Catherine and the Medal

Catherine and the Medal

“Let all the children of the Catholic Church, who are so very dear to us, hear these words of ours. With a still more ardent zeal for piety, religion and love, let them continue to venerate, invoke and pray to the most Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God, conceived without original sin. Let them fly with utter confidence to this most sweet Mother of mercy and grace..”

– Pope Pius IX, ‘Ineffabilis Deus’

They call Paris the ‘City of Lights’. A vast city, comprised of twenty arrondisements, it is filled with the most stunning architecture – much of which was built to give glory to God. There are great Cathedrals and multiple Churches, all so beautiful and many of them very ancient, such as the great Cathedral of Notre Dame on the Île de la Cité, which has stood there for the best part of a thousand years. And it was to this city that a very special visitor would come – but not to any of these marvellous Gothic structures whose spires towered heaven-ward.

The Rue du Bac sits on the seventh arrondisement. A long street, it’s name comes from the bac or ferry, which originally ran there to take quarried stone to the Palais des Tuileries. The street had several variations of it’s name over the years, originally being called the Grande Chemin du Bac before finally settling with the diminutive form by which it is still known. At 140 Rue du Bac, there is the Maison des Filles de la Charité de Saint-Vincent-de-Paul – the motherhouse of the Sisters of Charity, established by Saint Vincent de Paul. The mortal remains of this great French Saint, known fondly as Monsieur Vincent, are just round the corner, in a glass catafalque high above the main altar in the great Church named in his honour on the Rue des Sevres. But his heart is in a crystal reliquary in the Chapel of this convent on the Rue du Bac. And it was there in that Chapel, on 18 July 1830, that the Mother of God descended to the earth.

The heavenly visit took place at midnight. Half an hour beforehand, Catherine had been awoken by her Guardian Angel, appearing to her in the form of a young child; he told her to dress quickly, announcing she was to meet the Blessed Virgin. Doing as she was told, Catherine followed the child downstairs and toward the Chapel. Each door they passed, although all securely locked, opened effortlessly at his touch. Arriving at the Chapel, all of the candles were lit and shining brightly – “as on Christmas morning”, as Catherine would later describe it. Kneeling in front of the sanctuary, the Angel close by, Catherine waited impatiently, her heart racing at the thought of what was to take place. Finally, the Angel said “here is the Blessed Virgin”. 

The chair on which the Blessed Virgin sat when She appeared to St Catherine

Catherine heard a rustle like the sound of a silk dress, then an exceptionally beautiful young Woman came from the left side of the sanctuary, descended the steps in front of the altar and then sat Herself in the Father Director’s chair which was placed at the front of the sanctuary, on the left side. The Angel then announced solemnly “this is the Blessed Virgin”.

And then Catherine did something which no other Saint has done – dashing forward, she knelt before the Blessed Virgin, and she was permitted to place her joined hands in the lap of the Mother of God, where they remained until the end of this singular visit. Many years later, Catherine would comment that this was the sweetest moment of her entire life. 

The Blessed Virgin spoke –

“My child, the good God wishes to charge you with a mission”.

She warned the young sister of many trials which would follow in the undertaking of her mission but She also promised that Catherine would always know with certainty what the will of God was in every moment, despite the obstacles and contradictions which would follow her –

“..Do not fear, you will have grace. Tell with confidence all that passes within you ; tell it with simplicity. Have confidence. Do not be afraid. You will see certain things; give an account of what you see and hear. You will be inspired in your prayers; give an account of what I tell you and of what you will understand in your prayers..”

Our Lady told Catherine many things which were about to occur in France, great sorrows which would include the overturning of the French throne, and a warning that in those evil times, the whole world would be upset by miseries of every kind –

“There will be victims among the clergy of Paris. Monseigneur the Archbishop.. My child, the Cross will be treated with contempt; they will hurl it to the ground. Blood will flow; they will open up again the side of Our Lord. The streets will stream with blood. Monseigneur the Archbishop will be stripped of his garments.. My child, the whole world will be in sadness.”

Catherine understood that these events would take place in forty years time.

And then the Blessed Virgin said –

“Come to the foot of this altar. There, graces will be shed upon all, great and little, who ask for them. Graces will be especially shed upon those who ask for them.”

The Blessed Virgin then described various situations relating specifically to the community of sisters, including a prophecy regarding a new community of Sisters who would join the present community. This prophecy was fulfilled nineteen years later, when Mother (now Saint) Elizabeth Ann Seton’s community was received, leading to the foundation of the Sisters of Charity in the United States.

Speaking again about the terible events to occur soon, the Mother of God reminded Catherine not to be fearful but to trust in God and to have confidence –

“I shall be with you myself, always. I have My eye upon you. I shall grant you many graces”.

All was prepared, then. Catherine knew she was to receive a great mission, a mission for the entire world, even whilst this first visit of the Mother of God had a very deeply personal quality about it.

“Come to the foot of this altar; there, great graces will be shed on all who ask for them.”

On 27 November of that same year, the Blessed Virgin would return to the Chapel on the Rue du Bac. It was a Saturday. Catherine was in the Chapel with the community, listening to one of the Sisters readuing the meditation. Suddenly Catherine heard a sound she had heard once before – that rustle of Our Lady’s dress as She walked. Looking up, Catherine saw the Blessed Virgin “in all Her perfect beauty” as she would put it later on. Dressed in a white silk robe “of the colour of the dawn”, a white veil fell down behind Her to Her feet. She was standing upon a globe suspended above the sanctuary, the space filled with a blazing light. In Her hands, She held a smaller globe and She seemed to be raising this to Heaven, Her eyes looking in that direction, while Her lips moved in prayer. 

