OUR LADY HELP OF CHRISTIANS
The Liturgical Year
Ven. Abbot Dom Gueranger, O.S.B.
Ever since our entrance upon the joys of the Paschal Season, scarcely a day has passed without the Calendar’s offering us some grand Mystery or Saint to honor; and all these have been radiant with the Easter sun. But of our Blessed Lady, there has not been a single Feast to gladden our hearts by telling us of some mystery or glory of this august Queen. The Feast of her Seven Dolors is sometimes kept in April, that is, when Easter Sunday falls on or after the 10th of that month; but May and June pass without any special solemnity in honor of the Mother of God. It would seem as though Holy Church wished to honor, by a respectful silence, the forty days during which Mary enjoyed the company of her Jesus, after his Resurrection.
We, therefore, should never separate the Mother and the Son, if we would have our Easter meditations be in strict accordance with truth and that, we surely must wish. During these forty days, Jesus frequently visits his Disciples, weak men and sinners as they are: can he, then, keep away from his Mother, now that he is so soon to ascend into heaven, and leave her for several long years here on earth? Our hearts forbid us to entertain the thought. We feel sure that he frequently visits her, and that, when not visibly present with her, she has him in her soul, in a way more intimate and real and delicious than any other creature could have. No Feast could have given expression to such a mystery; and yet the Holy Ghost, who guides the spirit of the Church, has gradually led the Faithful to devote to the honoring Mary, in an especial manner, the entire Month of May, the whole of which comes, almost every year, under the glad season of Easter. No doubt, the loveliness of the May Month would, sometime or other, suggest the idea of consecrating it to the Holy Mother of God; but if we reflect on the divine and mysterious influence which guides the Church in all she does, we shall recognize, in this present instance, a heavenly inspiration, which prompted the Faithful to unite their own joy with that of Mary’s, and spend this beautiful Month, which is radiant with their own Easter joy, in commemorating the maternal delight experienced, during that same period, by the Immaculate Mother when on earth.
Today, however, we have a Feast in honor of Mary. True, it is not one of those Feasts which are entered on the general Calendar of the Church; yet is it so widely spread, and this with the consent of the Holy See, that our Liturgical Year would have been incomplete without it. Its object is to honor the Mother of God as the Help of Christians, a title she has justly merited by the Innumerable favors she has conferred upon Christendom. Dating from that day, whose anniversary we are soon to be celebrating, and on which the Holy Ghost descended upon Mary in the Cenacle, in order that she might begin to exercise over the Church Militant her power as Queen, who could tell the number of times that she has aided, by her protection, the Kingdom of her Son on earth?
Heresies have risen up, one after the other: they were violent; they were frequently supported by the great ones of this world; each of them was resolved on the destruction of the True Faith; and yet, one after the other, they have dwindled away, or fallen into impotency; or are gradually sinking by internal discord; and Holy Church tells us, that it is Mary who “alone destroys all heresies throughout the whole world.” If public scandals or persecutions, or the tyranny of secular interference, have, at times, threatened to stay the progress of the Church, Mary has stretched forth her arm, the obstacles were removed, and Jesus’ Spouse continued her onward march, leaving her foes and her fetters behind her.
All this was vividly brought before the mind of the saintly Pontiff, Pius the Fifth, by the victory of Lepanto, gained, by Mary’s intercession, over the Turkish Fleet, and he resolved to add one more title to the glorious ones given to our Lady in the Litany: the title he added was, Auxílium Christianorum, Help of Christians. Our present century, the 19th, has had the happiness of seeing another Pontiff, also named Pius, institute a Feast under this same title, a Feast which is intended to commemorate the Help bestowed on Christendom, and in all ages, by the Mother of God. Nothing could be happier than the choice of the day, on which this Feast was to be kept. On the 24th of May, in the year 1814, there was witnessed in Rome the most magnificent triumph that has yet been recorded in the annals of the Church. That was a grand day, whereon Constantine marked out the foundations for the Vatican Basilica in honor of the Prince of the Apostles; Sylvester stood by, and blessed the Emperor, who had just been converted to the true Faith: but important as was this event, it was but a sign of the last and decisive victory won by the Church, in the then recent persecution of Diocletian.
