The pagan world into which Our Lady was born had no knowledge of her coming, nor of the new day she heralded. Catherine Laboure was born on May 2, 1806 in Fain-les-moutiers, a tiny village in France, not far from Dijon. She was the ninth of eleven children.
Catherine’s mother was the source of her sanctity. She had instilled a love of God in her child. Perhaps she had a premonition of her daughters’ coming sanctity.
On her mother’s death, at the age of nine, the child was grief stricken, and in the midst of this terrible grief … one day … she climbed up on a chair and reached for a statue of the Blessed Mother that stood high on a shelf in her Mother’s bedroom. “Now you will be my mother” she said to the statue.
This was the start of the Marian age perhaps. for it was Catherine that Our Lady appeared to when she had later on become a Daughter of Charity. Catherine received the medal in a vision from Our Lady. This medal was named the Medal of the Immaculate Conception in the beginning, but, there were so many miracles from wearing it that people began calling it the Miraculous Medal.
And so it is today.
At the age of eighteen Catherine had her first mystical experience. It was in the form of a dream, wherein she found herself assisting at the Mass of an old priest, who was a stranger to her. At the end of Mass he turned and beckoned to her. She fled in fright. Then, in her dream Catherine went to visit a sick neighbor, only to encounter the same venerable priest. As she turned to flee from him the second time, he called after her:
“You do well to visit the sick, my child. You flee from me now but one day you be glad to come to me. God has plans for you; do not forget it”
Catherine had no interest in the world or its niceties. In spite of tutoring from a sister in law, Catherine had no real formal schooling.
She visited the sick in the hospital de Saint-Saveur in Chatillon. One day she recognized, on the wall of
the hospital, a picture of the old priest she had seen in her dream. It was St. Vincent de Paul and she knew that she wanted to become a Sister of Charity. Her calling seemed crystal clear.
She entered the Sisters of Charity as a postulant at Chatillon on January 2, 1830 at 140 rue de Bac in Paris. She arrived just in time to assist at the translation of the body of St. Vincent de Paul from the Cathedral Notre Dame to the newly erected mother church of the Vincentian Fathers. A novena of thanksgiving was held at the church to celebrate the great event and each evening, upon returning home, Catherine was granted a vision of St. Vincents heart.
This was a prelude to the great apparitions of Our Lady to come.
They were a the first of a train of miraculous favors Catherine was to receive all her life. She had a vision of Jesus Christ truly present in the Holy Eucharist. This extraordinary favor was constant, given her every time she entered the chapel during the nine months. Political and spiritual knowledge was given her.
On Trinity Sunday, June 6, 1830, she saw Our Lord dressed in kingly robes, with a beautiful crown. At the reading of the gospel, his kingly robes fell off and His crown tumbled to the floor. She was given to understand in her heart that the King of France, Charles X, would be overthrown. Students of mystical phenomena are fascinated by this and regarded that its’ sole purpose seems to have been to foretell the fall of an earthly monarch.
But now, the great apparitions of Our Lady were at hand.
Catherine had gone to sleep when, at eleven thirty, “I heard someone calling my name: Sister, Sister, Sister!” Wide awake, I looked in the direction of the voice. Drawing the bed-curtains, I saw a child clothed in white some four or five years old. He said to me”Come to the chapel; get up quickly and come to the chapel; the Blessed Virgin is waiting for you there..” I thought at once ‘Someone will hear me’ “The child answered: Do not be afraid. It is eleven thirty and everyone is asleep. Come I am waiting for you. I followed him. He kept to my left and was surrounded with rays of light. Wherever we went along, the lamps in the hall were lit.
“All the torches and tapers were lit in the Chapel. It was like midnight Mass. I heard the noise like the rustling of a silk dress, which came from the direction of the tribune near the picture of St. Joseph. A lady was sitting herself in a chair on the altar steps at the Gospel side – just like St. Anne, only it was not the face of St. Anne.”
“This is the Blessed Virgin”
“Looking upon her, I flung myself towards her, and falling upon my knees on the altar steps, I rested my hands in her lap. I could not say what I felt. The Blessed Virgin told me how I must conduct myself with my Director, and added several things that I must not tell. I could not say how long I stayed with Her. When she left it was like a shadow passed away. Catherine wrote the overall account of the acutual words spoken by Our Lady during this interview. She entitled it: July Conversations with the Blessed Virgin, from 11:30 in the evening of the 18th until 1:30 in the morning of the 19th, St. Vincents’ Day’
“My child, the good God wishes to charge you with a mission. You will have much to suffer, but you will rise above these sufferings by reflecting that what you do is for the glory of God. You will be tormented until you have told the one who is directing you. You will be contradicted but you will have grace. Tell with confidence all that passes within you; tell it with simplicity. Have confidence. Do not be afraid. You will see certain things; give an account of what you see and hear. You will be inspired in your prayers: give an account of what I tell you and of what you will understand during your prayers.”
” The times are very evil. Sorrows will befall France; the throne will be overturned. The whole world will be plunged into every kind of misery. (In saying this, the Blessed Virgin seemed to be very distressed).) But come to the foot of the altar. There graces will be shed upon all , great and small, who ask for them. “
” My child, I particularly love to shed graces upon your community; I love it very much. It pains me that there are abuses in regularity, that the rules are not observed, that there is much relaxation in the two Communities. Tell that to him who has charge of you, even though he is not your superior. He will be given charge of the Community in special way.”
