Faith & Life

Mary, Protectress of those in need

May 16, 2022

Aurelio Porfiri

In the ever-present tradition of an abundance of prayers dedicated to the Madonna, there is one that is particularly significant. This is Sancta Maria Succurre Miseris, found in the Ninth Sermon on the Annunciation by Fulbert of Chartres (951-1029). It is a prayer that has experienced certain renown.

Here is the text:

Sancta Maria, succurre miseris, iuva pusillanimes, refove flebiles, ora pro populo, interveni pro clero, intercede pro devoto femineo sexu: sentiant omnes tuum iuvamen, quicumque celebrant tuam sanctam commemorationem. Amen.

The translation says:

Holy Mary, be a help for the defenseless, strength for the fearful, comfort for the sorrowful, pray for the people, plead for the clergy, intercede for all the holy women consecrated to God; may all who observe your sacred commemoration feel the power of your assistance. Amen.

I find this turning to Mary’s intercession for concrete needs (people, clergy, women …) significant and also in line with the logic of the incarnation. Ours is not an incorporeal world but a world that knows concrete sufferings and has particular needs.

This, as is evident, is an invocation to Our Lady of Help:

“Our Lady of Help, whose obligatory memorial occurs on April 27, is a Marian title proper to the Order of Saint Augustine. It was Alexander IV on April 9, 1256, who wanted the various hermit groups that followed the Rule of St. Augustine (354-430) to merge into a single order, with the mission of leaving isolated places to enter the city and take care of preaching, the celebration of the liturgy and the sacraments, and the foundation of schools and places of assistance to the needy. The new order achieved enormous gains in terms of its works and had an extraordinary flowering of holiness and spirituality, placing itself under the patronage of the Madonna and Saint Augustine. Devotion to the Madonna del Soccorso dates back to three prodigious events that occurred in Palermo at the beginning of the fourteenth century.

“In the year 1306, the Augustinian Nicola Bruno of Messina, prior of the convent of St. Augustine in Palermo, who fell seriously ill, confidently turned to the Virgin Mary, whose image was frescoed in the Chapel of St. Martin of his own church. The Madonna appeared to him and, giving him healing, recommended to him the spread of the devotion to the Madonna del Soccorso.

“Also, in 1306, a woman from Palermo had the sad habit of cursing when she lost patience with her child. One day she, more angry than usual, went so far as to invoke the devil so that he would take the annoying son. All said and done, the devil appeared, throwing himself on the child. Then the mother, very frightened and repentant, began to cry out: ‘Help, Virgin Mary! Help, my Madonna!” The Madonna, to save the child from the devil’s clutches, appeared with a stick in her hand. At this sight, the devil fled and disappeared. The mother went with her son to the Church of Sant’Agostino to thank the Madonna before the image of her veneration in the Chapel of San Martino, recognizing her as her heavenly helper.

“A few years later, in 1315, a completely paralyzed woman from Palermo saw the apparition of the Madonna in a dream, who invited her to go to church, before the Madonna’s image, to be freed from the evil that bound her. The prodigious healing took place in front of the image of the Madonna, also in the Chapel of San Martino.

“The Augustinians, beginning from Sicily, spread the devotion to the Madonna del Soccorso in all their churches in Italy and the world. On an iconographic level, a characteristic element is the Madonna with a stick in her hand who drives away the devil, saving the child and his mother, as in the sixteenth-century painting of the Sanctuary of the Madonna del Soccorso in Cartoceto (PS) in the Marche region. On March 24, 1804, Pius VII extended the Office and Mass of the Madonna del Soccorso to the entire Augustinian Order, which the Redemptorists, founded by St. Alphonsus Maria de ‘Liguori, adopted with the title of Our Lady of Perpetual Help. In all the liturgical books of the Augustinian Order, from time immemorial, the feast of Our Lady of Help has been placed on 13 May. On this date in 1917, there was the apparition of Our Lady to the three little shepherds in Fatima, and on 13 May, in 1981, John Paul II suffered the attack in St. Peter’s Square, coming out alive due to the maternal and supernatural intervention of Mary, heavenly helper of Christians and of the whole Church.” (latheotokos.it)

Thus, as we see, there is also a link between this feast and that of Fatima; a link that is certainly very intriguing.

John XXIII, in a speech to the seminarians of the Roman Major Seminary on March 2, 1962, tells us how this invocation was also linked to the title of Our Lady of Trust: “Sancta Maria, succurre miseris, iuva pusillanimes, refove flebiles, ora pro populo, intervene pro clero, intercede pro devoto femineo sexu: sentiant omnes tuum iuvamen in hac sancta festivitate.

“How propitious and happy resounds this invocation addressed to the Blessed Virgin with the title of ‘Our Lady of Trust’!. It is a prayer which, above all, speaks to the heart of the Holy Father in his daily concerns for the good of all; and now, in a special way, in his sometimes even tiring but playfully accepted participation in the preparatory work for the Council. In the first requests we seem to see a reflection of the conditions in which humanity finds itself, the confirmation of the paucity of each individual, the meeting of many who are weak, suffering, refractory to action. And here the ability to do good with heavenly help shines forth for everyone, encouragement in every hour, in every day, even if there is no lack of reasons for trials and opposition, despite the fervor. There are days of sadness, and the priest knows that it is necessary to go through the exercise of all the theological and cardinal virtues. Here is the source, always, of the purest joy: it, above adversity, renders life like a perennial song. There are circumstances in which we seem to be closer to the Bethlehem grotto; others in which the pause on Calvary, next to the Cross of Jesus, is more evident. But what refreshment, knowing that He always looks at us and supports us, inviting us to stay with His Mother, alongside the beloved Disciple! In this way, reassured, it becomes easier to ask Our Lady to intercede for the Christian people, so that, among other things, in this era of great research, not only historical, but also and above all scientific, we may overcome the temptation of pride or feeling diminished through the incomparable strength contained in the fiat voluntas tua which is the foundation of every sound philosophy and every true success.” The Pope’s words give us a foretaste of the popularity of this beautiful prayer.

(Image: The altarpiece of the Madonna del Soccorso preserved in the collegiate church of San Martino, Italy. Source: Wikipedia CC BY-SA 3.0)