1830. The political panorama in France, and above all people’s attitudes, had changed a lot since the French Revolution of 1789. Still the atmosphere in the country was more and more tense. Amidst all the upheavals, our Lady made her voice heard: “Come to the foot of this altar. Here graces will be poured out on everyone.”
Our Lady appeared to Catherine Labouré on that far-off day of July 19, 1830: a young woman of 24 who had just begun her novitiate in the Daughters of Charity.
Our Mother’s urgent invitation on her first appearance at the Rue du Bac has since been accepted by millions of people from all sorts of different cultures and backgrounds who have come to kneel at the feet of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal in a chapel in the heart of Paris, France.
So who was the person our Lady appeared to, and why, on that far-off day of July 19, 1830? St Catherine Labouré was then a young woman of 24 who had just begun her novitiate in the Daughters of Charity, a religious order founded by St Vincent de Paul to look after the sick and aged.
In 1876, shortly before she died, St Catherine wrote down what our Lady had said to her. “God in his goodness, my daughter, wants to give you a mission. It will be the cause of many tribulations, but you will overcome them with the thought that you are doing it for God’s glory. You will be persecuted, but my grace will not fail you, so don’t be afraid. You will see things that you need to tell people, but in prayer I will inspire you with how to do it.
The times are bad. Misfortunes of every kind will come upon the whole world.”
José Escriva, St Josemaria’s father, passed on to him his own devotion to Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal. Our Lady’s message pointed to the remedy: “Come to the foot of this altar. Here graces will be poured out on all those who ask for them with trust and devotion. They will be poured out on great and small alike.”
During a second apparition, on Saturday November 27, 1830, the eve of the First Sunday of Advent, St Catherine saw our Lady with an aureole around her, on which was written in golden letters “O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee.” Our Lady’s command was: “Have a medal struck on this model. Those who wear the medal around their neck will receive great graces; my graces will be very abundant for all those who trust in me.”
The first medals were given out in May 1832, and the results were not long in coming. From that time on, the Miraculous Medal, as it soon became known through popular piety, was credited with very many conversions and cures.
After our Lady appeared to her, St. Catherine lived out her life in an unassuming, hidden way. For the next forty-six years she worked in a hospital for the poor on the outskirts of Paris, devoting herself to the humblest duties. She died aged 70 on December 31, 1876. She was canonized by Pope Pius XII on July 27, 1947. Her feast-day is celebrated on November 28.
God inspired Opus Dei in St. Josemaria’s heart while he was doing a spiritual retreat in the house of the St Vincent de Paul fathers, next to the church known as Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal, on the corner of Fernandez de la Hoz Street and Garcia de Paredes Street in Madrid.
St. Josémaria Escriva
In his lifetime St Josemaria went to Paris on several occasions to pray to Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal in the Rue du Bac.
Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal is connected with two events in the history of Opus Dei.
On her feast-day, November 27, 1924, José Escriva, St Josemaria’s father, died after pausing to pray before a statue of her in their house. José Escriva had great devotion to our Lady, especially under her title of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal. He passed this devotion on to St Josemaria.
And on November 27, 1982, Opus Dei’s establishment as a personal prelature was made public.
The current prelate of Opus Dei, Bishop Javier Echevarria, referred to the coincidence of these two dates in a letter dated November 1, 1995. “It was as if our Lord wanted to remind us that in all our needs we should have recourse to the Blessed Virgin Mary, who is almighty in her supplication. So too, faced with the apparently impossible task of our personal sanctification (we are nothing, you and I: just wretcheness and mud), we turn in full confidence to our Mother in heaven.”
~ Excerpted from the St. Josemaria Escriva website.