Catechism Series on the Basics of the Catholic Faith

Our Lady of Lourdes and Fatima

A blessed feast of Our Lady of Lourdes to you!

On today’s date in 1858, the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared for the first of eighteen times to Bernadette Soubirous of Lourdes, France, in a cliff-side grotto called Massabielle by the river Gave. Standing within a niche of the grotto and holding a Rosary, Our Lady wore a white veil and a white robe with a blue girdle, and a golden rose on each bare foot.

Bernadette was struck by Our Lady’s great courtesy toward her, being addressed not with the informal “tu,” but with the polite form “vous,” marking the sublime dignity of the baptized soul of this humble peasant child.

After one of the apparitions, a bystander who had been near to Bernadette remarked about her visage: “If you had only seen her eyes! It was enough to bring you to your knees!” Others remarked that simply watching Bernadette pray the Rosary was the greatest lesson they ever received in how to pray.

On February 11th, in the first apparition, Our Lady taught Bernadette to make the Sign of the Cross devoutly. Then She held up Her own Rosary, inviting the child to pray with Her. From that day on, Bernadette would always make the Sign of the Cross with the greatest reverence and attention. Not only is this Christian sign a powerful sacramental, but when done well, it is a most efficacious method of making oneself aware of the Presence of God.

On the second day, Bernadette, in all simplicity, lest she be taken in by an illusion of the devil, sprinkled holy water on Our Lady, at which the Virgin merely smiled more graciously than before. Prudence dictates that one must always be extremely careful with seeming apparitions, for as St. Paul teaches the devil can appear as an angel of light (cf. 2 Cor 11:14) and St. John exhorts us to “believe not every spirit, but try the spirits if they be of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world” (1 Jn 4:1).

In the subsequent apparitions, Bernadette continued to converse with Our Lady, who on one occasion instructed her to dig in a certain spot and to “drink in the spring and wash yourself there, and eat some of the little plant growing there.” Although such digging made no sense to human reason, St. Bernadette promptly obeyed. Various bystanders ridiculed her as mentally unstable but Bernadette cared not for human respect. Soon a miraculous spring began to flow. The water of this spring, having been carried into all parts of the world, often restores physical and spiritual health to the infirm.

Our Lady asked also that a chapel be built there and that people come in processions. Even to this day Eucharistic processions are held most days at Lourdes. At no other site in the world have there been so many scientifically verified and ecclesiastically approved miracles!

At Lourdes, Our Lady also asked the world to do “Penance! Penance! Penance!” This provides an explicit heavenly link between the Message of Lourdes and the Message of Fatima, for these are the exact same words which the Angel with the flaming sword cried out in the Vision of the Third Secret of Fatima. Sadly, the world and even the vast majority of the members of the Church Militant have not obeyed Our Lady’s command. As Sr. Lucia lamented in 1957, “the most Holy Virgin is very sad because no one has paid any attention to Her Message, neither the good nor the bad” (see her interview with Fr. Fuentes).

We should ask ourselves, how well are we obeying Our Lady’s command? What kind of penances are we doing on a daily, weekly and monthly basis? Lent is nearly upon us and the liturgical season of Septuagesima is an ideal time to make resolutions regarding the penances we will perform so as to “rend your hearts, and not your garments, and turn to the Lord your God” (Joel 2:13, from the Lesson on Ash Wednesday).

It may also help to recall that Sr. Lucia explained, “For many, thinking that the word ‘penance’ means great austerities, not feeling in themselves the strength or generosity for these, lose heart and rest in a life of lukewarmness and sin.” Nevertheless, Sr. Lucia further clarified that Our Lord had told her, “The sacrifice required of every person is the fulfillment of his duties in life and the observance of My law. This is the penance that I now seek and require” (See p.83 of The True Story of Fatima). Thus, we should ask ourselves, how can I better fulfill the duties of my state in life and keep God’s holy Commandments?

At length, on March 25, 1858, the feast of the Annunciation, Bernadette earnestly begged the Lady to reveal Her name, to which the Blessed Virgin replied, joining Her hands and raising Her eyes to Heaven: “I am the Immaculate Conception.”

It was then scarcely more than three years since Blessed Pope Pius IX had defined the dogma of Our Lady’s Immaculate Conception, on December 8, 1854. Pilgrimages and miracles have marked the site of the holy grotto ever since, along with the devout prayers, hymns, and processions of the faithful. The authenticity of the apparitions was confirmed by Church authorities in 1862, and the cult of Our Lady of Lourdes was established throughout the universal Church in 1907.

O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to Thee!

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