Our Lady Help of Christians


LAST Thursday, the Catholic bishops of Australia held a special ceremony at St Mary’s cathedral in Sydney to renew the patronage of the Virgin Mary under the title “Mary Help of Christians” as the Patron Saint of Australia.
The Australian bishops decided that the Centenary of Federation and the beginning of the new millennium provided a good occasion to renew Australia’s devotion to Mary Help of Christians.
Parishes and schools throughout Australia are called on to conduct their own renewal ceremonies on the actual Feast Day of Mary Help of Christians, May 24. This will be an opportunity both to promote devotion to the Virgin Mary and to increase awareness of Australia’s patronal feast.
In order to involve more people, however, parishes may wish to use the central part of the celebration, the prayer entrusting Australia to Mary Help of Christians, on Sunday, May 20. The Solemnity of Mary Help of Christians cannot be transferred to the Sunday before or after because both are Sundays of the Easter season, but the entrustment prayer could be included in the Sunday liturgy, preferably prayed by all after the creed. The commemorative holy cards could also be distributed after Mass that day.
The National Liturgical Commission has produced resources to assist parish churches and schools to celebrate the feast. They are published by, and available from, The Liturgical Commission in Brisbane. These resources consist of:
• Parish Resource Booklet offering suggestions for the liturgy of the day and some background to the feast;
• Prayer of Entrustment printed in colour on a participation sheet so that all people may take part;
• Commemorative Holy Card containing a prayer for Australia composed for the feast;
• Poster in which the traditional image of Mary Help of Christians has been given a more contemporary appearance.
The decision to place the Australian Church under the patronage of the Virgin Mary invoked by the title Help of Christians was made in 1844 at the first provincial synod. This decision was confirmed by the Holy See in 1852.
Mary Help of Christians was adopted as patron of the new Church of Australia at a significant time in our history. British settlement was just over 50 years old, the transportation of convicts was coming to an end, and the first elections in Australian history had been held in 1843. Issues of land, immigration and education had begun to surface and the Church was involved in these social problems. In 1843 Archbishop Polding inaugurated the first Catholic apostolic meeting with aboriginal people in Moreton Bay.
In 2001, the centenary year of Australian federation, we confront many of the same social problems and the Church has the same need to witness to the values of the gospel. The task of evangelising the Australian culture is more urgent and daunting than ever. Recourse to our national patron, Mary Help of Christians, is as relevant and necessary today as it has ever been.


Elizabeth Harrington