Today marks the 150th Anniversary of the 1st appearance of Mary to a young girl, Bernadette Soubirous, at Lourdes in France. Mary appeared to St. Bernadette a total of 18 times. The last being 16 July 1858. It is also the 16th Annual World Day of the Sick. For those of you unfamiliar with the apparitions at Lourdes & the messages & miracles at Lourdes as you read on this will soon make sense. (Note: The message of Lourdes is considered a private revelation by the Catholic Church. When a private revelation is approved, it means that the competent Church authorities have determined that Mary actually appeared & that the message says nothing contrary to public revelation as found in the Scriptures & Tradition of the Church. The message is also judged by the spiritual fruit it bears. The Church then says that it is worthy of belief. But, the Church does not require anyone to accept the message as a part of the deposit of faith. A valid message supports the teachings of the Church. It often gives new insight into how to live out certain devotions, or new expressions of those devotions.)
On this date in 1858 Bernadette, a 14 year old French peasant girl. She was gathering wood with her sister, Toinette, & a friend, Jeanne Abadie, near the cave of Massabielle. She heard a sound like wind twice. the 2nd ime she looked toward the cave (she calls it grotto). There she saw a lady: "dressed in white, wearing a white dress, a blue girdle and a yellow rose on each foot, the same color as the chain of her rosary; the beads of the rosary were white."
"The Lady made a sign for me to approach; but I was seized with fear, and I did not dare, thinking that I was faced with an illusion. I rubbed my eyes, but in vain. I looked again, and I could still see the same Lady. Then I put my hand into my pocket, and took my rosary. I wanted to make the sign of the cross, but in vain; I could not raise my hand to my forehead, it kept on dropping. Then a violent impression took hold of me more strongly, but I did not go.
The Lady took the rosary that she held in her hands and she made the sign of the cross. Then I commenced not to be afraid. I took my rosary again; I was able to make the sign of the cross; from that moment I felt perfectly undisturbed in mind. I knelt down and said my rosary, seeing this Lady always before my eyes. The Vision slipped the beads of her rosary between her fingers, but she did not move her lips. When I had said my rosary the Lady made a sign for me to approach, but I did not dare. I stayed in the same place. Then, all of a sudden, she disappeared."
She asked her 2 companions if they had seen or heard anything. They said no. Her sister told their mother on their return about where they had been. They were punished & told not to go back.
3 days later on Sunday 14 February she returned. "The second time was the cheese Sunday. (This is an old name for the Sunday before Ash Wednesday.) I went back because I felt myself interiorly impelled. My mother had forbidden me to go. After High Mass, the two other girls and myself went to ask my mother again. She did not want to let us go, she said that she was afraid that I should fall in the water; she was afraid that I would not be back for Vespers. I promised that I would. Then she gave me permission to go."
She returned to the grotto with a bottle of Holy Water. She was going to test to see if the apparition was a demon. If it was, it would be repelled by the Holy Water. "When we arrived, we all took our rosaries and we knelt down to say them. I had hardly finished the first decade when I saw the same Lady. Then I started to throw holy water in her direction, and at the same time I said that if she came from God she was to stay, but if not, she must go. She started to smile, and bowed; and the more I sprinkled her with holy water, the more she smiled and bowed her head and the more I saw her make signs. Then I was seized with fright and I hurried to sprinkle her with holy water until the bottle was empty. Then I went on saying my rosary. When I had finished it she disappeared and we came back to Vespers."
After this appearance some adults heard her repeat what happenned. They told her to bring a pen & paper the next time she returned. On Thursday the 18th she returned. This time the Lady appeared again & spoke for the 1st time. "I went to the grotto with a few matured people, who advised me to take paper and ink, and to ask her, if she had anything to say to me, to have the goodness to put it on paper. I said these words to the Lady. She smiled and said that it was not necessary for her to write what she had to say to me, but asked if I would do her the favour of coming for a fortnight. I told her that I would. She told me also that she did not promise to make me happy in this world, but in the next."
Bernadette returned every day. Between the 18th of February & 4 March the Lady appeared almost every day (22 & 26 February being the exceptions). Each day more & more people accompanied her. & local officials were starting to get concerned as well. Eventually they would interogate her. She underwent many trials during this period. During a couple of the early apparitions the Lady gave Bernadette some private messages. At the 8th appearance (24 February) the Lady said: "Penance! Penance! Penance! Pray to God for sinners. Kiss the ground as an act of penance for sinners!"
