Our Lady of Lourdes
Place: Lourdes, France
Visionary: Bernadette Soubirous
At age 14, the poverty-stricken, asthmatic Bernadette Soubirous saw a vision of a beautiful Lady in a grotto on the banks of the Gave River near Lourdes, France. Though Bernadette was despised, disbelieved, and harassed by local French authorities, crowds began to gather when news spread and when she wouldn’t recant the story of her vision.
On 25 February, Bernadette was told to dig in the earth, which she did to much mockery, but there, the healing waters of the now-famous Lourdes shrine were discovered where the Lady had appeared, and on 25 March, the Lady of the vision announced that she was the Immaculate Conception and that a church should be built at the site. Bernadette became a nun at Nevers, France and, suffering much from physical ailments, died young. Her body remains incorrupt at her convent to this day. St. Bernadette’s story can be seen in the 1943 movie, “The Song of Bernadette,” starring Jennifer Jones, who won an Oscar for her portrayal of the Saint. (15)
from the Liturgical Year, by Dom Gueranger
My bow shall appear in the clouds and I will remember My covenant with you –Gen. 9: 14-15.
The lessons at Matins on February 11, 1854 (Thursday in Sexagesima week) recalled these words, and the world soon learned that on this very day Mary had appeared, more fair than the sign of hope which typified her at the time of the deluge.
Portents, the realization of which we see in these days, were being multiplied. Mankind had grown old, and seemed about to perish in a deluge more dreadful than the former one. “I am the Immaculate Conception,” said the Mother of divine grace to the humble child whom she chose at such a time to bear her message to the captain of the Ark of salvation. She pierced the gathering darkness with the light of that sublime privilege which the supreme pilot, to his eternal glory, had declared three years before to be dogma.
Indeed, if, as the beloved disciple says, it is our faith to which victory on earth is promised (i John v. 4), and if faith is nourished by light–what individual dogma is there which so presupposes and recalls all other dogmatic truths, and at the same time throws such light upon them? It is a royal crown on the brow of the victorious queen, resplendent like the rainbow, which breaks through the clouds with all the glories of heaven.
But perchance it was still necessary to open the eyes of the blind to these splendours, to inspire courage into hearts saddened by hell’s denials, and to infuse strength to make an act of faith into so many understandings weakened by the education of these days. The Immaculate Virgin summoned the multitudes to the scene of her blessed visit, and both sweetly and strongly succoured the weakness of souls by healing bodies. She smiled upon publicity, welcomed investigation, and confirmed by the authority of miracles her own words and the definition of the Vicar of Christ . . .
The things that take place at Lourdes are as famous as any events of contemporary history. Let us listen to the short account, which the Church has enshrined in the Liturgy:
In the fourth year after the definition of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, the blessed Virgin vouchsafed to appear on several occasions to a poor but pious and innocent child named Bernadette, in a rocky cavern overlooking the grotto of Massabielle on the banks of the Gave near the town of Lourdes in the diocese of Tarbes in France. She showed herself as a young and gracious figure, robed in white, with a white veil and blue girdle, and golden roses on her bare feet. At the first apparition on February 11, 1858, she taught the child to make the sign of the cross correctly and devoutly, and, taking a chaplet from her own arm, encouraged her by example to say her rosary. This was repeated at subsequent apparitions. On the second day, Bernadette, who feared an illusion of the devil, in all simplicity cast holy water at the apparition, who smiled more graciously than before. At the third apparition Bernadette was invited to repeat her visits to the grotto for fifteen days, during which the blessed Virgin conversed with her, exhorted her to pray for sinners, kiss the ground and do penance, and finally commanded her to tell the priests that a chapel was to be built in the place and processions held. She was also bidden drink and wash in the water, and a spring, until then invisible, gushed out of the ground. On the feast of the Annunciation, the child earnestly begged the Lady who had so often visited her, to reveal her name, and the blessed Virgin, joining her hands and raising her eyes to heaven, said: “I am the Immaculate Conception”
Rumours of favours received at the holy grotto spread rapidly, and the crowds of devout visitors increased daily, so that the Bishop of Tarbes, who had been impressed by the candour of Bernadette, found it advisable to hold a judicial enquiry into the facts. In the course of the fourth year he gave sentence, recognizing the supernatural character of the apparition, and permitting devotions to our Lady under the title of the Immaculate Conception to be held in the grotto. A chapel was soon built, and since then every year has witnessed innumerable pilgrimages from France, Belgium, Italy, Spain, and all parts of Europe and America. The name of Our Lady of Lourdes has become famous all over the world, and cures are obtained everywhere by use of the water. Lourdes has been enriched by a grateful world with splendidly decorated churches, where countless banners bear witness to the favours received and to the desire of peoples and cities to adorn the house of the blessed Virgin, who is honoured there as in her own palace. The days are filled with prayers, hymns and solemn ceremonies, and the nights are sanctified by the pious supplications of countless people who walk in procession carrying torches, and singing the praises of the blessed virgin Mary.