Catherine noted that the fingers of the Blessed Virgin were covered in jewelled rings, which flashed and glittered, catching the heavenly light. Beneath Her feet, She was crushing the head of a coiled serpent. And then the Blessed Virgin looked directly at Catherine, and the nun heard a voice –

“The ball which you see represents the whole world, especially France, and each person in particular. These rays symbolise the graces I shed upon those who ask for them. The gems from which rays do not fall are the graces for which souls forget to ask.”

Suddenly, the smaller globe disappeared and the arms of the Blessed Virgin opened wide as though She was reaching out to the whole world. Dazzling streams of light fell from the rings upon Her fingers, down toward the larger globe upon which She continued to stand. As this happened, an oval frame appeared around Her and then within it, there appeared letters inscribed in gold, which read –

“O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to Thee.”

Later on, Catherine would note that Our Lady’s hands “were bent down under the weight of the treasures of graces obtained”. And then she heard the voice once again –

“Have a medal struck after this model. All who wear it will receive great graces; they should wear it around the neck. Graces will abound for persons who wear it with confidence.”

The vision then seemed to revolve and Catherine saw the obverse of the design of the medal.

A large letter ‘M’ was surmounted by a cross with a bar beneath it. Under the M there were two Hearts – on the left, the Sacred Heart of Jesus, the wound visible, and crowned with thorns; and to the right, the Immaculate Heart of Mary, pierced by a sword. Around all of this, there was an oval frame comprised of twelve glittering stars.

Now, Catherine’s mission had been revealed. She was to have this medal made and then spread throughout the world.

Despite various obstacles and difficulties, Catherine was faithful to the mission given to her. Two years later, the design of the medal was delivered to Monsieur Vachette, an engraver. He expressed that it would be difficult to make a medal – given the technical ability of engravers at that point – to accurately portray the first phase of the vision, with the Virgin holding up the globe, without it appearing ‘flat’. And so a decision was made to represent the Blessed Virgin in the moment when She opened Her arms and the rays of divine grace fell down upon the earth. Seeing the cut medals for the fist time in 1832, Catherine said only – “now, it must be propagated”.

As well as the various oral accounts which Catherine gave to her spiritual director, Father Aladel, she also wrote full accounts of her visions in 1841, 1856 and 1876. He noted with surprise that there was no prayer on the reverse of the medal and told Catherine to pray about this and to ask Our Lady what should be written there. Catherine did as she was commanded and in her prayers she heard these words –

the M and the two Hearts express enough”.

Despite giving a full account of all that had  taken place, Father Aladel was uncertain what to do. In the midst of this uncertainty, the Medal vision was repeated five more times, each occasion a silent reproval that the work had not been completed.

Finally going to the Archbishop, permission for the Medal was granted and it was propagated as Catherine desired; within a few years, millions of Medals were in circulation. Very quickly, the reports of miracles of grace and of nature began – the most famous being that of the conversion of Alphonse Ratisbonne in Rome, which I have related elsewhere. Not surprisingly, it was not very long before the people gave a name to this little Medal. They began to call it ‘the Miraculous Medal’.

In the years which followed, Catherine went about her work as a nun and did all the duties of her state without complaint, with nothing making her stand out from the ordinary. She maintained her anonymity completely, such that even her own community did not know to which particular Sister the Blessed Virgin had appeared in the summer and winter of 1830. Her confessor had revealed only to one living soul – and then, for good reasons – the identity of the nun. It was a further thirty years before her identity would be revealed to one more soul. But throughout those years, there were rumours – never confirmed, needless to say – that Catherine was the sister to whom Our Lady had appeared.

At last, in May 1876, Catherine determined to do the one thing requested of her and which she had not, so far, been able to do.

The Blessed Virgin had asked that a statue be made representing Her at the moment She lifted the small globe to Heaven; despite Catherine’s efforts, this had not been done. By this time, she had an intuition that her time was running out and so she she approached the Superior of the Community, Father Boré, to ask for the statue. However, she could not adequately make the request without first revealing that she was the Sister to whom the Blessed Virgin had appeared. And so, unable to say why she wanted the statue made, the request was refused.

Catherine returned to her own community house and spoke to Sister Dufés, the superior of the house. She said –

“Since I have not much longer to live, I feel that the moment to speak out has come. But, as the Blessed Virgin told me to speak only to my confessor, I shall say nothing to you until I have asked Our Lady’s permission in prayer. If She tells me I may speak to you, I will do so; otherwise, I will remain silent.”

The incorrupt body of St Catherine Labouré in the chapel on the Rue du Bac.

The following morning, Sister Catherine met again with Sister Dufés – Our Lady had granted Her permission. And so, over the next two hours, Catherine told the Superior everything – the first vision, the visions of the Miraculous Medal, the various other visions she had been granted, and the foreknowledge of events that were still to take place. Sister Dufés was so astonished that neither she nor Catherine sat, remaining standing the entire time.

