Our Lady of Lourdes. Beginning on February 11, 1858, The Blessed Virgin appeared to Bernadette Soubirous 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.
To understand the message of Lourdes, however, we need to return to the beginning of the story of Bernadette Soubirous, and the sleepy town of Lourdes, sitting at the base of the Pyrénées mountains. Bernadette’s parents, François and Louise Soubirous, had settled in Lourdes, working in the mill owned by Louise’s family. On January 7, 1844, Marie-Bernarde (always referred to as Bernadette) was born, their first child. Over the course of her life, Bernadette’s parents would bring eight additional children into the world, five of which died before reaching the age of ten years old.
“immediately after I made the Sign of the Cross, the great fear that had seized me disappeared.” Bernadette prayed the Rosary, with the woman fingering the beads along with her, but remaining silent. As soon as Bernadette had finished the Rosary, the lady beckoned her closer. Bernadette, again afraid, remained kneeling where she was, and the lady disappeared, leaving her alone. Her companions returned, neither having seen anything.
After telling her sister and friend what had happened, she begged them not to mention the apparition to anyone. However, Bernadette’s sister promptly told their mother upon return home, and they were both punished and forbidden to return to the grotto. Bernadette would return, however, drawn to the beautiful young woman, in three day’s time.
Saint Bernadette later wrote in her Journal Dedicated to the Queen of Heaven:
“Dearest Mother, how happy was my soul those heavenly moments when I gazed upon you. How I love to remember those sweet moments spent in your presence, your eyes filled with kindness and mercy for us! Yes, dear Mother, your heart is so full of love for us that you came down to earth to appear to a poor, weak child and convey certain things to her despite her great unworthiness. How humbled she is. You, the Queen of Heaven and Earth, chose to use what is weakest in the eyes of men. O Mary, give the precious virtue of humility to she who dares to call herself your child. O loving Mother, help your child resemble you in everything and in every way. In a word, grant that I may be a child according to your heart and the heart of your dear Son.” (quoted in “A Holy Life: Saint Bernadette of Lourdes,” McEachern, Ph.D., 2005, pages 18-19).
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.
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."