In the Paschal Season, the first reading is from the 12th chapter of the Apocalypse; the rest of the year it is from the 3rd chapter of Genesis. Both texts prophesy the victory of "the Woman" over the Serpent or the Dragon. One occurs at the beginning of the Bible, the other at the end. This Woman, whose offspring or son is the instrument of victory, is understood to be the image of the New Sion, the Church, the holy people of messianic times. Yet at the same time she can be considered the image of Mary, daughter of Sion, type of the Church and mother of the redeemed people. In these readings, Mary is the New Eve; she is the Mother of the Living. In both cases she faces conflict and this conflict continues for "the rest of her children" who are also menaced. However, the Woman is always there to assist them.
The assistance of the Woman is especially helpful to those engaged in "new wars" and who keep the commandments of God."
Saint Pius V gave Mary the title: "Help of Christians," after the victory of the Christian fleet over the Turks at Lepanto on October 7, 1571, and he added this invocation to her litany. When Pius VII returned to Rome on May 24, 1814, after spending five years of exile and captivity, he established the Feast of Our Lady, Helper of the Papal States.
The invocation of Mary as Help of Christians is part of the oldest prayer addressed directly to Mary, the "Sub tuum praesidium," which was found on a papyrus dating, at the latest, from the end of the third century. This prayer was composed at a time of great danger for Christians and for the Church. "Praesidium" is translated as "an assistance given in time of war by fresh troops in a strong manner."
Yet, Mary help of all Christians is not only helpful to those engaged in new wars, as the Gospel shows quite clearly. She is the bearer of joy, readying all Christians of good will to receive God's grace and the many gifts of life. Yes, ultimately, it is the caring woman of Cana who makes victory over dragon and serpent possible -- in letting Christ act on his own terms and at his own hour. Anthony de Mello writes in conclusion to the introduction of his last book:
"I dedicate this book to the Blessed Virgin Mary, who has always been for me a model of contemplation. She has been more: I am convinced that it is her intercession that has obtained for me, and for many of the people I have guided, graces in prayer that we should never have acquired otherwise. There, then, is my first piece of advice to you if you would make progress in the art of contemplation: Seek her patronage and ask for her intercession before you start out on this way. She has been given the charisma of drawing down the Holy Spirit on the Church, as she did at the Annunciation and at Pentecost, when she prayed with the Apostles. If you get her to pray with you and for you, you will be very fortunate indeed."
This, then, is Mary, the help of all Christians and as such, she is the star that prepares the coming of the rising sun, Christ.