Lourdes: A Promise

The spring in the grotto of Massabielle is an image of the torrent of Marian graces that is about to inundate the earth in order to bring about the establishment of Mary’s reign.

There are certain words that, when spoken, are like a ray of light in the densest darkness, capable in themselves of producing consolation and hope. Lourdes is one of them.

When we hear this name, the scene of the candlelight procession, the blessed grotto of Massabielle and its statue, or the magnificent basilicas dedicated to the Mother of God immediately come to mind. It is impossible not to remember the waters that flow abundantly at her feet, and which bring such physical and spiritual benefit to countless of the faithful.

In fact, “Lourdes is one of the places chosen by God for His beauty to be reflected with particular brightness.”1

What is the scope of Lourdes?

As we reflect on this place, so magnificent and at the same time so simple, we may find ourselves wondering why God chose it to become one of the largest pilgrimage centres in the world, a kind of Holy House of Mercy open to all, where countless sick people are cured, sinners are converted, the afflicted find consolation. It is a place, in short, where an outpouring of light and grace flows upon all those who go there with a minimum of devotion, and even those whose visit is motivated by simple curiosity.

The answer to this question becomes even more difficult if we consider the brevity of Our Lady’s words during her manifestations at the grotto. It is curious, but in general the Virgin seems to be more limited in her words the more her message is destined to be universally known.

Lourdes is no exception to this rule. If it were not absurd, we would almost say that the Queen of Heaven was abashed when faced with the crowds that appeared at her tête-à-tête with the candid and humble Bernadette Soubirous; we might deduce that the publicity bothered Her because it obliged Her to entertain a larger audience than planned.

Obviously, the truth is quite different. We know that the charism of prophecy manifests itself in a variety of ways. We should not limit it to speech, because even the prophet’s actions and movements can carry a message (cf. Ezek 37:15-28; Jer 13). And when we meditate on Lourdes as a prophetic symbol and event, something of the mystery begins to emerge in all its stature.

A response to the problems of the time

The context of Immaculate Mary’s apparitions to St. Bernadette points to their universality. The religious persecutions, wars and upheavals that the first-born daughter of the Church had undergone since the French Revolution had profoundly shaken the Catholicism that had once reigned in that nation, influencing the rest of Europe.

The world was falling into the deep darkness of atheism, rationalism and subjectivism.

At that moment, the Blessed Virgin decided to appear in an almost unknown village in France, to a simple and ignorant young girl, causing a stream of graces and wonders to spring up, unthinkable and inexplicable except by faith.

Our Lady came to transmit to the world a message of prayer, penance and conversion and, particularly in her faithful devotees, She wanted to instil courage and a love of sacrifice, as one of her first utterances to the seer indicates: “I do not promise to make you happy in this world, but in the next.”

A merely historical phenomenon?

But is this stream of graces like the brilliance of the stars we see in the firmament at night – a brilliance that may have originated millions of years ago and reaches us as a faint testimony of something that happened on a star that perhaps no longer even exists? In other words, are the blessings of Lourdes just posthumous emanations from the past, which are bound to diminish over time until they are completely extinguished?

A light must be very intense if it is to eliminate a dense darkness. If Mary poured out so many graces as a remedy for sin on the world of the 19th and 20th centuries, how much more will She not pour out in our day, when spiritual illnesses and moral weaknesses have reached unthinkable extremes? As the earth is being covered in the darkness of sin like a black cloak, will She who is described in Scripture as a “Woman clothed with the sun” (Rev 12:1) not make her light shine all the more brightly to the whole world? After all, it was She herself who promised for the future a luminous age in which her Immaculate Heart would triumph.

On July 16, 1858, Bernadette again heeded the mysterious summons from the grotto; it would be the last time. When she arrived, she realized that access to Massabielle had been blocked. For this reason, she had to content herself with looking from afar, from the other side of the Gave River. One would have thought that this was a sign of attenuation, of twilight. However, the seer’s words reveal the opposite:

“It seemed to me that I was in front of the grotto, at the same distance as the other times; I saw only the Virgin, I had never seen Her so beautiful!”

The statue in the esplanade of the shrine

At a moment when Mary Most Holy might have seemed distant, She appeared in all her brilliance and with great proximity. It was not a farewell, but a promise.

So it would hardly be pretentious to say that the light that comes to us from Lourdes actually comes from the future, as a hope of new graces that Mary Most Holy wants to shower upon her children.

A spring arising from the mud

As a solicitous Mother, Our Lady knows the right remedy to give for every illness. And the more serious the wound, the more powerful is the ointment to be applied. Who better to cure a generation devastated by so many nervous disorders and physical illnesses than the Blessed Wonderworker of Massabielle? Who better to heal a needy humanity than the kind Lady who appeared to the young Bernadette with such a gentle and affable demeanour?

Moreover, what better way to restore a society so broken by egalitarianism and oblivious to the dignity of the human condition than to look to that grotto in which the seer took on such regal bearing that a French noblewoman declared that she had never met a girl from the aristocracy with as much charm and grandeur as the peasant Bernadette while conversing with the Queen of Heaven?

And to instil a sense of faith in a society as atheistic as ours, what could be more appropriate than to follow the example of piety set by that young girl, who so devoutly prayed her Rosary at the feet of the Mother of God and who brought about conversions through the mere act of making the sign of the Cross?

The well-known episode of St. Bernadette digging in the muddy earth in order to extract some water to drink seems to be a good example of what Our Lady wants to do with humanity: although the mud of the Revolution covers the orb, there is a spring of Marian graces – in other words, graces that are exclusive to the Blessed Virgin, but which She wishes to share with her children – that is about to flood the earth and which will bring about her reign, manifesting to mankind hitherto inconceivable wonders of supernatural life. ◊



1 BENEDICT XVI. Homily, 13/9/2008.



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