Throughout the centuries, Catholic piety has bestowed beautiful titles upon the Blessed Virgin, carefully collected by the Holy Church and preserved to this day. Our Lady of Perpetual Help, Mother of Good Counsel, Help of Christians and thousands of other invocations express, each in its own way, Mary’s countless prerogatives and the most varied nuances of her mercy.
Among these, the Immaculate Conception stands out for its importance and sublimity. It was Blessed Virgin who presented herself to the world as the holder of this august privilege, manifesting her desire to be invoked in this way by the faithful. Now, what is the underlying cause of Mary’s desire?
The word immaculate means without stain. Applied to Our Lady, it indicates that She was preserved from every defilement, including that of original sin, with which men have been conceived since the expulsion of Adam and Eve from Terrestrial Paradise. Predestined to be the Mother of the Word of God Incarnate, and therefore of Purity in essence, She could not be touched by the faintest shadow of evil. The Virgin was always holy, by virtue of the holiness of the fruit of her womb.
Praying to Mary Immaculate consists, then, in imploring Her, from the depths of our miseries, that She who is pure par excellence not only cleanse us from all faults, but also tear away once and for all the evil tendencies and faults that we carry within us, making us pure like Her; in short, it consists in asking Our Lady to communicate to us her own “immaculateness,”1 in the eloquent expression of St. Maximilian Mary Kolbe.
Particularly profound graces in this regard are poured out in profusion at a shrine famous throughout the world: Lourdes. There, where “the Immaculate Conception” deigned to appear to a simple young girl, the most varied and impressive physical and spiritual healings take place, leading us to believe that Heaven has truly descended to earth.
Why a spring?
Since 1858, the year of the apparitions at Lourdes, faithful from all over the world have flocked to the Grotto of Massabielle, desirous of drinking from the miraculous spring and imploring deliverance from their ills. Those cold, rough stones, made so attractive by the presence of Our Lady, are “witnesses” to the countless miracles of grace worked for pilgrims.
Despite the countless number of lame, blind, deaf, disabled and sufferers of every kind who have been cured, the most beautiful miracle worked by the Blessed Virgin is the transformation of hearts. In fact, even more abundant than the miraculously cured are those who have been “washed from within” and have had the love of God and the life of grace restored – or even established – in their souls.
Here we see the symbolic reason why Our Lady made a fountain gush forth from the grotto: just as water cleanses and purifies the body of its stains, so grace whitens the inmost soul of those who draw near to Mary.
An unbeliever reborn to grace
“A healthy body that guards a sickly heart will never find true happiness!”2 once said the beneficiary of a miracle, Vittorio Micheli, more content for his ardent faith than for the recovery of his health. Indeed, not a single pilgrim healed at Lourdes returned home with the soul less favoured than the body.
A moving illustration of this truth occurred in 1901 with Gabriel Gargam.3 After the train in which he was travelling had collided with an oncoming express, he was left paraplegic and with all his bodily functions compromised; he carried with him the fateful diagnosis that his condition was irreversible and that he would probably not live long. His weight was down to thirty-six kilos, he was being fed through a tube and his feet were covered with purulent wounds… In this difficult situation, Gargam was told that he would have to undergo a complicated surgery. Not wishing to submit to a procedure, which he considered useless, he then had to accept another proposal, only slightly less unpleasant for him, which his mother made: to participate in the national pilgrimage to Lourdes. The patient did not believe in miracles and agreed reluctantly, simply because it was the only way for him to leave the hospital.
When he arrived at the grotto, however, and received Communion there – more out of formality than faith – he noticed a slight tingling in his hitherto insensitive legs. A change took place in his heart, and tears welled up in his eyes. It was undoubtedly Our Lady inviting him to believe in the impossible! Hours later, when he was submerged in the pool, he who had once doubted began to pray ardently. An inexpressible inner peace invaded his soul.
Gabriel Gargam’s stretcher was then taken to the place where the procession of the Blessed Sacrament would pass. However, the fatigue of the journey and the emotions of the day had consumed the last of his strength: he soon lost consciousness and those accompanying him even thought he was about to expire. Suddenly, however, he opened his eyes and saw that the procession was approaching. Encouraged by an irresistible force, he whispered: “Help me! I feel I can walk!” He arose from the stretcher and walked after the Blessed Sacrament! He was cured, but above all he had become a fervent Catholic.
In recognition of the many favours he had obtained, Gargam joined the staff of the Lourdes Hospital where he worked, as often as he could, for fifty-one years.
