Our Lady of Lourdes

Our Lady of Lourdes

"Saint Bernadette Soubirous was born in 1844, of impoverished parents, in the little town of Lourdes, France. She was a sickly girl, having contracted asthma when quite young. Although unschooled, Bernadette was an obedient and devout girl who prayed the Rosary frequently and longed to make her First Holy Communion.

The First Apparition of Mary to Bernadette

On February 11, 1858, Bernadette, 15, her sister and a friend, went to gather wood in an area called Massabielle. Having lost sight of her companions, Bernadette was preparing to cross a small river to join them when I heard the sound of wind, as in a storm. I turned towards the meadow, and I saw that the trees were not moving at all. I had half-noticed, but without paying any particular heed, that the branches and brambles were waving beside the grotto.

I went on taking my stockings off, and was putting one foot into the water, when I heard the same sound in front of me. I looked up and saw a cluster of branches and brambles underneath the topmost opening in the grotto tossing and swaying to and fro, though nothing else stirred all around.

Behind these branches and within the opening, I saw immediately afterwards a girl in white, no bigger than myself, who greeted me with a slight bow of the head; at the same time, she stretched out her arms slightly away from her body, opening her hands, as in pictures of Our Lady; over her right arm hung a rosary.

I was afraid. I stepped back. I wanted to call the two little girls, but I didn't have the courage to do so. I rubbed my eyes again and again: I thought I must be mistaken.

Raising my eyes again, I saw the girl smiling at me most graciously and seeming to invite me to come nearer. But I was still afraid. It was not however a fear such as I have had at other times, for I would have stayed there for ever looking at her: whereas, when you are afraid, you run away quickly.

Then I thought of saying my prayers. I put my hand in my pocket. I took out the rosary I usually carry on me. I knelt down and I tried to make the sign of the Cross, but I could not lift my hand to my forehead: it fell back.

The girl meanwhile stepped to one side and turned towards me. This time, she was holding the large beads in her hand. She crossed herself as though to pray. My hand was trembling. I tried again to make the sign of the Cross, and this time I could. After that I was not afraid.

I said my Rosary. The young girl slipped the beads of hers through her fingers, but she was not moving her lips.

While I was praying my Rosary, I was watching as hard as I could. She was wearing a white dress reaching down to her feet, of which only the toes appeared. The dress was gathered very high at the neck by a hem from which hung a white cord. A white veil covered her head and came down over her shoulders and arms almost to the bottom of her dress. On each foot I saw a yellow rose. The sash of the dress was blue, and hung down below her knees. The chain of the Rosary was yellow; the beads white, big and widely spaced. The girl was alive, very young and surrounded with light. When I had finished my Rosary, she bowed to me smilingly. She retired within the niche and disappeared all of a sudden.

Afterwards, when Bernadette was questioned, she added that the Lady was momentarily preceded by a gold cloud, and a halo which also lingered for a moment after she left. She seemed to be penetrated with a soft light, which neither hurt nor dazzled the eyes. Her face was oval and of an incomparable grace, her eyes were blue, her voice oh, so sweet! A little of her hair could be seen at her temples and through the veil on her forehead, yet Bernadette never noticed its exact color. At times, the Lady pressed the palms of her hands together as one does in prayer, though her Rosary had only five decades as Bernadette's did.

Of particular interest, the Lady and Bernadette kept time with each other as they slipped the rosary beads through their fingers. Bernadette explained that, during the recitation of the Our Father and the Hail Mary, the Lady did not move her lips, except to smile; but when they came to the Glory Be, the Lady bowed her head and visibly recited this prayer.

This last detail, which the little one in her ignorance could not have invented, reveals an accurate and deep theological truth. The Glory Be, which is a hymn of praise to the Adorable Trinity, is indeed the only part of the Rosary suitable for Mary. The Our Father is the prayer of needy mortals, tempted and sinful, on their journey to the Fatherland; as for the Hail Mary," this could be used only by the visionary, as the Apparition had no need to pray to herself.

Later Apparitions

When Bernadette's parents learned of what took place, they initially forbade her to return to the grotto, but her mother soon relented and allowed another visit on February 14. This time, Bernadette took some holy water, which she sprinkled toward the apparition in an effort to find out if it was from God. Again, her parents were unwilling for her to return, but allowed a third visit on February 18, in order to settle the rumour circulating that the apparition was the soul of a saintly dead parishioner. During this apparition, the Lady spoke for the first time, telling Bernadette, I do not promise to make you happy in this world, but in the next, after which the Lady asked, Would you be kind enough to come here for a fortnight? (A fortnight equals 14 days.) Before each encounter with the Lady, Bernadette would be irresistably drawn to the grotto, as if by a supernatural invitation, and start praying the Rosary. The fortnight's remaining apparitions occurred during the rest of February and first part of March, ending March 4.

