The Apparition of Our Lady of Miraculous Medal to St. Catherine Labouré.
O Mary! conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee!
When Sister Catherine was favored with these apparitions of the Blessed Virgin she related by word of mouth to her Director, what she had seen and heard, and he, though apparently attaching little importance to her communications, carefully took note of them. The Sister never thought of writing them, she judged herself incapable of doing so, and, moreover, in her opinion, it would have been-contrary to humility.
In 1856, when events had confirmed the truth of her predictions, M. Aladel told her to commit to writing all she could recollect of the supernatural visitations of 1830. She obeyed, despite her repugnance, and sketched an account of her vision of St. Vincent’s heart...
In obedience, she again wrote in 1876, an account of these same apparitions.
Finally, another copy, not dated, was found among her papers after death.
These three narrations accord perfectly in the main, yet differ sufficiently in detail to prove that one was not copied from the other.
To these manuscripts, in which no change has been made, except a correction of faults in style and orthography, are we indebted for the following account of the apparitions.
It is to be regretted that M. Aladel’s notes should have been almost entirely destroyed; no doubt they contained very interesting details, but what portion of them remains, is of little importance.
Before quoting Sister Catherine’s own narration, we must remark, that the first vision, having little reference to anything but the Sister herself and St. Vincent’s two Communities, M. Aladel did not deem it advisable to have published; also, that although the account of the vision of the medal in the first editions of the notice, seems to differ notably from that related by the Sister, we will see later how these discrepancies can be explained, and that in the main the two versions are identical.
Sister Catherine, already favored with celestial visions, ardently desired, with all the simplicity of her nature, to see the Blessed Virgin. To obtain this grace, she invoked her good Angel, St. Vincent, and the Blessed Virgin herself.
On the 18th of July, 1830, eve of the Feast of St. Vincent de Paul, the Directress of the Seminary gave an instruction on devotion to the Saints and the Blessed Virgin; this but inflamed our Sister’s pious desire. Fully imbued with the thought, she retired for the night, recommending herself to her blessed Father, St. Vincent, and confidently believing that her prayers would be answered.
About half-past eleven o’clock, she hears her name, “Sister Laboure,” distinctly called three times; suddenly awaking, she opens her curtain on the side whence the voice proceeds, and what does she perceive? A little child of ravishing beauty, four or five years of age, dressed in white and enveloped in the radiant light beaming from his fair hair and noble person. “Come,” said he, in a melodious voice, “come to the chapel, the Blessed Virgin awaits you.” But, thought Sister Catherine (she slept in a large dormitory), the others will hear me, I shall be discovered. “Have no fears,” said the child, answering her thought, “it is half-past eleven, everybody is asleep, I will accompany you.”
At these words, no longer able to resist the invitation of her amiable guide, Sister Catherine dresses hastily and follows the child, who walks always at her left, illuming the places through which he passes; and everywhere along their path, to the Sister’s great astonishment, does she find the lamps lighted. Her surprise redoubles, on seeing the door open at the child’s touch, and on finding the altar resplendent with lights, “reminding her,” she said, “of the midnight Mass.”
The child conducts her into the sanctuary; here she kneels, whilst her celestial guide remains standing a little behind at her left.
The moments of waiting seem long to Sister Catherine; at last, about midnight, the child says to her: “Behold the Blessed Virgin, behold her!” At that instant, she distinctly hears on the right hand side of the chapel, a slight noise, like the rustling of a silk robe; a most beautiful lady enters the sanctuary, and takes her seat in the place ordinarily occupied by the Director of the Community, on the left side of the sanctuary. The seat, the attitude, the costume (a white robe of a golden tinge and a blue veil), strongly resemble the representation of St. Anne in the picture adorning the sanctuary. Yet it is not the same countenance, and Sister Catherine is struggling interiorly against doubt. Can this indeed be the Blessed Virgin? she asks herself. Suddenly, the little child, assuming the voice of a man, speaks aloud, and in severe words asks her if the Queen of Heaven may not appear to a poor mortal under whatever form she pleases.
