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What's in a name?

Homily by Fr. Andrew Burns C.Ss.R on the Feast of Our Mother of Perpetual Succour 27th June 2017 at Bishop Eton Liverpool.

FrAndrewLast night talking to Fr Casey, I told him Fr. Tim has asked me to preach tonight and Fr Casey’s comment was “tell them that she is Our Lady of Perpetual Succour – not Our Mother of Perpetual Help”. Perhaps he would be more insistent here in the presence of Bishop Ralph, because in the diocese of Hallam and of Leeds the title of our Icon has changed again to “Our Mother of Unfailing Help”.

Should we refer to Mary as Our Lady or our Mother?

Both have important ideas to convey. Somehow if we think of Mary as Our Lady – she is a person of influence, the Queen, the mother of the King, the one who is able to speak on our behalf – someone who has the power to make things happen and this is a very important aspect of our relationship with Mary. – we need her on our side as we make our journey of life.

But then she is also the Mother – on our icon she is named with the Greek initials – Mother of God and we know from our Gospel today that Jesus gave us Mary as our mother – his words to Mary and John on the cross – “woman this is your son – son this is your mother, and from that moment he took her to his home”. If we think of Mary as a lady of influence, what greater influence can there be in our life that that of our mother – the one who gives us life and is concerned for our welfare from the first moments of conception.

When Mary opened her life to the Christ-life, it was a transforming moment for humanity. Because she said ‘yes’, we too can say ‘yes’ to the Christ-life in us. In our baptism, we are born again as sons and daughter of God, brothers and sisters of Jesus  - with Mary the mother who has the same motherly care for each of us as she had for her Son.

So yes, a lady and a mother.

I suppose we are always trying to say things in a way that conveys meaning most easily. Succour is not a word we use in every day speech in English.  In Italian for example they speak of Pronto Soccorso for the rapid response of the Emergency Services and that gives us a context in which we can better understand the word succour – it connects with the idea of running at speed – of immediacy, of urgency - while help can be simply, help me with the washing up or homework. Help has a sense where I seem able to do most of the job myself. I just need a little assistance and I’ll be OK. When I need succour I am more desperate, helpless. Come now to my aid.

So if we are able to research meanings, succour has much deeper possibilities. In modern language, however, words can lose or change their sense. Gay doesn’t mean happy;  if you are cool, you are trendy and not in need of a sweater – a sucker is a loser – so it’s important to be aware of what people might hear as we speak.

Does Unfailing Help convey more than Perpetual Help, or Perpetual Succour? Perhaps our ability to use different words helps us to understand better.

Mary is Our Lady – the woman of influence, but she is also the mother who cares and who is always ready, willing and able to come to us in our need.

Our Mother of Perpetual Help - Pray for us

Our Lady of Unfailing Help - Pray for us

Our Lady of Perpetual Succour – Pray for us.


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