Our Lady of Perpetual Succour
This is only a short introduction to the icon of Our Lady of Perpetual Succour, which lies in the Redemptorist Church of S. Alphonsus in Rome, on the via Merulana, which is the titular church of our own metropolitan and Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster, His Eminence the Most Reverend Mgr. Vincent Nichols. The church itself is of a gothic design, rare for the City, and the icon is mounted above the high altar. The origins of this famous image of the Lady are lost in history, but it was brought to Rome from Crete and after a period of obscurity during the Napoleonic conquest of the City, it was 'rediscovered' in the late nineteenth century. The Holy Father Pius IX, an outstanding son and devotee of our Lady, desired that the icon be honoured and restored to its place in the church of S. Matthew, now the church of S. Alphonsus on the Esquiline hill. This happened in 1866, and since then the Redemptorist Fathers of S. Alphonsus have worked to make this icon known throughout the Latin Church. What follows is a summary description of the image. Find out more about the Redemptorist Fathers in England and Wales, and more about the church of S. Alphonsus.
The icon being Greek, it has several Greek letters inscribed on it, which are no longer familiar to most Latin Christians, and it may be worth making a note of them. First of all, at the very top of the image is the identification of the Lady herself: ΜΡ-ΘΥ. This is not her name, rather it represents her primary identification and the source of her glory. ΜΡ expanded reads ΜΗΤΗΡ, which is a Greek 'mother,' and ΘΥ expanded reads ΘΕΟΥ, a possessive form of 'God.' The ΜΗΤΗΡ ΘΕΟΥ is the Mother of God. The identification above the Child reads ΙΣ ΧΣ, which expanded reads ΙΗΣΟΥΣ ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ, the Greek for Jesus Christ. But that's not all. There are two angels, who are also signed. The one on the left bears the lance of the Roman soldier and the sponge soaked in sour wine that was to be Christ's final drink, and is marked with ΟΑΡΜ; and the one on the right bears the Holy Cross and is marked with ΟΑΡΓ. ΟΑΡΜ expanded is Ὁ ἈΡΧΑΓΓΕΛΟΣ ΜΙΧΑΉΛ, or the archangel Michael, much associated with the sacrificial offering of Christ. ΟΑΡΓ expanded is Ὁ ἈΡΧΑΓΓΕΛΟΣ ΓΑΒΡΙΉΛ, or the archangel Gabriel, so very connected with the mission of Christ. Notable in this icon is the consternation that the Child shows towards the instruments of His self-offering to come and the comfort He finds in His Mother's embrace. This is an icon of the motherhood of our Lady. Also indicative of His new vulnerability as a member of our race is the sandal falling from His foot.
Central to the devotions of our Lady of Perpetual Succour (aka. OL of Perpetual Help) is the novena that is made in the run up to the feast day on the 27th of June. S. Thérèse of Lisieux, a great devotee of our Lady under this dedication, wrote a hymn to her. A summary of devotional material to our Lady of Perpetual Succour has been assembled by Cardinal Nichols and is available from the Catholic Truth Society.