Her doubts all vanish, and following only the impulses of her heart, the Sister throws herself at the Blessed Virgin’s feet, familiarly placing her hands upon the Blessed Virgin’s knees, like a child beside its mother.
“At this moment,” said she, “I felt the sweetest emotion of my life, it would be impossible for me to express it. The Blessed Virgin told me how I must act in all my trials; and pointing with her left hand to the foot of the altar, she told me it was there I must come and lay open my heart, adding that it was there I would receive all needful consolation. Then she also said to me: ‘My child, I am going to charge you with a mission; you will suffer many trials on account of it, but you will surmount them, knowing that you endure them for the glory of the good God. You will be contradicted, but you will be sustained by grace, do not fear; with simplicity and confidence, tell all that passes within you to him who is charged with the care of your soul. You will see certain things, you will be inspired in your prayers, give an account to him.’
“I then asked the Blessed Virgin for an explanation of what she had already shown me. She answered: ‘My child, the times are very disastrous, great trials are about to come upon France, the throne will be overturned, the entire world will be in confusion by reason of miseries of every kind. (The Blessed Virgin looked very sad in saying this.) But come to the foot of this altar, here graces will be shed upon all – upon all who ask for them with confidence and fervor.
“ ‘At a certain time the danger will be great indeed, it will seem as if all were lost, but do not fear, I shall be with you; you will acknowledge my visit, the protection of God and that of St. Vincent upon the two Communities. Have confidence, do not be discouraged, you are in my especial keeping
“ ‘There will be victims in other Communities.’ (Tears were in the Blessed Virgin’s eyes as she said this.) ‘Among the clergy of Paris there will be victims, Mgr. the Archbishop will die. (At these words her tears flowed anew.) My child, the cross will be despised, it will be trampled under foot, our Lord’s side will be opened anew, the streets will flow with blood, the entire world will be in tribulation.’ ” (Here the Blessed Virgin could no longer speak, grief was depicted in her countenance.) At these words Sister Catherine thought, when will this take place? And an interior light distinctly indicated to her in forty years.
Another version, also written by her own hand, says forty years, then ten, after which, peace. In connection with this M. Aladel said to her: “Will you and I see the accomplishment of all these things?” “If we do not, others will,” replied the simple daughter.
The Blessed Virgin also entrusted her with several communications for her Director concerning the Daughters of Charity, and told her that he would one day be clothed with the necessary authority for putting them in execution. [M. Aladel was made Director of the Community in 1846.] After this, she said again: “But great troubles will come, the danger will be imminent, yet do not fear, St. Vincent will watch over you, and the protection of God is always here in a particular manner.” (The Blessed Virgin still looked very sad.) “I will be with you myself, I will always keep my eye upon you, and I will enrich you with many graces.” The Sister adds: “Graces will be bestowed, particularly upon all who ask for them, but they must pray, they must pray.
“I could not tell,” continues the Sister, “how long I remained with the Blessed Virgin; all I can say is that, after talking with me a long time, she disappeared like a shadow that vanishes.”
On arising from her knees, Sister Catherine perceived the child just where she had left him, to throw herself at the Blessed Virgin’s feet. He said: “She has gone,” and, all resplendent with light as before, he stationed himself anew at her left hand, and conducted her back to the dormitory by the same paths as they had come.
“I believe,” continues the narration, “that this child was my Guardian Angel, because I had fervently implored him to procure me the favor of seeing the Blessed Virgin. . . . Returned to my bed, I heard the clock strike two, and I went to sleep no more.”
What has just been recounted was only a part of Sister Catherine’s mission, or rather a preparation for a future mission to be given her as a pledge of the Immaculate Mary’s tenderness for the human race.
In the month of November of this same year, 1830, Sister Catherine communicates to M. Aladel a new vision; but it is no longer that of an afflicted Mother weeping over the evils menacing her children, or the martyrdom of her dearest friends. This vision recalls the rainbow appearing in a sky still black with storms, or the star shining through the tempest to inspire the mariner with confidence it is the Virgin Queen, bearing the promise of benediction, salvation and peace.
