On Thursday 26 August, the Church celebrates with great joy the feast of Our Lady of Częstochowa. This feast has a long history which is connected to an old icon representing the Blessed Virgin Mary who is standing with child Jesus in her arms. The famous image measures 47.6 inches by 32 inches and 1,37 inches thick.
The thoughtfulness of both Mother and Child are really striking. As it occurs in every icon, Mary looks at us, the faithful, whereas the child channels His divine gaze not just toward the pilgrim but far and far beyond. This icon has the indelible mark of suffering. The Madonna’s right cheek is scarred with two corresponding scratches whilst the third scratch is to be found on the nose line. Moreover, on the neck we can notice some six cuts. Two of them are easily seen, while the other four cuts tend to be more concealed. The Child Jesus is resting his on Mother Mary’s left arm. In His left hand He has a book, whilst He raises his right hand in a gesture which is so typical of teaching or blessing. Mary’s right arm is pointing to Jesus, the unique Saviour of our world.
This special icon of Our Lady has been intimately linked with many miracles, recounted by the countless pilgrims from all over Poland and even from far countries in the European continent to pay homage to Mary in her Shrine of Jasna Gura. The myriad of votive offerings which one finds in this Marian Shrine signifies the strength of the pilgrims’ devotion to the Mother of God. Undoubtedly one of the most special votive offerings is the one offerred by St Pope John Paul II, which shows the belt of his white cassock bloodstained during the assassination attempt carried out against his life in St Peter’s Square on May 13, 1981.
From its dawn of its history, the icon of Our Lady of Czestochowa was regarded as exceptional. How many people, including the Polish kings themselves, presented to her heaps of gifts as well as votive offerings. The famous Polish priest and first historian, Jan Długosz (1 December 1415-19 May 1480), describes Our Lady of Czestochowa as the most worthy Queen of the world and ours.
The first among a series of coronations of the icon of Our Lady of Czestochowa occured on September 8, 1717 by Pope Clement XI, the natural corollary of centuries-old Polish devotions for the Blessed Madonna showed by the entire people and rulers of Poland. Such love and respect was not appreciated at all, for on the night of October 22-23, 1909, these crowns as well as the pearl dress encompassing the Icon of Our Lady were cruely stolen by unidentified offenders.
Such a horrible event not only threw the Polish nation into mourning but also pierced the heart of Pope Pius X, who, heartbreakingly, said: I have just learned that Poland is crying. I decided to offer the crowns to the Holy Mother in place of those that one of my predecessors sent. I only regret that my poverty did not allow me to make a gift so magnificent that my heart wanted to offer. If it were in my power, then I would make a miracle to make my gift as magnificent as possible to express my devotion to the Mother of God and my love to the Polish nation.
On May 22, 1910 the famous solemn coronation of Our Lady of Czestochowa finally occurred. It was Bishop Stanislaw Zdzitowiecki who imposed the crown on Madonna’s head. As history tells us, in the second half of the twentieth century, there were other crowns which were manufactured and presented to Our Lady. Perhaps the most significant of these are the crowns made on the Millennium of the Baptism of Poland in 1966. The coronation was carried out by the Servant of God, the Primate of Poland, Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński.
Following on his mentor’s trail even Pope St John Paul II, in 2005, presented crowns for the Madonna. On August 26, 2005, the coronation with these crowns occured on the Solemnity of Our Lady of Częstochowa. The recent crowns which were presented to the Madonna in 2017 in the occasion of the 300th anniversary of the first papal crowning of the Icon, as a foundation of the reconstructed stolen crowns of Pope Clement XI, given by the Italian Archdiocese of Crotone-Santa Severina. The crowns were blessed by Pope Francis on May 17, 2017.
For St Pope John Paul II, the Shrine of Jasna Gura meant that one has to place one’s ear at this holy place in order to sense in which way the heart of the nation beats in the heart of the Mother. Thanks to the Icon of Our Lady of Czestochowa we come to appreciate more and more the direct relationship not only of the Mother and the Child but also of Mary and the Church. Thus has been one of the great legacies left to us by St Pope John Paul II in his address at Jasna Góra, Częstochowa, on 4 June, 1997:
Here, at the feet of Mary, ever anew we “learn the Church”, entrusted by Christ to the Apostles and to all of us. The mystery of Mary is linked inseparably to the mystery of the Church, from the moment of the Immaculate Conception, through the Annunciation, the Visitation, Bethlehem, Nazareth, up to Calvary. Together with the Apostles Mary remained in prayer in the Upper Room, waiting, after the Ascension of her Son, for the fulfilment of the promise. She awaited the coming of the Holy Spirit, who would publicly make known the birth of the Church, and afterwards she watched over the development of the first Christian community.
At this great feast let us pray to Our Lady this heartfelt prayer from our hearts with St John Paul II when he visited this holy shrine on the aforementioned apostolic visit: O clement, O loving, O sweet Virgin Mary, accept our trust, strengthen it in our hearts and present it before the face of the one God in the Holy Trinity. Amen.
And on a personal level since today I celebrate my birthday I turn to you, Mother of God of Czestochowa and say with St John Paul II, TOTUS TUUS! AMEN!