The Bridge Between Heaven and Earth
June 27, the feast day of Our Mother of Perpetual Help, is an opportunity for us to spend time reflecting on Mary’s place in our Catholic tradition, especially her role in the life of the Church.
The icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help, in its highly developed symbolism, reveals much to us about the role of Mary in the Church’s traditions and teachings. We might say the icon is like a book on Marian spirituality for our times.
There is a traditional reflection on Mary’s right hand in the icon. Her hand is open, not closed, around the hands of Jesus. Some say this is to remind us that we can place our needs and requests in her hands as well as with Jesus. It is believed that she will present these requests before Jesus just like she did at the wedding feast of Cana.
In the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle in Washington, DC, there is a beautiful modern sculpture of Mary (pictured at right), symbolizing her role in the life of the Church. She is standing in a posture of serenity and beauty. She bends down and extends her right hand to those who are gazing upon her, while her left hand is pointing toward heaven. She appears frozen in space.
This reflects how the Church sees Mary today, in the daily life of the Church—as a bridge between us and the kingdom of heaven. The Second Vatican Council built upon this view of Mary and told us much about her role within the Church, especially as one who intercedes on our behalf and prays with us.
The tradition of going to Mary in prayer should never take precedence over the mediation of Christ before the Father. We have a direct friendship with Jesus who can bring us into an intimate relationship with God. Our devotion to Mary must never interfere with that. And even though Mary’s place is subordinate to Christ’s, we still understand her to be a great helper on our way to attaining holiness.
On this feast of Our Mother of Perpetual Help, let us take time to gaze upon the icon and contemplate the important role Mary plays in the life of the Church. Like Mary, we also are called to be intercessors for others in our day-to-day living. We can assist others in need who are experiencing suffering. Keeping Mary’s outstretched open hand in the statue at St. Matthew’s in Washington in mind as a model for our own lives, may we strive to become a bridge of help in service to others as often as we can.