At the time of Bernadette, the Grotto was a dirty, obscure, humid and cold place. There was a huge contrast between this dark, humid Grotto and the presence of the Virgin Mary, the “Immaculate Conception”. This reminds us of the Gospel: the encounter between the richness of God and the poverty of Man. Christ came to look for those who are lost. God comes to tell us that He loves us: This is essentially the “Message of Lourdes”…and God loves us just as we are.
18TH February 1858: extraordinary words
During the third apparition, on 18th February, the Virgin spoke for the first time: “what I have to say to you does not have to be written down". This means that Mary wished to communicate with Bernadette in a loving heart to heart way. From the very start, Bernadette was invited to open the depths of her heart to this message of Love.
Bernadette was overwhelmed by the second statement of the Virgin Mary: “Would you be so kind as to come here for fifteen days?” It is the first time that Bernadette was addressed in a formal way. She felt she was respected and loved, as a person in her own right. We are all worthy of respect in the eyes of God, because He loves each one of us.
The third statement of the Virgin was: "I do not promise to make you happy in this world but in the other." When Jesus, in the Gospel, invites us to discover the Kingdom of Heaven, He invites us to discover the "another world" within our world as it is. Wherever there is love, God is present.
God is love
In spite of her poverty, her illness and her lack of education, Bernadette was always deeply happy. That is the Kingdom of God, the world of true Love. During the first seven apparitions, Bernadette’s face always radiated joy, happiness and light. However between the eight and twelfth apparitions, everything changed: Bernadette’s face became harsh, sad, and sorrowful, and above all she performed incomprehensible gestures… She moved on her knees to the back of the Grotto. She kissed the dirty repulsive ground of the Grotto. She ate some bitter plants. She scraped the ground three times trying to drink the muddy water at the back of the Grotto. She tried to drink a little and then throwing it away, she took mud in her hands and smeared it on her face. Then the young girl turned to the crowd. They all said: "She's mad!" During these four Apparitions, Bernadette performed the same gestures. What did all this mean? Nobody understood! Nonetheless, here we are at the heart of the "Message of Lourdes".
The Biblical dimension of the Apparitions
These actions are biblical actions. Bernadette acts out the Incarnation, the Passion and the death of Christ. Moving on her knees to the back of the Grotto: this action recalls the Incarnation, God humbles himself to become human. Eating bitter herbs at the back of the Grotto recalls the Jewish tradition found in the ancient texts. Smearing her face with mud: when the prophet Isaiah speaks to us about Christ, he depicts Him as "the suffering servant".
The Grotto hides an immense, immeasurable, treasure
During the ninth apparition, “the Lady” asked Bernadette to scrape the soil, saying to her: “Go to the spring, drink of it and wash yourself there". By these actions, the mystery of the heart of Jesus is revealed for us: "A soldier pierced his heart with his lance and there immediately flowed out blood and water." The herbs and the mud represent the heart of man wounded by sin. However, in the deepest recesses of that heart, there lies the very life of God signified by the Spring. Bernadette is asked: “Did the ‘Lady’ say anything to you?” She replied: “Yes, from time to time, She said: “Penance, penance, penance. Pray for sinners”. By “Penance”, one must understand “conversion”. For the Church, conversion consists of turning one’s heart towards God and towards our brothers and sisters, as Christ taught us.
During the thirteenth Apparition, Mary said to Bernadette: "Go, tell the priests and that people should come here in procession and to build a chapel here." "Come here in procession" means accompanying our brothers and sisters in this life. "Build a chapel here." In Lourdes, chapels were built to accommodate the crowds of pilgrims. The chapel is the "Church" that we ought to build where we are.
The Lady gives her name: "Que soy era Immaculada Counceptiou"
On 25th March 1858, the day of the sixteenth apparition, Bernadette asked the “Lady” her name. The “Lady” replied in the local dialect: "Que soy era Immaculada Counceptiou", which means “I am the Immaculate Conception”. The Immaculate Conception is “Mary conceived without sin, by the merits of the Cross of Christ” (definition of the dogma promulgated in 1854). Bernadette went to see the Parish priest straight away to give him the name of the “Lady”. He then realized it was the Mother of God who was appearing in the Grotto. Later, Mgr Laurence, Bishop of Tarbes, authenticated this revelation.
We are all called to become immaculate
The message is signed when the Lady gives her name after three weeks of apparitions and then three weeks of silence from 4 to 25th March. The 25 March is the day of the Annunciation, when Jesus is “conceived” in Mary’s womb. The Lady of the Grotto tells us her vocation: She is the mother of Jesus, her whole being is directed towards conceiving the Son of God, and She is entirely devoted to Him. For this reason, She is Immaculate, wholly inhabited by God. In this way, the Church and every Christian should allow themselves to be inhabited by God in order to become immaculate, wholly forgiven and pardoned so that they may, in turn, become witnesses of God.