Do it yourself WDTPRS: Mary, Help of Christians

Mary Help of ChristiansToday is the feast of Mary, Auxilium Christianorum…Help of Christians.

Here is the Secret, in Latin, from the 1962 Missale.

Let’s see what you can do.

For WDTPRS pieces, I try to find something about the

  • provenance of the prayer (whether it is ancient, or modern)
  • vocabulary and syntax: tricky words, imagery, structure, etc.
  • compare different translations
  • theological point
  • spiritual and practical application

Pro religionis christianae triumpho
hostias placationis tibi, Domine, immolamus:
quae ut nobis proficiant,
opem auxiliatrix Virgo praestet;
per quam talis perfecta est victoria

Have a go.

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15 Responses to Do it yourself WDTPRS: Mary, Help of Christians

  1. paperclip says:

    And patroness of Australia! I was lucky enough to make it to a pontifical Mass today, it’s solemnity down here too, so it was beautiful. Even if our Bishop had to dumb down the homily for the school students :P

  2. Andrew says:

    I venture to say that this is not an ancient prayer, even though it might contain some ancient elements. Not having any English translation at hand, of all the points I can only say something about the word “triumphus, i (m) and try to come up with an English translation (brrrrr: I hate translations):

    In antiquity, when a Roman emperor would enter the city, having won a battle over the enemies, the spectacle would be referred to as a “triumphus”. The word was not a reference to the victory itself but to the spectacular reception of the victor in the city and a triple recognition of victory by the leader, by the senate, and by the people. Also the word “triumphare” didn’t mean “to triumph over the enemy” but “to celebrate the victory” with due pomp.

    His dictis, I presume to come up with the following rendition:

    For the recognition of the christian religion
    we immolate to you, Lord, pleasing sacrifices
    which, that they might be beneficial to us,
    may the Helper Virgin provide aid
    through whom such a victory was accomplished.

    Not so literal:
    We immolate to you, Oh Lord, pleasing sacrifices
    for the victory of christian religion.
    May we be aided by the BV Mary, help of christians
    through whom our success is accomplished.

    Much has been said these days about “triumphalism” whereby one creed is believed to be superior to others. That is supposed to be a bad thing. But true humility, I would say, is a recognition that Truth is not a product of our personal superiority or creativity whereby we should pride ourselves as possessors of it but rather as something that we submit ourselves to, with all humility and gratefulness, wishing that everyone might be a beneficiary of so great a gift. So we don’t “triumph” over others: we celebrate the Gift that isn’t lost through the aggression of falsehood.

  3. Captain Peabody says:

    Um…I’ll give a literal translation a try:

    “For the triumph of the Christian religion, we offer sacrifices with placations to you, Lord: may the Virgin helper, through whom such a victory has been brought to completion, furnish aid in order that these things may be of help to us.”

    The key idea here seems to be that of “aid” or “help.” The Virgin Mary is described with two words signifying help or aid: first, she is the “auxiliatrix”, a “helper” or one accomplishing “auxilium,” and she furnishes us with “ops”.
    These two words are usually synonymous, but can have different shadings: “auxilium” means generally aid, support, or help and as a military term can mean “auxiliary forces,” that is, forces which are supports or backups for the regular troops. “Ops” means help, aid, and also power and might, especially power to aid or support; in the plural, it is usually used to refer to “resources,” “riches” or “wealth.” Also, the word “proficio,” which means in this context to “be of use, be of aid, be effective” carries the same idea forward, though in a stronger sense; proficio also means to progress, to advance forward, and in a military context to gain ground or to gain an advantage over one’s enemy.
    Also, there is the interplay here between the two words “triumphum” and “victoria.” We offer sacrifices for the “triumph” of the Christian religion, but at the same time the “victory” has already been accomplished through Mary and the Incarnation of Jesus. This word “triumphum” referred originally to the celebratory, triumphal procession of a Roman imperator after a victory, in which his victory was celebrated and his enemies led in chains behind him, while “victoria” is a more general term for conquest and success.

    Thus, the Virgin Mary, who is our support, our aid, and our helper, furnishes or provides for us support and strength to fight for God. And this aid is ordered to the purpose of and/or has the effect of making the sacrifices (hostia, the word from which we get the Eucharistic Host) we offer (or immolate) to be “of help” for us, so that we may progress forward, and gain ground, gain an advantage over our enemy. And all these sacrifices and battles are ultimately “for the triumph of the Christian religion,” a triumph of the victory already accomplished through the same Virgin in the Incarnation, Death, and Resurrection of Christ.

    And thus, we see that the sacrifices we make, most especially the Eucharistic Sacrifice, are both present celebrations, “triumphs” of Christ’s past victory, and also at the same time things providing aid and support for us in the continuing battle against our enemy, and thus things looking forward to and helping to bring about the great “triumph” of Christ and the Church at the end of the age, when their victory will be lauded and their enemies led in chains behind them.

