The feast of our Lady of Lourdes was added to our church calendar in1908, just 50 years after reports of Mary’s apparitions at the grotto of Massabielle near Lourdes in France to the young girl, Bernadette Soubirous. There Mary identified herself as the Immaculate Conception.
Originally, the feast was called the Apparitions of Mary at Lourdes.Now in our calendar it’s the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes. The change underlines the presence of Mary rather than her apparitions. Apparitions are momentary, rare, presence is lasting and abiding.
Mary is present in the church as an abiding witness to the incarnation and resurrection of Jesus, her Son. He was born of her and she testifies to the reality of his humanity. She witnessed his death and resurrection, so she testifies that he is God’s Son and our redeemer.
Her testimony is important for the church. In the Acts of the Apostles, (1,14)
Luke places her among the key witnesses to resurrection of Jesus. Early on, in the 4th century, when the identity of Jesus as truly divine and truly human was disputed, she was the witness crucial church councils consulted. Many of the great churches honoring her were built at that time.
Mary is a reassuring presence in the church, especially in difficult times. Certainly, the times of Bernadette were difficult. France was experiencing hard economic times but also religious doubt caused by the Enlightenment was widespread in that country.
The apparitions to Bernadette, a young peasant girl, touched ordinary people in France and elsewhere in the world, and resulted in increased devotion to Mary, Here’s Bernadette’s account of the apparitions:
“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 towards 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 colour 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 [de Pau], the only stream I could see. Then she made me realise 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 two weeks 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 two weeks she told me three secrets but I was not to speak about them to anyone and so far I have not.
Cf. Feasts of Mary
Lourdes Grotto, Jamaica, NY
Prayer to Mary (Pope Francis)
Mother, help our faith!
Open our ears to hear God’s word and to recognize his voice and call.
Awaken in us a desire to follow in his footsteps, to go forth from our own land and to receive his promise.
Help us to be touched by his love, that we may touch him in faith.
Help us to entrust ourselves fully to him and to believe in his love, especially at times of trial, beneath the shadow of the cross, when our faith is called to mature.
Sow in our faith the joy of the Risen One.
Remind us that those who believe are never alone.
Teach us to see all things with the eyes of Jesus, that he may be light for our path. And may this light of faith always increase in us, until the dawn of that undying day which is Christ himself, your Son, our Lord!