Photo: Felix Carroll
Suffice it to say, going to Lourdes, France, for the 150th anniversary of the Blessed Virgin Mary's apparitions to St. Bernadette is not in everyone's budget. So Fr. Anthony Gramlich, MIC, rector of the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy, in Stockbridge, Mass., had an idea.
"We thought it would just be fantastic to emulate and imitate everything they do in Lourdes and have a Lourdes Day — bring Lourdes here to the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy," he said.
And that's what the Shrine did Saturday, July 19. Actually, the special Lourdes Day began the evening before, with a candlelight Rosary procession. As Fr. Anthony noted, "praying the Rosary was the first thing Our Lady asked for in her series of apparitions in Lourdes."
The candlelight procession went from the Shrine down to Our Lady of Lourdes Grotto, a replica built by the Marians on Eden Hill to honor Our Lady's apparitions to 14-year-old Marie Bernade (St. Bernadette) Soubirous.
The Shrine's Saturday event included a catechesis on the Immaculate Conception, opportunities for confession and Eucharistic Adoration, Holy Mass, praying the Chaplet of The Divine Mercy, and a Eucharistic blessing of the sick with Lourdes Holy Water.
"The Lourdes Day helps us draw attention to our Grotto, which is kind of hidden away on Eden Hill," says Carol Scott-Mahoney, pilgrimage director for the Shrine. "Not many people even know it's there. The Marians built it so as to remind pilgrims of the message of Our Lady of Lourdes — her call to conversion, prayer, and charity."
The Grotto on Eden Hill is "a great place to pray," Fr. Anthony told the some two-dozen people who took part in Friday evening's Rosary procession. "It's a great place for reflection. A lot of times I come down here and do my Rosary at night."
' I am the Immaculate Conception'
Following the Rosary, Fr. Anthony shared a little history of Our Lady of Lourdes.
"Saint Bernadette said Mary was absolutely beautiful, like no one she has ever seen on this earth," he said. "And she said that Mary had a rosary in her hand and she had a golden rose at her feet. The Blessed Mother was constantly smiling and beckoning St. Bernadette to pray."
Father Anthony's history lesson continued the following day during his catechesis on the Immaculate Conception and his homily. He mentioned how between February 11 and July 16, 1858, the Blessed Virgin appeared 18 times to St. Bernadette in a rock hollow in the mountains of France. In her most famous apparition, Our Lady identified herself to St. Bernadette, saying, "I am the Immaculate Conception." That was a mere three years and two months after Pope Pius IX pronounced and defined the dogma of the Immaculate Conception — that the Blessed Virgin Mary, "in the instance of her conception, by a singular privilege granted by God ... was preserved exempt from all stain of original sin."
At the time, St. Bernadette, a poor, uneducated peasant, had no clue what the words "Immaculate Conception" even meant. When she told Church officials what Our Lady said, they were astounded and began to believe her claims of seeing a "lady in white."
'Masterpiece of Mercy'
Mary's Immaculate Conception is something near and dear to the Marians, said Fr. Anthony. Indeed, the Marians, the Church's first men's religious order dedicated to the Immaculate Conception, were founded by Bl. Stanislaus Papczynski nearly 200 years before the proclamation of the Immaculate Conception as a dogma of the faith.
Why is the Immaculate Conception so central to the faith? Father Anthony said that by being preserved from original sin, the Blessed Virgin Mary was made worthy to become the Mother of the Son of God. Thus, she became living proof to the mystery of Divine Mercy — that sin had been conquered by Jesus Christ, whose merciful love is more powerful than evil.
"Not only was Mary preserved from original sin, she was given the highest graces of the Holy Spirit to make her Immaculate, God's masterpiece of mercy," Fr. Anthony said. "... God had to form her in the most perfect way to house the Son of God. Isn't that awesome? This is all the work of God, and yet we can see Mary's cooperation, her 'yes,' her fiat. She said, 'May it be done to me according to Your word' (Lk 1:38). That's what she said her whole life. She always said yes to God, even to the highest degree of suffering.
With Our Lady's apparitions to St. Bernadette, Our Lady "improves" upon our understanding of her Immaculate Conception, said Fr. Anthony. "Not only was she immaculately conceived, she was saying that her name, her essence, is the Immaculate Conception. "
He said Our Lady's Immaculate Conception is a call to all of us to turn away from sin and seek union in Christ. Indeed, during her seventh apparition to St. Bernadette, the Blessed Virgin Mary called for "penance, penance, penance."
"Then she said to Bernadette, 'Pray to God for sinners,'" said Fr. Anthony. "It was as if Our Lady was saying the world had lost the meaning of penance, lost the meaning of prayer."
"Our Lady's message for us today is 'Penance, penance, penance. Pray to God for sinners,'" said Fr. Anthony.
During her apparition on March 2, Our Lady told Bernadette to tell the local priest to build a chapel in Lourdes and to have people come in procession.
"At first the priests were ignoring Bernadette," said Fr. Anthony. "They thought she was some kind of fanatic. But why would the Blessed Mother want a chapel to be built? What do you do in a church? You pray. You receive the Sacraments of Reconciliation and Communion. What the Blessed Mother was saying was that she wanted her children to come back to church.
"In Lourdes today there are hundreds and thousands of confessions and Masses held every year," continued Fr. Anthony. "I met a priest who was a rector at the basilica at Lourdes. He said that at Lourdes, on average, there are 20,000 people a day who visit. If that's not fruit of Our Lady's apparitions, I don't know what is!
"So the Blessed Mother is bringing us back to things we already know: to prayer, to penance, to praying for the conversion of sinners, to going back to the sacraments, especially confession and Holy Communion," Fr. Anthony said. "She's also bringing us her joy and her love, which St. Bernadette experienced in her own life."
The Marians on Eden Hill invite all to come to Eden Hill and heed Our Lady's call to holiness. If, on this 150th anniversary of Our Lady of Lourdes' apparitions, you wish to add a little "Lourdes" to your pilgrimage, the Marians make the Grotto available to all. Groups may hold retreats there or may pray a group Rosary or even offer Holy Mass there. Call the pilgrimage office, 413-298- 3931.