That was a grand day, whereon Leo the Third, Vicar of the King of kings, crowned Charlemagne with the imperial diadem, and, by his apostolic power, gave continuance to the long interrupted line of Emperors: but Leo the Third, by this, did but give an official and solemn expression to the power which the Church had already frequently exercised in the newly constituted nations, which received from her the idea of Christian government, the consecration of their rights, and the grace that was to enable them to fulfill their duties. That was a grand day, whereon Gregory the Ninth took back to the City of Peter the Papal Throne, which had been pent up at Avignon for seventy sad years: but Gregory the Ninth, in this, did but fulfill a duty, and his predecessors, had they willed it, might have effected this return to Rome, which the necessities of Christendom so imperatively called for.
Yes, all these were glorious days; but the 24th of May, of 1814, surpasses them all. Pius the Seventh re-entered Rome amidst the acclamations of the Holy City, whose entire population went forth to meet him, holding palm branches in their hands, and greeting him with their hosannas of enthusiastic joy. He had been a captive for five years, during which the spiritual government of the Christian world had suffered a total suspension. It was not the Allied Powers, who had made common cause against his oppressor, that broke the Pontiffs fetters; the very tyrant who kept him from Rome, had given him permission to return at the close of the preceding year ; but the Pontiff chose his own time, and did not leave Fontainebleau till the 25th of January. Rome, whither he was about to return, had been made a part of the French Empire, five years previously, and by a Decree in which was cited the name of Charlemagne! The City of Peter had been reduced to a head-town of a Department, with a Prefect for its administrator; and, with a view to making men forget that it was the City of the Vicars of Christ, its name was given as a title to the heir-presumptive of the Imperial crown of France. What a day that 24th of May, which witnessed the triumphant return of the Pontiff into the Holy City, whence he had been dragged, during the night, by the soldiers of an ambitious tyrant! He made the journey in short stages, meeting, on his way, the Allied Armies of Europe, which recognized his right as King. This right is superior, both in antiquity and dignity, to that of all other monarchs; and all, no matter whether they be heretics, schematics, or Catholics, must admit it, were it only on the strength of its being an historical fact.
But what we have so far said is not sufficient to give an adequate idea of the greatness of the prodigy thus achieved by our Lady, the Help of Christians. In order to have a just appreciation of it, we must remember that the miracle was not wrought in the age of Sylvester and Constantine, or of St. Leo the Third and Charlemagne, or of the great prophetess Catharine of Sienna, who made known the commands of God to the people of Italy and to the Popes of Avignon. The age that witnessed this wondrous event was the 19th, and that, too, when it was under the degrading influence of Voltairianism, and there were still living the authors and abettors of the crimes and impieties that resulted from the principles taught in the 18th century. Everything was adverse to such a glorious and unexpected triumph; Catholic feeling was far from being roused as it now is; the action of God’s providence had to show itself in a direct and visible manner: and to let the Christian world know that such was the case, Rome instituted the annual Feast of the 24th of May, as an offering of acknowledgment to Mary, the Help of Christians. Let us now weigh the importance of the twofold “Restoration, which was wrought on this day by the intercession of the Holy Mother of God.
Pius the Seventh had been forcibly taken from Rome and dethroned; on this 24th of May, he was reinstated in Rome, both as Pope and as Temporal Sovereign. On the respective Feasts of St. Peter’s Chair at Rome and Antioch, we gave our readers the doctrine of the Church, which teaches us that the succession to the rights conferred by Christ upon St. Peter belongs to the Bishop of Rome. From this it follows, that residence in the City of Rome is both the right and obligation of the successor of St. Peter, save in the case of his deeming a temporary absence to be demanded by circumstances. Whosoever, therefore, by means of physical force, keeps the Sovereign Pontiff out of Rome, or prevents him from residing there, is acting in opposition to the Divine Will; for the Pastor ought to be in the midst of his flock; and Rome having been made, by Christ, the head of all Churches, these have a right to find in Rome him, who is both the Infallible Doctor of Faith, and the source of all spiritual jurisdiction.
