The Faithful have frequently seen it proved by miraculous intervention that the Mother of God is ever ready with her Help to repel the enemies of religion. It was on this account that after the signal victory gained by the Christians over the Turks in the Gulf of Lepanto, through the intercession of the most Blessed Virgin, Saint Pius V ordered that to the other titles given to the Queen of Heaven in the Litany of Loreto, there should be added this of Help of Christians. But one of the most memorable proofs of this her protection, and one which may be regarded as an incontestable miracle, is that which happened during the pontificate of Pius VII. By the intrigues and armed violence of certain impious men the Pontiff had been driven from the Apostolic See of Peter and was kept in close confinement, mainly at Savona, for upwards of five years. During this period, by a persecution unheard of in any previous age, every possible means was resorted to in order to prevent his governing the Church of God. When suddenly and to the surprise of men he was restored to the Pontifical throne to the great joy, it might be almost said, with the concurrence, of the whole world. The same thing happened also a second time when a fresh disturbance arose and compelled him to leave Rome and go, with the Sacred College of Cardinals, into Liguria. Here again the storm that threatened great destruction was appeased by a most prompt interference of God’s providence, and the Pontiff’s return to Rome filled Christendom with new joy. Before returning, however, he would carry out an intention which his captivity had until then prevented him from doing: with his own hand he solemnly placed a golden crown on the celebrated statue of the Mother of God that was venerated at Savona under the title of Mother of Mercy. The same Sovereign Pontiff, Pius VII, who was so thoroughly acquainted with every circumstance of these events, rightly attributed their happy issue to the intercession of the most holy Mother of God whose powerful help he himself had earnestly besought, besides urging all the Faithful to obtain it by their prayers. He therefore instituted a solemn feast in honour of the same Virgin-Mother under the title of Help of Christians. It was to be kept every year on the twenty-fourth of May, the anniversary of his own most happy return to Rome. He also sanctioned a proper Office for this feast, in order that the remembrance of so great a favour might ever be vividly on the minds of the Faithful, and secure the thanksgiving it deserved.
Dom Prosper Gueranger:
Ever since our entrance upon the joys of the Paschal Season, scarcely a day has passed without the Calendar offering us some grand mystery or saint to honour, 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 Dolours is sometimes kept in April — that is, when Easter Sunday falls on or after the tenth of that month, but May and June pass without any special solemnity in honour of the other of God. It would seem as though Holy Church wished to honour, 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 honouring Mary in an special 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, some time 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 will recognise 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 honour 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 honour the Mother of God as the Help of Christians — a title she has justly merited by the innumerable favours she has conferred on Christendom. Dating from that day, whose anniversary we are soon to be celebrating, and on which the Holy Ghost descended on 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 V 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 Auxilium Christianovum, Help of Christians. [The nineteenth century] 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 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 on which Constantine marked out the foundations for the Vatican Basilica in honour 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 on which Leo III, 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 III 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 fulfil their duties. That was a grand day on which Gregory IX took back to the City of Peter the Papal Throne which had been pent up at Avignon for seventy sad years. But Gregory IX in this did but fulfil 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 1814 surpasses them all. Pius VII 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 Pontiff’s 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, to which 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 from which he had been dragged during the night by the soldiers of an ambitious tyrant!
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 Saint Leo III and Charlemagne, or of the great prophetess Catherine of Siena 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 nineteenth, 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 eighteenth 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 acknowledgement to Mary, the Help of Christians.
Let us now weigh the importance of the two-fold restoration which was wrought on this day by the intercession of the Holy Mother of God. Pius VII 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 Saint 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 on Saint 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 Saint Peter, save in the case of his deeming a temporary absence to be demanded by circumstances. Whoever, 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.
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 two-fold 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 Saint 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 Porta Flaminia, 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 VII. 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 VII whose name the fallen Emperor could never pronounce without emotion, and whom he called “a lamb” — Pius VII, who had so courageously braved public opinion by giving hospitality at Rome 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 today. The day chosen by God from all eternity for Napoleon’s death was the feast of Saint Pius V, on which same feast Pius VII was receiving the congratulations of his faithful Romans. The name Pius signifies compassion and mercy. It is one of the names given to God in the Sacred Scripture: Pius et misericors est Deus: God is compassionate and merciful (Ecclesiasticus ii. 13). Mary too is compassionate. It is the title we give her in one of our favourite prayers: clemens, Pia, 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.