The Vincentian Fathers form a Double Family with the Sisters of Charity Both have the same superior General. When Our Lady visited Catherine the communities of St. Vincent were passing through the painful days of reorganization that followed the French revolution and the reign of Napoleon Bonaparte.
“There will be victims My child, Monsiseigneur the Archbishop … Our Lady cried. … will be stripped of his garments. the whole world will be in distress. The Cross will be treated with contempt; they will hurl it to the ground. Blood will flow. They will open again the side of Christ ”
At these words I wondered when this would be and I understood clearly … forty years.
This apparition was a prelude to the great apparition of the Miraculous Medal on November 27. Cathere is to be entrusted with a mission.
There is some reason to believe that her predictions were not meant to apply only to the year 1870, for during the revolution of 1830, which erupted just a week after this apparition, and during the revolution of 1848, these predictions were fulfilled at least in part. Archbishop Darboy was murdered in 1830, as Our Lady had foretold Archbishop Affre was shot to death on the barricades in 1848, and Archbishop deQuelon had twice to flee for his life during the “”Glorious Three Days” of the revolution of 1830.
These visions may be looked upon as hints of even more horrible punishments such as World War l and World War ll.
Four months passed.
her “I saw the Blessed Virgin again. I heard a sound again like the rustling of a silk dress. The Virgin was standing before me. She was of medium height, and clothed all in white. Her dress was of the whiteness of the dawn, made in the styled “A la Vierge” … that is , high neck and plain sleeves. A white veil covered head, and fell in folds to her feet. Her hair was in coils, bound with a fillet ornamented with lace, about three centimeters in height or of two fingers breadth, without pleats, and resting lightly on the hair. Her face was sufficiently exposed and so beautiful that it seems to me impossible to express her ravishing beauty.
Her feet rested on a white glove, that is to say half a globe, or at least I saw only half. There also was a serpent, green in color with yellow spots. Her hands were raised to the height of the stomach, and held, in a very relaxed manner and as if offering it to God, a golden ball surrounded with a little golden Cross, which represented the world. Her eyes were raised to heaven. Her face was of such beauty that I could not describe it.
All at once I saw rings on her fingers, three rings to each finger.the largest one near the base of the finger, one of medium size in the middle, the smallest one at the tip. Each ring was set with gems, some more beautiful than others., the largest gems bursting with rays from all sides flooded the base. Each ring was set with gems, some more beautiful than others; the larger gems emitted greater rays and the smaller gems, smaller rays. I could no longer see the feet of the Virgin”
“At this moment, while I was contemplating her, the Blessed Virgin lowered her eyes and looked at me. I heard a voice speaking these words”
“This ball that you see represents the whole world, especially France, and each person in particular. They are the symbols of the graces I shed upon those who ask for them. The gems from which rays do not fall are the gracesare the graces for which souls forgot to ask. “
A frame, slightly oval in shape, formed round the Blessed Virgin. Within it was written in letters of gold: ‘O Mary conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to Thee.’
The inscription, in a semi circle, began at the height of the right hand, passed over the head, and finished at the height of the left hand.
The golden ball disappeared in the brilliance of the sheaves of light bursting from all sides; the hands turnedout and the arms were bent down under the weight of the treasures of grace obtained. Then the voice said:
“Have a Medal struck after this model. All who wear it will receive great graces; they should wear it around the neck. Grace will abound for those who wear it with confidence.”
“At this instant the tableau seemed to turn, and I beheld the reverse of the medal; a large M surrounded by a bar and a cross; beneath the M were the hearts of Jesus and Mary, the one crowned with thorns, the other pierced with a sword.”
Within minutes after the vision had disappeared from Catherine’s sight “like a candle blown out.”
Catherine died peacefully on December 31, 1876. Pope Pius Xl beatified her in 1933 and Pope Pius XIl canonized her in 1947.
She lies, incorrupt, in the chapel on Rue de Bac in Paris, on the very altar on which Our Lady appeared to her.
There can be no doubt that the ‘Medal of the Immaculate Conception hastened the definition of the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception . This doctrine is symbollically portrayed in the representation of Mary crushing the head of the serpent, a reference to Genesis 3:15 “I will put enmities between thee and the woman, and thy seed and her seed; she shall crush thy head, and thou shalt lie in wait for her heel. The doctrine is specifically mentioned in the golden letters which formed round the Virgin: ‘O Mary conceived without sin.’ Pope Pius lX asserted that the impetus for his pronouncement came from France. Archbishop de Quelen of Paris, who approved the making of the Medal and later confirmed the authencity of the vision, had no small part in this impetus. In 1836 he dedicated his archdiocese to the Immaculate Conception, and it was through his urging that the title “Queen conceived without sin” was added to the Litany of Loreto. Bernadette was wearing a medallion when Our Lady appeared to her and made “a sweeping gesture with her arms “just the way she appears on my medal”
The spread of the medal was so rapid and the flood of favors it let loose so startling that the faithful gave it the name ‘Miraculous Medal’ The numbers of medals minted since 1832, when it was first struck, is beyond all counting. The Medal is worn by Protestan and Jew and Catholic.
The wonders it works are according to the needs and ills of mankind. Conversions to the Faith, repentance of hardened sinners, recovery from illness – acute and chronic.
Taken from the story by the Reverend Joseph I. Dirven, C.M.
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