Our Lady Help of Christians
Today we have the chance to celebrate the great feast of Our Lady, Help of Christians, a title by which she is well known due to its inclusion in the Litany of Loreto. It is a title added to that prayer by Pope Pius V, after the miraculous victory which she wrought over the Moslems at the battle of Lepanto in 1571. Pius VII then instituted the feast of Mary, Help of Christians as a solemn thanksgiving for the protection which she had shown to him and the Church during the time in which he had been imprisoned away from the Vatican for more than five years and also during another period when he was forced to flee from Rome. The pontiff decreed that the date of his triumphant arrival back into Rome after his five year imprisonment should be kept as the feast of Our Lady as Help of Christians. Furthermore, he instituted a proper office of the feast for the recitation of the Divine Office.
The title is one which was a particular favourite of St. John Bosco, who had a particular devotion to Mary as Help of Christians and dedicated the mother church of his congregation in Turin to her patronage.
Due to the great beauty of the feast, as well as the fact that this title is most well known through the Litany of Loreto, it is an opportunity to turn to the pages of a pious book which presents short meditations upon each of the appellations of the Mother of God as found in that litany. My Queen and my Mother was written in 1904, the fiftieth anniversary year of the definition of the Immaculate Conception.
“After Jesus no one loves us as Mary does, for she, more than any other, realises the worth of a soul, and moreover, her heart, being greater than that of any other mere mortal, has a greater capacity for loving. Let us then cry to her in all our needs. She is our Lady of Perpetual Succour, ever ready, ever at hand to hear and help us. As children turn to the Mother instinctively in every trouble, so let us turn to Mary. No matter what befalls us, if we run to her confidingly and shelter ourselves under her mantle, all will be well. Let us apply to our attitude towards her the words of Dante, who writes: ‘astounded, to the guardian of my steps I turned me, like the child who always runs for succour where he trusteth most’.
Nor can we doubt Mary’s power to help us any more than her good will. If King Solomon rose to show his mother reverence when she entered, causing a throne to be set for her beside his own, and saying with the utmost deference when she proffered a request, ‘My mother, ask, for I must not turn away thy face’, what will not our Lord and Master do, He who implanted in the heart of the wise king these beautiful virtues of filial love and reverence? We have seen that at the marriage feast He could not resist even the slightest indication of His Mother’s wishes, though, as He said, His appointed hour for working miracles had not yet come, and the matter was only the supply of a temporal passing need. How much more readily will He grant her request when she pleas for a fresh supply of grace for her clients, or begs for them a new wedding garment, when, like careless children, they have spoilt their first one!
Still more eagerly will He respond to her desires when she lays before Him the necessities of souls who are labouring for His glory, who are in trouble and distress because they do not yet see the perfect fulfilment of that prophecy of David: ‘All the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the Lord, as the covering waters of the sea’.
But it is well to go to Mary with every affair, great or small, that concerns us. However trivial, it will not be too much so for her motherly heart to take an interest in and however vast, it will not exceed the scope of her queenly magnificence and power. Let us say to her: ‘Look upon thy servants and upon their works, and direct their children. And let the brightness of the Lord our God be upon us; and direct thou the work of our hand…Yea the work of our hands do thou direct’…
Let us rejoice then in having so good, so large-hearted and powerful an advocate, and let us trust our all to her, saying:
‘Mother Mary to thy keeping,
Soul and body we confide;
Toiling, resting, waking, sleeping,
Be thou ever at our side.
Cares that vex us, joys that please us,
Life and death we trust to thee;
Thou must make them all for Jesus,
And for all eternity.’
Help of Christians, pray for us.”(1)
With these words our meditation closes, leaving the meaning very clear - Mary has been given to man, especially to those faithful souls, as a guide and protector in order that she might draw souls to her Son. In modern times, both from within and without the Church, the role of Mary is often attacked or downplayed, and if care is not taken then a very protestant view of the Mother of God will soon be held. In order to combat such an eventuality then, we can follow the example of Pius V and VII, along with St. John Bosco, and invoke Mary as our help in all matters. Practicing devotion to her publicly and privately can only serve to increase our devotion to her Son, for she directs all to Him. The title of this feast is Our Lady as Help of Christians, not as the end of Christians. Therefore we should have no fear of any undue reverence when entrusting every action to her, since she has been given as the very help by which we are to attain our end.
Our Lady the Help of Christians is needed now more than ever before. Whilst the armies of the Turks are not publicly sailing across the seas in order to conquer the realms of Christendom, (although such an event is indeed happening under other guises) yet such attacks on the Church are very much occurring. Her enemies have grown emboldened and do not concern themselves with secrecy, preferring to openly attack reason, dogma and truth in every sphere of society and even in the churches. There has been no need of a foreign enemy to destroy Christendom, for it has already all but crumbled from within, and those faithful to Mary and her divine Son, are ridiculed, ignored and persecuted. Temporal leaders and spiritual shepherds have seemingly joined forces in depriving the Church of Her divine right to worship Her Creator, and those faithful children of Mary are decried for being selfish and full of self-pity for seeking to render homage to God.
In such a time, devotion to Mary as the Help of Christians has perhaps never been more necessary. She is the one to whom Christ’s faithful must turn in the wake of such public rejection of God. We have confidence in our Immaculate helper, who is ever at our side and makes all our cares, trials and joys into offerings for Jesus. Such a Mother, whose love for us is only surpassed by love for Her Son, cannot fail to heed the cries and supplications which are made to her under the title of Help of Christians. There remain seven days between now and next Sunday, the feast of Pentecost, but also the date of the ancient feast of the Queenship of Mary. In the last week of Mary’s month of May, perhaps we can turn to her, asking her to guide the Church in Her vocation to teach the truth and bring souls to Christ.
(1) R.G.S, My Queen and My Mother, (Post Falls ID, Lepanto Press, 2006), 181-184.