The Church has always been exceptionally cautious in authenticating miracles, urging prudence in lieu of emotional excitement.
The town of Lourdes is especially known as the “Land of Miracles.” Initially this was known in France and later spread throughout the world. The numerous miracles transformed the small village into one of the most famous Marian shrines in the world.
On February 25, 1858, during Our Lady’s 9th appearance at the Grotto, Bernadette was instructed by the Blessed Virgin Mary to dig in the ground with her hands, upon which a spring of water began emanating. Three days later the first cure took place, which was soon followed by others. Over the following months and then years, the cures increased at an extraordinary rate.
For example, in 1877, during the pilgrimage on the 15th of August, there occurred no less than 24 cures! One can only imagine how this “Lourdes phenomenon” caused great devotion among Christian people. But this enthusiasm was not universal. The liberal press, free thinking and the echo of Freemasonry, questioned the reality of the apparitions and cures, calling them the “fruit of over active minds.” The Church, in order not to leave any room for doubt and following Her secular prudence, studied the miracles scrupulously in order to discern their authenticity.
The First Miracles
Catalina Latapie was 38 years old. She lived in a village approximately three and one-half miles from Lourdes. Two years earlier, Catalina had fallen from a tree and dislocated her right shoulder. Her other arm was completely paralyzed, which was a very serious impediment for a peasant woman in that era. On the evening of the 28th of February, 1858, she awoke and had, as she said, “a strong feeling” that urged her to go to the Grotto. Once there, she placed her hand in the spring and immediately regained total use of her arm.
Three days later another cure took place. Luis Bouriette had lost his sight 20 years earlier from an explosion which lodged some of the fragments in his eyes while working at a stone quarry. At the insistance of his sister, he arrived at the Grotto doubting and with a lack of faith. He rubbed some of the muddy water from the spring on his eyes and instantly regained his eyesight.
The third cure occurred on the 6th of July. Justin Bouhort was 18 months old. The doctors had given up hope for his life. His mother, however, did whatever possible to keep him alive. Hearing about the cure of Luis Bouriette, she took her son to the Grotto and submerged him in the very cold water (which was between 50-54 degrees). Those present were aghast saying “ he will never come out alive.” But just the contrary happened: Justin came out of the water full of life, so much so that he attended St. Bernadette’s canonization in 1933.
We can only imagine the interest and concern that these events caused among the religious and civil authorities, especially since after the three initial cures occurred, many more cures followed. The number of cures was so abundant that it was being called an “epidemic of cures.” For this reason Monsignor Laurence, Bishop of Tarbes (the Diocese pertaining to Lourdes), established a Medical Review Committee in order to study and determine the veracity of the alleged cures.
The Director of the Medical Review Committee was Professor Vergez, a faculty member of Montpellier who specialized in thermal medicine. He began by analyzing the water from the spring at the Grotto, in order to determine if the water itself had any particular properties and he discovered that it did not. (Much to the dismay of the Mayor of Lourdes, as he thought he might be able to capitalize on the sale of the water for his own financial gain). Next, the professor made an appointment to examine each person who claimed to have been cured and sent the results of his findings to the Bishopric. These findings were so overwhelmingly conclusive that Monsignor Laurence, after having approved the apparitions on February 18, 1862, did not hesitate to say “ these cures are miracles, I see in them the Finger of God.”
Controlled Medical Studies of the Cures
In light of the growing number of cures, the Church continued soliciting the opinions and judgements of medical specialists in order to form a better understanding of the cures. In 1883, they officially established the Medical Bureau, which still is in existence, whose integrity and rigor are recognized throughout the world. The Medical Bureau is headed by a permanent physician who interviews those persons who believe they have been cured by Our Lady of Lourdes; similarly, any physician or health professional is also welcome to review the cures and offer their opinions. The function of the Medical Bureau is to verify if the cures are miraculous or if they could have a natural explanation.
Discerning the Reality of the Miracles
The criteria (see Appendix below) used to examine the cures are very strict and stringent, which explains why after seven thousand cures declared in Lourdes over the last 150 years, only 67 are officially recognized as miracles, The Catholic Church does not take these claims lightly. A striking example of the Church's prudence can be see in the latest case of a cure recognized as a miracle.
Born in 1912, Anna Santaniello, an Italian woman, was gravely ill: she had a serious heart condition due to a acute articular rheumatism as well as dyspnea, an intense and persistent difficulty in breathing, making it very difficult for her to speak and unable to walk. She also experienced asthma attacks, facial cyanosis (bluish discoloration to the skin due to a lack of oxygen) and edema (swelling) in her lower limbs.
On the 16th of August, 1952, she went on a pilgrimage to Lourdes. During her visit, she was under continual care. On the 19th of August, she was taken on a stretcher to the baths. She exited the baths under her own power and that same evening participated in the candlelight nocturnal procession . The following day, August 20, various Italian doctors examined her: she was already maintaining a regular pulse rate while her cyanosis and dyspnea had disappeared. Since the edema in her legs was much reduced, she was able to walk without difficulty, sleep profoundly and recovered her appetite, which she had long since lost.
When she returned to Italy, she was able to alight from the train without any assistance. On the 29th of August, she was again examined by two doctors in Genoa (her home town), who pronounced her cured. Incredibly, 50 years would pass before the Church would officially recognize the Miracle. On the 9th of November, 2005, after many medical examinations, the cure of Anna was officially recognized as a miracle.
Today, Anna Santaniello is 95 years old and is still enjoying good health.
Why Aren't All Cured?
This is a very common question that is often asked by the skeptic. Nonetheless, one must remember that the physical cures, the visible cures, aren’t the most important. More important than the body is the soul. The spiritual diseases are far more serious and far outweigh the bodily ones. Like our Divine Savior Jesus Christ said:
Do not fear those who kill the body and after that can do nothing…fear Him Who has the power to cast into Gehenna” ( St. Luke , 12, 4).
Unbelief, hate, pride, greed, and all the vices that can lead the soul to hell: these are the most serious evils of the present life.
Throughout the history of Lourdes no one who approaches the Grotto leaves without receiving some grace for a spiritual cure. How many conversions have occurred in this blessed land! How many unbelievers have returned to the Catholic faith! How many have made a firm purpose to lead a holier life, more sacrificial, more oriented towards eternity. How many souls have been torn from the clutches of the Devil!
Here is the greatest of miracles that take place in Lourdes: all who come to the Holy Grotto receive graces that emanate from the Sacred Heart of Jesus, whose mediatrix is his Most Holy Mother. She awaits us always at the Grotto to fill us with her blessings and aid us in reaching life everlasting, where we can abide together with all the saints. Our Lady of Lourdes, Pray for us!
Appendix: Criteria for Discerning the Authenticity of a Miracle
What are the criteria for discerning the authenticity of a miracle? On this topic the Catholic Church is very prudent, and has reason to be so. From the year 1908, by order of the ecclesiastical authority, the following seven criteria were laid down by Benedict XIV (Pope from 1740 to 1758), which are very stringent:
- The disease must be serious, and must have, in addition, an unfavorable prognosis.
- It must be known to medicine.
- It should be organic, referring to an injury, or it must have objective, biological, and radiological criteria. Mental or nervous illnesses will not be recognized.
- There should be no treatment which has interfered with the healing. This criterion is not easy to corroborate and requires significant medical work.
- The cure must be sudden, immediate, instant, no convalescence, which is never seen in medicine.
- It must not consist only in a reduction of symptoms, but on the restoration of all the vital faculties.
- It should be a definitive cure.
Source: Jesus Christus no. 116, SSPX Magazine of South America.