Remembering that it was the “yes” of Mary that God awaited before he became man, we celebrate today, the solemnity of Our Lady, Help of Christians, knowing that she is our model in the ‘yes’ that we had, are and will be given to Christ as seminarians and, God willing, as future priests.
As Patroness of Australia, we trust that Mary, Help of Christians, will protect our vocations and guide us now and always.
Today, we reflect on the role of Our Lady, Help of Christians. In 1844, Mary, under the title of Our Lady Help of Christians, was chosen as the patroness of Australia at the First Provincial Synod of Sydney.
Our Lady has been invoked under the title Help of Christians since at least the sixteenth century. After the battle of Lepanto on October 7, 1571, at which a Turkish fleet was defeated by a Christian fleet, Pope Pius V, who had previously called upon Catholics to invoke Mary’s assistance so that the Turkish threat may be averted, inserted the title “Help of Christians” into the Litany of Our Lady as he believed that the threat of invasion had been averted through Mary’s intercession.
Our Lady was again to be invoked under the title Help of Christians early in the nineteenth century. Pius VII was elected to the Papacy in 1800, soon after Napoleon had seized the power in France. Although Pius VII and Napoleon had signed a concordat in 1801, Pius later refused to comply to the many of Napoleon’s demands to diminish the Church’s privileges. In a fruitless attempt to coerce Pius VII, Napoleon kept him under close arrest in Savona in Italy and other locations from 1809 to 1814, forbidding cardinals and other Church officials to meet him. A prayer campaign was organised amongst Catholics throughout the world to obtain the Pope’s freedom. Pius VII attributed his eventual freedom in 1814 to Our Lady Help of Christians and decreed that the feast be celebrated on the anniversary of the day upon which he re-entered Rome, 24 May.
The Second Vatican Council, in the Constitution on the Church, cites this title of Mary and explains it in the context of Mary’s maternal role, “By her maternal charity, Mary cares for the brethren of her Son who still wander through this world in the midst of dangers and difficulties until they are led to the happiness of their heavenly home.”
Therefore, it is entirely appropriate for us to ask for Our Lady’s protection of our vocation because Mary took good care of Jesus, the Son of God, and if she did that she can and will and does take good care of us, those who are in formation for the priesthood.
Mary is truly and profoundly involved in the Mystery of the Incarnation, our salvation. Mary’s “yes” is the door through which God was able to enter the world, to become man. The Incarnation was the beginning of the preparation for the fullest of God’s revelation and his greatest gift, the gift of himself in God’s Son; for giving himself with great love on the Cross to become Bread for the life of the world. Thus, sacrifice, Incarnation and priesthood go together and Mary is at the heart of this mystery.
There is a special relationship of motherhood that exists between Mary and the priesthood because priests are “in persona Christi”; they are committed to the mission of proclaiming, bearing witness to and giving Christ to the world. Because of the identification with and sacramental conformation to Jesus, Son of God and Son of Mary, every priest is a special beloved son of Mother Mary.
Thus, the Second Vatican Council reminds priests to invoke Mary as “Mother of the supreme and eternal Priest, as Protectress of their ministry… and always venerate and love her, with a filial devotion and worship.”
St John Vianney used to like to say, “Jesus Christ, after giving us all that he could give us, wanted further to make us heirs to his most precious possession, that is, his Holy Mother.” This applies for every Christian, but in a special way for each of us, as future priests.
Our Lady, Help of Christians, pray for us.