Sunday, January 1, 2012

Our Lady of Perpetual Help: A Window to the Soul

Our Lady of Perpetual Help
The "New" Lady
As a Catholic gift store owner, I recently noticed a strange shift in the reproductions being produced of “Our Lady of Perpetual Help.” The original image is widely recognized by most Catholics. But the market has been recently inundated with a new “updated” icon of Our Lady. I find this retooled image to be prettier, happier, and more-Western in appearance. But the original message of the icon is also lost. The icon of “Our Lady of Perpetual Help” is of classical Byzantine style: gold background, tempura paint, iconic frontal posture. The image is of the Virgin Mary holding the Christ Child. According to historians, the icon represents an instant when the child Jesus leapt into his mother’s arms after a dream in which he witnessed his future passion and death; at the same time, the Archangels Michael and Gabriel carry the instruments of the Crucifixion before Jesus: thus frightening the young boy. He ran to the safety of his mother so quickly, that one of the sandals of Jesus is shown falling off his foot. Holding her son tight, Mary stares directly at the viewer. As with many Orthodox icons, the eyes drill right into the soul. The gaze of “Our Lady of Perpetual Help” is sad, but also filled with admonishment. For the adorer (the viewer) is the source of her child’s suffering. We nailed him to the cross. And Mary knows it.
The Fatima Children
St. Bernadette
  One of the Medjugorje seers.

The new images have taken away the Virgin’s strong continence and replaced it with a smiling cartoonish facsimile. Even Jesus seems to oddly grin at the Angels carrying the weapons of his effectual death. Our Lady no longer confronts us. We feel no guilt. The power of the image is gone. This reminds me of the unpopularity of sanguine crucifixes in the United States. The blooded Christ hanging on the cross favored in Spain, Italy and Mexico scares many Americans. They tend to favor the sanitized and unscarred corpus, or the resurrected Jesus on the cross, or even worse yet: no corpus at all. A similar phenomena are the disturbingly giddy photos of the so-called Medjugorje seers. While perusing the many photos of them on the internet, I asked myself: “why are they always laughing?” Would not coming face to face with the Mother of God engender a certain heaviness of spirit; a weight of responsibility? The Holy Father always seems to be walking with all the troubles of mankind pressing down on his head. They are in staunch contrast to the stern faces of the Fatima children and St. Bernadette. The eyes of those that have truly seen heaven resembles those of Our Lady. Their eyes peer into a sinful world with pain and sorrow.