One of the four marks of the Church is that it is universal, or catholic. We can see this mark of the Church in many different manifestations. Perhaps the most beautiful of these would pertain to the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Catholics regard Mary as the Queen of all saints. She intercedes for the Church Militant in a very special way before the throne of her son, Jesus Christ. It was appropriate, therefore, when Pope Francis recently extended the feast of Mary, Mother of the Church to the Roman Catholic general calendar. As Cardinal Robert Sarah put it in the decree establishing the feast last year:
“Mary is the mother of the members of Christ, because with charity she cooperated in the rebirth of the faithful into the Church, [and] the birth of the Head is also the birth of the body, thus indicating that Mary is at once Mother of Christ, the Son of God, and mother of the members of his Mystical Body, which is the Church.”
As she is the mother of the whole Church, we see over the course of history how she desires to communicate with her children, always at our Lord’s direction. She has appeared in nearly every corner of the globe, from Portugal to Japan, from Wisconsin to Egypt. We looked at a few of these apparitions before, and today we’ll look at five others. Some of them you have probably heard of, while others may have flown under your radar. With there literally being a feast of at least one Marian apparition for every day of the year, it’s understandable if you have missed a few!
Here we will take a look at the specific messages that Our Lady gave during these five particular apparitions. All five of these have been approved by the Holy See and/or the local bishop. In other words, each of these titles of Our Lady are most worthy of our veneration. As Christians, we should strongly consider these messages she has given to us.
1. Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal
While many Catholics wear the brown scapular or a crucifix around their necks, another popular sacramental that has been in use for almost two hundred years is the Miraculous Medal. In 1830, the Mother of God appeared to a twenty-four year old woman. Her name was St. Catherine Labouré. She had recently joined the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul at their mother house in Rue du Bacin, Paris. On the eve of St. Vincent de Paul’s feast day, July 18, a child—shining with a dazzling light—awoke her and told her that Our Lady was in the chapel awaiting her.
When St. Catherine arrived in the chapel, she heard the rustling of a silk dress. She looked to see the Virgin Mary near the altar. St. Catherine immediately leapt to her side and rested her hands on Our Lady’s knees. The two of them spoke for over two hours. She later recounted that:
“There, a period of time passed, the sweetest of my life. It would be impossible for me to say what I experienced.”
Our Lady would appear to St. Catherine on two more occasions, and during these apparitions, she made it clear that she desired to dispense many graces upon the faithful, only if they might ask. Our Lady would appear at one point with beams of light coming forth from gems on the ring which she wore on her finger. However, some of the gem did not glow. The message Our Lady gave to St. Catherine was this:
“These rays symbolize 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.”
How important, then, it is to pray for the intercession of our Blessed Mother! After this, the image we see on the Miraculous Medal appeared, with Our Lady telling St. Catherine to have the medal struck as soon as possible. She promised:
“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.”
To this day, graces abound for those that have received this precious medal as their own.
2. Our Lady of Gietrzwald
When we think of Our Lady and the Rosary, we might first think of what Our Lady said at Fatima. It was there that she asked the faithful to pray the Rosary each day. About forty years prior to this, though, Our Lady had given a very similar message in Poland. Just as she had visited three young children at Fatima, the Blessed Virgin Mary also visited two young girls over a three month period in the village of Gietrzwald in the year 1877. This is the only apparition in Poland that the Holy See has approved. It’s often overshadowed by the more popular apparitions that took place at Lourdes and Fatima. But the message, like the ones received at those locations, is also very important.
In June of that year, Justyna Szafryńska, who was thirteen, and Barbara Samulowska, who was twelve, were busy preparing for their first Holy Communion. On separate occasions, a woman with long hair greeted them under a maple tree “sitting on a golden throne decorated with pearls”. The Infant Jesus sat on her knee as he held a golden globe on his lap. When they asked the woman who she was, she simply responded by saying:
“I am the Blessed Virgin Mary of the Immaculate Conception.”
This is very similar to what Our Lady said at Lourdes just a few decades before. The two girls, who were rightfully very inquisitive, also asked what she desired.
Again, Our Lady gave a simple, yet very meaningful answer:
“I wish you to pray the Rosary every day.”
Again, the parallels to another apparition, at Fatima, are very clear. Once the girls spoke with their parish priest, the response to the messages became widespread throughout the villages and the surrounding area, with many people beginning to recite the Rosary regularly. Those availing themselves of the sacraments also increased immediately following the apparitions. Pope St. John Paul II canonically approved the apparitions in 1977. The Church now celebrates the feast of Our Lady of Gietrzwald each year on June 27.
3. Our Lady of Lourdes
As we saw with the Marian apparition above, Our Lady of Lourdes also drew particular attention to the dogma of Mary’s Immaculate Conception. And like the above apparition as well, this famous event also provided the faithful with a very powerful message, delivered to a poor, village girl. That young woman was St. Bernadette Soubirous, and she first encountered our Lady on February 11, 1858 at the tiny Grotto of Massabielle in the Pyrenees mountain region of France. The first few times the Blessed Virgin appeared to her, she said nothing. Finally, St. Bernadette asked her to proclaim what she wanted so she could write it down. According to Butler’s Lives of the Saints, Our Lady smiled and answered:
“There is no need to write what I have to say. Will you do me the kindness to come here every day for a fortnight?”