The first blessing, therefore, for which we are indebted to Mary, on this day, is that she brought back the Pastor to his flock, and restored the supreme government of holy Church to its normal state. The second, is her having reinstated the Pontiff in possession of his Temporal Power, which is the surest guarantee of his being independent in the exercise of his Spiritual Power. We have but to consult history, and we shall learn what miseries and dangers have followed from the Popes being the subject of any earthly Monarch. The experience of the past shows us, that the City of Rome, if under any other government than that of the Papacy, excites the mistrust of Christendom as to the liberty necessary for the due election of the Supreme Pontiff. God, in his all-seeing wisdom, provided against what would have been a perpetual source of anarchy in the Church. From the earliest commencement of the Christian era, he prepared the foundation of the temporal dominion of the Papacy over Rome and its territory, even before the sword of the Franks was drawn for the defense, the establishing, and increasing this precious Domain, which is the property of Christendom.
Whosoever dares to invade it, attacks the liberty of the entire Church; and we know, as St. Anselm says, that ” there is nothing in this world more loved by God, than the Liberty of his Church: “hence the severe punishments that have ever followed such as offered violence to it. The Pontifical Sovereignty over Rome and the States belonging to the Church, has arisen from necessity, but that necessity belongs to the supernatural order of things. It follows, that this Sovereignty surpasses all others in dignity, and that, in consequence of its being consecrated to God’s service on earth, it is to be considered as a sacred thing. He that dares to invade it, is guilty, not only of a spoliation, but of sacrilege; and the anathemas of the Church lie heavily upon him. Here again, we have history telling us how terrible has been the lot of all those, who, despising the anathema, refused to make restitution to the Church, and dared to defy the justice of Him who conferred on Peter the power of binding and loosing.
Finally, Authority being the basis of every society, and its maintenance being of the utmost importance to the preservation of order and justice, it should be mainly respected and upheld in the Roman Pontiff, for he is the highest representative of Authority on earth, his temporal Power is by far the oldest in existence, and his Kingly character is enhanced by the union of supreme Spiritual power. He, therefore, that attacks or overthrows the Temporal Sovereignty of the Pope, is an enemy to every Government; for there is no other than can bear comparison with this in merit and rightful possession; and if it be not spared, no other is safe. Let us, then, give thanks to the Blessed Mother of God, on this feast of the twenty-fourth day of May, which has been instituted in commemoration of the twofold blessing she thus brought upon the world, the preservation of the Church, and the preservation of Society.
Let us unite in the fervent acclamations of the then loyal citizens of Rome, and, like them, sing, with all the glad joy of our Easter Alleluia, our greetings of Hosanna to the Vicar of Christ, the Father of that dear Land, our common Country. The remembrance of St. Peter’s deliverance from prison, and his restoration to liberty, must have been vividly on the minds of that immense concourse of people, whose love for their Pontiff was redoubled by the sufferings he had gone through. As the triumphal chariot, on which he had been placed, came near the Flaminian Gate, the horses were unyoked, and the Pontiff was conveyed by the people to the Vatican Basilica, where a solemn thanksgiving was made, over the Tomb of the Prince of the Apostles.
But let us not close the day, without admiring the merciful intervention of our Lady, the Help of Christians, If the protection she gives to the Faithful sometimes necessitates her showing severity to them that were the tyrants, her maternal heart is full of compassion for the vanquished, and she extends her Help even to them. Thus it was with the haughty Emperor, over whom she triumphed on the twenty-fourth of May; she would then bring him back to humble repentance and to the practice of his religious duties. A messenger from the Island of Saint Helena was one day ushered into the presence of Pius the Seventh. The exiled Napoleon, whom he had consecrated Emperor in the Church of Notre Dame, and whose after conduct brought him under the ban of excommunication, now besought the Pontiff, the true and only King of Rome, to allow him to be re-admitted to those spiritual blessings of which he had been justly deprived.
Our Lady was preparing a second victory. Pius the Seventh, whose name the fallen Emperor could never pronounce without emotion, and whom he called ” a lamb,” Pius the Seventh, who had so courageously braved public opinion by giving hospitality, to the members of the unfortunate Napoleon family, readily complied with the request thus made to him; and the holy Sacrifice of the Mass was, shortly afterwards, offered up in the presence of the illustrious exile of Saint Helena. Our Lady of Help was advancing her conquest. But, before granting pardon, the Justice of God had required a full and public expiation. He, who had been the instrument of salvation to millions of souls, by restoring Religion to France, was not to be lost; but he had impiously imprisoned the Sovereign Pontiff in the castle of Fontainebleau; and it was in that very castle that he had afterwards to sign the deed of his own abdication.
