Our Lady of Laus Now On a Par with Lourdes
The first Marian apparitions formally approved by the Catholic Church in the 21st century took place in a small hamlet of barely 20 houses in the French Alps between 1664 and 1718, when the Virgin Mary Our Lady of Laus appeared some 2,500 times to Benoite (Benedicta) Rencurel over the course of her life.
The announcement by French Bishop Jean-Michel de Falco of Gap on Sunday, May 4, at a special Mass that drew numerous cardinals, bishops, priests, and tens of thousands of lay faithful has a special poignancy, coming just a month before the International Eucharistic Congress in Quebec City (June 15-22). Among those convinced of the genuineness of the apparitions and the Blessed Mother's message was the first bishop of Ottawa, Bruno Guigues, who was once pastor at Laus.
Among other great figures in Church history who had a special devotion to Our Lady of Laus were St. Eugene de Mazenod (1782-1861), founder of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate; St. Peter Julian Eymard (1811-1868), founder of the Blessed Sacrament Fathers and Servants; and Dom Jean Baptiste Chautard (1858-1935), Abbot of Sept-Fons, and author of the enormously successful classic, The Soul of the Apostolate.
During the Mass, Bishop de Falco declared: "I recognize the supernatural origin of the apparitions and the events and words experienced and narrated by Benedicta Rencurel. I encourage all of the faithful to come and pray and seek spiritual renewal at this shrine.
"Nobody is obliged to believe in apparitions," he continued, "even in those officially recognized, but if they help us in our faith and our daily lives, why should we reject them?" he added, apparently responding to France's leftists who accused the Church of a "marketing ploy."
The shrine of Our Lady of Laus, which has not dramatically changed over the past three centuries, attracts some 120,000 pilgrims each year. The Catholic philosopher Jean Guitton called it "one of the most hidden and powerful shrines of Europe."
Since the apparitions were formally recognized as legitimate by the diocesan bishop when Blessed Benedicta (beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1984) was 18, the special mission of the pastors assigned to Laus has been to promote the Sacrament of Reconciliation and to emphasize the importance of receiving Communion in the state of grace.
Among the specific assignments our Lady gave to Blessed Benedicta was to admonish the young women in the region to live chastely, and to stop aborting their babies. Blessed Benedicta was also told to admonish the "unjust wealthy" and the "perverse."
According to a biography of Blessed Benedicta by the Catholic News Agency:
"Rencurel was born on September 16, 1647 in Saint-Etienne d'Avancon (in the southern French Alps), and suffered the death of her father when she was seven years old. She never learned to read or write and her only education came from the homilies at Sunday Mass.
"One day in May of 1664, Benedicta was caring for the animals of some neighbors and praying the rosary when she saw a dazzling lady standing on a rock, holding a beautiful child in her arms.
"'Beautiful Lady!' she exclaimed. 'What are you doing up there? Do you want to eat with me? I have some good bread which we can soften up at the fountain.' The girl's simplicity brought a smile to the Lady's face, but she said nothing.
"'Beautiful Lady! Could you give us that child? He would make us so happy.' The Lady smiled again without responding. After remaining a few minutes with Benedicta, she took the child in her arms and disappeared into a cave.
"For four months, the Lady appeared to Benedicta every day, talking to her and preparing her for her future mission. Benedicta told the woman who owned the flock that she cared for about the visions, but she did not believe her.
"One day, however, the woman secretly followed her to the Fours valley. She didn't see the vision, but she did hear Mary's voice, who told Benedicta to warn her that her soul was in danger. 'She has something on her conscience,' Mary said. 'Tell her to do penance.' The woman was deeply moved by the message, returned to the sacraments, and lived piously for the rest of her days.
"On August 29, Benedicta asked the Lady what her name was. She replied, 'My name is Mary.'
"During the winter of 1664-1665, Benedicta went up to Laus frequently, each time receiving a vision of the Blessed Mother, who told her to 'pray continuously for sinners.' News of the apparitions spread throughout the entire region. . . .
