Narrated by Mariola Paini
In 1858 the virgin Mary Immaculate appeared to Bernadette Soubirous near Lourdes in France within the cave of Massabielle. Through this humble girl, Mary called sinners to conversion and enkindled within the Church a great zeal for prayer and charity, especially service to the sick and poor. From a letter by Saint Marie Bernadette Soubirous, virgin (Ep. ad P. Gondrand, a 1861: cf. A. Ravier, Les écrits de sainte Bernadette, Paris 1961, pp. 53-59) The lady spoke to me I had gone down one day with two other girls to the bank of the river Gave when suddenly I heard a kind of rustling sound. I turned my head toward the field by the side of the river but the trees seemed quite still and the noise was evidently not from them. Then I looked up and caught sight of the cave where I saw a lady wearing a lovely white dress with a bright belt. On top of each of her feet was a pale yellow rose, the same color as her rosary beads. At this I rubbed my eyes, thinking I was seeing things, and I put my hands into the fold of my dress where my rosary was. I wanted to make the sign of the cross but for the life of me I couldn’t manage it and my hand just fell down. Then the lady made the sign of the cross herself and at the second attempt I managed to do the same, though my hands were trembling. Then I began to say the rosary while the lady let her beads slip through her fingers, without moving her lips. When I stopped saying the Hail Mary, she immediately vanished. I asked my two companions if they had noticed anything, but they said no. Of course they wanted to know what I was doing and I told them that I had seen a lady wearing a nice white dress, though I didn’t know who she was. I told them not to say anything about it, and they said I was silly to have anything to do with it. I said they were wrong and I came back next Sunday, feeling myself drawn to the place…. The third time I went the lady spoke to me and asked me to come every day for fifteen days. I said I would and then she said that she wanted me to tell the priests to build a chapel there. She also told me to drink from the stream. I went to the Gave, the only stream I could see. Then she made me realize she was not speaking of the Gave and she indicated a little trickle of water close-by. When I got to it I could only find a few drops, mostly mud. I cupped my hands to catch some liquid without success and then I started to scrape the ground. I managed to find a few drops of water but only at the fourth attempt was there a sufficient amount for any kind of drink. The lady then vanished and I went back home. I went back each day for fifteen days and each time, except one Monday and one Friday, the lady appeared and told me to look for a stream and wash in it and to see that the priests build a chapel there. I must also pray, she said, for the conversion of sinners. I asked her many times what she meant by that, but she only smiled. Finally with outstretched arms and eyes looking up to heaven she told me she was the Immaculate Conception. During the fifteen days she told me three secrets but I was not to speak about them to anyone and so far I have not. This letter from St. Bernadette (linked above) is from the Office of Readings for this day. I put this letter here because the language in which she speaks of Mary’s apparitions is that of a child. Dear Bernadette was young and poor when The Blessed Mother appeared to her. She aspired only a simple life, was not overly bright, and it would seem that she was incapable of greatness by this world’s standards. Yet, the Blessed Mother appeared to her, and spoke to her kindly and gave her gentle instructions. When Bernadette first saw Our Lady, she did not immediately identify her. She saw, rather, a beautiful woman. In fact, she did not presume to admit that the lady was the Blessed Mother until she was told by the lady herself. Mary called herself the Immaculate Conception, a true expression of beauty. Mary’s message to Bernadette was simple and caring, like that of a Mother. Bernadette, although not great, was a saint of blessings and virtue. Mary chose to appear to her and laid upon her shoulders the charge of sharing Mary with others. Bernadette did not live a very long life… but it was one of patient suffering and hope for the world to come. “I cannot promise to make you happy in this world, but in the next” was the promise of the Blessed Mother to her daughter. Bernadette trusted in this promise, with that childlike faith and obedience that were so exemplary in her visits with Mary. This is an example of how Mary is a mother to us. Her apparitions to her gentle daughter Bernadette brings us a message of prayer and healing. Each time that Mary has visited us, she has come with the same tender love and caring. Let us always remember how deeply Mary loves us, how intimate she is with Jesus, and seek to follow her Motherly guidance and receive her consolation.
A Letter of Saint Marie Bernadette Soubirou
God of mercy,
we celebrate the feast of Mary,
the sinless mother of God.
May her prayers help us
to rise above our human weakness.
We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.