Let us now read the account, as given in today’s liturgy, of the great event that prompted the institution of our feast:
“The Faithful have frequently seen it proved by miraculous intervention that the Mother of God is ever ready with her Help to repel the enemies of Religion. It was on this account that after the signal victory gained by the Christians over the Turks in the Gulf of Lepanto, through the intercession of the most Blessed Virgin, the holy Pope Pius V ordered that to the other titles given to the Queen of Heaven in the Litany of Loreto there should be added this of Help of Christians.
But one of the most memorable proofs of this her protection, and one which may be regarded as an incontestable miracle, is that which happened during the Pontificate of Pius VII. By the intrigues and armed violence of certain impious men, the Pontiff had been driven from the Apostolic See of Peter, and was kept in close confinement, mainly at Savona, for upwards of five years. During this period, by a persecution unheard of in any previous age, every possible means was resorted to in order to prevent his governing the Church of God. When lo! suddenly and to the surprise of men, he was restored to the Pontifical Throne, to the great joy, it might be almost said, with the concurrence, of the whole world.
The same thing happened also a second time when a fresh disturbance arose and compelled him to leave Rome and go, with the Sacred College of Cardinals, into Liguria. Here again the storm that threatened great destruction was appeased by a most prompt interference of God’s providence, and the Pontiff’s return to Rome filled Christendom with new joy. Before returning, however, he would carry out an intention which his captivity had until then prevented him from doing: with his own hand he solemnly placed a golden crown on the celebrated statue of the Mother of God that was venerated at Savona, under the title of Mother of Mercy. The same Sovereign Pontiff, Pius VII, who was so thoroughly acquainted with every circumstance of these events, rightly attributed their happy issue to the intercession of the most holy Mother of God, whose powerful help he himself had earnestly besought, besides urging all the Faithful to obtain it by their prayers. He therefore instituted a solemn feast in honour of the same Virgin-Mother under the title of Help of Christians. It was to be kept every year on the twenty-fourth of May, the anniversary of his own most happy return to Rome. He also sanctioned a proper Office for this feast in order that the remembrance of so great a favour might ever be vividly on the minds of the Faithful, and secure the thanksgiving it deserved.”
“I have lifted up my eyes to the mountains, from where help will come to me: my help is from the Lord, who made Heaven and Earth” (Psalms cxx. 1, 2). Thus prayed the Israelites of old — thus also prays the Church — though, for her, the help is nearer and comes more speedily. The Psalmist’s petition has been granted: the heavens have bowed down, and the divine Help is now close by our side. This Help is Jesus, Son of God, and Son of Mary. He is unceasingly fulfilling the promise made us by His Prophet: “In the day of your salvation, I have helped you” (Isaias xlix. 8). But this King of kings has given us a Queen, and this Queen is Mary His Mother. Out of love for her He has given her a throne on His right hand, as Solomon did for his mother Bethsabee (3 Kings ii. 19), and He would have her also be the Help of Christians. It is the Church that teaches us this by inserting this beautiful title in the Litany. And Rome invites us on this day to unite with her in giving thanks and praise to our Blessed Lady of Help, for one of the most signal of her favours.
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QUEEN of Heaven! Our Paschal joy is increased on this the anniversary of you giving back to Rome her Pastor and her King. Yes, it was your intercession that achieved the grand victory, and we offer you the homage of our grateful rejoicings. This Month is your in a special manner, but its twenty-fourth day makes us redouble our devotion. It encourages us to entreat you, with all the earnestness of our souls, that you would protect Rome and its Pontiff, for new dangers have arisen.
