Sunday, May 17, 2015


These notes were taken during a retreat given by Redemptorist Brother Dan Korn.
History of OLPH  The icon was ‘written’ in Crete in the Greek style.
A merchant took the icon (stole or smuggled off of Crete for safe keeping when the Ottomans invaded in 1423).  He brought the icon to Rome.  He regretted not placing it in a church to be worthily venerated.  He asked a friend to do the task but when the merchant died his friend took the icon and hung it in his own home.  This man also died.  His six year old daughter saw an apparition of our Lady who told the girl she was Our Mother of Perpetual Help and to have the icon placed in the church between the basilicas Mary Major and St. John Lateran.  The girl told her mother.  In 1493 the widow had the icon of Perpetual Help brought in procession to the Church of St Matthew the Apostle.  For 300 years the icon hung there and was known for its miraculous healings.  When Napoleon invaded Rome 1798 St. Matthew’s was razed and the icon disappeared.  In 1859 the Redemptorists raised a new church built over the site of the former St Matthew’s and dedicated it to their founder St Alphonsus Liguori (1696-1787).    Sixty-four years had passed since the destruction of St Matthew’s.   Not long after the establishment of their new church the Redemptorists heard of the lost miraculous icon which hung in the former church.  A CSsR remembered seeing it neglected in an Augustinian church near the Tiber River.  Inquiries were made; the icon was found and negotiations were made with the help of Pope Pius IX, who, himself remembered seeing the icon as a lad in St Matthew’s, to have it returned to the church between the basilicas.    With much pomp, the Pope gave it to the Redemptorists to “make her known throughout the world.”  On April 26, 1866, at the first Mass held in honor of OLPH a miracle occurred.   The Father General Mauron had replicas of the icon made and sent the CSsR missionaries with a copy to every corner of the world.  Within 30 years her devotion was known all over the world and could be found in churches, shrines and homes as prayers honoring the Byzantine icon of OLPH spread throughout the Roman Church.
Restoration was done on the icon in 1995 returning it to its original glory.

Icons are open windows to heaven.   Icons are prayerfully ‘written’ as a Gospel in image form.  In the 9th century a strict code was developed by the Greeks on how icons were to be written.  Icons are a visual language.  The faithful ‘read’ the Gospel in the icon.  Those who venerate/pray the icon practice ‘Visio Divina;’ their eyes encounter in the icon a Book of Redemption.   

OLPH     This icon is a ‘book’ written in five chapters: the Face, the Hands, the Child (Logos – Word), the Angels and the Gold.  Legend has it that the icon was ‘written’ by St Luke.  You find this is true when you read the first two chapters of his Gospel.  OLPH is scripture based:  references are found not only in St Luke’s Gospel but in the other Gospels as well, along with the Hebrew and Christian Testament. 

The Face   Her eyes are the first to captivate us: as we look into the eyes of our Lady and she looks into ours; it is an intimate gazing; her eyes see our needs and divine energy radiates out to us.    You can tell if the icon is written well if the eyes follow you wherever you go. 
There eight pointed star in the center of her veil.  It is the Star of Bethlehem. Mt 2: 1-8   Mary is also the Morning Star: By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those in the shadow of death, and guide our feet into the way of peace.
Lk 1: 78-79   In the Pricilla catacombs in Rome you find the first image of Mary, the Mother of God painted on the wall and above her head is a star.  
She is the Virgin Mother and the sign:  The Lord spoke to Ahaz, “Ask for a sign of the Lord, let it be deep as the Sheol or high as the heaven…
Is 7:10-11  The virgin is with child and shall bear a son and shall name him Emmanuel.”  Is 7: 14      The smaller star was added in 1866 out of reverence as was the jeweled crown in 1867.
Mary’s ear is showing: She hears Gabriel’s greeting “The Lord is with you.” as he foretells the birth of Jesus. 
Lk  1:26-37   Mary ponders: She was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.  Lk 1:29   
Mary, demonstrates herself as a Woman of Courage and her lips respond: “I am the handmaid of the Lord, let it be done to me according to your word.” 
Lk 1:38     Mary’s face is serious in OLPH but there is also a calm and deep joy present:  He has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed.  Lk 1:48
Mary dress is red foretelling her sharing in her Son’s passion: Simeon blessed them and said to his mother, “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed – and a sword will pierce your own soul too.”
Lk 2:34-35
Her blue veil symbolizes her humanity:  “He has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.” 
Lk 1:49     After Jesus’ birth, Mary treasured all these words (of the shepherds) and pondered them in her heart.  Lk 2:19
As we ponder Mary’s person, she is to us the Mother of God, the one who shows us the way, Our Mother of Perpetual Help who listens to our prayers.

