Our Lady of Lourdes to Bernadette Soubirous. Beginning on February 11, 1858, The Blessed Virgin appeared to Saint Bernadette a total of 18 times in Lourdes, France. The final visitation occurred on July 16, 1858. Since that time, hundreds of millions of pilgrims have visited Lourdes, with crowds reaching 40,000 on average during busier times of year. Over 60 miraculous cures have been recorded in the grotto where the Blessed Virgin appeared, or due to the curative properties of the spring which appeared during the apparitions.
As you may recall, following the first apparition, Bernadette’s mother forbade her to return to the holy grotto at Massabielle, and for three days, Bernadette complied with her mother’s wishes. However, on the fourth day, she felt called to the grotto. In her writings, Bernadette wrote, “Something inside me drew me there.” Having persuaded her mother to let her go, she returned to the grotto along with some other children. Bernadette armed herself with holy water, believing that if she threw the water at the vision, she would know whether it was from God. Her simple belief: if the vision was Godly, all would be well. If the vision was from elsewhere, the holy water would make the lady go away.
Similar to the initial visitation, the beautiful lady appeared in a nook on the rock face of the grotto. She was dressed in the same manner—a white dress with a blue sash, golden roses in each foot, and a Rosary draped over her arm. Bernadette threw the holy water on the vision, and Our Lady smiled. In fact, the more water Bernadette threw, the more she “smiled, bowed, and gestured.” Our Lady of Lourdes remained silent, and eventually disappeared after Bernadette again prayed the Rosary. The other children who accompanied her reported seeing nothing. Bernadette was so enraptured by the vision of Mary that she was unable to be moved from the spot. Her friends ran back to town, finding an adult, who physically carried her from the grotto.
The Blessed Mother appeared to Saint Bernadette eighteen times, bringing a message of prayer, penance, poverty, and participation. She said, “Penance. Penance. Penance. Pray for Sinners.” She picked the most humble of messengers, truly showing that we are all equal in the eyes of the Lord. Between today and July 16, we will journey with Saint Bernadette as we encounter Our Blessed Mother through her eyes, memories, and words.
Since my pilgrimage to Lourdes, I have incorporated a prayer I learned there into my daily Rosary (following the Fatima prayer). I thought I might share it here:
O Holy Virgin, in the midst of your days of glory, do not forget the sorrows of this earth.
Cast a merciful gaze upon those who are suffering,
struggling against difficulty, with their lips pressed constantly against life’s bitter cup.
Have pity on those who love each other and are separated.
Have pity on our rebellious hearts.
Have pity on our weak faith.
Have pity on those we love.
Have pity on those who weep, on those pray, on those who fear.
Grant hope and peace to all.
Why pray the Rosary every day for a year?
Each time the Blessed Virgin has appeared-- whether it be to Saint Bernadette Soubirous at Lourdes; to Lucia, Jacinta, and Francisco at Fatima; or to Mariette Beco at Banneux-- she has asserted the importance, saving grace, and power of praying the Holy Rosary on a daily basis. Based upon her words, the Rosary is penance and conversion for sinners, a pathway to peace, an end to war, and a powerful act of faith in Jesus Christ. Pope Paul VI presented the Rosary as a powerful means to reach Christ "not merely with Mary but indeed, insofar as this is possible to us, in the same way as Mary, who is certainly the one who thought about Him more than anyone else has ever done."
To show us how this is done, perhaps no one has been more eloquent than the great Cardinal Newman, who wrote: "The great power of the Rosary consists in the fact that it translates the Creed into Prayer. Of course, the Creed is already in a certain sense a prayer and a great act of homage towards God, but the Rosary brings us to meditate again on the great truth of His life and death, and brings this truth close to our hearts. Even Christians, although they know God, usually fear rather than love Him. The strength of the Rosary lies in the particular manner in which it considers these mysteries, since all our thinking about Christ is intertwined with the thought of His Mother, in the relations between Mother and Son; the Holy Family is presented to us, the home in which God lived His infinite love."
As Mary said at Fatima, "Jesus wants to use you to make Me known and loved. He wishes to establish the devotion to My Immaculate Heart throughout the world. I promise salvation to whoever embraces it; these souls will be dear to God, like flowers put by Me to adorn his throne."