The Serenity of Mary and the Icon
There is a common theme within the many letters people send me about their experiences of praying before the icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help. I’m impressed that all of them comment about how the serenity of the icon captures their attention during their time of prayer.
In the writings of many of the mystics of our Catholic tradition, there’s an expression of Marian thought called the “Solitude of the Mother of God.” It is centered on the life and memories of Mary after Pentecost. Early writings express the idea that a group of men and women gathered around the Blessed Virgin Mary. Most likely it was the community of Jerusalem who cared for Mary after the ascension of Jesus.
The Acts of the Apostles refers to the apostolic community gathered in prayer and waiting for the coming of the Holy Spirit. It is composed of the disciples and Mary. We know this story as the coming of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:12).
The solitude of Mary is centered on the memories of Jesus, especially the Incarnation, passion, death, and resurrection. Mary would contemplate on these memories for the remainder of her life on earth until her death and assumption. There is some speculation that this is the source for the content found in the first two chapters of the Gospel of Luke.
It’s no wonder that people experience a sense of serenity when gazing upon the icon of our Mother of Perpetual Help because of the expression they see on the face of Mary.
When we gaze on the icon, we’re moved to reflect on the mystery of redemption through the memories of Mary. We share in her solitude of remembrance. As we gaze, we’re drawn to join her in her memories. I believe this is the reason why people say that Mary’s face, as depicted in the icon, brings them peace and tranquility.
Simple, prayerful gazing at the icon is a way of devotion to our Mother of Perpetual Help. Along with our prayers and devotions we add the experience of silence, which is the essence of the prayer of contemplation. In the solitude of Mary we are able to understand the movement of God in our lives. Like her, we will be able to say: “I am the [servant] of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38).