Reflecting Heaven Part 13: Notes on the St. Bernadette Sanctuary Renovation

07-21-2021Reflecting HeavenDeacon Peter Auriemma

Apparitions of Our Blessed Mother Mary to St. Bernadette

As part of the beautification project for St. Bernadette Church, a large original oil painting has been commissioned for the north transept. It will be a depiction of one of the apparitions of Our Blessed Mother Mary to St. Bernadette in the grotto of Massabielle on the outskirts of Lourdes. Lourdes is a small town nestled in the foothills of the Pyrenes Mountains in the southeast corner of France.

The first of these apparitions occurred on the morning of February 11, 1858. The 14 year-old Bernadette Soubirous was gathering firewood with her sister and a friend. While her companions crossed the shallow River Gave to find wood on the other side, Bernadette was still taking off her stockings to follow them when she heard a sound like a strong gust of wind. Despite the loud sound of the wind, she noticed that the trees did not move. Then she noticed a bright light coming from the grotto of the cave called Massabielle.

In the light, she saw an incredibly beautiful young woman who wore a white veil and a long white dress with a blue sash around her waist. On each of her feet there was a yellow rose, and on her right arm there was a pearl rosary.

In her fear, Bernadette began to pray the rosary. She noticed that the Lady fingered the beads of her rosary following Bernadette as she prayed, but the only prayer that she joined in was the Glory Be. After Bernadette finished praying the rosary, the Lady disappeared and the bright light was gone.

Three days later, Bernadette returned to the grotto, and since Massabielle was thought by some to be haunted, several people advised her to bring holy water with her to sprinkle on the Lady if she appeared, just in case she was evil. The Lady came and chuckled at Bernadette when she sprinkled the holy water in her direction, but she was not bothered by it, and Bernadette knew she was not evil.

Several days later, Bernadette returned to the grotto and the Lady was there. For the first time, the Lady spoke to Bernadette and very politely asked her: “Would you kindly do me the favor of returning to the grotto for the next two weeks?” Bernadette promised that she would. The beautiful young Lady appeared a total of 18 times to Bernadette.

On one occasion, she told Bernadette that she would not be happy in this world, but she promised her that she would be happy in the other. On another occasion, the Lady asked for prayers and penance for the conversion of sinners, as well as for a chapel to be built there, where people could come in processions and pray.

Then came the incredible apparition on February 25. The Lady told Bernadette to “go drink at the spring and bathe in its water”. Bernadette did not see a spring and thought the Lady meant the River Gave. However, the Lady pointed to a particular place below the grotto. When Bernadette began to dig in the ground at the spot the Lady showed her, a small amount of water began to well up. Overnight, this turned into a huge spring and to this day, thousands of gallons of water pour out of the spring daily at Lourdes. Immediately people began to drink and bathe in the spring and claims of miraculous healings occurred.

Currently there have been 70 miraculous and totally unexplainable cures officially recognized by the Lourdes Medical Bureau. Over 6 million people come to Lourdes each year to drink from the spring and bathe in its waters, while praying for their needs. Only God and the Lady know all the countless other miracles that quietly occur every day.

Bernadette asked the Lady several times what her name was, and she just smiled. But on March 25, the Lady told Bernadette: “I am the Immaculate Conception!” Bernadette kept repeating this to herself as she ran to tell her parish priest. The dogma of the Immaculate Conception had only been promulgated four years earlier, in 1854.

While Bernadette admitted that she did not know what “Immaculate Conception” meant, her pastor did. He was stunned to finally learn that Bernadette’s Lady was actually the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of Jesus! The Church launched a full investigation of the events, and Bernadette’s account of the apparitions was declared “worthy of belief” on February 18, 1862 with the declaration: “The Virgin Mary did indeed appear to Bernadette Soubirous.” The Marian apparition became known as Our Lady of Lourdes.

Bernadette eventually became a nun in the order of the Sisters of Charity of Nevers, France. She lived the rest of her life as a humble sister in the convent there and never saw the grotto again.

After much suffering, she died at the age of 35 from tuberculosis. She was canonized a saint in 1933. Her incorrupt body can be seen sleeping serenely in a glass coffin in the chapel of her convent.

Our painting is a faithful rendition of St. Bernadette talking to the beautiful Lady of Lourdes in the grotto of Massabielle, with the spring flowing below her. Our Lady of Lourdes and St. Bernadette, pray for us!