Feast Day: February 11.
February 11 was approved for the Diocese of Tarbes, France, by Pope Leo XIII in 1890 to commemorate the first apparition of the Virgin Mary at Lourdes. Later, in 1908, Pope Pius X included it in the Roman Calendar. The feast is based on the apparitions to Bernadette Soubirous (1844-1879) at the grotto of Massabielle from February 11, 1858, until July 16 of that same year. The Blessed Virgin Mary identified herself to Bernadette with the words: “I am the Immaculate Conception.”
The Virgin Mary made 18 visits to this poor, uneducated girl in France at a time when Catholicism was still viewed with suspicion. At this time in France, there remained a residue of anti-Catholicism from the French Revolution. Processions, religious devotions, and especially shrines marking apparitions weren’t approved by the extremely secular government.
Bernadette Soubirous (canonized a saint in 1933), was a sickly child of poor parents. Their practice of the Catholic faith was scarcely more than lukewarm. Bernadette could pray the Our Father, the Hail Mary and the Creed. She also knew the prayer of the Miraculous Medal: “O Mary conceived without sin.” Bernadette’s first apparition came on a trip to the town dump with her sisters to collect firewood. She didn’t know the woman who came to her until after her first few apparitions, when she came to know the woman dressed in white with a blue sash as “The Immaculate Conception,” a term that meant little to a girl of low intellect living in a remote Pyrenees village. In addition to asking that a shrine be built on that spot, the Virgin Mary told Bernadette to pray for the conversion of sinners. She also suggested the recitation of the Rosary, which provides material for meditation on the salvific events in the life of Christ.
Bernadette’s account of what she saw during the apparitions was “something white in the shape of a girl.” She used the word “aquero,” a dialectic term meaning “this thing.” It was “a pretty young girl with a rosary over her arm.” Her white robe was encircled by a blue girdle. She wore a white veil. There was a yellow rose on each foot. A rosary was in her hand. Bernadette was also impressed by the fact that the lady did not use the informal form of address (tu), but the polite form (vous). The humble virgin appeared to a humble girl and treated her with dignity.
For years, Bernadette underwent examinations, tests, and observations from both government leaders and the Church. Eventually, authorities determined that her apparitions were authentic. As a result, people began to flock to Lourdes from other parts of France and from all over the world. Lourdes has become a place of pilgrimage and healing, but even more of faith. Through a humble peasant girl, the Virgin Mary revitalized and continues to revitalize the faith of millions of people. Church authorities have recognized over sixty miraculous cures, although there have probably been many more. To people of faith this is not surprising. It is a continuation of Jesus’ healing miracles – now performed at the intercession of His Mother.
Prayer: God of mercy, we celebrate the feast of Mary, the sinless Mother of God. May her prayers help us to rise above our human weakness.
Foley, Leonard, O.F.M., and Pat McCloskey, O.F.M. “Saint of the Day-Updated and Expanded.” Cincinnati: Franciscan Media, 2013.
Lodi, Enzo. “Saints of the Roman Calendar-Updated and Revised Edition.” New York: Alba House, 2012.
Trigilio, Rev. John, PhD, ThD, and Rev. Kenneth Brighenti, PhD. “Saints for Dummies.” Hoboken, NJ: Wiley Publishing, 2010.erOne, 2007.
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