Our Lady of Lourdes

On Thursday, February 11, 1858, a poor, sickly, unlettered peasant girl of Lourdes, France went with her sister and another girl to fetch sticks. Bernadette Soubirous, age 14, who knew little of her catechism but was devoted to the will of God, experienced her first apparition of a lovely Lady at the Grotto of Massabielle. Upon seeing the Lady, who had a rosary draped over her right arm, Bernadette began praying the Rosary. Bernadette did not know who the Lady was at this time. This is Bernadette’s description of the Lady at that first apparition:

While I was saying the 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.

Thereafter commenced a series of apparitions of the Lady to Bernadette at the Grotto. Word soon spread about the apparitions and more and more people accompanied Bernadette to the Grotto, but only Bernadette could see the Lady. At these apparitions the Lady told Bernadette to “Pray to God for sinners!” Bernadette, as instructed by the Lady, also kissed the ground several times to do penance for sinners. At one of the apparitions Bernadette, following instructions of the Lady, scratched at the muddy earth and began to drink and wash from an unknown stream. Only later was the stream discovered to have miraculous healing powers.

The village Curé had asked Bernadette to inquire of the Lady who she was. On March 25, the feast of the Annunciation, also known as Lady Day, the Lady told Bernadette her name. She said, “I am the Immaculate Conception.” Only a few years ago the Holy Father, Pius IX, had declared ex cathedra as dogma of the Faith that the Blessed Virgin Mary had been conceived without the stain of original sin. This declaration of the Blessed Mother to Bernadette has deeply and profoundly moved many souls over the years, including St. Maximilian Kolbe. He was especially affected by the fact that Our Lady did not say that she was immaculately conceived but declared: ” I AM THE IMMACULATE CONCEPTION.” This is her name and suggests the profound mystery of the work of the Holy Spirit in the Virgin Mary’s soul.

Miracles still flow from the miraculous waters of Lourdes — but many more of the miracles occur during the blessing of the sick with the Most Holy Eucharist in the monstrance. This phenomenon underscores a profound truth of the spiritual life: Mary leads her children to her Divine Son, especially to His Eucharistic Heart.

The message of Our Lady of Lourdes is about the healing Mercy of God. But Lourdes is also about the need for prayer and penance. St. Bernadette testified to this call of Our Lady of Lourdes by living the rest of her life in humble prayer and suffering in a convent in France.

Millions of pilgrims venture every year to Lourdes. Some are miraculously healed. But many more are not healed of their affliction but receive the great and precious grace of lovingly embracing and carrying the cross Our Lord has given them. Our Lady of Lourdes, ora pro nobis .

John O’Connell is the Editor of The Catholic Faith magazine.
Copyright 1997 Inter Mirifica