Friday, October 24, 2008

Help of Christians

I really love visiting Holy Hill (the affectionate official nickname for the Basilica of the National Shrine of Our Lady Help of Christians). Sometimes it seems like the most peaceful place in the world is the lovely shrine chapel filled with votive candles and stained glass images of Our Lady.

In researching a little info on the tradition of Our Lady Help of Christians, I found this fascinating story relating to the institution of the Feast of Our Lady Help of Christians in the Catholic Encyclopedia (Wow, and sometimes we're tempted to think that we live in the worst of times!):
The feast of Our Lady, Help of Christians, was instituted by Pius VII. By order of Napoleon, Pius VII was arrested, 5 July, 1808, and detained a prisoner for three years at Savona, and then at Fontainebleau. In January, 1814, after the battle of Leipzig, he was brought back to Savona and set free, 17 March, on the eve of the feast of Our Lady of Mercy, the Patroness of Savona. The journey to Rome was a veritable triumphal march. The pontiff, attributing the victory of the Church after so much agony and distress to the Blessed Virgin, visited many of her sanctuaries on the way and crowned her images (e.g. the "Madonna del Monte" at Cesena, "della Misericordia" at Treja, "della Colonne" and "della Tempestà" at Tolentino). The people crowded the streets to catch a glimpse of the venerable pontiff who had so bravely withstood the threats of Napoleon. He entered Rome, 24 May, 1814, and was enthusiastically welcomed (McCaffrey, "History of the Catholic Church in the Nineteenth Cent.", 1909, I, 52). To commemorate his own sufferings and those of the Church during his exile he extended the feast of the Seven Dolours of Mary (third Sunday in September) to the universal Church, 18 Sept., 1814. When Napoleon left Elba and returned to Paris, Murat was about to march through the Papal States from Naples; Pius VII fled to Savona (22 March, 1815), where he crowned the image of Our Lady of Mercy, 10 May, 1815.

After the Congress of Vienna and the battle of Waterloo he returned to Rome, 7 July, 1815. To give thanks to God and Our Lady he (15 Sept., 1815) instituted for the Papal States the feast of Our Lady, Help of Christians, to be celebrated, 24 May, the anniversary of his first return. The Dioceses of Tuscany adopted it, 12 Feb., 1816; it has spread nearly over the entire Latin Church, but is not contained in the universal calendar. The hymns of the Office were composed by Brandimarte (Chevalier, "Repert. Hymnolog.", II, 495). This feast is the patronal feast of Australasia, a double of the first class with an octave (Ordo Australasiae, 1888), and in accordance with a vow (1891) is celebrated with great splendour in the churches of the Fathers of the Foreign Missions of Paris. It has attained special celebrity since St. Don Bosco, founder of the Salesian Congregation, 9 June, 868, dedicated to Our Lady, Help of Christians, the mother church of his congregation at Turin.
It seems that every time I visit (and for various reasons, I've been doing a lot of visiting this Fall), I have some heart-breaking prayer request to bring to Our Lady and entrust to her care. Lighting a candle is such a tangible thing (even if small) that I know it helps me to be able to do *something*. It seems to me that Our Lady Help of Christians is the perfect one to entrust our cares and troubles to - especially when we're discouraged.

Today I needed to meet with my spiritual advisor and remembered that they were celebrating the 40 Hours Devotion today and throughout the weekend. Due to the enthusiasm of the older kids, I decided to brave having all them with me and have them wait for me in front of the Blessed Sacrament. They did really well - and they had a long wait! We packed a bag of books and rosaries and holy cards and I "bribed" them with getting to light a candle for a special intention if they behaved nicely (they each picked really good intentions all on their own - I love it that they regularly remember their special intentions at bed-time prayers - one for the soldiers in Iraq, one for an end to abortion, one for their cousin Ruben, etc. ) which is a special treat for them. (By the way, I also bribed them with chocolate from the gift shop - our normal after-Mass treat when we go to Holy Hill for Sunday Mass). Naturally, such a feat wouldn't be possible without two teenagers to help pull things off and a certain amount of grace from above. :)

P.S. The photo is of one of the windows from the Shrine Chapel. You can click on it to view a bigger version.

1 comment:

Alice Gunther said...

Extremely interesting post. I grew up in Blessed Virgin Mary, Help of Christians parish and attended school there for eight years.