Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Notes on the Memorial of Our Lady of Lourdes.

Today the Roman Catholic Church celebrates the Memorial of Our Lady of Lourdes, recalling the multiple apparitions of the Mother of God experienced by St. Bernadette Soubirous over a period of several months in 1858. A devout fourteen-year-old from a poor family, Bernadette reported that "a beautiful lady" had appeared to her in a grotto at Massabielle near Lourdes and identified herself by saying, "I am the Immaculate Conception." Though Bernadette initially faced considerable opposition from civil and religious authorities, the Marian apparitions that she reported and the subsequent devotion to Our Lady of Lourdes received the approbation of Pope Pius IX in 1862. The Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes has since become one of the most significant Marian shrines in the Catholic world, attracting four to six million pilgrims each year.

Many who make the pilgrimage to Lourdes come seeking the healing of illnesses considered to be medically incurable. Apparent cures are carefully evaluated by a board of physicians, and those which are found to be inexplicable in medical terms are reported to the Vatican. Though many unexpected healings are referred to the medical authorities at Lourdes each year, relatively few pass by the exacting scrutiny of the doctors. Nonetheless, 67 cures reported at Lourdes have been declared miraculous by the Church in the 151 years since the apparitions. I suspect that even those pilgrims whose cures have not been officially declared miraculous still remain grateful to Our Lady of Lourdes and credit her intercession for helping them to recover from illnesses that they had previously regarded as incurable.

Over the past century and a half, the devotion to Our Lady of Lourdes has been embraced by millions of people around the world. One mark of the global popularity of this devotion is the great number of reproductions of the grotto at Massabielle that have been built around the world. Anecdotally, I'm aware of shrines dedicated to Our Lady of Lourdes (complete with "Lourdes Grottoes") in places as diverse as Santiago de Chile, Baguio City in the Philippines, Carfin, Scotland, Emmitsburg, Maryland, and even on the Caribbean island of Aruba. Though some reproductions of the Grotto of Lourdes have become major pilgrimage sites in their own right, most remain unknown to all but a relative few. I've come across any number of Lourdes Grottoes at parishes and retreat houses and on the grounds of religious houses in the United States, and I sometimes wonder whether this country has more such shrines than any other (I'm not willing to commit to this claim, but I'd appreciate feedback from readers who may know more about this than I do).

The above photos were taken in January 2005 at the Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes located behind the old Franco-American Orphanage in Lowell, Massachusetts. I went to Lowell in the company of two of my fellow novices on one of the days of repose that we had while making the Spiritual Exercises in Gloucester. During these days - which are prescribed as a break in the intense regimen of a thirty-day silent retreat - the novices were permitted to speak to one another (provided we didn't talk about the retreat) and were encouraged to get off the property of the retreat house and do some sight-seeing, with the caveat that we shouldn't do anything that would distract us too much from the retreat. My confreres and I elected to go to Lowell on a sort of pilgrimage to sites associated with Jack Kerouac (a story for another post, perhaps). One of the sites we saw was this Grotto, which Kerouac visited regularly as a child and which figures in his novel Dr. Sax. Shrouded by snow and darkened by the shadows of a gloomy winter day, this Grotto and the Stations of the Cross that precede it offer poignant testimony to the once vibrant - but now largely vanished - culture of French-Canadian immigrants in New England. It's hard for me to visit a place like the Grotto in Lowell without waxing melancholy about the generations who have prayed there. As I reflect on that visit today, I'm praying for and with all who have had recourse to Our Lady of Lourdes. AMDG.


At 2/12/2009 5:35 AM, Blogger Wan Wei-Hsien said...

"...recalling the multiple apparitions of the Mother God experienced by St. Bernadette Soubirous..."

Surely you mean "Mother of God"? :)

Happy feast day!


At 2/12/2009 10:17 AM, Blogger Joseph Koczera, S.J. said...

Yes, I did ... that's what happens when I write in haste and don't proofread the whole text carefully before I publish. Thanks for pointing that out, as I wouldn't want anyone to think I was describing the Theotokos as a deity, particularly when the error was purely typographical and not doctrinal.

At 2/12/2009 10:20 AM, Blogger Wan Wei-Hsien said...

Nah, I don't think anyone would've thought you were spreading the gospel of mother-goddess. Not as a Jesuit, anyway. :)


Post a Comment

<< Home