Fish Eaters: The Whys and Hows of Traditional Catholicism

``Where the Bishop is, there let the multitude of believers be;
even as where Jesus is, there is the Catholic Church'' Ignatius of Antioch, 1st c. A.D

Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes

Bernadette Soubirous was born on January 7, 1844, in Lourdes, a little town in the Pyrenees in the Southwest of France, not far from the French-Spanish border.  Her father was a miller, and her mother, a laundress. They were a very poor couple, and had eight other children after Bernadette.

Bernadette was a sickly, asthmatic child who could barely read and write, and she spoke mostly the local language -- Occitan ("langue d'oc") -- instead of French. But she would come to fame after a series of eighteen miraculous visions which began in 1858, when she was fourteen years old. On February 11 of that year, Bernadette was out with her sister and a friend looking for firewood. As Bernadette sat on the ground to remove her shoes and stockings so she could cross a little creek, she heard a great wind -- but all around her was stilliness but for one thing: in a little niche in the grotto where she sat, a wild rose moved, and then, from behind it, came a "dazzling light, and a white figure." Those with her saw nothing, but Bernadette was to describe the figure as a woman

dressed in a white robe, girded at the waist with a blue ribbon. She wore upon her head a white veil which gave just a glimpse of hair. Her feet were bare but covered by the last folds of her robe and a yellow rose was upon each of them. She held on her right arm a rosary of white beads with a chain of gold shining like the two roses on her feet.

On February 14, she returned with some other girls to the grotto -- this time bearing holy water in case the vision returned and it wasn't from God. They were all praying the Rosary when, once again, Our Lady appeared. Bernadette threw holy water at her, telling her that she could only stay is she was from God.

On Februrary 18, Our Lady appeared to her again in the grotto. And this time she spoke, using the Occitan language that Bernadette was most comfortable with. She asked Bernadette to return to the grotto for fifteen days, and told her "I do not promise to make you happy in this life but in the next."

On February 19, Bernadette carried a burning candle to the grotto. Her mother and other family members accompanied her, and word began to get around town that she was having visions.

On February 20, Our Lady taught her a prayer which she prayed for the rest of her life, but never related to anyone else.

On Februrary 21, around one hundred followed Bernadette to the grotto where she was told by Our Lady that she should pray for sinners. Then Bernadette was questioned by the police commissioner.

On Februrary 23, Our Lady told Bernadette a secret that was for Bernadette alone and which was never revealed.

St. Bernadette Soubirous

On February 24, the Blessed Virgin's message was, "Penance! Penance! Penance! Pray to God for sinners! Kiss the ground as an act of penance for sinners!"

On February 25, Our Lady pointed to a spot on the ground and told her to eat some of the grass there and to dig in the ground. In spite of the mockery of the townspeople, Bernadette ate some of the grass and began digging into the soil with her fingers until she touched drinkable water. The healing waters of Lourdes had been found!

On February 27 and 28, around 800 and 1,000 people, respectively, went to the grotto to watch Bernadette as she was having her vision.

On March 1, 1,500 people showed up with Bernadette. Among them was a pregnant housewife who had a paralyzed ulnar nerve that was instantly healed after she bathed her arm in the healing waters (she also immediately went into labor and delivered her baby). The first miraclulous healing at Lourdes happened!

On March 2, the Virgin told Bernadette to tell priests to build a chapel. She went to her parish priest, and he forbade Bernadette to return to the grotto. She went back to the priest, this time in the company of one of the priest's friends. He told  her to ask the Lady who she is.

On March 3, Bernadette asked the Virgin who she was, but Our Lady only smiled in response.

On March 4, crowds had swelled to over 9,000 people. Bernadette was told three secrets, and was reminded to tell the priests to build a chapel at the grotto.

On March 25, the Feast of the Annunciation, Bernadette asked the Lady again who she was. This time, she was told "I am the Immaculate Conception."  Bernadette was not familiar with the phrase; she had to repeat the words over and over to herself so she could accurately relate them to her priest.