"Mary revealed herself in Laus as the reconciler and refuge of sinners, and therefore she offered signs to convince them of the need to repent. She told Benedicta that the oil from the sanctuary lamp would work miracles with the infirm if they received the anointing with faith in her intercession. . . .
"Between 1669 and 1679, Benedicta received five visions of the suffering Christ. On a Friday in July of 1673, the suffering Jesus told her: 'My daughter, I show myself in this state so that you can participate in my Passion.'
"After more than two decades of suffering and continual apparitions of the Blessed Mother, Benedicta received Communion on Christmas Day 1718. Three days later she made a Confession, received the Last Rites and around 8 p.m. said good-bye to those around her. Benedicta then kissed a crucifix and passed away peacefully.
"Today the shrine is run by diocesan clergy with the assistance of a community of the Brothers of St. John who are dedicated to promoting the Sacrament of Reconciliation."
According to a biography of Blessed Benedicta, published by Magnificat in 2001, Our Lady "formed" Benoite "gradually in view of her future mission. The pious young girl was still uncouth, quite stubborn, and readily impatient. Before the Virgin Mary personally revealed her name, she initiated Benoite in the role she was to play all her life: to work at the conversion of sinners through prayer, sacrifice, and a special vocation exhortation, for God had granted her the charism of reading hearts.
"Consequently, she was often given the heavy task of correcting souls and disclosing their sad condition to them. When needed, she would remind them of their forgotten or hidden sins and urge them to purify themselves of them."
After news of the apparitions spread throughout the region, and crowds began to gather at Laus, the Blessed Mother told Benoite to gather every evening at church to sing the Litany of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
"Throughout the winter of 1664-1665," the Magnificat continued, "in spite of the four kilometers that separated the village of Saint-Etienne from the Laus chapel, Benoite went up to it every day. And there she often saw the Virgin. Our Lady told her, 'Pray continually for sinners.' Oftentimes, she would name those she wanted her to pray for. In this way the Virgin was forming Benoite for her mission, which was to help priests in the ministry of Confession and the conversion of sinners. As of 1665, the Blessed Virgin asked her to stop tending flocks in order to devote herself to her mission.
"The Virgin had told Benoite, 'I asked my Son for Laus for the conversion of sinners, and He has granted it to me.'
"The words of the Mother of God were fulfilled. As news of the continuing apparitions spread, the number of visitors to Laus continually increased. Graces and blessings poured down upon souls; people came by the hundreds and then thousands to pray in the poor chapel. Cures of all kinds abounded and sinners were converted in great numbers. On March 25, 1665, less than a year after the first apparition, an immense crowd came to the once-deserted chapel. That same year, on May 3, Feast of the Holy Cross, 35 parishes converged there, each walking behind its particular banner. Altars and confessionals had to be set up outdoors to satisfy the piety of the people. Priests from the area came to lend a hand to Fr. Fraisse, the pastor of Saint-Etienne, and hear the many Confessions . . .
"The little Laus chapel, where more and more wonders were being wrought, could scarcely hold 10 or 12 people. It became absolutely necessary to replace it with a bigger church. The construction and the financing of that church constitute part of 'the wonders of Laus.'
"Although there were no resources at all, construction was undertaken with great enthusiasm. It was above all the poor, the little people, who took up the challenge, made doubly difficult by often-impassable access roads. The people of the area and the many pilgrims who went up to Laus would take one or more stones from a stream and carry them to the construction site; even the children brought some of their own.
"Everyone wanted to donate something, whether materials or money. It took a year to gather all the necessary materials . . . [T]he construction was built according to the indications our Lady had given Benoite. To the great credit of those in charge, the chapel of Notre-Dame de Bon Rencontre was incorporated into the structure and became the choir of the new church.
"An early historian wrote, 'The Church of Our Lady of Laus was built to the singing of psalms and hymns. The hands of the poor gathered its materials, donations dug its foundations, Providence raised its walls, and confidence in God. The earliest historians of Laus are unanimous in reporting the sweet, heavenly fragrance of the place; they mention it as a public occurrence to which a great number of people attested. These fragrances were sometimes so intense that their odor spread from the chapel all over the valley."
This item 8296 digitally provided courtesy of CatholicCulture.org