Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes

On the 11th of February the Catholic Church celebrates the feast day of Our Lady of Lourdes. It was on this day in 1858 when the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to Saint Bernadette Soubirous at a grotto in Lourdes, France. It was during this apparition that Mary revealed herself to the world as the "Immaculate Conception." She was defining for all the world that she indeed was conceived without the stain of Original Sin, for she was conceived through the power of the Holy Spirit. Thus, it was her Immaculate Conception that prepared the way for the coming of the Messiah. It is very logical that Mary was conceived without sin in order to become the mother of Jesus, the Son of God. For it is impossible for the Divine Son of God to touch any stain of sin, even Original Sin. Thus, for the Savior to be born of Mary's womb, she first had to be conceived completely free from sin and, be full of grace. 

The Massabielle Grotto in Lourdes where the apparitions took place
 to Saint Bernadette

The apparitions on Lourdes began on the 11th of February 1858, when Bernadette Soubirous, a 14 years old peasant girl from Lourdes went with her sisters Toinette and Jeanne Abadie to collect some firewood and bones in order to buy some bread. After taking off her shoes to wade through the water near the grotto of Massabielle, she heard the sound of two gusts of wind (coups de vent) but the trees and bushes nearby did not move. She saw a light in the grotto and a girl, as small as she was, dressed all in white, apart from the blue belt fastened around her waist and the golden yellow roses, one on each foot, the colour of her rosary. Bernadette tried to keep this a secret, but Toinette told her mother. Bernadette and her sister received punishment for their story.

Three days later, Bernadette returned to the Grotto. She had brought holy water as a test that the apparition was not of evil provenance; however, the lady only inclined her head gratefully when the water was cast. Bernadette's companions became afraid when they saw her in ecstasy. She remained ecstatic even as they returned to the village. On 18 February, she spoke of being told by the Lady to return to the Grotto over a period of two weeks. She quoted her saying: "I promise to make you happy, not in this world, but in the next."

After that the news spread, Bernadette was ordered by her parents to never go there again. She went anyway, and on 24 February, Bernadette related that the lady asked for prayer and penitence for the conversion of sinners. The next day, the lady asked her to dig in the ground and drink from the spring she found there. This made her disheveled and some of her supporters were dismayed, but this act revealed the stream that soon became a focal point for pilgrimages.

Although it was muddy at first, the stream became increasingly clean. As word spread, this water was given to medical patients of all kinds, and many miraculous cures followed. Seven of these cures were confirmed as lacking any medical explanations by Professor Verges in 1860. The first person with a “certified miracle” was a woman whose right hand had been deformed as a consequence of an accident. The government fenced off the Grotto and issued stiff penalties for anybody trying to get near the off-limits area. In the process, Lourdes became a national issue in France, resulting in the intervention of Emperor Napoleon III with an order to reopen the grotto on 4 October 1858.

Bernadette, knowing the local area well, managed to visit the barricaded grotto under cover of darkness. There, on the 25th of March, the lady told her: "I am the Immaculate Conception". On Easter Sunday, 7 April, her examining doctor stated that Bernadette, in ecstasy, was observed to have held her hands over a lit candle without sustaining harm. On the 16th of July, Bernadette went for the last time to the Grotto. "I have never seen her so beautiful before", she reported.

The Church decided to launch an investigative commission on November 17, 1858. On January 18, 1860, the local bishop finally declared that: The Virgin Mary did appear indeed to Bernadette Soubirous. On the 18th of January 1862, Pope Pius IX authorized the local bishop to permit the veneration of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Lourdes. These events established the Marian veneration in Lourdes, which together with Fatima is one of the most frequented Marian shrines in the world, and to which between 4 and 6 million pilgrims travel annually.

All recent Popes have visited Lourdes. Benedict XV, Pius XI and John XXIII went there as bishops, Pius XII as papal delegate. Blessed Pope John Paul II visited Lourdes three times and Benedict XVI made a visit to Lourdes on the 15th of September 2008, to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the apparitions of 1858. 

As we honor Our Lady of Lourdes, let us implore her intercession in protecting us all against evil by reciting the prayer of consecration to Our Lady of Lourdes: "Holy Mary, Mother of God, Virgin Immaculate, you appeared 18 times to Bernadette at the grotto in Lourdes to remind Christians of what the truths in the Gospel require of them. You call them to prayer, penance, the Eucharist and the life of the church. To answer your call more fully, I dedicate myself, through you, to your Son Jesus. Make me willing to accept what he said. By the fervour of my faith, by the conduct of my life in all its aspects, by my devotion to the sick, let me work with you in the comforting of those who suffer and in the reconciliation of people that the church may be one and there be peace in the world. All this I ask, confident that you, Our Lady, will fully answer my prayer. Blessed be the Holy and Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God." Our Lady of Lourdes, pray for us. Saint Bernadette, pray for us.

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