In conclusion, Catherine said very emphatically that the statue of the Virgin holding the globe needed to be made. Sister Dufés asked if, in light of what Catherine had told her regarding the globe, it was necessary to change the design of the Medal. Catherine replied – “Do not touch the Medal. It is only necessary to erect an altar on the spot of the Apparition, as the Blessed Virgin asked, and to place above it Her statue, with a ball in Her hands.” 

After confirming, from the original notes made at the time of the Apparitions, that Catherine was indeed the Sister of the visions, Sister Dufés arranged for a sculptor to carve the statue. Catherine’s mission was finally completed in all it’s details.

Over the next months, she began to speak more – and more openly – about her impending death. She even commented that she would not see the New Year. The Sisters were certain that this elderly but quite robust nun had to be mistaken.

Finally, the last day of the year 1876 came, 31 December. Catherine had been unwell for a while by then but on that day, her health deteriorated very suddently. That afternoon, her niece, Marie, had called to visit her and before she left, Catherine had given her the last of the original Miraculous Medals she had kept.

At 7 o’clock that evening, Sister Catherine left this world, very peacefully.

It was a mere ten days after her funeral that the first miracle was reported at her tomb.

In 1895 her cause for canonisation was put before Rome. Catherine Labouré was beatified in Rome on 28 May 1933. Upon opening her tomb in the community house in Reuilly, where she had been buried for fifty seven years, there was astonishment when her body was found to be entirely incorrupt, such that her cornflower-blue eyes were as vibrant as ever and her limbs as supple as though she was merely asleep. Fourteen years after this, on 27 July 1947, Sister Catherine Labouré was declared a Saint of the Roman Catholic Church.

Today, her still-incorrupt body lies beneath the statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary holding that globe, on the spot where the vision took place, in a convent on a long street in Paris called the Rue du Bac.

With Mary, Through Mary

With Mary, Through Mary

“One thing is clear; although the repeated Hail Mary is addressed directly to Mary, it is to Jesus that the act of love is ultimately addressed, with Her and through Her.”

– St John Paul, ‘Rosarium Virginis Mariae’

A Rosary is a very tactile object. There is something quite soothing about feeling the beads gently slipping through the fingers, while the mind is engaged elsewhere. The prayer of the holy Rosary uses the beads to very good effect. To pray the Rosary, we generally go to a quiet place, where we can begin to settle ourselves in order to pray, and to pray as well as we are able. This is the moment at which we begin to slip the beads through our fingers, and it is the moment at which the gentle repetition of the Rosary commences.

When we are familiar with the vocal prayers and the names of each of the Mysteries, we can focus a little less on them and think a little more on the content of those Mysteries and on what it is we are actually praying. Our hands are occupied with one thing – slipping the beads as a way of counting – whilst our minds (and hopefully our hearts) are engaged in the actual praying part of the exercise – it is this meditation which is the soul of the Rosary, while the vocal part is the body. Now, we can begin to experience the gentle effects of this soothing repetition. It is not too dissimilar to being lulled to sleep by the gentle whisperings of a mother to her child.

In his ‘Apostolic Letter on the Most Holy Rosary’, entitled ‘Rosarium Virginis Mariae’, St John Paul spoke about the repetitive nature of the Rosary and countered any argument that it is mere ‘vain repetition’. He wrote –

“Meditation of the mysteries of Christ is proposed in the Rosary by means of a method designed to assist in their assimilation. It is a method based on repetition.. If this repetition is considered superficially, there could be a temptation to see the Rosary as a dry and boring exercise. It is quite another thing, however, when the Rosary is thought of as an outpouring of that love which tirelessly returns to the person loved, with expressions similar in their content but ever fresh in terms of the feeling pervading them.”

The Holy Father went on to add that “to understand the Rosary, one has to enter into the psychological dynamic proper to love”. In other words, it is no less meaningful than constantly telling the person we love, over and over again, ‘I love you’. The words are the same each time, but no less meaningful because of that. Every time we repeat them, they are filled with deep meaning and in that sense, they are new every time. So it is with the Rosary.

Pope John Paul prays the Rosary

We tend to think of the Rosary as being very Marian in character and focus – and this is true, to an extent. However, there is a deeper level to praying the Rosary which we should be mindful of, and which Pope John Paul noted well –

“..Although the Hail Mary is addressed directly to Mary, it is to Jesus that the act of love is ultimately directed, with Her and through Her. The repetition is nourished by the desire to be conformed ever more completely to Christ, the true programme of the Christian life.. the Rosary helps us to be conformed ever more closely to Christ until we attain true holiness”.

Suddenly, this prayer of the Rosary, which we might once have considered to be dull and tedious, has changed; like the rock polished by the Divine Jeweller, it has now become a glittering diamond in our hands and we are beginning to appreciate it’s true value and worth. It helps us to become more Christ-llike – and this, surely, is the very goal of our spiritual lives.

Considering all of this, we might find ourselves to be a little surprised – something we had considered as mundane and repetitive (and perhaps even beneath us, in a sense), has shown itself to be far more wondrous than we had at first realised.

Pope John Paul reminds us that God communicates Himself to us through the ordinary things of life – and especially through words, actions, gestures, “respecting our human nature and it’s vital rhythms”, as he put it. He went on to add that this is also the case with the Liturgy – filled, as it is, with words, actions, gestures.

Looking back over what we have learned here from the Holy Father, we have come to see that what at first seemed repetitive and child-like is, in fact, a continual ‘outpuring of love’ which invites us to enter into ‘the dynamic of love’ – love of the Lord, Who desires that we love Him.

