Our Lady of Perpetual Help; commemoration of the Octave of the Nativity of St John the Baptist: Missa “Gaudeamus“
The earliest written account of the image comes from a Latin and Italian plaque placed in the church of San Matteo in Via Merulana where it was first venerated by the public in 1499. The writer of the icon is unknown, but according to a parchment attached to the painting that accompanied the icon, it was stolen by a merchant sailing to Rome from the island of Crete. (The Keras Kardiotissas Monastery is regarded as the monastery from which the icon was stolen.) The image remained in the private possession of a Roman merchant and his family until March 27, 1499, when the icon was transferred to the church of San Matteo where it remained for 300 years. The picture was then popularly called the Madonna di San Matteo.
Popular legends claim that the icon to be a true copy of a painting that according to legend was painted by Saint Luke using the meal table of the Holy Family in Nazareth, and in Eastern Orthodox tradition was often identified with the Hodegetria icon, and consider it to be a miraculous imprint of the Virgin Mary both in the Latin and Orthodox communities. This belief is common in many Hodegetria icons who have similar claims of Lucan legends.
The original wooden icon is suspended on the altar, measures 17″ × 21″ inches and is written on hard nut wood with a gold leaf background. The image depicts the following symbols:
- The Blessed Virgin Mary — wearing a dress of dark red, representing the Passion of Jesus, with a blue mantle, representing her perpetual virginity, and cloaked veil, which represents her pure modesty.
- The subject shows Mary looking towards the faithful, while pointing at her son, Jesus Christ who is frightened by the instruments of crucifixion and is depicted with a fallen sandal.
- The left side is Saint Michael Archangel — carrying the lance and sponge of the crucifixion of Jesus.
- On the right side is Saint Gabriel Archangel carrying a 3-bar cross used by Popes at the time and nails.
- The Virgin Mary has a star on her forehead signifying her role as Star of the Sea while the cross on the side has been claimed as referring to the Greek monastery which produced the icon.
Byzantine depictions of the Blessed Virgin Mary in art have three stars, one star each on the shoulder and one on the forehead. This type of icon is called Hodegetria, where Mary is pointing to her Son, known as a Theotokos of the Passion.
Mary has long slender nose, thin lips, and smoothly arched eyebrows, evidence of being made by a Greek artist. The veil and her face itself are rounded, indicating holiness. The size of the mother is also out of proportion to her son, a deliberate intent by the artist Mary as larger than life.
The Greek inscriptions read MP-ΘΥ (Μήτηρ Θεοῦ, Mother of God), ΟΑΜ (Ὁ Ἀρχάγγελος Μιχαήλ, Michael the Archangel), ΟΑΓ (Ὁ Ἀρχάγγελος Γαβριήλ, Gabriel the Archangel) and IC-XC (Ἰησοῦς Χριστός, Jesus Christ), respectively.
The icon has a gold background on a walnut panel, believed to be from Crete. The Cretan School was the source of the many icons imported into Europe from the late Middle Ages through the Renaissance. The gold background represents the Kingdom of God. The round halo surrounding the Virgin Mary’s head is styled called Estofado, which is an artistic effect created by making dented holes into the icon to reflect light from the gold background. The icon was cleaned and restored once in 1866 and again in the year 1940.
Let us all rejoice in the Lord, celebrating a feast in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary: at whose solemnity the angels rejoice and join in praising the Son of God Ps. 44: 2 My heart hath uttered a good word; I speak my works to the King. Glory be.…etc
Almighty and merciful God, Who hast given us a picture of Thy most blessed Mother to venerate under the special title of Perpetual Succor, mercifully grant us to be so fortified, among all the vicissitudes of this wayfaring life, by the protection of the same immaculate, ever virgin Mary, that we may deserve to attain the rewards of Thine everlasting redemption. Who livest and reignest.
Commemoration for Octave of St. John the Baptist
O God, Who hast made this day honorable to us on account of the birth of blessed John, grant Thy people the grace of spiritual joys, and direct the minds of all the faithful in the way of eternal salvation. Through our Lord.
EPISTLE Ecclesiasticus 24: 23-31
As the vine I have brought forth a pleasant odor, and my flowers are the fruit of honor and riches. I am the mother of fair love, and of fear, and of knowledge, and of holy hope. In me is all grace of the way and of the truth, in me is all hope of life and of virtue. Come over to me, all ye that desire me, and be filled with my fruits; for my spirit is sweet above honey, and my inheritance above honey and the honeycomb. My memory is unto everlasting generations. They that eat me, shall yet hunger; and they that drink me, shall yet thirst. He that hearkeneth to me shall not be confounded, and they that work by me shall not sin. They that explain me shall have life everlasting.
Thou art all lovely and sweet, O daughter of Sion, beautiful as the moon, bright as the sun, terrible as an army in battle array. V. (Judith 13: 22) The Lord hath blessed thee by His power, because by thee He hath brought to naught our enemies. Alleluia, alleluia. V. (Luke 1: 28) Hail, Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee, blessed art thou among women. Alleluia.
GOSPEL John 19: 25-27
Now there stood by the cross of Jesus, His mother, and His mother’s sister, Mary of Cleophas, and Mary Magdalen. When Jesus therefore had seen His mother and the disciple standing whom He loved, He saith to His mother: “Woman, behold thy son.” After that, He saith to the disciple: “Behold thy mother.” And from that hour, the disciple took her to his own.
Jeremiah 18: 24 Remember, O Virgin Mother, that thou speak good things for us in the sight of God, that He turn away His wrath from us.
By Thy clemency, O Lord, and the intercession of blessed Mary, ever a virgin, may this oblation profit us unto eternal and also present well being and peace. Through our Lord. Who liveth and reigneth with Thee in the unity of the Holy Ghost, one God Forever and ever. R. Amen
Octave St. John the Baptist
We heap Thine altars with gifts, O Lord, celebrating with fitting honour the nativity of him who heralded the coming of the Saviour, and pointed Him out when He had come, Our Lord Jesus Christ, Thy Son: Who liveth and reigneth.
PREFACE of the BVM
It is truly meet and just, right and availing unto salvation, that we should at all times and in all places give thanks unto Thee, O holy Lord, Father almighty and everlasting God. That on the Festival of the blessed Virgin Mary, we should praise, bless and proclaim Thee. For she conceived Thine only-begotten Son by the over-shadowing of the Holy Ghost; and losing not the glory of her virginity, gave forth to the world the everlasting light, Jesus Christ our Lord. Through whom the angels praise Thy majesty, the Dominions worship it, and the powers stand in awe. The Heavens and the heavenly Hosts, and the blessed Seraphim join together in celebrating their joy. With these we pray Thee join our voices also, while we say with lowly praise:
O Mary, ever Virgin, who because of thy great worth, God set up as Queen of the whole world, pray for our peace and salvation, for Thou hast brought forth Christ the Lord, the Savior of us all.
May the august intercession of Mary, Thy glorious Mother, ever-virgin, help us, O Lord, that those whom it hath heaped with benefits it may deliver from all peril and by her tender kindness, make to be of one mind. Through the Lord Jesus Christ, Thy Son, Who liveth and reigneth with Thee in the unity of the Holy Ghost, one God For ever and ever. R. Amen
Commemoration of St John
May Thy Church, O God, be joyful at the birth of blessed John the Baptist: through whom she knew the Author of her regeneration, our Lord Jesus Christ, Thy Son: Who with Thee livest and reignest…