The Hands   Note Mary does not clutch or cuddle the child to herself.  Mary presents the Child. When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord. Lk 2:22
Jesus is the Scroll, the Word, presented for us to read, contemplate, remember and experience his Incarnation, Passion, Death and Resurrection.
He is Emmanuel God-with-us.   The virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel, God-with-us.  Is 7:14 / Mt 1:23
Mary’s right hand is open and points to the heart of the Word of Redemption. 
Jesus’ hands in the hands of his Mothers are at the very heart of the icon.  It is there we place our hands accepting the Incarnation of Jesus in our life. And with our hands confidently placed in theirs we learn of Jesus Christ Crucified and Risen moment by moment throughout our lifetime.

The Child/Logos/Word   Note this child is not a baby.  His face is mature: The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him. Lk 2:40  Jesus increased in wisdom and in years and in divine and human favor. Lk 2:52
Jesus first words: “Why are you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”  Lk 2:49  
We are the ones searching for Jesus and his Mother presents Him to us.
Jesus’ face is calm.  He is aware.  He is the Son of the Most High
Lk 1:32  Whoever sees me sees the Father.  Jn 14: 9   His face is turned toward Gabriel who is holding the instruments of his passion.  He is not troubled or afraid, rather he is resolute. The only stress can be seen in the crease of his neck:  “I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed.”  Lk 12: 50    His ear is cocked to listen: “Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say – ‘Father, save me from this hour?’  No, it is for this reason that I have come.” Jn 12:27 
Jesus’ tunic is green symbolizing his humanity.  His cincture is red signifying the precious blood and obedience to the covenant of his passion and death.  His cincture bind us to his redemption.   The brown robe is a shroud yet it is gilded symbolizing the resurrection.  If we allow ourselves to be wrapped with Jesus by our Baptism and Confirmation in the shroud of the redemptive love of his passion and death in our everyday lives we will share in his resurrection.
His red cincture signifies the precious blood and his passion and death.  Flesh and blood, he humbled himself, obeying to the death, death on a cross.  For this reason God lifted him high and gave him the name above all names.
Phil 2:8-9
Jesus’ falling sandal indicates his divinity descending into humanity. Though in the form of God, Jesus did not claim equality with God but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, human like one of us. Phil 2:6-7  The sandal itself is positioned over the womb of his Mother.   The sandal is golden.   Here it suggests Christ’s sovereignty: He will be great, and he will be called Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David.  He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end. Lk 1: 32-33  
Jesus ankles are crossed foretelling his death on a cross. When one is crucified the nail through the ankles causes the foot to flex and show the heel.  I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will strike your head, and he will strike your heel. Gen 3: 15   Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Messiah, for the accuser has been thrown down. Rev 12: 10  

The Angels  The two angels on either side of Mary affirm her as Queen of Mercy, the Ark of the Covenant.   The cherubim shall face each other; their faces shall be turned toward the mercy seat on the ark of the covenant. Ex 25: 20-22 
Mary’s head is inclined toward the Archangel Gabriel who announced the Good News. Now he holds the cross and nails while the Archangel Michael holds the lance and sponge: the instruments of Christ’s passion and Death.  Michael is the Guardian of the Church:  look closely and you’ll see stripes on his sleeve as if he were in the military.  He protects Jesus and Mary, and all those who behold the icon. Their hands are covered out of reverence for ‘sweet the wood and sweet the nails.’ (Arma Christi). St Alphonsus says the purpose of the Passion is Great Love.   Christ was crucified between two criminals.  In the icon Christ is between two angels. Alphonsus says that is the crazy, merciful, healing, liberating love of our God.  And you will note these angels are not full images with legs - it is so that we are to focus on Christ and his Mother.

The Gold  The Star on her veil calls to mind Stella Maris, the Star of the Sea, the Morning Star that announces the coming of the sun/Son.  The gold halos mark their holiness.  The gold on Jesus’ clothing symbolizes the resurrection.  The gold on Mary’s clothing is unique – usually she is not adorned so – Mary’s gilding reflects her Son’s glory. “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.”  Lk 1:46-47 She is not the Christ.  She is the Mirror of Redemptive Love.  The gold that surrounds the images proclaims the unimaginable glory of the working of God’s redemptive love.

What happens to Mary happens to us by our Baptism and Confirmation:  we are to carry Jesus to others.  In venerating/praying the icon you begin a new way of seeing - drawing you into that sacred space where you experience the mystery of redemption in your life.