On April 7, the local doctor accompanied Bernadette to the grotto. He later wrote,

Bernadette seemed to be even more absorbed than usual in the Appearance upon which her gaze was riveted. I witnessed, as did also every one else there present, the fact which I am about to narrate. She was on her knees saying with fervent devotion the prayers of her Rosary which she held in her left hand while in her right was a large blessed candle, alight. The child was just beginning to make the usual ascent on her knees when suddenly she stopped and, her right hand joining her left, the flame of the big candle passed between the fingers of the latter. Though fanned by a fairly strong breeze, the flame produced no effect upon the skin which it was touching. Astonished at this strange fact, I forbade anyone there to interfere, and taking my watch in my hand, I studied the phenomenon attentively for a quarter of an hour. At the end of this time Bernadette, still in her ecstasy, advanced to the upper part of the Grotto, separating her hands. The flame thus ceased to touch her left hand. Bernadette finished her prayer and the splendour of the transfiguration left her face. She rose and was about to quit the Grotto when I asked her to show me her left hand. I examined it most carefully, but could not find the least trace of burning anywhere upon it. I then asked the person who was holding the candle to light it again and give it to me. I put it several times in succession under Bernadette's left hand but she drew it away quickly, saying 'You are burning me!'. I record this fact just as I have seen it without attempting to explain it. Many persons who were present at the time can confirm what I have said.

On July 16 came the final apparition. Bernadette said that she'd never seen the Virgin looking so beautiful as she did that day.

Four years later, in 1862, the Church formally approved of the apparitions at Lourdes. A chapel was built, as Our Lady asked, and Bernadette joined the Sisters of Charity of Nevers, about 160 miles southeast of Paris. She took the name Sister Marie-Bernarde and spent her time working in the infirmary and embroidering vestments and altar cloths. She died on April 16, 1879, her last words being, "Blessed Mary, Mother of God, pray for me."

St. Bernadette in 1925, forty-six years after her death

In 1909, when the cause for her beatification was being investigated, her body was exhumed and found to be incorrupt. She was exhumed again in 1919 when the Church was investigating the cause of her canonization. In 1925, she was exhumed once more so relics could be procured.Thereafter, he body has been held in a glass coffin at her convent in Nevers. She was canonized in 1933; her feast day is on April 16.

Lourdes has become one of the greatest pilgrimage destinations in all the world, and is now the site of three basilicas. Many, many miraculous healings have been experienced there in the grotto's waters, and every day there is a Eucharistic procession. and a torchlit procession during which pilgrims pray the Rosary.

The grotto at Lourdes, France


Some may prepare for this feast by praying the Novena to Our Lady of Lourdes beginning on February 2 (Candlemas) and ending on February 10, the eve of this feast. For the feast itself, there is the Litany of Our Lady of Lourdes, and there is this prayer:

O Holy Mary, Mother of God, who to reanimate the faith of the world and draw men to thy divine Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, didst deign to appear at Lourdes; thou who, in order to render more manifest thy maternal tenderness, and to inspire our hearts with greater confidence, didst choose a simple little child as the confidant of thy mercy; thou who didst say: "I am the Immaculate Conception" to make us understand the priceless value of that innocence which is the pledge of the friendship of God; thou who by eighteen successive apparitions didst not cease by thy actions and words to urge men to prayer and penance, which alone can appease Heaven and ward off the blows of divine justice; thou who, by a moving appeal to the world, hast reunited before the miraculous grotto an innumerable multitude of thy children; behold us, Our Lady of Lourdes, prostrate at thy feet, and confident of obtaining blessings and graces from God by thy most powerful intercession. Those who love thee, O Mother of Jesus Christ, Mother of men, desire above everything to serve God faithfully in this world, so as to have the happiness of loving Him eternally in Heaven. Listen to the prayers which we this day address to thee; defend us against the enemies of our salvation, and against our own infirmities; together with the pardon of our sins, obtain for us perseverance in the determination never to fall away again. We implore thee also to take under thy protection our friends and benefactors, and of these in a very special manner those who have abandoned the practice of their christian duties. May they be converted and become thy faithful servants. Amen.
As to music for the day, the song "Immaculate Mary" (also known as "Immaculate Mother" or "Lourdes Hymn") was written for pilgrims to Lourdes by the French priest Father Jean Gaignet. It is sung here by Prima Luce:

Version I:

Immaculate Mary, thy praises we sing,
Thou reignst now in Heaven with Jesus our King.
Ave, Ave, Ave Maria! Ave, Ave, Ave Maria!

In Heaven the Blessed thy glory proclaim,
On earth we thy children invoke thy fair name.
Ave, Ave, Ave Maria! Ave, Ave, Ave Maria!

We pray for our mother, the Church upon earth
And bless, dearest Lady, the land of our birth.
Ave, Ave, Ave Maria! Ave, Ave, Ave Maria!

Version II:

Immaculate Mother, to you do we plead.
To ask God, our Father, for help in our need.
Ave, Ave, Ave Marķa! Ave, Ave, Ave Maria!

We pray for our Country, the land of our birth;
We pray for all nations, that peace be on Earth!
Ave, Ave, Ave Marķa! Ave, Ave, Ave Maria!

In grief and temptation, in joy and in pain
We'll seek thee, OUr Mother, nor seek thee in vain.
Ave, ave, ave Maria! Ave, ave, ave Maria!

Version III:

Immaculate Mother, we come at thy call,
And low at thy altar, before thee we fall.
Ave, ave, ave Maria! Ave, ave, ave Maria!

In grief and temptation, in joy and in pain
We'll seek thee, Our Mother, nor seek thee in vain.
Ave, ave, ave Maria! Ave, ave, ave Maria!

In death's solemn moment, our Mother be nigh,
To see soon in Heaven, Oh teach us to die.
Ave, ave, ave Maria! Ave, ave, ave Maria!

Version IV:

Immaculate Mary, our hearts are on fire;
That title so wondrous fills all our desire!
Ave, Ave, Ave Maria! Ave, Ave Maria!

We pray for God's glory, may His kingdom come;
We pray for His Vicar, our Father in Rome.
Ave, Ave, Ave Maria! Ave, Ave Maria!

We pray for our Mother, the Church upon earth,
And bless, sweetest Lady, the land of our birth.
Ave, Ave, Ave Maria! Ave, Ave Maria!

We pray for all sinners, and souls that now stray
From Jesus and Mary in heresy's way.
Ave, Ave, Ave Maria! Ave, Ave Maria!

For poor, sick, afflicted, thy mercy we crave;
And comfort the dying, thou light of the grave!
Ave, Ave, Ave Maria! Ave, Ave Maria!

There is no need, Mary, nor ever hath been,
Which thou canst not succor, Immaculate Queen.
Ave, Ave, Ave Maria! Ave, Ave Maria!

In grief and temptation, in joy, or in pain,
We'll seek thee, our Mother, nor seek thee in vain.
Ave, Ave, Ave Maria! Ave, Ave Maria!

O bless us, dear Lady, with blessings from heaven,
And to our petitions let answer be given.
Ave, Ave, Ave Maria! Ave, Ave Maria!

In death's solemn moment, our Mother, be nigh;
As children of Mary O teach us to die!
Ave, Ave, Ave Maria! Ave, Ave Maria!

And crown thy sweet mercy with this special grace,
To behold soon in heaven God's ravishing Face.
Ave, Ave, Ave Maria! Ave, Ave Maria!
Now to God be glory and worship for aye,
And to Gods Virgin Mother, an endless Ave.
Ave, Ave, Ave Maria! Ave, Ave Maria!

