St Alphonsus Maria De Liguori

alphonsuseucharistIn order to approach the person and the works of St Alphonsus de Liguori (1696¬1787) in a correct manner, it is necessary to weave different approaches, given the richness of his personality and the diverse fields of his activity. For Redemptorists, since it is of prime importance to be connected with their founder, it is essential to grasp the fundamental intent, because on that depends the specificity of the Congregation.

The journey of Alphonsus as founder began in 1723, when after unjustly los¬ing a law case (concerning the feud of Amatrice), he decided to leave the court and dedicate himself totally to Christ. He experienced Christ as the meaning of his life and a sure foundation of values. The choice for the priesthood and his ordination in December 1726 caused him move to the world of the poor. He became the advocate of their right to the truth (evangelisation) and to holiness (the sacra¬ments, beginning with reconciliation). The decisive step arose from the experi¬ence of the struggles of the abandoned, those that he came across in the rural areas of southern Italy. He decided to dedicate himself totally to their evangeli¬sation to ‘continue’ the plentiful redemption of Christ. Thus, this group of men who gathered in Scala in 1732, with the pontifical approval in 1749, would be called Redemptorists.

The manner of defining the profile of the community was not very smooth. Alphonsus was soon abandoned by some of his first companions. But he knew how to remain faithful to his fundamental intention, enriching it with the contri¬bution of those who shared with him in the birth of this new community. Maria Celeste Crostarosa contributed her project of a ‘memorial’ community; Mgr Thomas Falcoia helped with his experience of religious life and a strong mis¬sionary yearning, particularly towards the Orient; Gennaro Sarnelli brought his tireless and creative dedication to the poor, especially in the social dimension.

Alphonsus was convinced of the specificity of his own community, vis-a-vis other missionary institutes. At the conclusion of this complex process of elabo¬ration of the norms, he synthesised his ‘intention’ in these terms:‘to follow the example of our common Saviour Jesus Christ, to dedicate themselves princi¬pally…to help the rural towns of the countryside most destitute of spiritual sup-port.’ They will be like other missionary institutes, ‘but with an absolute distinctiveness to always situate their churches and houses outside the areas of inhabitation and in the midst of the dioceses, so as to be ready to travel with greater readiness for the missions in the countryside; and to be present more easily for the convenience of the poor people who rush to hear the divine word and re-ceive the sacraments in their churches’ (Spicilegium Historicum 16 [1968] 385). To follow the example of the Redeemer must be understood in the perspective of participation and renewal:it requires continuing the kenotic mercy of Christ,
i.e. his incarnating himself so as to share in our condition of weakness; his actions which witness to the experience of God’s love; his unceasing reaching out to those in need of truth and healing. All this is left to the guidance of the Spirit who leads the Church on the very path of Christ (cf. Lumen Gentium, n. 8).
From the 1740s, the radical dedication to the abandoned transformed Alphon¬sus into a writer as he strove to lead them in the journey to holiness. Therefore, he was concerned with the formation of the clergy, especially in the field of moral theology and evangelisation. He became, as John Paul II has written, ‘the renovator of moral theology’, succeeding in indicating the way for ‘a correct balance between rigorism and liberty’, synthesising with these ‘memorable words:‘it is not necessary to impose anything on people under pain of grave sin unless the reason is evident… Considering the fragility of the present human condition, it is not always true that the narrowest way is the safest way to direct souls; we see that the Church forbids both excessive liberty and excessive rigour’ (Spiritus Domini, in AAS 79 [1987] 1367-1368).


From 1762-75, Alphonsus was the bishop of Sant’Agata dei Goti, but he con¬tinued, at the same time, his task of writing and of animating the Redemptorist community. He died in Pagani on 1 August 1787. He was canonised by Gregory XVI on 26 May 1839. He was declared Doctor of the Church by Pius XI on 23 March 1871, and the Patron of Confessors and Moralists by Pius XII on 26 April 1950.
The fidelity of Redemptorists to the Alphonsian intent is thus expressed in the present Constitutions:‘Preference for situations where there is pastoral need, that is, for evangelisation in the strict sense together with the choice in favour of the poor is the very reason why the Congregation exists in the Church, and is the badge of its fidelity to the vocation it has received.’ Such a task must concern it¬self with ‘the liberation and salvation of the whole human person. The members have the duty of preaching the Gospel explicitly and of showing solidarity with the poor by promoting their fundamental rights to justice and freedom. The means employed must be effective and at the same time consistent with the Gospel’ (Const. 5).

