FOUNTAIN OF GRACE – celebrating 150 years of the Icon of Love by Jim McManus, CSsR, (Redemptorist Publications, 2015, Supplied by Pleroma Christian Supplies); $27.50. Reviewed by Fr MERVYN DUFFY, SM
The only icon I ever knew of as a child was the Redemptorist icon of Our Lady of Perpetual Succour. There was a copy of it in our house: a remarkably calm Mary holding the Christ-child whose sandal was falling off. I encountered many other copies in Catholic households and Catholic institutions.
Decades later, I lived for a time in Italy and discovered that most historic churches had miraculous images around which devotion was centred. I wondered then why devotion to that one particular icon had spread as far afield as New Zealand.
The book Fountain of Grace: Celebrating 150 years of the Icon of Love is the answer to that question and much more about this lovely image. Through the work of the Redemptorists the Our Lady of the Perpetual Succour icon has become, according to Jim McManus, “the most widely known, reverenced and loved image of Our Lady of all time”. He recounts the stories of the origin of the image and how it arrived in its present location in the Church of St Alphonsus Liguori on Via Merulana in Rome. He also describes how the devotion to the image was encouraged by the “Perpetual Novena to Our Lady of Perpetual Succour” — a weekly half-hour of set prayers, hymns, Scripture readings, which also involved the reading aloud of petitions and expressions of gratitude for prayers answered.
This is a quality production, colour printed on glossy paper, by an experienced communicator who is out to encourage devotion and who takes pains to avoid Mariolatry, and to locate this Marian devotion within the Church’s understanding of the role of the Mother of Jesus. He includes fascinating stories and snippets of information — I had not known that the two angels in the icon are Michael and Gabriel.
The work would be enhanced by a critical appraisal of the historicity of the early stories of the icon, by details of the restorations it has undergone, by comparison with Cretan icons of the latter half of the fifteenth century, and any scientific information available about the materials of which it is made.
Jim McManus has achieved his purpose of celebrating this icon, testifying to its amazing impact on the world, and encouraging prayer with it as a focus.
Fr Mervyn Duffy, SM, is the acting principal of Good Shepherd College in Auckland.