Our Lady Help of Christians

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Our Lady Help of Christians

Mary has always had a special place in the devotions of Australian Catholics. The dignity and strength shown by many of the early penal settlers in the face of inhuman treatment was particularly true of the Mary Irish Catholics. At their humble beginnings, they turned instinctively to Mary’s help, as the Church has always done. While waiting for priests and hierarchy to come, groups of lay people would gather for Readings, Hymns and Mary’s rosary, and other devotions, pleading for help as the Macedonians once appealed to Paul, “come over to us, and save us!”

The first provincial synod of the Church in Australia occurred 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 of 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 the 24th of May 1814, the feast of Mary Help of Christians was introduced to the Roman calendar.

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

One of the most significant events in the history of devotion to Mary, Help of Christians, was the pilgrimage of the Australian Bishops to St. Mary’s Cathedral during the Marian Year of 1988. First, the bishops assembled at St. Mary’s Cathedral to repeat the first synod’s trust in the Mother of God. Then, before a large crowd of the faithful, in the Basilica dedicated to Mary, Cardinal Clancy led the Bishops to dedicate Australia to the care and protection of Mary Help of Christians. On the occasion, Cardinal Clancy would deliver a homily on Mary Help of Christians.

In 2001, at the dawning of the third Christian Millennium and the Centenary Year of the Federation, the Australian bishops assembled in St. Mary’s Cathedral, Sydney, for the Re-Dedication of Australia to our great Patroness, Mary Help of Christians. During his homily, Canberra Goulburn Archbishop Francis Carrol stated, “As Australia celebrates the Centenary of Federation and the new millennium begins to unfold, we are challenged to put out into the deep once again with the enthusiasm of the very first Christians. The same Holy Spirit poured out at Pentecost empowers us to start again on our mission of evangelisation. Mary is the radiant dawn and a sure guide for our steps. So, with confident and loving hearts, let us invoke her prayer and her patronage for our Church and our Nation!”

On the occasion of the Re-Dedication to Our Lady Help of Christians, Marian Valley, as the Shrine of Our Lady Help of Christians, would send forth a Pilgrimage State of Our Lady Help of Christians that would travel the nation.