    A very nice prayer, I think. I’ll leave it to others to parse the history behind it.

  4. Wikipedia has this to say of the feast of Mary, Help of Christians:

    More particularly, it would appear in it that the hymns of this feast (May 24) were composed in the 19th century by Brandimarte (1814 to be precise) and the feast itself was instituted by Pope Pius VII around the same time. Unfortunately, both my 1962 and 1971 missals are In A Box Somewhere, but the Feast is not in my 1962 Liber Usualis, nor is the feast present at this website (, which leads me to suspect that this Feast may have been suppressed after Vatican II.

    At any rate, unless Brandimarte made use of a patristic or mediaeval examplar in composing the hymns, and the secreta in particular, I suspect that it is relatively modern.

  5. PaterAugustinus says:

    First, a translation:

    Pro religionis christianae triumpho
    hostias placationis tibi, Domine, immolamus:
    quae ut nobis proficiant,
    opem auxiliatrix Virgo praestet;
    per quam talis perfecta est victoria.

    For the triumph of the Christian religion,
    O Lord, we immolate sacrifices of appeasement:
    that these may be of benefit to us,
    may the Virgin Helper tender aid,
    through whom there has come to pass so perfect a victory.

    The provenance of the prayer does not seem to be very ancient; the oldest record I could find online (which certainly is not the final word), is the Missale Parisisiense of 1738. The invocation of the Virgin as “auxilium Christianorum” or as “auxiliatrix” seems to have become common in the 16th century, due to the Litany of Loreto’s expanding popularity after the battle of Lepanto. The feast itself was instituted by Pius VII, to commemorate the anniversary of his return to Rome after being taken captive by Napoleon. Thus, the prayer from the Missale Parisiense predates the use of this prayer for this specific feast. Not having a copy of the Parisian Missal at hand, I can’t find the occasion, for which the prayer was initially used.

    The first half of the prayer, however, does have some interesting parallels with a secret prayer for the feast of the martyrs, John and Paul. This secret seems to be old indeed, first appearing in the Leonine Sacramentary, and thus being used in far-flung places… the Sherborne Missal, for example, also contains the secret. It reads thus:

    Hostias altaribus Tuis, Domine, placationis imponimus, potentiam Tuam in sanctorum Tuorum passionibus honorando, et per eos nobis implorando veniam peccatorum. +Per….

    (I.e., “We place sacrifices of appeasement upon Thine altars, O Lord, honoring Thy might in the sufferings of Thy saints, and, through them, begging mercy for our sins. +Through…)

    So, the prayer seems to look to ancient models, even if it itself is not ancient.

    The syntax and meaning of the prayer is really quite straightforward (though in that inimitable style of Roman brevity and clarity and power), with only two possible ambiguities – first, whether to render the last line as “through whom the victory is rendered so complete/perfect,” or as I have rendered it “through whom there has come to pass so complete a victory.” Or at least, one may be tempted to think there is this ambiguity, but since “talis” is an adjective and not an adverb, I really don’t think one can take it that way. Second, there is the question of whether to take the antecedent of “quam” as the Virgin Helper, or the might thereof – “virgo auxiliatrix” and “opem” both being singular feminine. In my humble opinion, it is better to take the “quam” as referring to the Virgin Herself, since Her intermediary role in our salvation is an eternally instrumental reality (i.e., uniting the divinity to our humanity in Her own person, and continuing to abide as the “intermediatrix of all graces,” the doorway through which the communion of the divine and the human may begin, and a garden where it may continue to be nurtured and cultivated). Besides, it is only in this capacity that the Virgin has any “might” of her own, which is of course the divine inheritance of the saints, to share in the reign and power of Christ the King Himself. This, she alone of all the saints now enjoys in its fulness, being the only one to follow her Son into the Resurrection of the Saints (as opposed to the more “terrestrial” resurrection which men like Lazarus received). So, I think we should regard the “perfect victory” as coming through the Virgin first and foremost, and only through her “might” in a secondary sense.

    The point here, as (it seems to me) in the secret for Ss. John and Paul, is that the triumph of the Christian faith comes through seeming lowliness: in the case of the Virgin, an humble maid of ordinary means in the backwater of Palestine; in the case of the secret for Ss. John and Paul, the prayer specifically mentions that the power of the Lord is discerned in the suffering of the Saints. The feast itself came after a seeming humiliation of the Papacy at the hands of the Left-Wing liberal humanist dictator par excellence, Napoleon. The Virgin knew what it was to suffer and to be in danger and fear (poor, fleeing into Egypt, widowed young, witness to her Son’s sufferings), and She can sympathize with the Church, Her child, in sufferings. Yet, just as through this seemingly weak and unimportant maid was born the King of Kings, who brought perfect victory over the most deadly enemies of mankind, so now she has the power to enlarge that victory through the power given her by her conquering Son. And this is why the Orthodox hymn her as “The Most Victorious General,” who has “power, against which no assault can be made.” We ask that the Virgin would lend her aid, and bring us victory over our enemies spiritual and temporal, just as she once became the portal and helper of the greatest Conqueror of all.

