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Priests with Mary, the Helper

The Spirituality of the Alumni Priests of the Mary Help of Christians College and Theology Seminaries

I have a confession to make. I had very little knowledge about and devotion to Mary with the title Help of Christians. I invoked her in the litany with this title. I knew the Salesians have a strong devotion to her but that was it. Coming to Pangasinan, with the high school and college seminaries both named after Mary Help of Christians, I felt the prompting within me to know more about the devotion and love her with this title. With the new theology seminary still carrying her name, I cannot remain distant from Mary Help of Christians.


The invocation of Mary the Helper is older than the definition of Mary the Mother of God. It was first attributed to Saint John Chrysostom in the year 345 who called Mary, the Helper (Boeteia in Greek) while Mary was invoked as Mother of God only by the year 431 in Ephesus. The icon that we now call Our Lady of Perpetual Help is the early depiction of this devotion to Mary the Helper.

Mary the Helper was invoked in the barbaric invasions of the Ukraine in the eleventh century and at the battle of Lepanto against the Ottoman empire. The defeat of the Muslim Turks in Lepanto was attributed to Mary the Helper. The victory of Pope Pius VII against the invasion of Napoleon was attributed to her likewise.

The Biblical Roots

Mary the Helper! And helper of whom?

Mary was the helper of God. She helped God accomplish His plan to save the world. It does not mean that Mary is stronger than God. It does not mean that God is feeble and helpless. In the audacity of God, He sought the politely begged for the “yes” of His creature to pursue His plan.

God cannot be lacking in courtesy for us. He reverences our freedom to choose and decide. Mary was the helper of God. At the house in Nazareth, Mary said yes to God and gave Him permission to make her womb the temple of the Son for nine months. At the annunciation of the angel, Mary became the Helper of God. Atop Calvary, Mary at the foot of the cross of Jesus continued to help Her Son in his last agony. Mary the Helper is source of consolation when the hour of Jesus had come.

At the wedding in Cana, Mary pursued her mission to be a helper not only of men but of peoples–believers or  unbelievers, friendly our hostile, fervent or indifferent. She helps them all. She helped the couple threatened by the embarrassing scenario of running out of wedding wine. Even before they could ask, even before they saw the problem, Mary was there to say to her Son “They have no wine”. If we just make the first move to invite her, she will always take care. She will help without being asked. She will help even before we see our need for help. She is helper of peoples.

Finally at the Upper Room fifty days after the resurrection, Mary prayed with the apostles and the Holy Spirit was sent forth appearing as tongues of fire. Mary is Helper of the Church in prayer. Mary is Helper of the Apostles. Mary is Helper among the disciples invoking the True Helper, our Advocate and Paraclete the Holy Spirit. Mary helps priests be more like Jesus. Mary helps bishops, successors of the apostles, become more apostolic. Mary helps us in all our Upper Rooms of expectations for better times. If we invite her, she will join us in praying. If we pray with her; if we trust with her; if we obey with her; if we stand courageously with her; she assures us of her loving help.

Spirituality of Mary the Helper

With our seminaries all placed under her mantle as Help of Christians, what kind of priests must our seminaries produce? Only one is wished for—that all priests be helpers–humble helpers, holy helpers, well prepared helpers.

That every priest is a helper and not a master and lord is clearly laid out by Church and gospel teachings. The helper priest is only a steward and therefore must be accountable and grateful. The helper priest must be like Mary the Helper of God in pursuing the mission of Jesus. It is the priest’s mission but the mission of Jesus. It is not the priest’s opinion but the will of Jesus. It is not the priest but Jesus who must shine. The priest helper of God must be humble and obedient, trusting and generous. Pope Benedict XVI said “This audacity of God who entrusts himself to human beings; who even though he knows our weaknesses, considers us capable of acting and of being present in place of him; this audacity of God is the truly great reality which is hidden in the word “priesthood”. That God considers us capable of this, that he calls men to his service in such a way and so from within, binds them to himself. (June 11, 2010).

The priest we envision to have must be a helper of humanity. Humanity is created in the likeness of God. Helping and loving humanity broken, wounded and bleeding yet hopeful, loved and beautiful is the only way to Jesus. We cannot love God and ignore humanity. We cannot believe in God and be cynical of the goodness that God has planted in every human heart. We cannot worship God in altars of marble and golden chalices and yet allow the hungers and pains of humanity not to disturb us into action. When we bow our heads and close our eyes in fervent prayer before the awesome presence of God, we must, in the same breath, open our hands to help and open our hearts to welcome humanity. The help that humanity needs from the priest is not just food for the stomach but even more food for the soul. Man’s search for meaning must be satisfied in the Lord and it is every priest’s duty to proclaim this.

Finally, every priest must be only and always a helper of the Church. He helps the Church to pray. He prays for and with the Church. How is this helping the Church to be done? Let us allow Saint Peter to admonish us “This is to be done with courtesy, respect and clear conscience”. (I Pt 3:16). Courtesy is meekness. It is the meekness of the beatitudes. It is the meekness that Paul describes in these words “A servant of the Lord is not engage in quarrels, but has to be kind to everyone, a good teacher and patient. He has to be gentle when he corrects people who dispute what he says, never forgetting that God may give them a change of mind so that they may recognize the truth” (2Tim 2:24-25). Coherence of life with what we proclaim is integrity. The Church has been hurt a lot by priests who fail in moral integrity. We can only be true helpers of the Church by being holy priests. Shame for sin is a gift that every priest must retain. This shame for sin is reciprocated by God with His tender mercy and compassion. It is not a shame leading to despair but a shame with hope in the Divine Mercy.

The Powerhouse of the Priest Helper

Our formation towards being helper priests is founded on order a essay the daily Eucharist. It is the source and summit of our priestly formation. The Eucharist can fall victim to monotony and boredom. Its practicality and relevance is oftentimes questioned by churchmen who advocate for social engagement because our mission, so they say, is only to make this world a better place. Nevertheless, offer the Eucharist everyday as an act of love for God and the cosmos, as an act of help for world in great need of intercessors.

The best help we can offer the Church and humanity is to pray. Fidelity to prayer specially the Liturgy of the Hours is a mandate of our priestly vocation. Beyond the call of duty, the Liturgy of the Hours is our way of helping those in need although we might not be able to meet them in our lifetime. From the Annunciation to Cana to the Upper Room, Mary helped the Church by talking and listening to God. Talking to God and listening to Him is our task as helper priests.

Finally, the power of the priest is not shown forth from the pulpit or the altar. When the priest kneels down confessing his sins, he helps the Church and humanity regain holiness; a kneeling penitent priest is powerful As we help our flock at the confessional absolving them from their sins, we must not forget that the confessional invites us first to kneel as penitent so that we can credibly sit down as merciful confessors.

Mary Help of Christians

Most Holy Virgin Mary, Help of Christians,

how sweet it is to come to your feet

imploring your perpetual help.

If earthly mothers cease not to remember their children,

how can you, the most loving of all mothers, forget me?

Grant then to me, I implore you,

your perpetual help in all my necessities,

in every sorrow, and especially in all my temptations.

I ask for your unceasing help

for all who are now suffering.

Help the weak, cure the sick, convert sinners.

Grant through your intercessions

many vocations to the priesthood.

Obtain for us, O Mary, Help of Christians,

that having invoked you on earth,

we may love and eternally thank you in heaven.


Saint John the Evangelist Cathedral, Dagupan City, May 24, 2013



Archbishop of Lingayen Dagupan

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