Mary Help of Christians

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The venerated image that Pope Leo XIII granted a Canonical coronation on 13 February 1903. The Basilica of Our Lady Help of Christians, Turin.

Mary, Help of Christians (Latin: Sancta Maria Auxilium Christianorum); is a title of Mary, mother of Jesus, based on a devotion associated with a feast day inscribed into the General Roman Calendar on 24 May.

John Chrysostom was the first person to use this Marian title in year 345 A.D. John Bosco also propagated the devotion of Mary, help of Christians. This title Mary, Help of Christians is also associated with the defense of Christian Europe (Latin and Greek), the north of Africa and the Middle East from non-Christian peoples during the Middle Ages.

In 1571, during the expansion of the Islamic Ottoman Empire intended to invade Christian Europe, Pope Pius V invoked Christian armies and its victory achieved was consequently attributed to the intercession of Mary, help of Christians.

Pope Leo XIII signed and granted a pontifical decree of canonical coronation towards the Turin image on 13 February 1903. The coronation ceremony was performed on 17 May 1903 by Cardinal Agostino Richelmy, and is now permanently enshrined within the Basilica of Mary Help of Christians.


Patristic origins[edit]

There are two inscriptions from the first centuries of Christianity in Greek related to Mary: : θεοτοκος (Teotokos, Theotokos, Mother of God) and βοηθεια (Boetheia, the Helper). The Fathers of the Church referred to Mary as "βοηθεια". John Chrysostom used the title in a homily of 345, Proclus in 476 and Sebas of Caesarea in 532. After the Patristic period (5th century), other persons used it like Romanos the Melodist in 518, the Patriarch of Jerusalem, Sophronius in 560, John of Damascus in 749 and Germanus I of Constantinople in 733.

In the view of Johann G. Roten, the invocation of Mary as Help of Christians is part of the oldest prayer addressed directly to Mary, the Sub tuum praesidium, which was found on a papyrus dating, at the latest, from the end of the 3rd century. Praesidium is translated as "an assistance given in time of war by fresh troops in a strong manner."[1]

Litany of Loreto[edit]

Around 1576, Bernardino Cirillo, archpriest of Loreto, published at Macerata two litanies of the Blessed Virgin, which he contended, were used at Loreto. One is in a form entirely different from the present text, while another form, Aliæ litaniæ B.M.V., is identical to the litany approved by Pope Clement VIII in 1601 and now used throughout the Church. This second form contains the invocation Auxilium Christianorum warriors returning from the Battle of Lepanto (7 October 1571) visited the Loreto, and saluted the Holy Virgin there for the first time with this title. It is more probable, however, that it is a variation of the older invocation Advocata Christianorum, found in a litany of 1524.[2]

Shrine of Our Lady Help of Christians, Miguel Hidalgo, Federal District, Mexico

Torsellini (1597) and the Roman Breviary (May 24, Appendix) say that Pope Pius V inserted the invocation in the Litany of Loreto after the Battle of Lepanto. The form of the litany in which it is first found, however, was unknown at Rome at the time of Pius V.[3]

Feast of Our Lady Help of Christians[edit]

The feast of Our Lady, Help of Christians, was instituted by Pope Pius VII. By order of Napoleon I of France, Pope Pius VII was arrested on 5 June 1808, and detained a prisoner first at Grenoble, and then at Fontainebleau.[4] In January 1814, after the battle of Leipzig, he was brought back to Savona and set free on 17 March, on the eve of the feast of Our Lady of Mercy, the Patroness of Savona. The journey to Rome was a veritable triumphal march. The Pope, attributing the victory of the church after so much agony and distress to the Blessed Virgin, visited many of her sanctuaries on the way and crowned her images (e.g., the "Madonna del Monte" at Cesena, "della Misericordia" at Treja, "della Colonne" and "della Tempestà" at Tolentino). The people crowded the streets to catch a glimpse of the Pope who had withstood the threats of Napoleon. He entered Rome on 24 May 1814, and was enthusiastically welcomed.[5] To commemorate his own sufferings and those of the church during his exile Pope Pius VII extended the feast of the Seven Dolours of Mary to the Catholic Church on 18 September, 1814.

When Napoleon left Elba and returned to Paris, Murat was about to march through the Papal States from Naples; Pius VII fled to Savona 22 March 1815.[2] After the Congress of Vienna and the battle of Waterloo, the Pope returned to Rome on 7 July 1815. To give thanks to God and Our Lady, on 15 September 1815 he declared 24 May, the anniversary of his first return, to be henceforth the feast of Our Lady, Help of Christians. The 1913 Catholic Encyclopaedia article commented that "it has spread nearly over the entire Latin Church, but is not contained in the universal calendar."

The Marian feast has been celebrated by the order of Servites since the 17th century. The veneration to Mary became popular under this title in Rome especially, where the feast was especially promoted by John Bosco and Vincent Pallotti[6] Bosco was an ardent promoter of devotion to "Mary, Help of Christians". He built a huge basilica in her honour in 1868 and founded a religious congregation for women, under the title of, "The Daughters of Mary, Help of Christians". Interpreting the painting he had commissioned for the basilica, Bosco referred to it as depicting Mary Mother of the Church. This suggests a connection to the way in which popes have addressed Mary as both Mother and Help of the Church.[citation needed] Bosco chose this devotion because of its affinity to his devotion to the church, the bearer of Christ.

Vatican II, in the Constitution on the Church (sections 61, 62), cites this title of Mary, placing it in the context of Mary's maternal role.

