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Mary Help of Christians…..Solemnity for Australia, posted by Fr Kevin Walsh

25 May

Mary Help of Christians

The traditional image of Mary Help of Christians has frequently been adapted to emphasise her patronal link with Australia. The image being used in this resource is no exception. While following the traditional form, the artwork has tried to give the image a more contemporary appearance.

As has become customary, the map of Australia is introduced at Mary’s feet and the Southern Cross shines in the night sky behind her. The colours have been chosen partly to echo the Australian Green and Gold, and partly to use the image of the Australian sun: A great sign appeared in heaven: a woman robed with the sun… (Rev 12:1). Finally, for the first time, an open hand reaching out to help her children has replaced the royal sceptre of power in Mary’s right hand. This, it was felt, might have a greater resonance with contemporary Australia without destroying the beauty of the traditional image. The significance of Mary as Queen of Heaven is adequately expressed in the crown she wears.

History of the Feast
The first provincial synod of the Church in Australia took place in September 1844. It was a relatively small affair: Archbishop Polding of Sydney and the new bishops of Adelaide and Hobart met with about half the three-dozen pioneer priests in the country. Among their decisions, the Church in Australia was placed under the patronage of the Virgin Mary invoked by the title Help of Christians. The Holy See confirmed this in 1852.

The choice of Mary Help of Christians may well derive from the first Catholic chaplain in Sydney, Fr J.J. Therry, who dedicated his church to St Mary in November 1821. At this time the feast of Mary Help of Christians was new and generated considerable interest.

Pope Pius V first introduced the title Help of Christians into the Litany of Loretto after a Christian victory in the Battle of Lepanto in 1571. Early in the 19th century, Napoleon occupied Rome, annexed the Papal States and imprisoned Pope Pius VII. In thanksgiving for the pope’s release and restoration in Rome on 24 May 1814, the feast of Mary Help of Christians was introduced to the Roman calendar on that day.

Fr Therry was ordained in Ireland in 1815 at a time when the Irish Church was quickly adopting devotions to Mary Help of Christians. Our celebration of Mary Help of Christians as our patronal feast therefore symbolises the Roman and Irish heritage which is the foundation of the Catholic Church in Australia.

Mary Help of Christians was adopted as patron of the new Church of Australia at a significant time in our history. British settlement was just over fifty years old, the transportation of convicts was coming to an end, and the first elections in Australian history had been held in 1843. Issues of land, immigration and education had begun to surface and the Church was involved in these social problems. In 1843 Archbishop Polding inaugurated the first Catholic apostolic meeting with aboriginal people in Moreton Bay.

In 2001, the centenary year of Australian Federation, we confront many of the same social problems and the Church has the same need to witness to the values of the gospel. The task of evangelising the Australian culture is more urgent and daunting than ever. Today recourse to our national patron, Mary Help of Christians, is as relevant and necessary as it ever has been.

Image
The traditional image of Mary Help of Christians has frequently been adapted to emphasise her patronal link with Australia. The image being used in this resource is no exception. While following the traditional form, the artwork has tried to give the image a more contemporary appearance.

As has become customary, the map of Australia is introduced at Mary’s feet and the Southern Cross shines in the night sky behind her. The colours have been chosen partly to echo the Australian Green and Gold, and partly to use the image of the Australian sun: A great sign appeared in heaven: a woman robed with the sun… (Rev 12:1). Finally, for the first time, the royal sceptre of power in Mary’s right hand has been replaced by an open hand reaching out to help her children. This, it was felt, might have a greater resonance with contemporary Australia without destroying the beauty of the traditional image. The significance of Mary as Queen of Heaven is adequately expressed in the crown she wears.

History of the Feast
The first provincial synod of the Church in Australia took place in September 1844. It was a relatively small affair: Archbishop Polding of Sydney and the new bishops of Adelaide and Hobart met with about half the three-dozen pioneer priests in the country. Among their decisions, the Church in Australia was placed under the patronage of the Virgin Mary invoked by the title Help of Christians. This was confirmed by the Holy See in 1852.

The choice of Mary Help of Christians may well derive from the first Catholic chaplain in Sydney, Fr J.J. Therry, who dedicated his church to St Mary in November 1821. At this time the feast of Mary Help of Christians was new and generated considerable interest.

The title Help of Christians was first introduced into the Litany of Loretto by Pope Pius V after a Christian victory in the Battle of Lepanto in 1571. Early in the 19th century, Napoleon occupied Rome, annexed the papal states and imprisoned Pope Pius VII. In thanksgiving for the pope’s release and restoration in Rome on 24 May 1814, the feast of Mary Help of Christians was introduced to the Roman calendar on that day.

Fr Therry was ordained in Ireland in 1815 at a time when the Irish Church was quickly adopting devotions to Mary Help of Christians. Our celebration of Mary Help of Christians as our patronal feast therefore symbolises the Roman and Irish heritage which is the foundation of the Catholic Church in Australia.

Mary Help of Christians was adopted as patron of the new Church of Australia at a significant time in our history. British settlement was just over fifty years old, the transportation of convicts was coming to an end, and the first elections in Australian history had been held in 1843. Issues of land, immigration and education had begun to surface and the Church was involved in these social problems. In 1843 Archbishop Polding inaugurated the first Catholic apostolic meeting with aboriginal people in Moreton Bay.

In 2001, the centenary year of Australian Federation, we confront many of the same social problems and the Church has the same need to witness to the values of the gospel. The task of evangelising the Australian culture is more urgent and daunting than ever. Today recourse to our national patron, Mary Help of Christians, is as relevant and necessary as it ever has been.

Prepared by
National Liturgical Commission
at the request of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference
and published by The Liturgical Commission, Brisbane
26 January 2001

© The Liturgical Commission, GPO Box 282, Brisbane 4001. All rights reserved.

 Australia

PRAYER  FOR  RECONCILIATION TO OUR LADY HELP OF CHRISTIANS

Composed by Fr Kevin Bede Walsh. 1988

Father God,

The Great South Land of the Holy Spirit

was entrusted to a people who saw your mighty hand at work

in the majestic, rugged mountains, in the rolling plains, parched earth, flowing rivers and thundering surf. 

May we, under the guidance of your Spirit, work at reconciliation, with all the different  peoples of this land.

  May we reverence the  “Dream Time” …and those wedded to this land; 

May we in turn respect and heal all that we have hurt; the land, its people and wild life. 

We dedicate all our efforts under the patronage of Mary  Help of Christians

, who always points the way to wholeness, to harmony and to Jesus.

We make this our prayer to you Father, through Christ Our Lord. AMEN.

 

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