The Place of Mary in Redemptorist Devotion
Mary is a creature who has received all she has gratuitously from God. But who can deny that it is reasonable and fitting to assert that God would wish to exalt this great creature?
—St. Alphonsus Liguori, The Glories of Mary
In the Eastern Orthodox Church iconography, the Icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help is known as the ”Virgin Theotokos of the Passion” due to the instruments of the Passion of Jesus Christ present on the image. It is written in the Byzantine style of the Eastern Church. The purpose of this style is to convey a spiritual message. A Byzantine painting is like a door; we want to open the door and go beyond it. The artist has portrayed the beauty and mystery of Mary and Jesus and their message in symbols.
The Redemptorists are devoted to Our Mother of Perpetual Help. As they preach the gospel to the poor and most abandoned, in all that they do, they are inspired by a deep devotion to Our Mother of Perpetual Help. Due in part to this devotion, the Redemptorists were made the guardians of the Icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help by Pope Pius IX in 1867. Today the Icon is permanently enshrined in the Redemptorist Church of Saint Alphonsus in Rome, where the official Novena to Our Mother of Perpetual Help text is prayed weekly.
The icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help dates back to at least the fifteenth century, but no one knows exactly when it was painted or who the artist was. However, in 1866, when Pope Pius IX entrusted the image to the Redemptorists, he also entrusted the Redemptorists with a mission. He told them, “Make her known throughout the world.” The Redemptorists embraced this directive by distributing reproductions of her image and sharing stories of her powerful intercession in missions and homilies. Thousands of shrines and altars have been dedicated to her, and devotions and novenas in her honor are observed in churches everywhere.
Join Us Daily in Prayer by downloading Our free OMPH retreat app, or subscribe to our online course on the prayer of gazing before the Icon.
The practice of gazing is fast becoming a vital and supportive practice for many devotees of Our Mother. We encourage you to find even a few minutes each day to gaze upon the Icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help. We suggest you use the above image for gazing that we’ve placed at the start of this Reflection. You might also want to review Bro. Dan’s short video on the Prayer of Gazing included in this app. Our biggest recommendation to you, while gazing on the Icon, is to let yourself relax deeply. Consider this interlude as a brief refuge from your day—your schedule, your troubles, your fears and worries. What follows are brief instructions on gazing quietly upon the Icon.
The prayer of gazing before an icon is a powerful form of contemplative prayer. Prayer is descending with the mind into the heart and standing in the presence of God. Thus gazing devotedly on an icon is truly the practice of praying. The Icon is perhaps the most widespread Marian image in the world, and it testifies to the fact that God was the first to love us, to choose us, and to reveal Himself to us in His immeasurable mercy. It is He who comes forward to meet us in this Icon through the intercession of Mary.
Brother Dan declares that when we gaze upon the Icon in an attitude of prayer, we enter into an intimate exchange with Christ and Mary that also transforms us through the profound Mystery of Christ’s Passion and Resurrection. Through this act, all of creation is likewise transformed. It is this process that brings healing and strength to our lives.
Below is a detailed series of instructions that can help you prepare for the prayer of gazing with the Icon. You are encouraged throughout this course to set aside as little as five minutes each day to repeat these steps.
Here’s some helpful suggestions when praying before the Icon.
Find a quiet place where you can look at the Icon on your phone (this can also work on a bus commuting home after work). Take a moment to become still. Be attentive to your breathing. Breathe God in and out. You might want to express your thoughts and feelings privately to God before proceeding. Now release your thoughts to God so that you are no longer actively engage with them. As thoughts pass through your mind try not to dwell on or entertain them, but allow them space to float free of your mind.
- Simply gaze with soft eyes on the Icon. Perhaps your attention will be drawn to Mary’s eyes or her hands. Allow this process to unfold with soft attention. To gaze is to fix attention, but in a relaxed manner. In a sense you are “relaxing” into the picture, or perhaps allowing the picture into your heart. Allow God into your heart through the Icon. You do not need to direct or be active in your attention.
- You might also or instead choose to close your eyes and become aware of your breathing. As distractions come into your mind, gently acknowledge them and let them go. Become aware of your desire to be with God at this moment. Ask God to help you let go of whatever may distance you from God. Rest in this silence, letting distractions fade away. Thoughts will enter your mind, but do not entertain them. If a particular thought persists, or you find your mind wandering, open your eyes and gently bring your attention back to the Icon. You might also reach out to Mary and Christ with a simple word such as “love” or “God.” Close your eyes again and let the silence again surround you.
- After a period of time, open your eyes, or if you chose to keep your eyes open, slowly bring your gaze back into focus. You might feel on this day or future days that you have had a wonderful experience, or conversely, that you felt absolutely nothing and your heart was closed. Whatever your experience, be merciful to yourself. You can easily fall into the judgment that you are “succeeding” or “failing” to pray properly. However, the prayer of gazing is not about doing it right or successfully. It is only our willingness to dedicate this time to God that is important. God and Our Mother of Perpetual Help will take care of the rest!
Our own Br. Dan Korn, C.Ss.R., has compiled a helpful guide to the Icon and Marian devotion through his booklet The Redeemer Mary & You which is a compilation of some of Br. Dan’s best writings for the Redemptorists’ Liguorian magazine. You can download this compilation now:
A Prayer to Our Mother of Perpetual Help
Finally, we wish to leave you with this prayer to Our Mother of Perpetual Help by Pope Saint John Paul II:
O Virgin of Perpetual Help, great sign of our hope,
Holy Mother of the Redeemer, we invoke your name.
Help your people who desire to be renewed.
Give us joy as we walk towards the future
in conscious and active solidarity
with the poorest of our brothers and sisters,
announcing to them in a new and courageous way,
the Gospel of Your Son,
the beginning and the end of all human relationships
that aspire to live a true, just, and lasting peace.
Like the Child Jesus, Whom we admire in this
so we also want to hold your right hand.
You have both the power and the goodness to help us
in every need and circumstance of life.
This moment is yours.
Come then, help us; be for us our refuge and our hope.