This coming Saturday, May 24, is the Marian feast of Our Lady, Help of Christians. This has always been an interesting feast to me since I developed a devotion to St. John Bosco about ten years ago. It was Don Bosco who often went to the Blessed Virgin Mary under this title asking for intercession. The main church (pictured below) of the Salesian Order in Turin, Italy bears the title, Maria Avxilivm Christianorvm Ora Pro Nobis – Mary, Help of Christians Pray for Us. It was dedicated on June 9, 1868.
Our Lady Help of Christians originated in the sixteenth century with the invocation, Auxilium Christianorum (Help of Christians) during the Battle of Lepanto. It was during the battle in 1571 where the Catholics of Europe prayed the Holy Rosary to defeat the Islamic warriors who threatened Christianity. In praise and thanksgiving for the pivotal outcome of the battle, Pope St. Pius V in 1573, instituted the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary on October 7.
Around one hundred years later, Christianity would find itself at odds with the Ottoman Empire. The emperor at the time of the Holy Roman Empire, Leopold I of Austria, took up arms against the Turks on numerous occasions. During one specific occasion, Leopold found himself against 200,000 Turks as they surrounded the city of Vienna.
Recognizing that he needed Heavenly help, he took shelter at Pasau in the Shrine dedicated to Mary Help of Christians. On the feast of Our Lady’s birthday, September 8, a strategic battle plan was devised and a great victory was won on September 12, the feast of the Holy Name of Mary. While praying the Holy Rosary, with the emperor, all of Europe shouted – “Mary, Help!”
On July 5, 1808, the armies of Napoleon arrested Pope Pius VII after they entered the Vatican. Pope Pius VII would be chained and sent first to Savona and then to Fontainbleau where he would remain for three years. During his five years in prison, the Holy Father asked God to free him from captivity. If God answered his prayers and restored him to the Papacy, he would honor the Blessed Virgin Mary with a feast day. On May 24, 1814, Napoleon was forced to release Pius VII. He returned to Rome in great triumph and offering thanksgiving. One year later, the Holy Father instituted the feast, Our Lady Help of Christians, to protect the Papal States.
Although other dioceses adopted this feast day over the years, it is not part of the universal calendar of the Catholic Church. When St. John Bosco founded his order of both men and women religious, he declared to them that the Salesians main objective was to promote the veneration of the Holy Sacrament of the Eucharist and devotion to the Mary under this title.
Our Lady Help of Christians…Pray for Us!
New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia – http://www.newadvent.org
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