Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes

151 years ago, the Blessed Mother appeared to a poor fourteen-year-old girl in the cleft of rock Masabielle in a grotto Lourdes in Southern France. The young girl would later become St. Bernadette Soubiroux. Mary appeared eighteen more times to Bernadette over the coming months, the final apparition occurring on July 16th. Mary, who appeared to Bernadette as a young woman "Lovelier than I have ever seen," sometimes spoke to Bernadette during these visions. Once, the Blessed Mother told young Bernadette to drink from a fountain that miraculously began to flow from a rock in the grotto where the apparitions occurred. Another time, she bade Bernadette to go tell her local clergy about a chapel that the Blessed Mother wished to have erected there. "I am the Immaculate Conception," Mary told Bernadette.

Naturally, the clergy were highly skeptical of Bernadette's accounts, particularly since no one else claimed to have seen or heard the apparitions, even though there were sometimes people with Bernadette when she saw and heard Mary in the grotto. Four years later, however, the bishop of that diocese declared that the faithful were "justified in believing the reality of the apparition". A basilica was built on the rock of Masabielle and pilgrimages to Lourdes began. The basilica was later expanded as it was not large enough to house all the pilgrims who flocked to the site. In 1901, it was named the Church of the Rosary, and it stands there today.

It is estimated that over 1 million pilgrims a year journey to Lourdes, which has become most famous for the healing powers of the waters in the fountain in the grotto that Mary first bade Bernadette to drink from. Though skeptics still abound, thousands of cures have been reported to have occurred at Lourdes, not including spiritual healings which often escape human detection. Many of these cases have been carefully studied and ratified by physicians and other secular experts as well as by religious authorities.

On the anniversary of Bernadette's first apparition, Catholics the world over stop to remember this miraculous event and to honor the Holy Mother of God, who is the Mother of all the faithful. To celebrate this day, you might consider praying the rosary if you don't already. Your family might also enjoy some French, particularly provencale or Southern French, dishes on this day: things St. Bernadette Soubiroux might have eaten. Our family will be enjoying crepes for breakfast and some pork cassoulet for dinner. Tell your children the story of the Lourdes apparitions. If you can get them where you live this time of year, decorate your home with roses and lilies, which have long symbolized Mary. Wear white and pale blue, the colors that Mary appeared to Bernadette in. If you are musical, do sing "Immaculate Mary," also known as "The Lourdes Hymn." I sang this as a little girl, and it is still one of the most beautiful, simple hymns to my ears.

"Immaculate Mary" Lyrics

Immaculate Mary,
your praises we sing,
You reign now in spendor
with Jesus, our king.
Ave, ave, ave Maria. Ave, Ave Maria!

In heaven, the blessed
your glory proclaim;
On earth we, your children,
invoke your fair name.
Ave, ave, ave, Maria! Ave, ave, Maria!

We pray for our Mother,
the Church upon earth,
And bless, Holy Mary,
the land of our birth.
Ave, ave, ave, Maria! Ave, ave, Maria!

We pray you, O Mother,
may God's will be done
We pray for His glory,
may his Kingdom come.
Ave, ave, ave, Maria! Ave, ave, Maria!


  1. Bethany,

    Immaculate Mary is one of my favorite hymns. The text is beautiful, and the melody is just so joyful. St. Bernadette is definitely one of my favorites---she just represents strong faith and persistence in sharing your beliefs and experiences with others. Thank you for this post!


  2. Where do you get this information about various feast days and their myriad customs (it might help if I were in a Catholic community, but alas, I am not)? I'd love to celebrate some of them by the ways you suggest, but I always come across your blog too later (right now it is 5 pm in the eastern time zone, I've had a very American dinner, and I'm wearing black and dark blue jeans...).

  3. G.M. - another reader asked me about this just yesterday. I assured her that I would try to get some posts out before the actual day of the celebration to include those in other time zones :) In the meantime, the best site I have found for saints' biographies and feast dates is As to how to celebrate, you can get creative with what you know about a particular saint...or do an internet search on the saint or holiday. I don't yet know of a very good printed resource that is very comprehensive; most books tend to stick to just the "major" saints and holidays (like St. Patrick's Day and St. Nicholas' Day, Easter and Christmas). Of course, I also grew up in a Catholic town. My family are French and Italian Catholics and my best friend's family is Irish Catholic--among friends who are a smattering of Polish, Austrian, Russian Orthodox, and Puerto Rican made for a wonderful education in many different traditions and way to celebrate the Faith. This, combined with growing up in parochial schools has formed the bulk of my knowledge of celebrating feastdays. Since I married a man of English decent (Protestant, though), I have also studied up a lot on English traditions--many of which are Catholic in origin. Hope this helps. I will also, as I said, try to get some celebration ideas out a day or two earlier :)


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