The History of Our Icon
In 1866, Pope Pius IX entrusted the Redemptorists with the original Our Mother of Perpetual Help icon, and with it the responsibility of “making her known throughout the world.” With that decree, the Redemptorists commissioned a limited number of icons, which they would carry to Redemptorist parishes and missions around the world.
In 1879 our parish, founded by the Redemptorists, received one of these commissioned icons. It was formally installed on September 14, 1879. Today, this same icon looks out upon our parish family.
The Symbolism of the Icon
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. Above is a photo of the icon of Our Lady of Perpetual Help—the most widely known icon in the world. This sacred image has special importance for the Redemptorists, who were asked by Pope Pius IX to “make her known throughout the world.”
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 colors of virgins (red) and of mothers (blue). These are also royal colors.
- Jesus, depicted as a young boy, wears the colors of a king.
- The star on Mary’s veil reminds us that she is the dawn 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.
This postcard (featuring the Our Lady of Perpetual Help icon that hangs in our Parish today) is the chapel in St. Mary’s Seminary, located in Ilchester Road that was maintained by the Redemptorists Order. Ilchester was a rural farm village when the Redemptorists first saw it around 1866. They were looking for land on which to build a new seminary, and George Ellicott, Jr. had the perfect place for them. Mr. Ellicott owned 110 acres, along with a stone house, near the local Baltimore and Ohio Railroad station. He had dreams of turning his stone house – just a short walk from the station – into a prosperous tavern. But those dreams turned sour when the B&O picked Ellicott City as the next stop for the bigger western trains. So, he sold the property to the Redemptorists on July 21, 1866, for $15,000.
The back of the postcard reads, “The church lies in a beautiful and secluded spot at the junction of Bonnie Branch Creek and the Patapsco River, ten miles from Baltimore. The Redemptorist Fathers have cared for it since 1868. The building which houses the church and a four-room parochial school needs rehabilitation. Donations from friends and visitors will be gratefully received.”
Pray the Novena
A novena is a traditional Catholic prayer that continues for nine days and is intended to ask for a particular favor or blessing—or to give thanks for blessings received.
The novena to Our Mother of Perpetual Help is prayed weekly around the world. To make the novena, pray the three prayers below (each followed by three Hail Marys) for nine consecutive days.
June 27 is Mary’s feast day under the title Our Mother of Perpetual Help, and every year we begin a special novena to her around that time. Of course, Mary is always listening, so the novena can be prayed at any time of year.
First novena prayer
Behold at your feet, O Mother of Perpetual Help, a wretched sinner who has recourse to you and conﬁdes in you. O Mother of Mercy, have pity on me. I hear you called by all the refuge and the hope of sinners. Be then my refuge and my hope. Assist me, for the love of Jesus Christ. Stretch forth your hand to a miserable fallen creature who recommends himself to you and who devotes himself to your service forever.
I bless and thank Almighty God, Who in His mercy has given me this conﬁdence in you, which I hold to be a pledge of my eternal salvation. It is true, dearest Mother, that in the past I have miserably fallen into sin because I had not recourse to you. I know that with your help I shall conquer. I know too that you will assist me if I recommend myself to you, but I fear, dear Mother, that in time of danger I may neglect to call on you and thus lose my soul.
This grace, then, I ask of you, and this I beg with all the fervor of my soul, that in all the attacks of hell I may ever have recourse to you. O Mary, help me! O Mother of Perpetual Help, never suffer me to lose my God. Amen.
Pray three Hail Marys.
Second novena prayer
O Mother of Perpetual Help, grant that I may ever invoke your most powerful name, which is the safeguard of the living and the salvation of the dying. O purest Mary! O sweetest Mary! Let your name henceforth be ever on my lips. Delay not, O Blessed Lady, to help me whenever I call on you, for in all my temptations, in all my needs, I shall never cease to call on you, ever repeating your sacred name, Mary! Mary!
O what consolation, what sweetness, what conﬁdence, what emotion ﬁlls my soul when I utter your sacred name or even only think of you. I thank the Lord for having given you, for my good, so sweet, so powerful, so lovely a name. But I will not be content with merely uttering your name. Let my love for you prompt me ever to hail you, Mother of Perpetual Help.
Pray three Hail Marys.
Third novena prayer
O Mother of Perpetual Help, you are the dispenser of all the gifts which God grants to us miserable sinners, and for this end He has made you so powerful, so rich, and so bountiful in order that you may help us in our misery.
You are the advocate of the most wretched and abandoned sinners who have recourse to you. Come to my aid, dearest Mother, for I recommend myself to you. In your hands I place my eternal salvation and to you I entrust my soul. Count me among your most devoted servants; take me under your protection, and it is enough for me.
For if you protect me, dear Mother, I fear nothing: not from my sins because you will obtain for me the pardon of them, nor from the devils because you are more powerful than all hell together, nor even from Jesus, my Judge, because by one prayer from you, He will be appeased.
But one thing I fear—that in the hour of temptation I may through negligence fail to have recourse to you and thus perish miserably. Obtain for me, therefore, the pardon of my sins, love for Jesus, final perseverance, and the grace to have recourse to you, O Mother of Perpetual Help.
Pray three Hail Marys.