For five years he had held captive the Vicar of Christ; for five years, he himself had to endure the sufferings and humiliation of captivity. Heaven accepted the retribution, and left Mary to complete her victory. Reconciled with the Church, and fortified by the holy Sacraments which prepare the Christian for eternity, Napoleon yielded up his soul into the hands of his Maker, on the 5th of May, the Month that is sacred to Mary, and gives us the Feast we are keeping to-day. The day chosen by God, from all eternity, for Napoleon’s death, was the Feast of St. Pius the Fifth; on which, same Feast, Pius the Seventh, was receiving” the congratulations of his faithful Romans. The name Pius signifies compassion and mercy; it is the glorious name which our lips have been repeating* for the last five and twenty years, the name of Pius the Ninth. It is one of the names given to God, in the Sacred Scripture: Pius et misericors est Deus: God is compassionate and merciful. Mary, too, is compassionate; it is the title we give her in one of our favorite prayers: 0 Clemens, 0 Pia, 0 dulcis Virgo Maria! She is ever ready with her aid, be the danger one that affects the Church at large, or a single individual soul: she is the Help of Christians, and, as such, we honour her on this Feast. God has willed her to be so; and we are but complying with his wishes, when we have an unreserved confidence in the protection of this powerful Queen, this loving Mother.
THE FEAST OF OUR LADY
HELP OF CHRISTIANS
INTROIT – Isaiah 7: 14
Salve, sancta Parens, eníxa puerpera Regem: qui cœlum terrámque regit in sæculórum. Ps. 44: 2 Eructávit cor meum verbum bonum: dico ego opera mea Regi. V. Gloria Patri.
Hail, holy Mother, thou who didst bring forth the King Who rules Heaven and earth for ever and ever. Ps. My heart hath uttered a good word: I speak my works to the King. V. Glory be to the Father
O Almighty and merciful God, Who didst wondrously appoint the most Blessed Virgin perpetual help for Christians in need of protection: grant in Thy mercy that after battling in life under such a protectress, we may be able to conquer our enemy at death. Through our Lord
EPISTLE- Ecclesiasticus 24: 14-16
From the beginning, and before the world, was I created, and unto the world to come I shall not cease to be, and in the holy dwelling place I have ministered before him. And so I was established in Sion, and in the holy city likewise I rested, and my power was in Jerusalem. And I took root in an honorable people, and in the portion of my God his inheritance, and my abode is in the full assembly of saints.
GOSPEL Luke 11: 27-28
At that time, as Jesus was speaking to the multitudes, a certain woman from the crowd, lifting up her voice, said to Him: Blessed is the womb that bore Thee and the paps that gave Thee suck. But He said: Yea, rather, blessed are they who hear the world of God and keep it.
OFFERTORY – Luke 1: 28, 42
Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb.
For the triumph of the Christian faith we offer to Thee, O Lord, the sacrifice of propitiation; may the Blessed Virgin’s help render them of profit to us, for such a perfect victory ever comes through her. Through our Lord.
PREFACE OF THE BLESSED VIRGIN
It is truly meet and just, right and for our salvation, that we should at all times and in all places, give thanks unto Thee, O holy Lord, Father almighty, eternal God; and that we should praise and bless and proclaim Thee in the Festivity of the blessed Mary ever Virgin: who conceived Thine only-begotten Son by the overshadowing of the Holy Ghost, and the glory of her virginity still abiding, gave forth the eternal Light, Jesus Christ our Lord: through Whom Angels praise Thy Majesty, Dominations worship, Powers stand in awe: the Heavens and the hosts of heaven with the blessed Seraphim unite, exult, and celebrate; and we entreat that Thou wouldst bid our voices also to be heard with theirs, singing with lowly praise.
Blessed is the womb of the Virgin Mary, which bore the Son of the eternal Father.
Help Your people, Lord, who are refreshed by partaking of Your Body and Blood; so that by the help of Your most holy Mother they may be delivered from all evil and peril and be kept in every good work. Who livest and reignest.