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Our Lady of Perpetual Help

 

History of the Picture

 

An old tradition points to St. Luke the Evangelist as the artist who painted the first picture of teh Blessed Virgin while she was still living in Jerusalem. The legend has it, that, when Mary saw the beautiful picture of Herself with the Divine Child in her arms, She praised St. Luke, and said, "My grace will accompany it." Many miracles and favors have been granted through this picture. Numerous copies have been made - - to be seen in every country of the world.

 

The earliest reliable information about Our Lady of Perpetual Help comes from a document of the early 16th century that begins somewhat abruptly: "A merchant from Crete stole the picture of the Mother of God from a church on the island where it had performed many miracles." Some time later, the merchant arrived in Rome, where he became critically ill. Feeling that his end was at hand, he summoned the man in the house where he was staying, and told him the story of the miraculous picture. "Since death," he concluded, "makes it impossible for me to bring it to the place that I had intended, I beseech you to have it venerated in any church that you desire." His friend agreed to this dying request.

 

After the merchant's death, however, the man and his wife decided to keep the beautiful painting as an ornament for their home. Nine months passed, when suddenly, "the glorious Virgin appeared to this Roman, and warned him not to keep the picture, but to put it in a worthier place." Her command was not obeyed. A second warning also went unheeded. At the third apparition, the Blessed Mother told him that he would be punished for his disobedience. In a few days, he became sick and died. Not long afterwards, the Mother of God appeared to his six-year-old daughter on two occasions, and told her: "Holy Mary of Perpetual Help" desired to see her picture "in the church dedicated to St. Matthew the Apostle, between St. Mary Major and St. John Lateran." In obedience to this command, on March 27, 1499, the picture was carried in solemn procession to the Church of San Matteo, then in charge of the Augustinian Fathers. This church became an important pilgrimage site in Rome.

 

For three centuries, the picture was venerated in this church, and many favors were granted there. Then, in February of 1798, the French army, under Napoleon, captured Rome, and on June 3 or that year, the French military governor commanded that thirty Roman churches be destroyed. Among those doomed was St. Matthew's. The Augustinian Fathers took the picture with them to their new home, an abandoned monastery on the outskirts of Rome. They kept it hidden in their chapel, known as St. Mary's in Posterula, where it was honored. As time passed, the memory and fame of the picture of Our Lady of Perpetual Help was all but forgotten. It remained "in exile" for almost 67 years.

 

St. Alphonsus Liguori, founder of the Redemptorists, was a fervent devotee of the Blessed Virgin. Pope Pius IX commanded him to establish the headquarters of his order in Rome. The Redemptorists chose as their site the estate which included the ruins of St. Matthew's Church. Among the ruins, crumbling documents were found, telling of the picture of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, and its veneration, there, for many years.

 

In 1855, a young man sought admission to this monastery, and, eventually, was ordained as Father Michael Marchi. He recalled, that, as a youth, while serving Mass at St. Matthew's, he often saw the famous picture of Our Lady. He also recalled that Brother Augustine Orsetti told him that the picture was venerated faithfully in the Augustinian Chapel, Posterula. The superior of the redemptorists and father Marchi had a special audience with Pope Pius IX. They told the Holy Father their story, and the Pope was overjoyed. He also recalled, that as a little boy, his mother had often taken him to St. Matthew's to see the wondrous picture. The Holy Father ordered the Redeptorists to "Make our Lady of Perpetual Help known throughout the entire world". Thus it was that Our Lady's famous picture came "out of exile". The Augustinian Fathers were given an exact copy as a replacement. In April, 1865, the picture of Our Lady of Perpetual Help was carried in solemn procession, and was reenthroned in the Church of St. Alphonsus. Two miracles occured during the procession. (The Church of St. Alphonsus is said to be standing on the place where St. Matthew's was.)

 

Description of the Picture

 

Our Blessed Lady, in half-figure, holds the Divine Child in her left arm. The eyes in the painting look straight at the beholder with a loving and earnest expression. On either side of Her head are Greek letters which stand for the words, "Mother of God".

 

The Divine Child is in full figure. In His sweet countenance is expressed the pain He feels at the sight of two angels who hold instruments which remind Him of His sufferings for which He came upon earth. As if seeking protection from His mother, He grasps Her right hand. He is frightened and in His haste to reach His Mother, his sandal becomes unfastened. In the picture, it is seen falling from His foot.

 

Over the Divine Child's shoulder are Greek letters which signify, "Jesus Christ". The angel, to His right, holds a vessel in which are the lance and the reed with a sponge. Over Him are Greek letters which stand for, "St. Michael the Archangel". The angel, on the left, holds the Cross and four nails (the Cross has a second cross-piece). The Greek letters above this angel mean, "St. Gabriel the Archangel".

 

In our church, we have a large copy of the painting of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, 47 by 35 inches, set in the wall of the shrine dedicated to Her  Father.

 

Our church is the only one in the Sioux City Diocese which is dedicated to the Blessed Virgin under the title of Our Lady of Perpetual Help.

 

Prayer To Our Mother Of Perpetual Help

 

O MOTHER OF PERPETUAL HELP, grant that I may ever invoke Thy most powerful name, which is the safeguard of the living and the salvation of the dying. O Purest Mary, O Sweetest Mary, let Thy name henceforth be ever on my lips. Delay not, O Blessed Lady, to help me whenever I call on Thee, for, in all my needs, in all my temptations I shall never cease to call on Thee, ever repeating Thy sacred name, Mary, Mary. Owhat consolation, what sweetness, what confidence, what emotion fill my soul when I pronounce Thy sacred name, or even only think of Thee. I thank God, for having given thee, for my good, so sweet, so powerful, so lovely a name. But I will not be content with merely pronouncing Thy name: let my love for Thee prompt me ever to hail Thee. MOTHER OF PERPETUAL HELP.

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