Lady of Perpetual Help (also known as Our Lady of Perpetual Succour) to this exceptionally beautiful Church here in Mount St. Alphonsus, Limerick. This great devotion to Our Lady is represented in the famous and celebrated 15th-century Byzantine iconthat has a most interesting faith history.
The Original Icon
The Tradition of Icons
In the Eastern world, religious art is seen as an extension of God’s presence in creation. Icons are much more than beautiful images: they’re meant to help us connect directly with God. The artist who writes the icon strives to illuminate the viewer’s soul with divine truth. The Icon of Our Lady of Perpetual Help is one of the most popular and widely venerated icons in the world.
Thanks to and courtesy of the Redemptorist Priests, who had been appointed as both custodians and missionaries of this icon by Pope Pius IX in 1865, the image has become very popular and has been very much copied and reproduced. Modern reproductions are often displayed in Churches, homes, schools and places of worship all over the Catholic world. In my travels as a priest in both Tuam and Killaloe I have seen the icon in countless homes, along with a picture of of the Sacred Heart.
Origen of the Devotion
On 23 June 1867, the image was granted a Canonical Coronation and its official recognition of the Marian icon under its present title. The Redemptorist priests are the only religious order currently entrusted by the Holy See to protect and propagate a Marian religious work of art.
Novenas to Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Ireland
As you well know one of the enduring and lasting main stays of our faith and devotion in Ireland has been the very popular Novenas to Our Lady of Perpetual Help. The ones that I am familiar with are the ones in Galway in February, Cill Chiaráin in Connemara around the same time and the two Summer ones in Limerick, here and Esker, Athenry. As you well know there are others as well.
It’s a feature of Irish life and news so often that we hear of traffic congestion due to the famous Redemptorist Novenas in vatious locations around the country. It has been a constant source of amazement that in the several decades of the Novena in Galway it still attracts huge crowds of young pilgrims and so many from the University just across the road, despite the dramatic decline in religious practice in recent years. Devotion to Our Lady of Perpetual Help is certainly a big draw!
Devotion here in Mount St. Alphonsus
You must be so proud of the fact that this devotion started in Ireland, here in Mount St. Alphonsus and it is only right and fitting that you would celebrate the jubilee, 150 years from today and for the next few days until new years eve.
Today, here in Mount St. Alphonsus, Limerick we celebrate the 150thanniversary of the arrival of the Icon of Our Lady of Perpetual Help on December 28th, 1867 and has been venerated ever since and it is from here that devotion spread right around the country. I have treasured memories during the recent tour of the icon to Cathedrals around Ireland the excitement of the students in St. Jarlath’s College, Tuam when the icon arrived to the Cathedral and they were deeply impressed by the story and devotion surrounding it.
The Symbolism of the Icon
There is so much to ponder within the icon and
Each element of the icon has a specific meaning:
- Mary’s eyes, filled with compassion and love, are directed toward us.
- Our Lady is clothed in the colours of virgins (red) and of mothers (blue). These are also royal colours.
- Jesus, depicted as a young boy, wears the colours of a king.
- The star on Mary’s veil reminds us that she is the dawn, the morning star announcing the coming of Christ.
- Our Lady’s hands hold her Son securely, and her right hand directs our gaze to Him.
- The Christ Child grasps his mother’s hand as though he is frightened by what he sees.
- In His hurry to reach his mother, Jesus has almost lost one of his sandals. He became human, like us, in all things but sin.
- On Our Lady’s left and right we see the reasons for the child’s fear. On the right is the Archangel Gabriel, holding a cross and four nails. On the left is the Archangel Michael, holding a lance, a pole with a sponge, and a vessel of vinegar. This vision of the instruments of the crucifixion has driven the young Jesus to his mother’s protective embrace.
- Yet Our Lady’s gaze is fixed on us, her children on earth. She is our source of constant comfort and hope.
She wants to help each and every one of us too, the reader of the icon. The Virgin Maryhas a star on her forehead, signifying her role as Star of the Seawhile the cross on the side has been claimed as referring to the school which produced the icon. The Byzantine depictions of the Blessed Virgin Mary in art have three stars, one star each on the shoulder and one on the forehead. This type of icon is called Hodegetria, where Mary is pointing to her Son, known as a Theotokos of the Passion.
Features of Mary on the Icon
Mary’s long slender nose, thin lips, and smoothly arched eyebrows also show that a Greek artist wrote the Icon. The halo and the crown in the picture were added later. In those days, a halo was not commonly painted around the head. Instead, as in this Icon of Mary, the veil and her face itself were rounded, practically circular, to indicate her holiness. The size of the mother seems out of proportion to her son; this is deliberate. The artist wished to emphasize Mary in this story, so he painted her larger than life.
The icon is written with a gold background on a walnut panel which was probably done in the islands of Crete, which at the time was then ruled by the Republic of Venice. The Cretan Schoolwas the source of the many icons imported into Europe from the late Middle Ages through the Renaissance. The gold background represents the Kingdom of God. The round halo surrounding the Virgin Mary’s head is styled calledEstofado, which is an artistic effect created by making dented holes into the icon to reflect light from the gold background.
Some believe the icon to be a true copy of a painting that according to legend was painted by Saint Lukeusing the meal table of the Holy Familyin Nazareth, and in Eastern Orthodoxtradition was often identified with the Hodegetriaicon, and consider it to be a miraculous imprint of the Virgin Mary both in the Latinand Orthodoxcommunities.
Celebrating the richness of the Icon on this special occasion
In this beautiful icon of Our Lady of Perpetual Help there is a rich and deep spirituality, theology and devotion and much to reflect on and contemplate. We thank God for the many blessings it has brought to this Church, to the city of Limerick and to the many places where novenas are held through out the country and world and the homes in which it is placed. May it continue to be a source of blessing to us all as we celebrate this significant and special occasion on this great Jubilee day as we approach the feast of the Mother of God on the first day of the new year on Monday, the first of January 2018. Amen!