My bow shall appear in the clouds and I will remember My covenant with you — (Gen. 9: 14-15)
The lessons at Matins on February 11, 1854 (Thursday in Sexagesima week) recalled these words, and the world soon learned that on this very day Mary had appeared, more fair than the sign of hope which typified her at the time of the deluge.
Portents, the realization of which we see in these days, were being multiplied. Mankind had grown old, and seemed about to perish in a deluge more dreadful than the former one. “I am the Immaculate Conception,” said the Mother of divine grace to the humble child whom she chose at such a time to bear her message to the captain of the Ark of salvation. She pierced the gathering darkness with the light of that sublime privilege which the supreme pilot, to his eternal glory, had declared three years before to be dogma.
Indeed, if, as the beloved disciple says, it is our faith to which victory on earth is promised (1 John 5:4), and if faith is nourished by light–what individual dogma is there which so presupposes and recalls all other dogmatic truths, and at the same time throws such light upon them? It is a royal crown on the brow of the victorious queen, resplendent like the rainbow, which breaks through the clouds with all the glories of heaven.
But perchance it was still necessary to open the eyes of the blind to these splendors, to inspire courage into hearts saddened by hell’s denials, and to infuse strength to make an act of faith into so many understandings weakened by the education of these days. The Immaculate Virgin summoned the multitudes to the scene of her blessed visit, and both sweetly and strongly succoured the weakness of souls by healing bodies. She smiled upon publicity, welcomed investigation, and confirmed by the authority of miracles her own words and the definition of the Vicar of Christ…
The things that take place at Lourdes are as famous as any events of contemporary history. Let us listen to the short account, which the Church has enshrined in the Liturgy:
In the fourth year after the definition of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, the blessed Virgin vouchsafed to appear on several occasions to a poor but pious and innocent child named Bernadette, in a rocky cavern overlooking the grotto of Massabielle on the banks of the Gave near the town of Lourdes in the diocese of Tarbes in France. She showed herself as a young and gracious figure, robed in white, with a white veil and blue girdle, and golden roses on her bare feet. At the first apparition on February 11, 1858, she taught the child to make the sign of the cross correctly and devoutly, and, taking a chaplet from her own arm, encouraged her by example to say her rosary. This was repeated at subsequent apparitions. On the second day, Bernadette, who feared an illusion of the devil, in all simplicity cast holy water at the apparition, who smiled more graciously than before. At the third apparition Bernadette was invited to repeat her visits to the grotto for fifteen days, during which the blessed Virgin conversed with her, exhorted her to pray for sinners, kiss the ground and do penance, and finally commanded her to tell the priests that a chapel was to be built in the place and processions held. She was also bidden drink and wash in the water, and a spring, until then invisible, gushed out of the ground. On the feast of the Annunciation, the child earnestly begged the Lady who had so often visited her, to reveal her name, and the blessed Virgin, joining her hands and raising her eyes to heaven, said: “I am the Immaculate Conception.“
Rumors of favors received at the holy grotto spread rapidly, and the crowds of devout visitors increased daily, so that the Bishop of Tarbes, who had been impressed by the candor of Bernadette, found it advisable to hold a judicial inquiry into the facts. In the course of the fourth year he gave sentence, recognizing the supernatural character of the apparition, and permitting devotions to our Lady under the title of the Immaculate Conception to be held in the grotto. A chapel was soon built, and since then every year has witnessed innumerable pilgrimages from France, Belgium, Italy, Spain, and all parts of Europe and America. The name of Our Lady of Lourdes has become famous all over the world, and cures are obtained everywhere by use of the water. Lourdes has been enriched by a grateful world with splendidly decorated churches, where countless banners bear witness to the favors received and to the desire of peoples and cities to adorn the house of the blessed Virgin, who is honored there as in her own palace. The days are filled with prayers, hymns and solemn ceremonies, and the nights are sanctified by the pious supplications of countless people who walk in procession carrying torches, and singing the praises of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
All men know how, in spite of the coldness of the world, these pilgrimages have revived faith, restored the observance of the Christian religion, and increased devotion to the Immaculate Virgin. The Faithful are led by their priests in this marvelous development of faith and devotion to the Immaculate Virgin. The Faithful are led by their priests in this marvelous development of faith and devotion. The Bishops make frequent visits to the holy spot, lead pilgrimages, and take part in the ceremonies, and the Cardinals of Holy Church are often seen in the humble quality of pilgrims. The Roman Pontiffs have shown their devotion to our Lady of Lourdes, and have bestowed remarkable favors on her sanctuary. Pius IX enriched it with indulgences, gave it the privilege of an Archconfraternity and the title of minor basilica, and delegated the apostolic Nuncio in France to crown in his name the statures of the mother of God. Leo XIII also granted many favors, including the jubilee of the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Apparition. Be encouraged pilgrimages, and ordained that the consecration of the rosary church should be performed in his name. Moreover, he crowned all these favors by conceding, at the request of many bishops, the celebration of a solemn feast under the title of Apparition of Our Lady Immaculate, with a proper office and Mass. Finally, Pius X, out of devotion to the Mother of God, granted the petition of many prelates that this feast should be extened to the Universal Church.
“O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee!” Thou didst teach us this prayer in 1830 as a safeguard against the dangers of the future. In 1846 the two shepherds of La Salette reminded us of thy tears and exhortations: “Pray for poor sinners, pray for the world which is so disturbed.” Today the little seer of the grotto of Massabielle brings us thy message: “Penitence! Penitence! Penitence!”
We desire to obey thee, O blessed Virgin, to combat in ourselves and all around us that enemy of mankind who is our only real enemy, and sin, that supreme evil which is the source of all others. Praise be to the Almighty, who saved thee from all stain of sin, and thus inaugurated in thee the full restoration of our fallen race. Praise be to thee, who, having no debts of thy own, didst pay our debts with the Blood of thy Son and the tears of His Mother, thus reconciling heaven and earth and crushing the head of the serpent.
Prayer, expiation–the Church from apostolic times has ever urged these thoughts upon us during the days which immediately precede Lent. Dear Mother in heaven, we bless thee for having thus united thy voice to that of our Mother on earth. The world no longer desired, no longer understood, the infallible but indispensable remedy offered by the justice and mercy of God to the misery of man. Men seemed to have forgotten the words: “Except you do penance, you shall all perish” (Luke 13:5). Thy pity wakes us from this fatal stupor, O Mary. Thou knowest our weakness, and hast mingled sweetness in the bitter draught. Thou lavishest temporal favors upon man in order that he may ask of thee eternal blessings. We will not be like those children who welcome their mother’s caresses, but neglect her admonitions and the corrections, which her tenderness bought to make acceptable. We will pray and suffer in union with Jesus and thee. By thine assistance during this Lent we will be converted and do penance.
This text is taken from The Liturgical Year, authored by Dom Prosper Gueranger (1841-1875)