And we learn how best to do so through Mary and with Mary, who loved Him more than any other created being in all of Creation. The combined love of all the Saints and Angels toward the Lord, immense though that certainly is, cannot match the depth of the love of His own Mother.

And so, as St John Paul says elsewhere, we are coming to see that the Rosary really is ‘the school of Mary’, where we sit at Her feet and from Her, we learn how best to love the Lord. As each bead slips through our fingers, it represents another ‘I love You’ given to the Lord through and with His own Mother, and ours.

 

 

A Lenten Rosary

A Lenten Rosary

“There could not possibly be a finer devotion nor one of greater merit than that of the holy Rosary, which is like a second memorial and representation of the Life and Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ”

– Saint Louis Marie de Montfort

The point of Lent is to come to know and serve the Lord better. To do this, we must become ever more forgetful of self, seeking Him rather than ourselves in all things.

The Mother of the Lord is the perfect example of doing this – She is the quiet Woman of the Gospels, who says little, offers everything, and constantly points toward Her Son – ‘Do whatever He tells you’ (Jn.2:5).

She has constantly told us of Her love for the Rosary, asking us over and over to pray this beautiful prayer every day – the Saints of the Church have said the same, and that message has been echoed by all the Popes. Saint John Paul II reminded us very clearly that the Rosary is both profound and yet simple, well within the reach of all – we do not need knowledge, a deep theology, great intelligence, just simple faith, love in our hearts and the will to pray.

Lent is the perfect time to begin praying a daily Rosary, if we do not already do so.

The obvious Mysteries to pray in Lent are the Sorrowful ones, but knowing the Lord means knowing His entire life, and so all four sets of Mysteries are very well-suited to the Lenten season.

Begin the Rosary by asking the Blessed Virgin to help you to come to know Her Son better; ask Her to pray with you and for you, and to obtain for you whatever graces the Lord has prepared for you, and to lead you to Him. Ask Her to help you with a particular need or situation, and be confident that She will both hear and answer your prayer. She will do so, for She is very kind and She desires now what She desired of the servants at Cana all those years ago – that we all respond to Her Son’s commands and submit ourselves to His holy will.

The Blessed Virgin is the spotless mirror reflecting the light and the love of God. She is the channel of every heavenly grace. And She is the most easy and the most sure way of reaching the Lord, Her Son. Through Her, He came to us; and through Her, we come to Him.

 

The Shield of Mary

The Shield of Mary

‘This is the symbol of the graces which will be poured out upon the persons who ask them of Me.. Have a Medal struck on this model; the persons who wear it will receive great graces; graces will be in abundance for those who have confidence.’

– Our Lady to Saint Catherine Labouré

I have worn a Miraculous Medal for as long as I can remember. Her image is always there around my neck – and on those very rare occasions when it is not there, I am acutely aware of it’s absence. It is my ‘Shield of Mary’ – a sign of Her presence, Her protection and Her motherly intercession.

Giving the Medal to Saint Catherine Labouré in Paris in 1830, the Blessed Virgin asked that we wear it, promising graces to those who would do so with confidence in Her.

It recieved the name ‘Miraculous’ because of the wonders which occurred within a few short years, because of which millions of Medals were being worn by the faithful – and by those of no faith.

The little Chapel in the convent in Paris where Saint Catherine saw the Mother of God is still there and it is constantly filled with people from all over the world, giving thanks to the Blessed Virgin for so many kindnesses and favours, wrought through the devout use of Her Medal. I have been to that Chapel many times and I can attest that it is a truly holy place.

Each morning, I kiss the Medal and ask the prayers of the Mother of God, Mary Immaculate. She is the Mediatrix of All Grace, the channel through which God chooses to dispense graces to souls, for She is the Mother of Divine Grace. The Lord entrusts grace to Her, to dispense as She pleases.

So many of the Saints have promulgated this Medal – notably, Saint Maximillian Kolbe. Saint Bernadette Soubirous was wearing a Miraculous Medal during the appearances of the Blessed Virgin at Lourdes – indeed, she commented that when the Lady finally gave Her name, Her pose resembled that depicted on the Miraculous Medal.

My personal experience is that the Mother of God does what She promises to do – She obtains and dispenses great graces through the holy use of this little Medal which honours Her Immaculate Conception.

I can only suggest that if you do not presently wear a Miraculous Medal, you might consider doing so, and see for yourself.

 

 

The Secret Of The Rosary

The Secret Of The Rosary

“Say the Rosary often with faith, humility, confidence and perseverance.”
– St Louis Marie de Montfort

“A prayer so easy and yet so rich..”
– Pope St John Paul II

Although it may be the most popular of all Catholic devotions and even the one most associated with being Catholic, the Rosary causes perplexity for some. It is ‘vain repetition’, say some outwith the Catholic faith; it is ‘old-fashioned and only for old women’, say some within the Catholic faith. I wrote about this last concern previously in a post called Men And The Rosary. And for some, particularly those who wish to persevere, it can be difficult to determine how best to actually pray the Rosary.

And yet, despite these concerns, the Church constantly and unwaveringly recommends that we pray the Rosary, and the greatest Saints and Popes of the Church were all devoted to it’s prayerful recitation. At Lourdes, the Blessed Virgin carried a Rosary and prayed it with St Bernadette; and at Fatima, She did similarly and reminded the three children to “pray the Rosary every day”. After a few decades where the Rosary was being prayed less often, today, there is a resurgence – thank God – in the praying of the Rosary. I wrote about this, too, in a post called The Rosary Revival.