All this is possible only through an unceasing journey (exodus), on the level of the community and every single confrere. The steps are the same as that of the Founder:discernment of the abandoned, incarnating in their midst, unconditional dedication to their evangelisation. In this manner, Redemptorists seek to remind the entire Church of the need to constantly plan its pastoral presence and action from a missionary perspective. Sharing in the difficulties of the abandoned, they are stimulated, like Alphonsus, to outline a proposal of Christian life, beginning from human fragility, in a manner in which all can rediscover and respond to the universal call to holiness.

This segment was written by Fr Sabatino Majorano, from the Naples Province and kindly provided to us by the London Province of the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer

Trailer "The Life of St Alphonsus" by Redemptorist Publications

St Alphonsus Liguori C.Ss.R.
Founder of  the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer

Find out more about St Alphonsus on this extraordinary interview with Superior General Fr Michael Brehl.

Our Lady of Perpetual Succour

Since 1866 the Redemptorists have spread devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary under the icon and title of Our Mother of Perpetual Help (also known as Our Lady of Perpetual Help or Our Lady of Perpetual Succour).

According to tradition, the ancient Byzantine icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help was stolen from a church in Crete, where many miracles had occurred.

The image remained in the private possession of a Roman merchant and his family until 1499, when it was publicly displayed in the Church of St. Matthew in Rome between the Basilicas of St. Mary Major and St. John Lateran.

When St. Matthew’s was destroyed in 1789, the icon was rescued and hung in an obscure monastery chapel until the Redemptorists learned that the site of their new headquarters in Rome had once been the site of St. Matthew’s, the one-time home of a miraculous icon of Our Lady.

A Redemptorist priest who as a young man had frequented the monastery chapel that displayed the icon informed his brothers where to find the image.

The Redemptorists asked Pope Pius IX for permission to move the icon to their new church, San Alfonso, which was built on the location of the icon’s earlier home. The pope granted his permission and told the Redemptorists to “make her known throughout the world.”

The Symbolism of the Icon

In the Eastern world, religious art is seen as an extension of God’s presence in creation. Icons are much more than beautiful images:they’re meant to help us connect directly with God.

The artist who writes the icon strives to illuminate the viewer’s soul with divine truth. Above is a photo of the icon of Our Lady of Perpetual Help—the most widely known icon in the world. This sacred image has special importance for the Redemptorists, who were asked by Pope Pius IX to “make her known throughout the world.”

Each element of the icon has a specific meaning:

  • Mary’s eyes, filled with compassion and love, are directed toward us.
  • Our Lady is clothed in the colors of virgins (red) and of mothers (blue). These are also royal colors.
  • Jesus, depicted as a young boy, wears the colors of a king.
  • The star on Mary’s veil reminds us that she is the dawn announcing the coming of Christ.
  • Our Lady’s hands hold her Son securely, and her right hand directs our gaze to Him.
  • The Christ Child grasps his mother’s hand as though he is frightened by what he sees.
  • In His hurry to reach his mother, Jesus has almost lost one of his sandals. He became human, like us, in all things but sin.
  • On Our Lady’s left and right we see the reasons for the child’s fear. On the right is the Archangel Gabriel, holding a cross and four nails. On the left is the Archangel Michael, holding a lance, a pole with a sponge, and a vessel of vinegar. This vision of the instruments of the crucifixion has driven the young Jesus to his mother’s protective embrace.
  • Yet Our Lady’s gaze is fixed on us, her children on earth. She is our source of constant comfort and hope.

This segment was kindly provided by the Baltimore Province of the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer.

Our Lady of Perpetual Soccur
Icon assigned to the C.Ss.R. by Pope Pius IX