M. Aladel relates this to the Promoter of the diocese, and we find it inserted in the verbal process of the investigation, dated February 16, 1836, as follows: “At half-past five in the evening, whilst the Sisters were in the chapel taking their meditation, the Blessed Virgin appeared to a young Sister as if in an oval picture; she was standing on a globe, only one-half of which was visible; she was clothed in a white robe and a mantle of shining blue, having her hands covered, as it were, with diamonds, whence emanated luminous rays falling upon the earth, but more abundantly upon one portion of it.
“A voice seemed to say: ‘These rays are symbolic of the graces Mary obtains for men, and the point upon which they fall most abundantly is France.’ Around the picture, written in golden letters, were these words: ‘O Mary! conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee!’ This prayer, traced in a semi-circle, began at the Blessed Virgin’s right hand, and, passing over her head, terminated at her left hand. The reverse of the picture bore the letter M surmounted by a cross, having a bar at its base, and beneath the monogram of Mary, were the hearts of Jesus and Mary, the first surrounded with a crown of thorns, the other transpierced with a sword. Then she seemed to hear these words: ‘A medal must be struck upon this model; those who wear it indulgenced, and repeat this prayer with devotion, will be, in an especial manner, under the protection of the Mother of God.’ At that instant, the vision disappeared.”
According to the testimony of Sister Catherine’s Director, this apparition appeared several times in the course of a few months, always in the chapel of the Mother House of the Daughters of Charity, either during Mass or some of the religious exercises. M. Aladel adds that he was not certain as to their number, but he knows they were repeated thrice, at least, the Sister having mentioned it three different times.
Here is the account written by the Sister s own hand: “The 27th of November, 1830, which was a Saturday and eve of the first Sunday in Advent, whilst making my meditation in profound silence, at half-past five in the evening, I seemed to hear on the right hand side of the sanctuary something like the rustling of a silk dress, and, glancing in that direction, I perceived the Blessed Virgin standing near St. Joseph’s picture; her height was medium, and her countenance so beautiful that it would be impossible for me to describe it. She was standing, clothed in a robe the color of auroral light, the style that is usually called à la vierge – that is, high neck and plain sleeves. Her head was covered with a white veil, which descended on each side to her feet. Her hair was smooth on the forehead, and above was a coif ornamented with a little lace and fitting close to the head. Her face was only partially covered, and her feet rested upon a globe, or rather a hemisphere (at least, I saw but half a globe). Her hands were raised about as high as her waist, and she held in a graceful attitude another globe (a figure of the universe). Her eyes were lifted up to Heaven, and her countenance was radiant as she offered the globe to Our Lord.
“Suddenly, her fingers were filled with rings and most beautiful precious stones [The ring s were three on each finger; the largest next to the hand, then the medium size, then the smallest; and each ring was covered with precious stones of proportional size; the largest stones emitted the most brilliant rays, the smallest the least brilliant]; the rays gleaming forth and reflected on all sides, enveloped her in such dazzling light that I could see neither her feet nor her robe. The stones were of different sizes, and the rays emanating from them were more or less brilliant in proportion to the size.
“I could not express what I felt, nor what I learned, in these few moments.
“Whilst occupied contemplating this vision, the Blessed Virgin cast her eyes upon me, and a voice said in the depths of my heart: ‘The globe that you see represents the entire world, and particularly France, and each person in particular.’
“I would not know how to express the beauty and brilliancy of these rays. And the Blessed Virgin added: ‘Behold the symbol of the graces I shed upon those who ask me for them,’ thus making me understand how generous she is to all who implore her intercession. . . How many favors she grants to those who ask. At this moment I was not myself, I was in raptures! There now formed around the Blessed Virgin a frame slightly oval, upon which appeared, in golden letters, these words: ‘O Mary! conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee!’
“Then I heard a voice which said: ‘Have a medal struck upon this model, persons who wear it indulgenced, will receive great graces, especially if they wear it around the neck; graces will be abundantly bestowed upon those who have confidence.’
“Suddenly,” says the Sister, “the picture seemed to turn,” and she saw the reverse, such as has already been described in the previous account of the investigation.