The next day is when the event that defines Lourdes to this day happenned. The Lady "told me that I should go and drink at the fountain and wash myself. Seeing no fountain I went to drink at the Gave. She said it was not there; she pointed with her finger that I was to go in under the rock. I went, and I found a puddle of water which was more like mud, and the quantity was so small that I could hardly gather a little in the hollow of my hand. Nevertheless I obeyed, and started scratching the ground; after doing that I was able to take some. The water was so dirty that three times I threw it away. The fourth time I was able to drink it. She made me eat grass growing in the same place where I had drunk; once only; I do not know why. Then the Vision disappeared and I went home." The next day it became a spring that flows to this day. On 1 March Catherine Latapie bathed her paralyzed arm in the spring. It was instantly healed. this was the 1st of the 68 confirmed miraculous cures at the spring.
At the 2 March apparition The Lady told Bernadette she wanted a chapel built by the spring. She went to Abbé Dominique Peyramale with 2 aunts to relay the message. At 1st Fr. Peyramale called her a liar. But eventually she wore him down & he went to the Bishop (diocese of Tarbes). He also told Bernadette to ask the name of The Lady. It wasn't until the 16th apparition on 25 March that The Lady said"que soy era Immaculada Councepciou. (I am the Immaculate Conception. in the Bigourdan dialect)" When she told Fr. Peyramale he was shocked. & began questioning her. He said: "You are mistaken. Do you know what that means?" She didn't. He wrote the Bishop that night. "She could never have invented this ... " She couldn't have. The Church had only formally declared it 4 years earlier. & Bernadette didn't have enough catechism to have been taught that fact.
There were only 2 more apparitions. But crowds were already being drawn to the spring. On 8 June the mayor barricaded access to the area & fined people who knelt in prayer in the area. The last apparition took place on 16 July. Bernadette had to kneel by the riverbank.
During this time the authorities also had the water analysed. The final report said:
"The extraordinary effects which are alleged to have followed the use of the water cannot, at least in the present state of science, be explained by the nature of the salts revealed by analysis. The water contains no active substance capable of endowing it with marked therapeutic properties. It can be taken without injury.
The water contains:
3. Carbonic acid.
4. Carbonates of lime and magnesia, and a trace of carbonate of iron.
5. An alkaline carbonate or silicate; chlorides of potassium and sodium.
6.Traces of sulphates of potassium and soda.
7. Traces of ammonia.
8. Traces of iodine, etc." (Note that there was nothing found to explain any ability in the water of itself to bring about cures. It is just good drinking water.)
In October the mayor was forced by Empoer Napolean III to reopen the grotto.
On 18 January 1862 the Bishop declared the apparitions to be real & approved the messages. "We are inspired by the Commission comprising wise, holy, learned and experienced priests who questioned the child, studied the facts, examined everything and weighed all the evidence. We have also called on science, and we remain convinced that the Apparitions are supernatural and divine, and that by consequence, what Bernadette saw was the Most Blessed Virgin. Our convictions are based on the testimony of Bernadette, but above all on the things that have happened, things which can be nothing other than divine intervention."
The Grotto has become a major pilgrimage site. People come from arround the world to pray & bathe in the miraculous waters. Many people have been cured, of which, as I already pointed out, 68 have been declared miracles. The site is known as The Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes or the Domain. Eventually the Church made 11 February the optional memorial of Our Lady of Lourdes. Pope John Paul the Great also made this date the World Day of the Sick because of the miraculous healings at Lourdes. (To quote Paul Harvey: "& now you know the rest of the story.)
As for Bernadette, she never returned to the grotto after the last apparition. She joined the the Sisters of Charity of Nevers convent at the age of 22 where she spent the rest of her life. There she continued to suffer from asthma that she had from childhood. Finally after 1 attack she asked for some water from Lourdes. After that she never had any symptoms again. She worked as an assistant in the infirmary and later as a sacristan, creating beautiful embroidery for altar cloths and vestments. Few people knew who she really was & even though she kept track of developments at the Grotto, as I said she never returned, not even in 1876 for the dedication of the Basilica. Often mistreated by superiors, but never complaining she died at the age of 36 from tuberculosis of the bone in the right knee. (16 April 1879)
On 2 September 1909, as a part of the canonization process her body was exhumed & found to be incorrupt. She was beatified in 1925 and canonized in 1933 by Pope Pius XI. Her visions & messages (as always with the Church) were not considered as a part of the process. It was because of her heroic virtue during her life as a nun, and for her exemplary simplicity, humility, and holiness of life.
There are those who will doubt this story & that is your choice. What I have written is true. I haven't included every apparition or event in her life. This is the heart of her story. I believe that Jesus sent His Mother to Bernadette to call people to pray, repent of the sins (personal as well as corporate) & to come to Jesus as Lord & Savior. He also sent her to show His great Love & Mercy by making this grotto a place of healing, spiritual as well as physical. For 150 years God HAS BEEN GLORIFIED by the events & miracles that have occured here. & I believe He will continue to work here until the return of Jesus at the end of time. There will be an huge multitude in Heaven because of what He did here.