In an utterly singular way she co-operated by her obedience, faith, hope and burning charity in the Saviour's work of restoring supernatural life to souls. For this reason she is a mother to us in the order of grace…By her maternal charity, Mary cares for the brethren of her Son who still wander through this world in the midst of dangers and difficulties until they are led to the happiness of their heavenly home".[7]


Church of Mary Help of Christians in Strahoninec, Croatia

The church has traditionally focused on two aspects of Our Lady's help on this feast day. Firstly, the church focuses in this feast on the role of Our Lady's intercession in the fight against sin in the life of a believer. Secondly, the church focuses on Our Lady as one who assists Christians as a community, through her intercession, in fighting against anti-Christian forces.

Michael Daniel observes that, while this approach may be regarded as outdated, in light of Vatican II, where the world and non-Christians elements therein were seen in a positive rather than a hostile or threatening light, it would seem that it would be naïve on the part of Christians to regard all movements and all social trends as either good or harmless.[7]

The dioceses of Tuscany adopted it on 12 February 1816. The hymns of the Office were composed by Brandimarte.[8]

It became the patronal feast of Australasia, a double of the first class with an octave.[9] After the reforms of the Second Vatican Council, it was designated a solemnity to be kept on the first available Sunday on or after 24 May.

The Fathers of the Foreign Missions of Paris, in accordance with a vow (1891), celebrated this feast with great splendor in their churches.

It has attained special renown since John Bosco, founder of the Salesian Congregation, dedicated his foundation to Our Lady, Help of Christians, the mother church of his congregation at Turin on 9 June 1868. The Salesians have carried the devotion to their numerous establishments. It was established due to the great appreciation of Saint Don Bosco for this Marian title and the development of the Salesian works in many countries since the second half of the 19th century. The Salesian National Shrine of Our Lady Help of Christians is located in Stony Point, New York. There is also the National Shrine of Mary Help of Christians in Parañaque City, Philippines, which is also in the care of the Salesians of Don Bosco [10]

The Abbey of Mary Help of Christians, better known as Belmont Abbey, is a small American monastery of Benedictine monks in the town of Belmont, Gaston County, North Carolina, outside of Charlotte, North Carolina. The minor basilica of Our Lady Help of Christians is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.[11]

There is a chapel of Our Lady Help of Christians at the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in Washington D.C.[12]

Under this title, the Virgin Mary is venerated by the Chinese Catholics, particularly at the Shrine of our Lady of Sheshan, the only minor papal basilica in mainland China. In May 2007, Pope Benedict XVI designated 24 May her feast for the Roman Catholics in China, who face persecution and restriction from the Chinese Communist Party.

Although it is commonly associated with the Roman Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox Church has also known the devotion since 1030 in Ukraine, when the country was defended from a barbarian invasion.

Pontifical approbations[edit]

  • In 1844, Leo XIII decreed to the Sacred Congregation of Rites to assign this Marian title the official patroness of Australia.
  • Pope Leo XIII granted a decree of canonical coronation to the famed Turin image in 13 February 1903 through his papal legate, Cardinal Agostino Richelmy, who crowned it on 17 May 1903. The image is now permanently enshrined within the Basilica of Our Lady Help of Christians in Turin, Italy.
  • In 1924, China was consecrated to the Virgin Mary in Sheshan by the bishops of China. In 1942, Pope Pius XII elevated the Sheshan church to the rank of minor Basilica, and in 1946, Pope Pius XII granted a decree of canonical coronation to the statue of Our Lady of Sheshan, Help of Christians on the high altar of the Sheshan Basilica.
  • Furthermore, Pope Francis granted a decree for the canonical coronation of an image bearing the title of Mary Help of Christians at her National Shrine in Parañaque City on December 24, 2021. The image was crowned on 24 May 2022, the feast of Our Lady. This image is similar to that of the one in Pangasinan. Specifically, this image, being 100 years old, has witnessed the Second World War in Manila and has been enshrined in different places: the Manila Cathedral, the Archdiocesan Shrine of Our Lady of Loreto in Manila, and finally at the National Shrine in Parañaque.

Artistic representations[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Rotan SM, Johann G., "Help of Christians", University of Dayton Archived 2014-03-07 at the Wayback Machine
  2. ^ a b Holweck, Frederick. "Feast of Our Lady, Help of Christians." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 11. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1911. 9 Mar. 2013
  3. ^ See LITANY OF LORETO; Schuetz, "Gesch. des Rosenkranzgebets", Paderborn, 1909, 243 sq.
  4. ^ "Mary Help of Christians", Catholic News Agency
  5. ^ McCaffrey, "History of the Catholic Church in the Nineteenth Cent.", 1909, I, 52
  6. ^ Remigius Bäumer et al. Marienlexikon 1994, p. 533
  7. ^ a b Daniel, Michael. "Our Lady Help of Christians"
  8. ^ Chevalier, "Repert. Hymnolog.", II, 495
  9. ^ Ordo Australasiae, 1888
  10. ^ National Shrine of Our Lady Help of Christians
  11. ^ Basilica of Mary, Help of Christians
  12. ^ Chapel of Our Lady Help of Christians, Basilica of the Immaculate Conception, Washington D.C.
  13. ^ "In ecclesia sanctuario - Littera apostolica | Ioannes Paulus II".
  14. ^ Benedict XVI. Church in China, renew your fidelity to Peter on YouTube