    This is the personal application, as my spiritual father tells me all the time: “God granted Mary the privilege of presenting the Saviour to the world; when you pray, stand before Her icon, behold Her, with Her Divine Son in Her arms, and ask Her to give Christ to you. That is her great joy and unique privilege.” When we pray that “opem Auxiliatix Virgo praestet” (“the Virgin Helper may ‘tender her power,'”), this is exactly what we are asking. The graces, the power, which she has from Christ – Christ Himself, even – she will gladly give to the Church for the overcoming of our enemies and our tribulations, as God knows and wills.

    Sanctissima Virgo, Deipara Maria, Quae cunctas haereses interemisti, sedentibusque in tenebris meruisti generare Salutem et Lucem et Victoriam: tribue nobis illam victoriae potentiam, quam a Christo Trimphante suscipere meruisti! Prosternantur Ecclesiae Tuae, Domine, inimici, tam carnales quam spiritales, intercedente Beata Virgine Maria. Amen.

  6. Amerikaner says:

    The members of Corpus Christianum celebrate today as a special day for them. They are able to obtain a plenary indulgence today.

  7. Charlotte Allen says:

    I’m doing this completely from sight (no dictionary–I’m too lazy):

    Pro religionis christianae triumpho
    hostias placationis tibi, Domine, immolamus:
    quae ut nobis proficiant,
    opem auxiliatrix Virgo praestet;
    per quam talis perfecta est victoria.

    We offer to you, O Lord, sacrifices of appeasement for the triumph of the Christian religion: and may the Virgin, our helper, proffer us her aid–she through whom such a great victory was accomplished.

  8. Geoffrey says:

    In the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite, this feast seems to be in many local calendars. I wish it would be restored to the General Roman Calendar!

  9. Joe in Canada says:

    In Montreal it is the feast of Notre Dame de Bon Secours, which is the title of the Chapel built by St Marguerite Bourgeoys CND in the 17th century. And for our Jesuit friends it is Madonna Della Strada, Our Lady of the Way, patroness of the SJ.

  10. Pachomius says:

    A suggested (and very loose) gloss:

    Lord, we sacrifice this offering for your appeasement,
    And for the triumph of the Christian religion;
    May it bring benefit to us,
    Through the aiding Virgin:
    And may she by whom such great victory was won offer us her help.

    I think this would have a nicer cadence if the words “and protection” were added to the end, but that might be going beyond even the loosest definitions of translation…

  11. APX says:

    @Father Z

    Of course it’s not easy. It’s especially difficult for those of us who don’t even know Latin. That’s why we flock to you for these things.

  12. EWTN Rocks says:

    Nope, I can see translation can be made difficult due to the large number of language variances. I wish I had been offered Latin in High School – our options were limited to French or Spanish, and I selected French. I recall having a lot of respect for the teacher. He presented the lesson and then let the students work it out.

  13. irishgirl says:

    I’m not even going to attempt a translation-I’d probably mess it up.
    Our Lady, Help of Christians, also figures in the history of St. John Bosco. The basilica where he is buried in Turin is named ‘Maria Auxilianorum’.
    paperclip-happy patronal feast ‘down under’, though a day late!

  14. Jane says:

    Advice from St. John Bosco
    It is the office of a mother to give help to her children in all their needs. This title (Mary Help of Christians) expresses in practice Our Lady’s position as our mother. She has all the help we need and she wants to give it to us, if only we will ask for it.

    Call on Mary in all your difficulties with the little prayer, “Mary Help of Christians, Pray for us” and you will never call in vain. “Spread devotion to Mary, Help of Christians, and you will see what miracles are”.

    A personal testimony
    I have silently said the prayer:

    Mary Help of Christians, pray for us,

    (and added come to my aid in this situation), while seeing in my mind a picture of Mary Help of Christians in the sky, and below her the sea battle of Lepanto: the famous one in which Mary Help of Christians, helped the Christians gain a great victory, and have found that through this prayer, Mary has speedily sent me help in difficult situations on a number of occasions.

    I have put the history of the devotion to Mary Help of Christians, including a section of how Australia (my country) came to be the first nation in the world to have Mary Help of Christians as its patron saint, at:

    Queen Elizabeth II has the title of queen of Australia. Mary Help of Christians has an even greater claim to the title. Some pictures of her, show Mary Help of Christians standing on a map of Australia. Queen Elizabeth’s power regarding Australia is very small and is rarely invoked. Mary’s power for Australia is very great.