And so that leaves us with a question – if the Church, the Popes, the great Saints and even the Blessed Virgin so often ask us to pray this prayer, how do we pray the Rosary well and with perseverance?

Saint Louis Marie de Montfort wrote what is perhaps the best book on the subject, written some 300 years ago, which he entitled ‘The Secret Of The Rosary’. In it, he gives various different methods for praying the Rosary well. He notes this is well within the grasp of all, even children. At the beginning of his book, St Louis writes –

“I beg of you to beware of thinking of the Rosary as something of little importance.. far from being insignificant, the Rosary is a priceless treasure which is inspired by God.. He has attached to it grace in this life and in the next. The Saints have said it faithfully and the Popes have endorsed it.”

I heartily recommend this wonderful little book for anyone who wishes to take up his or her beads and pray them well, and with perseverance. You can find this book, and all of St Louis’ writings at Montfort Publications, where you can learn much more about this most devoted son of the Blessed Virgin, a great Marian Saint who deeply influenced the spiritual life and subsequent holiness of St John Paul II.

I would also like to offer one or two suggestions of my own, if I may.

First of all, use a single set of beads; choose a set and stick with them. It matters not a bit what they are made of, what they look like or what they are worth. But try to avoid expensive Rosaries – apart from the danger of pride, expensive beads tend not to be used, for fear of losing or breaking them; and the Rosary beads are certainly meant to be used, and to be used constantly. So choose a durable set.

Now that you have a set of beads, have them blessed by a Catholic Priest if this has not been done already – it is the physical beads which carry the Indulgences, and they are a Sacramental of the Church, so it is salutary to have them with us always. Get into the habit of carrying them throughout life, before you tenaciously clasp them in death.

After this comes a very important point. When you pray the Rosary, ask the Holy Spirit to grant you the grace to pray well; and ask His Spouse, the Queen of the Rosary, to assist you and to obtain for you the light and the grace of Her Son to help you to ponder on and understand something of the Mysteries of His life, which She will lay out before you. She will obtain this grace for you, because She wants you to pray Her Rosary with perseverance and to do so well. Be patient and persistent in asking for this grace; She will obtain it for you, but in Her time, not ours. That which we work hardest for, we treasure most.

Next, always offer your Rosary for a particular intention – for someone in need (whether temporal or spiritual), for the Holy Souls in Purgatory, to ask for a particular grace, or to seek help in some matter. Remember, too, to pray for the intentions of the Holy Father and for the Church.

The devout praying of the Rosary obtains both merit and grace; my suggestion is to explicitly give all of this to the Blessed Virgin to use as She pleases. Have confidence in Her; She will put it to the best use. Don’t worry that in doing this, you can no longer pray for your own particular intentions; on the contrary – the more generous you are toward Her, so She will be with you.

“As a Gospel prayer, centered on the mystery of the redemptive Incarnation, the Rosary is therefore a prayer with a clearly Christological orientation. It’s most characteristic element, in fact, the litany-like succession of Hail Mary’s, becomes in itself an unceasing praise of Christ” – Blessed Pope Paul VI, ‘Marialis Cultus’

And do not worry that in praying the Rosary, you are ignoring the Lord; remember, the entire life of the Blessed Virgin on earth, and Her function now in Heaven, is to bring Her Divine Son to us and to lead us ever closer to Him. She keeps nothing back for Herself. As He came to us, so we go to Him – that is, through and with Mary, His Mother. You can read more about this in a post I wrote called Learning Christ From Mary.

When you pray the Rosary to begin with, don’t expect it will be a life-shattering experience for you; it will be life-changing, certainly, but not necessarily life-shattering, unless the Lord deigns to grant you a very special grace – and He may well do so. That said, the Blessed Virgin, in Her fifteen promises regarding the Rosary, does promise a signal grace to those who persevere; my own experience would tend to confirm this is the case and so look out for such a grace and give thanks for it, with humility, if it is granted.

At the start, you may find it difficult to meditate deeply on the Mysteries – don’t concern yourself with that nor with how poorly you imagine you are doing; simply do the very best you can and continue to persevere with confidence. The praying of the Rosary is a journey we make over time and as we do so, it becomes more fruitful at the level of the senses. Then it begins to deepen gradually, touching and transforming the soul at the deepest levels, so that the sensory aspect matters much less to us.

Make a point of trying to concentrate on the subject matter of the Mysteries, and not on the vocal prayers. There are two reasons for this.

Firstly, we know the vocal prayers intimately well and there is a danger that in simply praying the words, our minds will begin to wander and no meditation will take place – we will never get beyond the words, and that is not the point of the Rosary. It is all about the meditation.

Secondly, the Rosary is comprised primarily of the ‘Hail Mary’ and this exquisite prayer is a beautiful love song; it is the love song of the Almighty Father to the most beautiful and most perfect of all His creatures – the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of His Son. Like all songs, there are lyrics set against a beautiful melody. In the Rosary, the ‘lyrics’ are the words of the prayers – the Our Father, the Hail Mary, the Glory Be and the short Fatima Prayer prayed at the conclusion of each decade. We memorise the lyrics of songs through repetition; but it is the melody that sinks into our souls, remains there, and rises up again into our consciousness from time to time. And so it is with the Rosary – here, the ‘melody’ is the meditation on each of the Mysteries, and it is this which is most fruitful to us at the spiritual level. In the Rosary, to put it simply, the prayers are the body – but the meditation is the soul.

