Our Lady of Lourdes
"I AM THE IMMACULATE CONCEPTION"
So the lady in white declared to Bernadette Soubrious, revealing herself to be the Blessed Virgin Mary. This declaration came on the feast of the Annunciation in 1858, a few weeks after her first appearance to young Bernadette in Lourdes, France. Through this, she confirmed what Pope Pius IX infallibly defined as dogma a few years earlier, that Mary "from the first moment of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege of almighty God, and in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, Saviour of the human race, [being] preserved free from every stain of original sin is a doctrine revealed by God and, for this reason, must be firmly and constantly believed by all the faithful."
Just like with Mary, God chose to deliver a message at Lourdes through a humble, young girl - St. Bernadette. Bernadette was born into a poor family with nine children and suffered from ill health her whole life. One day while gathering firewood, Bernadette saw a beautiful woman appear near a rosebush in a grotto, holding a rosary. The woman continued to appear to Bernadette, telling her to "drink of the water of the spring [at the grotto], wash in it and eat the herb that grew there," and also commanding her to build a chapel on the site. After the woman told her "I am the Immaculate Conception," there was no doubt Bernadette was being visited by the Virgin Mary, though many people did not believe, and ridiculed Bernadette.
Bernadette did succeed in having a chapel built at the grotto. Since the apparitions, millions of people have made pilgrimages to Lourdes, making it one of the most visited religious sites in the world. Our Lady of Lourdes has healed countless physical and spiritual ailments over the years through the healing spring waters at the apparition site, seventy of which are confirmed as miracles by the Vatican. Though St. Bernadette herself was a sickly girl, she did not receive any physical healing through the miraculous spring. Rather, she united her suffering to Christ and clung tight to the words Mary spoke to her: "I do not promise to make you happy in this world, but in the other." She eventually joined the Sisters of Charity and died at the age of 35 in 1879. We celebrate the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes on February 11th, the day Mary first appeared to Bernadette. February 18th was the traditional feast day for St. Bernadette, but it has been changed to her death date, April 16. Let us pray to Our Lady of Lourdes and St. Bernadette for both healing and acceptance of God's will.
Though the dogma of the Immaculate Conception was only formally defined in 1854, it was a teaching believed by the faithful since the early church. How fitting it was for Mary, the Ark of the New Covenant, to be preserved from sin so that she would be worthy to bear the Messiah! Similarly, we must prepare ourselves to be in a state of grace before we receive Him in the Eucharist. Though we can never be as sinless and worthy as Mary, we can ask for her intercession to be more like her so as to unite ourselves more fully to her Son. If you are interested in reading more about the teaching on the Immaculate Conception, click here.
In the upcoming weeks, the U.S. Church will observe National Marriage Week (Feb. 7-14) and World Marriage Day (Feb. 11). Let us pray for an increase in strong, Christian marriages across our nation and for courage to defend the truth of Catholic matrimony.
By Anna Neal