Bernadette's story met with scepticism from the Church and intimidating interviews from the civil authorities, including a judge who threatened her with prison. Those who accompanied Bernadette to the grotto grew from a handful to thousands from around the region. At the moment each apparition began, Bernadette would go into an ecstasy and was oblivious to any physical interventions - including a candle's flame touched along her hand, which a medical doctor named Douzous witnessed on April 7, during one of two subsequent apparitions.

The Message of Lourdes and the Miraculous Spring

During the February 24 apparition, the Lady spoke again:Penance! Penance! Penance! Pray to God for sinners. She asked Bernadette to kiss the ground for the conversion of sinners. The following day, the crowd saw Bernadette back at the grotto, scraping in the mud then attempting to drink and wash her face with it, as if with water. She did this in response to the Lady's instruction to Go and drink at the spring and wash yourself in it. Again in response to the Lady's direction, Bernadette then ate the bitter leaves of a herb that was growing nearby. At this, many people dismissed Bernadette, believing her to be mad, but she explained herself with the words It is for sinners. However, where there had previously been no water, a spring appeared and flows to this day. In fact, numerous documented physical healings and countless spiritual healings have taken place at this spring ever since. The first physical miracle occurred hours before the March 1 apparition: after a friend of the Soubirous family, Catherine Latapie, plunged her dislocated arm into the spring water it regained normal movement. The Lady also directed Bernadette to walk on her knees as an act of penance.

On March 2 and 3, the Lady said, Go and tell the priests that people are to come here in procession and to build a chapel here.

The following day, the last of the requested fortnight, a huge crowd gathered and after Bernadette finished the Rosary the people questioned her, but there had been no further message or revelation.

The Lady Identifies Herself

The Blessed Virgin Mary would appear to Bernadette a total of 18 times from February to July that year, 1858. In the words of Bernadette, during one of the final apparitions, which took place on March 25, I begged her once more to do me the favour of telling me her name.

The Apparition, who, until then, had kept her hands joined, waited untill the third request for her name was made, and then opened her arms and lowered them as on the Miraculous Medal, thus causing her rosary of alabaster and gold to slip down towards her wrist. Then she joined her hands again and brought them close to her breast, as if to restrain the throbbing of her heart. Finally, raising her eyes to Heaven, in the attitude of the ancient Magnificat, she delivered her secret: I am the Immaculate Conception.

Then the Apparition smiled again, spoke no more, and disappeared smiling. Bernadette kept repeating these words, Immaculate Conception, on her way to tell the parish priest. She did not understand what they meant, but the parish priest did.

What is stunning about this revelation of the apparition's identity, of which Bernadette was ignorant, is that just over three years earlier, on December 8, 1854, Pope Pius IX had infallibly defined the Church's dogma: that the Blessed Virgin Mary was preserved from all stain of original sin from the first moment of her conception.

Our Lady appeared to Bernadette for the last time, on July 16 of the same year, 1858. By then the authorities had put barricades around the grotto to prevent anyone from entering, so she saw Our Lady from the opposite bank of the River Gave and described her as more beautiful than ever. The barricades were then taken down on the order of Napoleon III. And Bernadette had, at last, received her First Communion on June 3, the Feast of Corpus Christi.

Bernadette's Remaining Years

Life was not easy for Bernadette following the eighteen apparitions, as she disliked the publicity that surrounded her. She answered briefly the questions of the curious, but would be irritated by offers of gifts or money. In July 1860, she moved to the hospice at Lourdes to complete her neglected education and stayed there for six years.

As early as July 1858, the local bishop had set up a commission to study the apparitions and some reported cures. In January 1862, the commission's findings prompted the bishop to declare: We judge that Mary Immaculate, Mother of God, really did appear to Bernadette Soubirous ...

Bernadette later joined the Sisters of Charity at Nevers. Our Lady's words to her I do not promise to make you happy in this world certainly came true, after she entered the Convent. She suffered from asthma, tumors, rheumatism, tuberculosis and a blood disease. Added to these were the spiritual trials God sent to sanctify her - interior darkness, scruples, temptations, doubts,... all of which she bore with heroic courage and fortitude. Bernadette's illnesses soon sapped her life from her. With two large tears rolling down her cheeks and a crucifix in her hand, she prayed Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for me... a sinner... a sinner and then she passed to the realization of the rest of the words that Our Lady spoke to her I do not promise to make you happy in this world, but in the next. She died at the age of 35.

Her body is incorrupt. The Church celebrates her feast day on February 18.

Saint Bernadette