If you find it helpful, use visual images of the Mysteries you are praying, at least to begin with; these give us something to focus on and can act as a very good starting point – having engaged our will in praying in the first place, we now need to engage our imagination. There are also many small Rosary books and booklets available, which provide short meditations for each Mystery, and these can be excellent.

Above all, I would heartily recommend reading – and becoming deeply familiar with – the Gospel passages relevant to each of the Mysteries. The Rosary is a Gospel prayer and so it is important that we become familiar with the source material. Perhaps at the start of each Mystery, read the passage, then let it sink into your soul; this will provide a deep well of meditation, even if you pray the Rosary daily over many years. You will never reach the bottom of this well – there is always something new to be found there. As you move forward, you may prefer to concentrate on a single line or phrase from the Scriptures, rather than the entire passage. Imagine yourself in that scene, carefully looking at each of the primary figures; which virtues or lessons does each Mystery suggest to you? How do you live out those virtues in your daily life? What is this Mystery saying in the depths of your soul? What is the Lord teaching you, or asking of you? How does it pertain to the life you are leading?

Almost all of the Mysteries focus on a particular event in the lives of the Lord and His Mother – the Annunciation, the Crowning with Thorns, the Resurrection, and so forth. An exception to this is the Third Luminous Mystery, ‘the Proclamation of the Kingdom and the Call to Repentance’. This Mystery covers the Lord’s public ministry between the Wedding at Cana and the Agony in the Garden. For this Mystery, then, focus on something specific – perhaps the Lord teaching His followers the ‘Our Father’, or His giving of the Beatitudes. These two events concern themselves with praying well and with living well, and so they are both perfect in these Mysteries where the Lord reveals Himself, and they are easy to meditate upon in prayer.

To do all I have suggested here will require willpower and discipline; many begin well, but end quickly. It will be tempting to miss your Rosary ‘just today’ because you are very busy, or the day is nearing it’s end, or for some other reason. Such a day will soon be followed by another until the beads are put back in the drawer. Because of this temptation, it will be profitable if you can get into The Habit Of Prayer. This will help to sustain you in your prayer life by making it a special and crucial part of every day.

Finally, while you will often pray the Rosary alone, it gains even greater power when prayed as a community; pray it with parishioners before or after Mass, or pray it with your family and friends. And consider joining the Confraternity of the Holy Rosary – this gives great spiritual benefits to you as well as offering similar benefits to the other Confraternity members. Not least among these is the assurance that you will be remembered in Masses and Rosaries long after you are dead.

I hope some of this may be of benefit to you; but if you do nothing else, take up your beads and pray the Rosary, preferably every day.

May She who is the Queen of the Most Holy Rosary, abundantly bless all those who take up their beads and pray to the Lord with Her.

 


 

 

FIFTEEN PROMISES OF THE BLESSED VIRGIN MARY
TO CHRISTIANS WHO FAITHFULLY PRAY THE ROSARY

 

  1. To all those who shall pray My Rosary devoutly, I promise My special protection and great graces.
  2. Those who shall persevere in the recitation of My Rosary will receive some special grace.
  3. The Rosary will be a very powerful armor against hell; it will destroy vice, deliver from sin and dispel heresy.
  4. The Rosary will make virtue and good works flourish, and will obtain for souls the most abundant divine mercies. It will draw the hearts of men from the love of the world and its vanities, and will lift them to the desire of eternal things. Oh, that souls would sanctify themselves by this means!
  5. Those who entrust themselves to Me through the Rosary will not perish.
  6. Whoever recites My Rosary devoutly reflecting on the Mysteries, shall never be overwhelmed by misfortune. He will not experience the anger of God nor will he perish by an unprovided death. The sinner will be converted; the just will persevere in grace and merit eternal life.
  7. Those truly devoted to My Rosary shall not die without the Sacraments of the Church.
  8. Those who are faithful to reciting My Rosary shall have during their life and at their death the light of God and the plenitude of His graces and will share in the merits of the blessed.
  9. I will deliver promptly from Purgatory souls devoted to My Rosary.
  10. True children of My Rosary will enjoy great glory in Heaven.
  11. What you shall ask through My Rosary you shall obtain.
  12. To those who propagate My Rosary I promise aid in all their necessities.
  13. I have obtained from My Son that all the members of the Rosary Confraternity shall have as their intercessors, in life and in death, the entire celestial court.
  14. Those who recite My Rosary faithfully are My beloved children, the brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ.
  15. Devotion to My Rosary is a special sign of predestination.

 


The Miraculous Medal

The Miraculous Medal

“Come to the foot of this Altar; there, graces will be poured out on all those who ask for them with confidence and fervour. They will be poured out on the great and the humble”

– Our Lady to St Catherine

The Miraculous Medal and the story of Saint Catherine Labouré

laboure(2)There are some things which are always associated with being a Catholic. Perhaps the most well-known is the Rosary; another is the Medal of the Immaculate Conception, which for a long time has been called the ‘Miraculous Medal’. Do you know the story of this Medal, or why it got it’s name?

Zöe Labouré was born in May 1806, in the Burgundy region of France, in a hamlet called Fain-les-Moutiers. A pious and hard-working child, she was deeply loved by her family.

