The Miraculous Medal
by Zsolt Aradi
Lourdes’ significance is universally accepted. It remains one of the greatest shrines in France. Yet in the nineteenth century, both before and after the great miracles at the Massabielle grotto, the Gracious Virgin made her appearance four more times, and all four messages given by her are of great importance. In Lourdes, she declared that she is the Immaculate Conception.
In 1832, twenty-eight years before Bernadette's vision, Our Lady had appeared to a humble nun, who later was canonized --to Catherine Laboure, member of the Sisters of Charity, the congregation founded by St. Vincent de Paul. This miracle occurred in the Convent at the Rue de Bac in Paris. The Virgin gave orders to Catherine Laboure that a medal should be coined and distributed throughout the world.
In 1846, in the Alps of Southern France, two children, fifteen-year-old Melanie Calvat and eleven-year-old Maximin Giraud, received the grace of being chosen for another apparition at La Salette.
In 1871 a twelve-year-old boy, Eugene Barbedette, and some of his little friends saw the Queen of Heaven in the vicinity of the village of Pontmain in Brittany.
Finally, in 1876, Estelle Faguette, a thirty-three-year-old woman, humble and incurably sick, who had once desired to enter the order of the Sisters of Charity, had several visions: her health was miraculously restored. This took place in the village of Pellevoisin, close to the city of Tours.
All these apparitions, though different in circumstances, had one characteristic in common: all contained warnings of suffering and prepared France and the world for them. The nineteenth century apparitions of the Blessed Virgin in France are in certain respects unparalleled. In the course of forty-six years, Mary revealed herself in five instances, appearing several times in some cases. It would seem that she had chosen France in the nineteenth century for some special reason, although it would be futile, if not impertinent, for us to try to fathom why.
The Convent of the Sisters of Charity, founded by St. Vincent de Paul at the Rue de Bac in Paris, is a secluded place of silence. The narrow, noisy street outside does not trouble the quiet coming and going of the sisters within the corridors, nor their prayers in the little church. A hundred and twenty years ago, the convent had the same atmosphere as now. Outside in the world, the people were as troubled as at present. Catherine Laboure, one of the novices, who had been transferred there in April 1830, was an ordinary, healthy, even robust peasant woman who felt very early the vocation to dedicate herself entirely to the religious life. She had met with considerable resistance from her family in carrying out her dearest wish. Before entering the convent, she had undertaken more than her share in the heaviest domestic work, sometimes caring for the entire family, and later working as a waitress in the Paris inn of her uncle. But finally she became a nun. A few weeks after she had begun her novitiate, on the night of July 18, 1830, she was led by her guardian angel into the chapel where Our Lady appeared to her in great splendor and dignity. On this occasion and during the subsequent conversations, the Queen of Heaven confided secrets to Catherine Laboure and gave her specific orders. Catherine never revealed these secrets directly to the outside world and her confessor at first did not pay attention to the recitals of the young nun. Afterwards, when the apparitions became public through the disclosures of the Bishop, Catherine's name was never mentioned in connection with them. Even her fellow sisters had not known the identity of the person chosen by the Virgin. It was not until after her death that the world discovered the name of this totally unknown nun.
The messages of Our Lady to Catherine pointed to coming upheavals in France and the world. She warned of great troubles, acute dangers, of a time when everyone would believe all to be lost. "The Cross will be trampled on, blood will run in the streets, the world will be plunged into sadness. But grace will be showered upon all who ask for it with faith and fervor." And as a means to help spread the fervor, Our Lady told Catherine Laboure that a medal should be coined based on Catherine's impression of one of the visions. The young nun remembered that at the second apparition of Our Lady, she stood on a globe, holding in her hands another globe, which reflected rays of light of great brilliance. The Blessed Virgin had explained to Catherine that the globe represented the entire world, France in particular and especially every single person, on whom she would bestow grace. Then the apparition altered, and Catherine saw a letter M surmounted by a Cross, standing on a bar beneath which were two hearts, the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary. Our Lady's desire that the medal be coined after this model was not fulfilled immediately, but when Catherine's confessor finally saw the importance of the visions, action was taken. The medal was coined and the first one taken to the Archbishop of Paris. Believing in the miraculous powers of the medal, he went with it to a man who was his close friend, although an apostate priest, the Archbishop of Malines in Belgium. Archbishop Pradt of Malines had deserted the Church during the French Revolution and firmly refused to submit himself to the authority of Rome. When the Archbishop of Paris visited him at his deathbed, Pradt immediately humbled himself and became reconciled with the Church. After this first miraculous event, wonderful favors were showered upon those who carried it: the medal became known and millions wore it throughout the world. One of the most remarkable events connected with the medal was the conversion of Theodore Ratisbonne, the descendant of a wealthy Alsatian Jewish family, a man of great culture but completely agnostic. He ascribed his sudden conversion to the Miraculous Medal. Ratisbonne and his brother became priests and founded the community of Notre Dame de Sion for the conversion of the Jews.
Though the circumstances of the apparitions at the Rue de Bac are different from Lourdes, there is one phenomenon common to both. The persons who had received such extraordinary graces and shown such heroic rewards were granted an incomparable reward after death. Soon after Catherine Laboure died in 1877, she was given the title "venerable." In 1933, she was beatified and in 1947, canonized. When her body was exhumed in 1933, nearly fifty years after her death, it was found to be in perfect state. The hands that once were allowed to touch Our Lady--these hands, as well as the whole body--had not been allowed to decay.
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