The resurrection of a living corpse
To persevere when all seems lost and to trust in a divine intervention: this is what the Virgin of Massabielle asked of Madame Savoye to cure her daughter. Suffering from infectious rheumatism and heart disease that rendered her clinically beyond hope, the young patient Marie Savoye was twenty-four years old and weighed only twenty-five kilos! For six years she lacked the strength to get out of bed, to eat or even to speak.
In a desperate attempt to obtain a cure, Madame Savoye decided, contrary to all medical opinion, to travel to the Grotto of Lourdes to beg for a miracle. To human eyes, it was real madness: the effort expended in travelling would certainly hasten the death of the already weakened Marie. Hoping against all hope, that mother set out from Cambrai with her daughter. On arriving in Lourdes, Marie’s condition had worsened dramatically: She was coughing up blood and was as pale as a corpse.
At dawn on September 20, 1901, Madame Savoye and Marie are in the grotto, awaiting a miracle. The Eucharistic procession is about to pass. As the Blessed Sacrament advances, acclamations are heard from the sick who manage to get up from their stretchers. The procession continues, with slow, solemn steps, stopping before each sick person. Madame Savoye prays with redoubled fervour, while Marie, lying in bed – one might almost say dying – also raises her prayer to the Virgin. It is the prayer of the leper of the Gospel which is repeated: “Lord, if You will, You can make me clean” (Lk 5:12) and He wills it! Upon receiving the blessing, Marie leaps from her bed and exclaims, “I am healed!”
Hours later, Dr. Perisson, one of the doctors at Lourdes, would say, “It is not a miracle. It is a resurrection!”4 As the months passed, Marie grew ten centimetres and gained thirty-five kilos. Seven years later, in gratitude, she resolved to dedicate her life to the care of the sick.
“Why would He not heal me?”
An analogous fact happened to the young French girl Esther Brachman who, only fifteen years old, carried with her the sad prognosis of an imminent death: she had been stricken with a tuberculous peritonitis that in two years had destroyed her body. She decided to go to Lourdes to ask for a miracle, inspired, perhaps, by the numerous facts that attested to the magnificence with which the sick were cared for there. “Why not me? Why shouldn’t He heal me?” the girl asked herself.
Once again, the Blessed Virgin would demonstrate the omnipotence of her intercession by receiving little Esther in her waters, as if in her arms. As she emerged from the pool of Lourdes, the miracle she had been hoping for took place! She had no more pain, her stomach, which until then had been hugely distended, immediately returned to its normal size and she recovered her strength, able to walk normally. She was completely healed!
A singular favour at the grotto
Another very moving event, which took place at the feet of Our Lady of Lourdes, happened to a little boy of twelve, named Martin Renaud.
His parents, tired of the endless and deep disagreements in their marriage, told him that they were going to divorce. The boy, however, was distressed by this news and decided to appeal to Our Lady for help. He begged his parents to grant him at least one last family outing: he wanted to visit Lourdes.
Arriving at the grotto, Martin fervently implored the Virgin Mary not to allow his family to fall apart. And what was his surprise when, looking back, he saw his parents crying, holding hands and completely reconciled. His family was saved!
“Lavabis me, et super nivem dealbabor!”
Through these and thousands of other miracles, physical and spiritual, worked by the Virgin Mary in the Grotto of Lourdes, Our Lady shows us how pure and inexhaustible her love for humanity is, and invites us to reconsider our lives and our relationship with God.
Let us therefore be docile to her voice. In the Old Testament, David pleaded with the Lord: “Asperges me hyssopo, et mundabor; lavabis me, et super nivem dealbabor – Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow” (Ps 51:7). In our days, paraphrasing the king-prophet we could well pray: “My Mother, who is Immaculate and can do all things, wash and cleanse me, and I shall be whiter than snow!” Whatever our situation, She will answer in the depths of our hearts, “Come, my child! I restore you!” ◊
1 ST. MAXIMILIAN MARY KOLBE. Unpublished Writings. Immaculata. In: The Writings of St. Maximilian Maria Kolbe. Lugano: Nerbini Internacional, 2017, v.II (e-book). Regarding this topic, see also: Letter to the Seminarians of the Order of Friars Minor Conventual, 28/2/1933. In: The Writings of St. Maximilian Maria Kolbe. Lugano: Nerbini Internacional, 2017, v.I (e-book).
2 SELETA MILAGRES DE LOURDES. Santa Maria: Biblioteca Católica, 2021, p.139.
3 Cf. REBSOMEN, André. Notre-Dame de Lourdes. Album du pèlerin. 5.ed. Paris: Spes, 1925, p.95-111.
4 SELETA MILAGRES DE LOURDES, op. cit., p.56.