“O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee.” -words inscribed on the front side of the Miraculous Medal
On Saturday the twenty-seventh of November, the Roman Catholic Church commemorates Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal. On this day, we remember the 1830 apparitions of the Blessed Virgin Mary to Sr. Catherine Laboure in Paris, France; specifically, when the Blessed Virgin Mary presented the Miraculous Medal to Sr. Catherine. For today, The Marian Room is taking a brief interlude from reading St. Alphonsus Liguouri to take a look at the Miraculous Medal and its heavenly origins.
Sr. Catherine described the apparitions of Our Lady (where she received the instructions for the medal) in the following words; subsequent events are also detailed here:
“On the 27th of November, 1830 … while making my meditation in profound silence … I seemed to hear on the right hand side of the sanctuary something like the rustling of a silk dress. Glancing in that direction, I perceived the Blessed Virgin standing near St. Joseph’s picture. Her height was medium and Her countenance, indescribably beautiful. She was dressed in a robe the color of the dawn, high-necked, with plain sleeves. Her head was covered with a white veil, which floated over Her shoulders down to her feet. Her feet rested upon a globe, or rather one half of a globe, for that was all that could be seen. Her hands which were on a level with Her waist, held in an easy manner another globe, a figure of the world. Her eyes were raised to Heaven, and Her countenance beamed with light as She offered the globe to Our Lord.
“As I was busy contemplating Her, the Blessed Virgin fixed Her eyes upon me, and a voice said in the depths of my heart: ‘ This globe which you see represents the whole world, especially France, and each person in particular.’
“There now formed around the Blessed Virgin a frame rather oval in shape on which were written in letters of gold these words: ‘O Mary conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to Thee.’ Then a voice said to me: ‘ Have a medal struck upon this model. All those who wear it, when it is blessed, will receive great graces especially if they wear it round the neck. Those who repeat this prayer with devotion will be in a special manner under the protection of the Mother of God. Graces will be abundantly bestowed upon those who have confidence.’
“At the same instant, the oval frame seemed to turn around. Then I saw on the back of it the letter ‘M’, surmounted by a cross, with a crossbar beneath it, and under the monogram of the name of Mary, the Holy Hearts of Jesus and of His Mother; the first surrounded by a crown of thorns and the second transpierced by a sword. I was anxious to know what words must be placed on the reverse side of the medal and after many prayers, one day in meditation I seemed to hear a voice which said to me: ‘ The ‘M’ with the Cross and the two Hearts tell enough.’ “
The Miraculous Medal
The Mother of God instructed Catherine that she was to go to her spiritual director, Father Aladel, about the apparitions. At first he did not believe Catherine, but, after two years, approached the Bishop of Paris with the story of the events that had taken place at Rue du Bac. Our Blessed Mother had chosen well Her time for the apparitions as the Bishop at that period was an ardent devotee of the Immaculate Conception. He said that the Medal was in complete conformity with the Church’s doctrine on the role of Our Lady and had no objections to having the medals struck at once. The Bishop even asked to be sent some of the first.
Immediately upon receiving them, he put one in his pocket and went to visit Monseigneur de Pradt, former chaplain to Napoleon and unlawful Archbishop of Mechlin who had accepted his office from the hands of the Emperor and now lay dying, defiant and unreconciled to the Church. The sick man refused to abjure his errors and the Bishop of Paris withdrew in defeat. He had not left the house when the dying man suddenly called him back, made his peace with the Church and gently passed away in the arms of the Archbishop, who was filled with a holy joy.
The original order of 20,000 medals proved to be but a small start. The new medals began to pour from the presses in streams inundating France and the rest of the world beyond. By the time of St. Catherine’s death in 1876, over a billion medals had been distributed in many lands. This sacramental from Heaven was at first called simply the Medal of the Immaculate Conception, but began to be known as the Miraculous Medal due to the unprecedented number of miracles, conversions, cures, and acts of protection attributed to Our Lady’s intercession for those who wore it.
In 1841, the most remarkable miracle occured – the conversion of Alphonse Ratisbonne, a wealthy Jewish banker and lawyer and also a blasphemer and hater of Catholicism. M. de Bussieres, gave him a medal, daring him to wear it and say a Memorare. After considerable persuasion he agreed to do so. Not long after, Alphonse accompanied M. de Bussieres to the Church of Sant’Andrea delle Frate to make funeral arrangements for a dear friend. There Alphonse saw a vision of Mary as on the Miraculous Medal. He was converted instantly and immediately begged for Baptism.
Alphonse Ratisbonne later went on to become a priest, taking the name of Father Alphonse Marie. Working for thirty years in the Holy Land, he established several institutions. Out of reverence and gratitude to Our Savior, he built the expiatory sanctuary of the Ecce Homo on the spot where Pilate displayed Jesus to the Jews. So great was the love he had for his people, that he dedicated the remainder of his life, as did his brother, Father Theodore, to work for the conversion of their immortal souls. Among the converts of these two priest brothers were a total of twenty eight members of their own family.
On the last day of 1876, St. Catherine passed to her eternal reward. For the forty-six years from the year of the apparitions until her death, only she and her confessor knew who it was to whom the famous Miraculous Medal was revealed, despite many pressures she received to reveal the secret. The years passed by, Catherine performed daily her mundane and very ordinary tasks of sewing and door keeping, unknown to the world around her, which was buzzing with the miraculous effects of the medal. Because of this humility, she is often called the Saint of Silence. When her body was exhumed for beatification 57 years after her death in 1933, it was found as fresh as the day it was buried. Her incorrupt body can still be seen today at the Mother House of the Daughters of Charity in The Chapel of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal, 140 Rue du Bac in Paris. source
The sanctity of Sr. Catherine, who the Church honors on Sunday (November 28th), is a testimony to the authenticity of the apparitions.
The apparitions of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal were a gift to the world, and the passage of time has only solidified devotion to the Miraculous Medal among the Catholic people. So, today, with the Church, we remember Our Lady, and her appearance to the Saint of Silence, Sr. Catherine Laboure; and we pray, as our Catholic ancestors did: “O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee.”
And, as Advent begins in the Church on Sunday (November 28), here is a poem that sets the tone for this grand season.
May you have a good day.
•Image taken by A. Therese at the Chapel of the Miraculous Medal, Paris, France, 2017.
~Further reading: the story of the life of St. Catherine Laboure, link here.