The Rock, set by your Jesus, has again become a sign of contradiction, and the billows of impiety and violence are beating against it. We know the great promise: the Rock can never be swept away, and on it safely stands the Church. But we know, too that this Church is one day to be taken up to Heaven, and then the Judgement! Meanwhile, you, Mary, are our Help: Oh stretch forth that arm of yours which nothing can resist. Be mindful of Rome where you are so devoutly honoured, and where your glory is proclaimed by so many sumptuous sanctuaries. The end of the world is not yet come. The holiest of causes requires your aid. Never permit the Holy City to be desecrated by her falling into the power of impious men. Suffer her not to be deprived of the presence of her Pontiff, and uphold the independence which the Vicar of Christ must possess, if the Church is to be rightly governed.
But Rome is not the only spot on Earth that needs your powerful Help, O Mary. The Vineyard of your Son is every where being laid waste by the wild beast (Psalms lxxix.) Vice and error and seduction are everywhere. There is not a country where the Church is not persecuted, and her liberty trampled upon. Society has lost its Christian traditions. It is at the mercy of revolutions against which it has no power. O you that are the Help of Christians, aid the world in these its perils! You have the power to save it from danger! Will you permit the people to be lost, who were redeemed by the Blood of Jesus and whom He, from His Cross, entrusted to your care?
You, O Mary, are the Help of each Christian soul, as well as of the entire world. That same enemy who is bent on the destruction of the whole human race is seeking to drag each one of us into perdition. He hates the image of your Son which he sees reflected in our human nature. O come to our assistance: save us from this roaring lion of Hell. He knows your power, and that you can procure our deliverance, so long as we are left in this present life. You have gained the most stupendous victories for the salvation of your clients. Tire not, we beseech you, in aiding poor sinners to return to their God. When Jesus spoke of them that were invited to the marriage-feast and told us how the king said to his servants: “Compel them to come in” (Luke xiv. 23), it was you that He had mainly in view. Lead us then to our King! Our supplications to you, O Help of Christians, are thus earnest because our wants are great. But we are not on that account the less mindful of the special honour that we owe you at this holy Season of Easter when the Church contemplates the joy you had in your Risen Jesus’ presence. She congratulates you on the immense happiness that thus repaid you for your anguish on Calvary and at the Sepulchre. It is to the Mother consoled by and exulting in her Son’s triumphant Resurrection that we offer this sweet month, whose loveliness is so in keeping with your own incomparable beauty, dear Mother! In return for this homage of our devotion pray for us that our souls may persevere in the beauty of grace given to them by this year’s union with our Jesus, and that we may be so well prepared for the Feast of Pentecost, as to merit to receive the Gifts of the Holy Ghost, who comes that He may perfect the work of our Paschal Regeneration.Also on this day according to the ROMAN MARTYROLOGY:
At Antioch, the birthday of St. Manahen, foster-brother of Herod the Tetrarch. He was a doctor and prophet under the grace of the New Testament, and his remains now repose in the city of Antioch.
Also blessed Joanna, wife of Chuza, Herod’s steward, mentioned by the Evangelist St. Luke.
At Porto, the birthday of St. Vincent, martyr.
At Brescia, St. Afra, martyr, who suffered under the emperor Hadrian.
At Nantes in Bretagne, in the time of the emperor Diocletian, the blessed martyrs Donatian and Rogatian, brothers who, because of their constancy in the faith, were sent to prison, stretched on the rack, and lacerated. Finally, they were transpierced with a soldier’s lance and beheaded.
In Istria, the holy martyrs Zoellus, Servilius, Felix, Silvanus and Diocles.
The same day, the holy martyrs Meletius, military officer, and two hundred and fifty two of his companions, who achieved their martyrdom by various kinds of deaths.
Also the holy martyrs Susanna, Marciana and Pallada, wives of the soldiers just mentioned, who were put to death with their young children.
At Milan, St. Robustian, martyr.
At Morocco in Africa, the passion of blessed John de Prado, of the Order of the Discalced Friars Minor of the Strict Observance who, while preaching the Gospel, was bound, imprisoned and scourged, and after enduring with fortitude many other torments for Christ, terminated his martyrdom by fire.
In the monastery of Lerins, St. Vincent, a priest eminent for learning and sanctity.
At Bologna, the translation of St. Dominic, confessor, in the time of Pope Gregory IX.
And in other places, many other holy martyrs, confessors and virgins.
Thanks be to God.