All men know how, in spite of the coldness of the world, these pilgrimages have revived faith, restored the observance of the Christian religion, and increased devotion to the Immaculate Virgin. The Faithful are led by their priests in this marvellous development of faith and devotion . . .
“O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee!” Thou didst teach us this prayer in 1830 as a safeguard against the dangers of the future. In 1846 the two shepherds of La Salette reminded us of thy tears and exhortations: “Pray for poor sinners, pray for the world which is so disturbed.” Today the little seer of the grotto of Massabielle brings us thy message: “Penitence! Penitence! Penitence!”
We desire to obey thee, O blessed Virgin, to combat in ourselves and all around us that enemy of mankind who is our only real enemy, and sin, that supreme evil which is the source of all others. Praise be to the Almighty, who saved thee from all stain of sin, and thus inaugurated in thee the full restoration of our fallen race. Praise be to thee, who, having no debts of thy own, didst pay our debts with the Blood of thy Son and the tears of His Mother, thus reconciling heaven and earth and crushing the head of the serpent.
Prayer, expiation–the Church from apostolic times has ever urged these thoughts upon us during the days which immediately precede Lent. Dear Mother in heaven, we bless thee for having thus united thy voice to that of our Mother on earth. The world no longer desired, no longer understood, the infallible but indispensable remedy offered by the justice and mercy of God to the misery of man. Men seemed to have forgotten the words: “Except you do penance, you shall all perish” (Lk. 13: 5). Thy pity wakes us from this fatal stupor, O Mary. Thou knowest our weakness, and hast mingled sweetness in the bitter draught. Thou lavishest temporal favours upon man in order that he may ask of thee eternal blessings. We will not be like those children who welcome their mother’s caresses, but neglect her admonitions and the corrections, which her tenderness bought to make acceptable. We will pray and suffer in union with Jesus and thee. By thine assistance during this Lent we will be converted and do penance. (12)
“Advance to her, since she summons you and makes you a sign. Approach. Ask her who she is? Wherefore she has come here? Is it a soul from Purgatory who implores our prayers, who wishes to have Masses said for her?
Beg of her to write what she desires on this paper. We are ready to do everything she wishes, all that is necessary for her repose.”
The girl took the paper, ink and pen which they gave her, and went forward to the apparition, whose maternal look encouraged her to approach.
Nevertheless, at every step that the child took the apparition gradually retired into the interior of the excavation. Bernadette lost sight of it for an instant, and penetrated under the vault of the grotto below. There, still above her but much nearer, in the opening of the niche, she again beheld the Holy Virgin surrounded with rays.
Bernadette, holding in her hand the objects which had been given her, stood up on her feet to reach, with her little arms and her low stature, to the height where the Supernatural Being stood above. Her two companions also stepped forward to try to hear the conversation which she was about to hold. But Bernadette, without turning round, and as if obeying a gesture of the apparition, made them a sign with her hand not to approach.
Quite confused, they withdrew a little aside.
“My lady,” said the child, “if you have anything to communicate to me, would you have the goodness to write who you are and what you desire?”
The heavenly Virgin smiled at this simple request. Her lips opened, and she spoke.
“What I have to tell you,” replied she, ” I have no need to write. Do me only the favor to come here during fifteen days.”
“I promise you to do so” said Bernadette.
The Blessed Virgin smiled again, and made a sign that she was satisfied, showing also her full confidence in the word of that poor peasant girl of fourteen years of age.
She knew that the little shepherd girl of Bartres was like those most innocent children whose fair heads Jesus loved to caress, saying: “The kingdom of heaven is for such as these.” At the word of Bernadette she replies by a solemn engagement:
“And I,” said she, “promise you to make you happy, not in this world, but in the next.”
To the child who consented to give her a few days, she, in compensation, gave an assurance for eternity. — page 46
O Mary, conceived without sin,
pray for us, who have recourse to thee. (14)
Through the Lourdes Apparitions, the devotion of persons in all parts of the world to the Immaculate Mother of God has been wonderfully spread, and countless miracles have been wrought everywhere through Her intercession. The Virgin Mother of God is truly the chosen Messenger of God to these latter times, which are entrusted to Her, the chosen vessel of the unique privilege of exemption from original sin. Only with Her assistance will the dangers of the present world situation be averted. As She has done since 1858 in many places, at Lourdes, too, She gave us Her peace plan for the world, through Saint Bernadette: Prayer and Penance, to save souls. (9)
Image: Our Lady in Lourdes. (18)
Research by REGINA Staff