Sister Catherine’s notes do not mention the twelve stars surrounding the monogram of Mary and the two hearts. Yet they are always represented on the medal. It is morally certain that she communicated this detail, by word of mouth, at the time she related the apparitions.
Other notes in Sister Catherine’s own hand-writing complete the account. She adds, that some of these precious stones did not emit rays, and when she expressed her astonishment at this, she was told that they were a figure of the graces we neglect to ask of Mary. On a hasty perusal, our Sister’s account of the vision appears to differ from M. Aladel’s. We were struck with this, and had to study these interesting and authentic documents attentively, in order to decide whether the visions differed essentially or were really the same.
According to M. Aladel’s testimony in the investigation, the apparitions relative to the medal were always similar, and Sister Catherine, before her death, confirmed this assertion. As we have just learned from our Sister’s own words, the Blessed Virgin always appeared with the terrestrial globe under her feet, and at the same time in her virginal hands, pressing it and warming it, as it were, against her maternal heart, and offering it to her Divine Son in her quality of Advocate and Mother, with an ineffable expression of supplication and love.
This is what the Sister saw. Was it all? No, after the first act of sublime intercession, after this most efficacious prayer of our divine Mediatrix, her hands are suddenly filled with graces, under the figure of rings and precious stones, which emit such brilliant rays that all else is invisible, Mary is enveloped in them, and her hands are bent beneath the weight of these treasures. Her eyes are cast upon the humble Sister whose ravished glances can scarcely support this celestial effulgence. At the same time, an oval frame is formed around the vision, and a voice directs the Sister to have a medal struck according to the medal presented. The medal is a faithful reproduction of this picture, at the moment the symbolical part disappears in the sheaves of light.
Sister Catherine being asked if she still saw the globe in the Blessed Virgin’s hands, when the luminous sheaves issued from them, answered no, there remained nothing but the rays of light; and that when the Blessed Virgin spoke of the globe, she meant that under her feet, there being no longer any question of the first. Hence, we may conclude, that Sister Catherine’s description of the apparition and M. Aladel’s agree perfectly. The small globe which the Blessed Virgin holds in her hands, and the large one on which she stands, are both inundated with the same dazzling rays, or enriched with the same graces. The august Mary seems to indicate by the small globe merely a figure of the world, imperfectly represented beneath her feet, thus reminding us that she is the all merciful Queen of the human race.
There is yet another variation in the description of the two apparitions. M. Aladel, in conformity with the popular belief, that white and blue combined constitute the Blessed Virgin’s livery, as emblems of purity, celestial purity, gives the mantle an azure tint. Sister Catherine expresses the same idea several times in her notes, saying: “White signifies innocence, and blue is the livery of Mary.” However, the blue mantle is not mentioned in the notice of the apparition, Sister Catherine speaks only of the robe and veil of auroral light.
When questioned as to a more definite description of this color, she replied that it was a deep white, tinted with the mild, beautiful radiance of dawn, thus wishing, no doubt, to give some idea of the celestial hue of the robe and veil. It is this hue that tortures the artist, for he feels his pencil powerless to depict the beauties of another sphere.
We can understand from the above, how M. Aladel could have mistaken some details furnished by Sister Catherine, or have confounded the apparition of the medal with the visions of July 18th and 19th, in which the Blessed Virgin’s apparel was white and blue.
However, the accessories of the mantle and its indescribable hue, in no wise affect the reality of the apparition.
