The Apparitions at Rue du Bac in 1830
It was May 2nd, 1806, when a baby girl was born to a French family who
lived 200 miles south of Paris. Catherine Labouré was the 7th
child of what was to become a family of ten children. The quiet girl was
only nine years old when her mother died, and in her private grief, she
was witnessed standing on a chair, embracing the family statue of the
Virgin Mary. "From now on, you will be my mother."
On July 18, 1830, in the chapel at Rue du Bac, the 24 year-old novice of the Sisters of Charity had her first experience with an apparition. Late at night she had been awakened by what appeared to be a five year-old child, dressed in white, who announced that Catherine must arise and proceed to the chapel where the Blessed Virgin was waiting for her. Catherine Labouré followed the mysterious child, whom she later determined to be her guardian angel. By now it was midnight, and everyone else was asleep, when Catherine walked into the chapel, only to encounter the sound of the rustling of robes. She looked up to see a beautiful young woman framed by a blaze of white light, descending the altar steps to sit in the chair of the Father Director. The angel announced: "Here is the Blessed Virgin," at which Catherine fell to her knees and placed her hands on Mary's lap.
The Blessed Mother revealed that she had a mission for the young novice and that difficult times were to follow. She promised assistance and grace for the faithful who prayed. She spoke of religious persecution in Paris later in the century and foretold coming events in Paris.
"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 know what the good God wants. You will be tormented until you have told him who is charged with directing you. You will be contradicted, but do not fear; you will have grace. Relate with confidence all that passes within you. Tell it with simplicity. Have confidence. Do not be afraid."
When the innocent novice related her story to her superior, Father Aladel, her spiritual director, he quickly proved to be highly sceptical. Nine days passed, and then, on July 27, 1830, a revolution began in Paris. It was then that Father Aladel began to believe young Catherine's story.
Four months later, on November 27, 1830, Catherine once more saw the apparition of The Mother of God standing in the chapel, during community meditation. The Beautiful Lady was dressed in white, standing on a globe and holding a golden ball. She had rings on her fingers that shone with rays of light. An inner voice spoke to Catherine, revealing that that the ball represented the entire world and that the light rays were graces for individuals. The apparition transformed into a representation of the Virgin Mary with outstretched arms inside an oval frame with golden lettering: "O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us to have recourse to thee." A silent voice once more spoke to Catherine, instructing her to have a medal struck on this model. It would be a source of powerful graces and should be worn around the necks of the faithful. Catherine was shown the reverse of the medal which consisted of a large letter "M" surmounted by a bar and cross, accompanied by two hearts, which represented the hearts of Jesus and Mary. This image was encircled by twelve stars. Upon hearing this new story, Catherine's spiritual director was once more sceptical, and reluctant to follow the directions. Eventually he relented, and the medal was struck and distributed among the faithful. It quickly gained in popularity and became known as the "Miraculous Medal".
As the story of the visitations spread, an inquiry was begun by Archbishop de Quelen. The elders found Catherine to be a normal and responsible person and so concluded that the apparitions which she had reported were genuine. They came to believe that the Miraculous Medal was supernaturally inspired. Ultimately, as the years passed, it became responsible for true miracles.
Politically, the events were timely as they led to a revival of Catholicism in France and were followed two decades later by a proclamation from Pope Pius IX (1854) concerning the belief of Mary's Immaculate Conception. The Paris revolution of 1871 was defeated and with it the anti-religious sentiments.
For the next 40 years, Catherine worked in a hostel for old men. In 1876, she passed away. By then millions of faithful continued to wear the Miraculous Medal. It wasn't until the next century, in 1947, that the young novice who had served so faithfully throughout her life on behalf of charity was canonized, and the yonug girl from Rue du Bac became St. Catherine Labouré
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