Originally published by Fideliter in the May-June 2004 issue, Fr. Nicolas Pinaud examines the importance of Our Lady of Lourdes as an answer to the revolutionary spirit of our day.
The apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary at Lourdes happened in the middle of the 19th century and four years after Blessed Pius IX promulgated the dogma of the Immaculate Conception. This was not happenstance: Lourdes was Heaven's response to the evils from which that epoch suffered and from which we still suffer today, since the message was not heeded...
On March 25, 1858, the "Lady" that appeared to Bernadette in the grotto near the Gave river at Lourdes finally revealed her name: "I am the Immaculate Conception." Four years before, on December 8, 1854, Pope Pius IX had promulgated the constitution Ineffabilis Deus which declared the Immaculate Conception to be a dogma of the Catholic Faith.
In 1858 at Lourdes, Mary did not come to bolster our faith. The humble handmaid of the Lord did not come to confirm the solemn act of the Magisterium. On the contrary, she submitted herself to it, just as at Fatima on October 13, 1917, she would say, "I am Our Lady of the Rosary," the title which Leo XIII had inscribed in the Litany of Loreto on December 24, 1884. At Lourdes, Mary came rather to confirm that the remedy to the evils of our time is indeed the Immaculate Conception. The 150th anniversary of the promulgation of this dogma is an opportune time to try to understand how it concerns us.
Don Sarda y Salvany did not hesitate to write in 1892:
The whole revolutionary dogma can be reduced to three chief denials: the denial of original sin, the denial of the divinity of Jesus Christ, and the denial of the authority of the Church. From these three denials proceed the divinization of human reason, its independence, and its pretended sovereignty. Now, to these three denials the dogma of the Immaculate Conception fully responds.
The Answer to the Revolution
The same author continues:
Indeed, the exception confirms the rule. To confess that Mary was preserved from original sin by a singular privilege from God is to recognize the original sin of all the other descendants of the first man. The mystery of Mary's conception is thus a flat contradiction of the first revolutionary negation. Moreover, Mary obtains this privilege by the future merits of the Redeemer and in order to be the worthy Mother of the Son of God....To admit the dogma of the Immaculate Conception is thus to confess the divinity of Jesus Christ. Finally, from the divinity of Christ proceeds the divinity of the Church and the authority of its visible head, an authority which he exercised in its fullness in defining the Immaculate Conception. To admit this dogma is thus to admit the authority of the Church which commands us to profess it.
"Pius IX had inaugurated the work of his counterrevolutionary reaction by defining the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary," Dom Besse also remarked. He explained:
There was nothing more theological nor more wise. His contemporaries saw in this act a solemn manifestation of Catholic piety. But there was something more than this. The Revolution had been wrought in the name of the natural goodness of man, with the goal of upholding the three rights which supposedly flow from it [liberty, equality, fraternity]. One might say that its fundamental dogma was the immaculate conception of the human race. To this error it was necessary to oppose the contradictory truth. This the Pope did by declaring that all men were wounded by an original fall, since the Virgin Mary was immaculate by virtue of an incommunicable privilege. It was to confront human reason with a fact which the theoreticians of the Revolution denied or overlooked.
The Apparition of a Beautiful Lady
On February 11, 1858, Bernadette was gathering wood by the Gave. She had reached the place called the Massabielle grotto when, in the stillness, she heard a sound like a gust of wind. Looking on the right side of the poplar-lined river, she perceived at the edge of the rock in a kind of niche a Lady who beckoned her. The Lady's face was ravishingly beautiful. She was dressed in white with a sash of blue, a white veil on her head and a yellow rose on each of her feet. At the sight, Bernadette was troubled and instinctively fell to her knees, seized her rosary and began to pray. When the child finished her prayers, the Apparition vanished.
Bernadette returned to the grotto the next Sunday and Thursday, and each time the same phenomenon occurred. On Sunday, to assure herself that the strange being was from the Lord, she sprinkled it three times with holy water, at which she received a tender look. On the Thursday, the Apparition spoke to Bernadette, asking her to return every day for two weeks.
The girl responded faithfully to this request, and every day but two she contemplated the same spectacle in the presence of a crowd. After these fifteen visits, three more apparitions took place, one on March 25, another on April 5, and the last on July 16. The feast day of the Annunciation, three times Bernadette asked the mysterious Apparition her name. Then the Lady lifted her hands together before her, and raising her eyes to heaven she sweetly exclaimed, "I am the Immaculate Conception."