When she was 18, Zöe had a strange dream in which she saw herself praying at the Altar of her parish Church. There, an old Priest was celebrating Mass. At the end of Mass, the Priest turned and beckoned to Zöe but not recognising him, she fled. As the dream progressed, she now found herself at the bedside of a sick person and there, too, was the same old Priest. Now, he spoke to her –

“My daughter, it is good to take care of the sick. You run away from me now, but one day you will be glad to come to me. God has designs on you. Do not forget it”.

StVincentDePaulZöe had told her father she wished to enter the religious life but he was set against the idea; he had lready given one daughter, Marie Louise, to religion. Zöe’s father sent her to stay with her elder brother, Charles, who owned a restaurant – she would work for him. She spent a year there before going to Châtillon-sur-Seine, where her sister in law ran a school. Also in the town, there was a convent of the Sisters of Charity. Still feeling the call to enter religious life, Zöe went to speak with the superior of the convent. Ushered into the parlour, her eyes fell on a portrait hanging on the wall – it was the old Priest from her dream. Asking who this Priest was, she was told it was Saint Vincent de Paul, the founder of the Sisters of Charity.

Zöe felt she had arrived at the place where she was meant to be and in 1830, she began her postulancy in the convent. Three months later, on 21st April 1830, she entered the motherhouse of the Sisters of Charity, on the Rue du Bac in the heart of a bustling Paris. In religion, she took the name Catherine.

Four days after her arrival at the convent, the relics of Saint Vincent had been transferred from the Cathedral of Notre Dâme to the Church on the Rue des Sèvres, just round the corner from the Sister’s convent. Shortly after this, Catherine was shown a series of three visions of the heart of Saint Vincent, appearing a different colour each time – she understood that these visions to foretell the political problems about to befall France, beginning three months later with the overthrowing of King Charles X.

She told her Spiritual Director, Father Aladel, about this and then – being a very practical young woman – continued with her everyday life. Father Aladel paid little attention to what Catherine had told him – perhaps it was simply the overactive imagination of an enthusiastic young nun.

But the favours did not end here – more remarkable occurrences were to follow soon afterwards.

virgin_ofthe_chairOn the evening of 18 July 1830, Catherine was awakened by a young child whom she believed to be her Guardian Angel. He told her to come to the Chapel, where the Blessed Virgin was awaiting her. Catherine would later write this account of what happened next –

“I hurriedly dressed and went to the side of this child. I followed him wherever he went. The lights were lit everywhere. When I entered the Chapel, the door swung open; the child had barely touched it with his fingertips. The candelabras burned brightly, as for Midnight Mass. However, I did not see the Blessed Virgin. The child led me to the sanctuary and there, I knelt down.

Near midnight, the child said to me ‘Look, here is the Blessed Virgin’. I heard a  noise like the rustling of a silk dress. A very beautiful Lady sat in the Father Director’s chair. The the child repeated in a  strong voice, ‘Here is the Blessed Virgin’.

Then, I sprang toward Her, falling on my knees at Her feet, at the steps of the Altar, and putting my hands on Her knees. I remained there I don’t know how long; time passed, the sweetest moments of my life. The Holy Virgin told me how I should act toward my Director and confided several things to me”.

In a further account written later, in 1876, Catherine gave more information on what the Blessed Virgin told her –

“The good God, my child, wishes to entrust you with a mission. It will be the cause of much suffering to you but you will overcome this, knowing that you do it for the glory of God. You will be contradicted, but you will have the grace to bear it; do not fear. You will see certain things; given an account of them. You will be inspired in your prayer. The times are evil; misfortunes will fall upon France. The throne will be overthrown, the entire world will be overcome by evils of all kinds, but come to the foot of this Altar; there, graces will be poured out on all those who ask for them with confidence and fervour. They will be poured out on the great and the humble”.

And then, the Blessed Virgin was gone, “like a light which fades away”, as Catherine described it.

Catherine again spoke to Father Aladel, but although he recognised Catherine’s fervour and prayerfulness, he could not believe the truth of what she was saying. She had to be mistaken, surely. And yet she was so practical, so honest …

virgin_ofthe_globeOn 27th November 1830, Catherine was again in the Chapel, listening to the evening meditation in the company of all the Sisters. Catherine was about to learn what her mission would be.

Here is how she described it –

“It was the Saturday before the first Sunday of Advent. It was half past five in the evening. In the silence, just after the point of meditation had been read, I seemed to hear some noise on the side of the tribune; looking toward that side, I saw the Blessed Virgin.

She was standing, dressed in a white silk robe, the colour of the dawn. Her feet were resting on a ‘ball’, of which I could see only half.

In Her hands, raised to the level of Her breast, She held a globe in a very relaxed way, Her eyes raised heavenwards. Her face was totally beautiful – I could not describe it.

And then, all of a sudden, I noticed rings on Her fingers, rings with precious stones, some larger and some smaller, which gave out rays of light, some more beautiful than others. At that moment, as I contemplated Her, the Blessed Virgin lowered Her eyes to look at me and an interior voice said –

‘This globe which you see represents the entire world, particularly France, and each person in particular’.

Here, I don’t know how to explain what I found and what I saw, the beauty and the glitter from the rays of light were so magnificent! The voice said to me again –

‘This is the symbol of the graces which will be poured out upon the persons who ask them of Me’.