We recollect with what indifference, we might say severity, M. Aladel received his penitent’s communications, bidding her give no heed to them, but dismiss them from her mind, as altogether unworthy of attention. But Sister Catherine’s obedience, attested by her Director himself, could not efface the delightful remembrance of what she had seen and heard; to return to Mary’s feet was her greatest happiness; the thought never left her, nor the firm conviction that she would see this dear Mother again. And, indeed, in the course of December, she was favored with another vision, similar to that of November 27th, and occurring at the same time, during evening meditation. But there was a striking difference between this and the previous one, the Blessed Virgin, instead of stopping at St. Joseph’s picture, passed on, and rested above the tabernacle, a little behind it, and precisely in the place the statue now occupies. The Blessed Virgin appeared to be about forty years of age, according to the Sister’s judgment. The apparition was, as it were, framed from, the hands in the invocation: “O Mary! conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee!” traced in golden letters. The reverse presented the monogram of the Blessed Virgin, surmounted by a cross, and beneath were the divine hearts of Jesus and Mary. Sister Laboure was again directed to have a medal struck upon this model. She terminates her account in these words: “To tell you what I understood at the moment the Blessed Virgin offered the globe to Our Lord, would be impossible, or what my feelings were whilst gazing on her! A voice in the depths of my heart said to me: ‘These rays are symbolic of the graces the Blessed Virgin obtains for those who ask for them.’ ”
These few lines, according to her, should be inscribed at the base of the Blessed Virgin’s statue. On this occasion, contrary to her usual custom, she could not refrain from an exclamation of joy at the thought of the homages which would be rendered Mary! “Oh! how delightful to hear it said: ‘Mary is Queen of the Universe, and particularly of France!’ The children will proclaim it, ‘She is Queen of each soul!’ ”
When Sister Laboure related the third apparition of the medal, M. Aladel asked her if she had seen anything written on the reverse. The Sister answered that she had not. “Ah!” said the Father, “ask the Blessed Virgin what to put there.” The young Sister obeyed; and after having prayed a long time, one day during meditation, she seemed to hear a voice saying: “The M and the two hearts express enough.”
None of these narrations mention the serpent, yet it always figures in representations of the apparition, and certainly in conformity with Sister Catherine’s earliest revelations of the vision. The following shows why we are so positive of this fact.
Towards the close of her life, after a silence of forty-five years, M. Aladel being no more, this good daughter was interiorly constrained to confide to one of her Superiors the communications she had received from the Blessed Virgin, that they might serve to reanimate devotion and gratitude to Mary. Having done this, her mind was relieved; she felt that now she could die in peace.
The Superior, favored with her confidence, wishing to realize one of her venerable companion’s most cherished desires, proposes a statue of Mary Immaculate, holding the globe. On asking Sister Catherine if the serpent must be represented under the Blessed Virgin’s feet, she answered: “Yes; there was a serpent of a greenish color, with yellow spots.” She also remarked that the globe in the Virgin’s hands was surmounted by a little cross, that her countenance was neither very youthful nor very joyous, but indicative of gravity mingled with sorrow, that the sorrowful expression vanished as her face became irradiated with love, especially at the moment of her prayer.
Our attempt at representing the vision was successful, although the tint of the robe and veil, the celestial radiance of the face, the splendor of the rays, must always remain an impossibility for art; as the good Sister, whilst declaring her satisfaction, betrayed by her tone of voice and expression the disappointment she felt at the impotency of human skill to depict the beauty of the celestial original.
Thirty-five years before, M. Aladel had vainly attempted a representation of the same apparition, as we learn from a curious fragment, a small design representing the Immaculate Virgin holding the globe, etc., as described by Sister Catherine. His note directing the details is in exact conformity with the Sister’s description, except in one particular, the blue mantle. But little satisfied with this attempt, which gave but a confused idea of the apparition, and his own especial impression of it, he relinquished the undertaking, and held to the known model.
We may say, with truth, that nothing can equal the beauty, the grace, the expression of tenderness depicted in the attitude of this Virgin, whose graciously downcast glances and hands, filled with blessings, proclaim her the Mother, inviting her little child to cast itself into her arms, or earnestly entreating the prodigal son to confide in her merciful mediation.
This image of the Immaculate Mother, universally admired and honored, has a mute eloquence which never fails to touch the heart; and, truly, may it ever be styled the miraculous Virgin. Were we to cite only those which have come to our knowledge, a volume would be insufficient to contain an account of all the wonderful conversions, cures, marks of protection, wrought since the appearance of this vision to the present day.
The production of new models, representing the Immaculate Virgin in a different attitude, should never supplant this, which is, as it were, the type of all others; nor weaken the devotion heretofore accorded it by popular gratitude.
Taken from: The Miraculous Medal – Its Origin, History, Circulation, Results, M. Aladel, C.M., 1880.