The simplicity and modesty of the girl, then the supernatural fruits which flourished at the grotto are proofs of the authenticity of the miracle. Scarcely was the Apparition made known when crowds thronged to the grotto; and while the girl was rapt in ecstasy, the deeply touched witnesses united themselves in the same sentiments of adoration and prayer. Christian souls were strengthened in virtue; indifferentists returned to the faith; obstinate sinners were reconciled to God after Our Lady of Lourdes was invoked on their behalf. Sick people the world over clamored for water from Massabielle when they could not make the trip to the grotto. Consequently, on January 18, 1862, the Most Reverend Laurence, Bishop of Tarbes, declared: "The Apparition calling itself the Immaculate Conception which Bernadette saw and heard is indeed the most Blessed Virgin!" The simplicity and sobriety of this event must not obscure its importance. It recalls the third chapter of the Book of Exodus where it relates that a shepherd who was grazing his flock at the foot of a mountain saw a bush ablaze but which was not consumed. Advancing to contemplate the phenomenon, he received the order to remove his sandals, for it was holy ground. Then God commanded him to deliver His people from the tyranny of the Egyptians. Moses said to God: "Who am I to go before Pharaoh and lead the children of Israel out of Egypt?"
God Chooses the Humble
The Blessed Virgin's choice was indeed in keeping with God's, who always chooses "the base things of the world, and the things that are contemptible...and the things that are not" (I Cor. 1:28). Pius XI wrote on December 8, 1933:
Just as God regarded the humility of His handmaid, so too the Queen of angels and men regarded the lowliness of her handmaid Marie-Bernard Soubirous, called in the world by the gracious name of Bernadette.
Bernadette did not know a word of catechism and scarcely knew how to recite the Rosary. She had not yet made her first Holy Communion, and yet it was she, weak and ignorant, who was to be Mary's messenger and who would defend her cause against sly and sometimes brutal adversaries. That the Virgin would choose "such a hussy," as the chief of police called her, is admittedly strange. Nonetheless, the simplicity and common sense of her replies display a heavenly inspiration reminiscent of St. Joan of Arc.
A monk tries to persuade her that it's the devil who appeared. "The devil is not that pretty!"
The Rev. Peyramale asks her if the Lady was mute since she did not tell her name. "No, since she told me to come and see you!"
A traveling salesman who displayed his wares in order to form an idea of the Lady's attire receives this reply: "Oh, the Blessed Virgin didn't go to your shop to get an outfit."
Finally, to those who disputed her story and demanded proofs: "I'm not responsible for making you believe it; I'm just supposed to tell you."
As Don Sarda and Dom Besse tell us, Lourdes is a response to the Revolution in so far as it is an expression of the Immaculate Conception. But Lourdes is also the high ground of the supernatural and of miracles. And in this respect Lourdes is equally a remedy to the evils of the time. For in 1858, we were up against a new and formidable heresy: Naturalism. Our Lady of Lourdes came to crush it.
Remedy to Naturalism
"O incredulous generation, you want only to believe in reason and nature. For you, you say, the order of Faith and of Revelation is canceled," exclaimed Cardinal Pie in his homily of July 3, 1876, pronounced for the coronation of Our Lady of Lourdes:
To your minds, the Gospel has not been certified enough, the ordinary ministry of the Church is not sufficiently authorized. The supernatural is finished, the men of the 19th century said. Well, look how the supernatural abounds; see how it overflows, how it seeps from the gravel and rock, how it rises from a spring, how it flows in the long undulations of a river of prayers, hymns, and lights; behold how it descends, how it rushes upon countless crowds.
Oh, you free-thinkers, you did not want to believe Moses or the prophets, nor Christ and His Apostles, nor the Church and her solemn judgments. And now behold how, in this mountain gorge, Mary appears and talks to a simple country girl, and the country girl tells what she has seen and heard. Ah, it is thus that the heavenly Physician opposes to all the vices the contrary remedy, He who holds in His hands the sources of grace, and whom the laws of nature obey. God will do so well that you will believe Bernadette, and by that means you will be brought back to believing in Him.
To the proud science that insists on measuring everything according to the dimension of reason and rejects everything it cannot explain, Our Lady of Lourdes makes the supernatural palpable: the spring at the site of the apparition restores sight to the blind and hearing to the deaf, restores paralytics, and heals the deepest wounds.