St. Bernadette obliged. Soon crowds began to gather with her each time she fell into a trance as Our Lady appeared to her. She soon told the young saint to go to the spring which would eventually become a place of pilgrimage, and to drink and wash in it. While it was only a trickle at first, by the next week the spring was pouring forth thousands of gallons of water. Over the next several weeks, Our Lady would give St. Bernadette many messages, some that were between only the two of them, and others which she shared with all. Among those messages were calls for conversion. At one point, Our Lady told her:
“Penance, penance, penance. Pray for sinners.”
This is reminiscent of what was also said at Fatima, where Our Lady specifically asked for reparation of sins committed by people throughout the world. The conversion of sinners is something that should always be at the forefront of our minds, first starting with our own conversion. Another pertinent message that Our Lady gave here was this:
“I do not promise to make you happy in this world but in the other.”
This is the cost for following our Lord Jesus. He told us that we must carry our crosses in order to follow him. This entails suffering, but we know that even if we don’t experience happiness in this world, we will experience great happiness in the heavenly kingdom with our Lord and all the saints for eternity. The Church commemorates the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes each year on February 11.
4. Our Lady of Good Success
With this particular apparition, we go back a little bit in time. In Quito, Ecuador, a Conceptionist Sister, Venerable Mariana de Jesus Torres, received several apparitions of Our Lady over the course of four decades beginning in 1594. Space will not permit us to go deep into the messages given to Sister Mariana, but suffice it to say that Our Lady’s words were very prophetic. Our Lady predicted many events of the nineteenth and twentieth century, from local happenings in Ecuador to Blessed Pope Pius IX’s declaration of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception and his subsequent “captivity” following the Capture of Rome in 1870.
The Virgin Mary warned of a corruption of morals in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and as we have just lived through this era, we can attest to the veracity of her predictions. What our Lady seemed to be very concerned with, however, were priests. She warned of much corruption and made requests of Sister Marianna which we as Christians in the twenty-first century should heed as well:
“The secular clergy [priests that do not belong to a religious or monastic order] will fall far short of what is expected of them because they will not pursue their sacred duty. Losing the divine compass, they will stray from the way of priestly ministry mapped out for them by God… Pray constantly, implore tirelessly, and weep bitter tears in the seclusion of your heart, beseeching the Eucharistic Heart of my most holy Son to take pity on His ministers.”
Are we praying for our priests? We know that our battle in this world is not “against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers… the spiritual hosts of wickedness” (Ephesians 6:12). The evil one wants nothing more than to tear down the priesthood, and in some quarters he has done a good job of it. We must continue to fervently pray for our priests.
Shortly before Sister Marianna’s death, Our Lady spoke these most sobering words to her:
“If mortals only understood how to appreciate the time given to them and would take advantage of each moment of life, how different the world would be! And a considerable number of souls would not fall to their eternal perdition!”
Do we appreciate the time God gives us on earth? Do we use the moments given to us by our Lord as opportunities to receive his grace, both for our sanctification and the sanctification of others? Let us more closely appreciate this time we have on earth so at the end of time we will be able to rejoice with all of our loved ones before the throne of God. The feast of Our Lady of Good Success is celebrated each year on February 2, the same date as the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
5. Our Lady of Good Help
This apparition hits close to home, literally. This is the only officially approved apparition site in the entire United States, and it happens to be in America’s dairy land, Wisconsin. During October of 1859, Our Lady appeared three times to a twenty-eight year old Belgian immigrant, Adele Brise. As we saw in the messages of the other apparitions above, Our Lady especially wanted to get the message across that the conversion of poor sinners was paramount. Like any good mother, our Blessed Mother is very concerned for the eternal destination of each of her children, desperately wanting to see each and every one of us in heaven with our Lord and God, Jesus Christ. After Brise asked Our Lady who she was and what she desired, she answered in a very direct manner:
“I am the Queen of Heaven who prays for the conversion of sinners, and I wish you to do the same. You received Holy Communion this morning and that is good. But you must do more. Make a general confession and offer Communion for the conversion of sinners. If they do not convert and do penance, my Son will be obliged to punish them.”
What is particularly striking is how Our Lady tells Brise that she has to do more than she is already doing. She already went to daily Mass, but she must still do more. How true is this for every one of us as well! What other extra things can we do? Lent has been over for several weeks, but we can still make penitential acts each day, especially on Fridays, for the conversion of poor sinners. We also must show sorrow and contrition for our own sins, and should more frequently avail ourselves of the sacrament of confession.
Our Lady continued to tell Brise that a life of conversion is also helped by catechesis, requesting that she “gather the children in this wild country and teach them what they should know for salvation… Teach them their catechism, how to sign themselves with the sign of the Cross, and how to approach the sacraments… Go and fear nothing, I will help you.” The feast of Our Lady of Good Help is celebrated on October 9.
We can take solace in Our Lady’s words given here from across time and space. She will help us. But we must ask for that help first, as we clearly saw from the vision of St. Catherine Labouré. Our Lady wants nothing more than to lead us to her son. This is why she is such a powerful intercessor. Let’s reflect on these words of Our Lady, and see how we can incorporate the request she makes in our own lives. Most importantly, let’s continue to pray for the conversion of souls and the entire world.
Holy Mary, Mother of the Church, pray for us!
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About Nicholas LaBanca
Nicholas is a cradle Catholic and hopes to give a unique perspective on life in the Church as a millennial. His favorite saints include his patron St. Nicholas, St. Ignatius of Loyola, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. John Mary Vianney, and St. Athanasius of Alexandria.