At this moment, whether I was or whether I was not, I did not know. There formed around the Blessed Virgin a sort of oval and on it there were these words, written in golden letters –

‘O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to Thee’.

Then a voice was heard –

‘Have a Medal struck on this model; the persons who wear it will receive great graces; graces will be in abundance for those who have confidence. Those stones which remained in the shadows represent the graces which people forget to ask of Me’.

Suddenly, the picture seemed to turn. I saw the reverse of the Medal; the letter M surmounted by a Cross and below it, two Hearts, one encircled with a crown of thorns, the other pierced with a sword. I seemed to hear a voice which said to me –

The M and the two Hearts say enough’.

Mary, Jesus.. the sufferings of both joined together for our redemption.” 

Surrounding all of this was a ‘crown’ of twelve stars. The stars represented the twelve Apostles, upon whom the Church is founded, as well as referring to the passage in the Book of Revelation which refers to the Virgin –

“And behold, a great sign appeared in Heaven; a Woman clothed with the sun, with the moon beneath Her feet, and upon Her head a crown of twelve stars” (Revelation, Chapter 12).

medal_visionThis same vision was repeated on five further occasions, with the Virgin appearing above the main Altar to ask why Her requests had not been complied with. Father Aladel still could not believe what Catherine was telling him. Not knowing what to do, he eventually approached the Archbishop of Paris, Monseigneur de Quelen, who – although not convinced of the supernatural character of the apparition – agreed to have the Medal made, since it did not contravene faith or morals.

The first Medals were struck in May 1832 and were distributed throughout Paris and then France; within a very short time, numerous miracles and wonders were being attributed to its use.

The most famous miracle of the time was the conversion of Alphonse Ratisbonne, a Jewish merchant with a virulent hatred for Catholicism. In a vision in Rome, he saw the Virgin as She had appeared on the Medal and he was instantly converted to Catholicism; also at that instant, he was infused with a perfect and complete knowledge of all the truths of the Catholic Faith. He later became a Jesuit priest and spent his life working for the conversion of Jews. This vision occurred in the Roman Church of Sant’ Andrea della Fratte, where an Altar reminds visitors of this marvellous event.

Because of many similar events, the Medal came to be known as ‘The Miraculous Medal’.

Within a few years, more than one million medals were in circulation throughout the world.

A long Church investigation finally agreed that the Medal was supernatural in origin and that Catherine’s visions were indeed genuine. However, throughout all this Catherine spoke about these events only to Father Aladel – no-one else knew that she was the sister who had seen Our Lady. She even declined to attend the Church investigation as this would have compromised her anonymity – instead she would answer questions only through Father Aladel.

She maintained her silence until she was aware that she had only a short time left to live, and then told only her Mother Superior. On several occasions she told her fellow sisters that she would not live to see the year 1877; on 31 December 1876 she died peacefully. After her death, she was finally named openly as the Sister of the visions of the Miraculous Medal and she became the most talked about woman in all of France. She was buried in the Hospice for the elderly in Enghien, a Parisian suburb, where she had worked for more than forty years in obscurity and humility, keeping her secret from the eyes of the world.

catherine_laboureYears later, as part of the Canonisation process, her body was exhumed and then re-interred in the Chapel of the Apparitions, in the Rue du Bac. Her body was found to be completely incorrupt, as it remains to this day.

This Chapel is situated in the very heart of Paris, and is open to all. Catherine’s body lies in a crystal reliquary beneath the statue of the Virgin of the Globe, the very spot on which Catherine saw the Vision of the Medal. Her bright blue eyes look up to the statue above her.

Visitors to the Chapel can see Saint Catherine’s incorrupt body to this day, as well as the heart of Saint Vincent de Paul in a silver reliquary to the right of the Altar, and the relics of Saint Louise de Marillac (co-foundress of the Order) to the left of the Altar.

In the sanctuary is the chair upon which the Blessed Virgin sat during the first apparition.

Covering the walls of the Chapel are marble plaques, which people have donated to record favours received through their fervent prayers to Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal. There is very little empty space on these walls.

Scholars and historians believe that the Miraculous Medal Apparitions paved the way for the proclamation of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception in 1854, and that the Lourdes Apparitions (in 1858) gave the Blessed Virgin’s own seal of approval to this dogma. Throughout the visions at Lourdes, Saint Bernadette Soubirous wore a Miraculous Medal. Later, Bernadette noted that at the moment when the Lady of Lourdes gave Her name, saying “I am the Immaculate Conception”, She opened Her hands in a way very similar to the way She appears on the Medal.

Even now, in this modern and sophisticated world, many people wear this little Medal with confidence in She whose image it bears, and receive streams of grace through Her hands. The Legion of Mary have, for many years, distributed millions of these Medals, each on a  little blue cord.

rue_du_bac

And the little Chapel on the Rue du Bac in Paris is constantly filled with pilgrims from every corner of the world, kneeling at the foot of that Altar and asking the Queen of Heaven for graces, then kneeling at the shrine of Saint Catherine and asking her heavenly intercession.

The courtyard leading to the Chapel has large relief sculptures depicting the story of the Visions, some of which are reproduced here.

To wear the Medal is to accept the power of Jesus, the Son of Mary, and to accept Her Mediation before Him and Her role as the Mediatrix of all His graces. To wear the medal is to accept the power of His Cross, and of the Mother who stood beneath it, who is our Mother and Queen, Conceived Without Sin.

And the miracles of grace continue.