I don't know of any special foods for the day, but two yellow roses as a centerpiece would be lovely. And if you're adventurous and crafty and want to have some fun with your children or grandchildren, you could build a totally edible model of the Lourdes grotto out of Rice Krispie treats -- dark-colored, chocolate ones for the grotto itself, and the original, light-colored recipe to make the Blessed Virgin, flowers, trees, etc. The recipes you'll need:

Chocolate-flavored Rice Krispie Treats (for the grotto)

1 stick butter
20 ounces marshmallows (about 80 regular or 12 cups mini)
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa (optional)
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
8 cups Rice Kripsies cereal

Place the butter in a large saucepan over medium-low heat and partially melt. Add the marshmallows. Add the cocoa powder (if using) and the semi-sweet chocolate chips. Melt over the heat, stirring frequently, until very smooth. Mix in the cereal. With buttered hands, shape your grotto on a large board or tray.

Original Rice Krispie Treats (for Our Lady, plants, flowers, etc.)

3 tablespoons butter
1 package (10 oz., about 40) large marshmallows (5-1/2 cups miniature marshmallows)
6 cups Rice Krispies cereal

Melt butter over low heat. Add marshmallows and stir until completely melted. Remove from heat, and stir in the cereal. Using buttered hands, shape into little shapes of Our Lady (her form in a long dress, with a blue sash around her waist, and a long white veil), trees, flowers, etc. Paint them with the food paint, then put in place in the grotto (they could be covered with white chocolate fondant for easier painting and a more realistic look).

Food Paint (to color the Virgin's sash and eyes, plants, flowers, trees, etc.)

1 tablespoon vodka per color
Liquid or gel food coloring

Mix together in small stain-resistant bowls. Mary would likely look best if left plain but for a blue sash around her waist, a bit of blue trim around the neck, and a golden rose on each foot. If you want it all to look especially nice, you could cover the light-colored treats with white chocolate fondant, which would hold the paint better and provide a smooth surface. You could always use shredded coconut for grass, as well: just shake up a few handsful in a plastic bag with a few drops of green food coloring.

Note that Rice Krispie treats can be frozen, so when today's feasting is done, you can dismantle your grotto in pieces, wrap them in wax paper, and store them in an airtight container in your freezer.

If you have no children or can't go to all that trouble today, you can always enjoy some Ferrero Rocher chocolates instead -- you know, those lovely candies that consist of a hazelnut surrounded by a wafer and coated in chocolate mixed with more hazelnuts. The owner of the company that makes these candies, Michele Ferrero, was a very devout Catholic with a strong devotion to Our Lady of Lourdes. He would make a pilgrimage to the grotto every year, and made a connection between the visual texture of the Ferrero Rocher chocolates and the rocks that made up the grotto. He gave them the name "Rocher" in honor of the French name for the Lourdes grotto: Rocher de Massabielle.

Re. entertainment for the day: In 1940, a Jewish man named Franz Werfel escaped with his wife from Nazi Germany and fled to Lourdes. There, he learned the story of Bernadette, and swore that if he and his wife were spared, he would write a book about what happened in Lourdes. His book gave rise to a movie of the same name --  "The Song of Bernadette" (1943), starring Jennifer Jones as Bernadette Soubirous, a role for which she won an Academy Award for Best Actress. It would be a good movie to show your children today. There is also an Old Time Radio production of "The Song of Bernadette" made by Hollywood Radio Theatre in 1954, which you can listen to below. It stars Ann Blyth of "Mildred Pierce" fame as St. Bernadette:


From The Liturgical Year
By Dom Gueranger

My bow shall appear in the clouds and I will remember My covenant with you -- Gen. 9: 14-15.

The lessons at Matins on February 11, 1854 (Thursday in Sexagesima week) recalled these words, and the world soon learned that on this very day Mary had appeared, more fair than the sign of hope which typified her at the time of the deluge.

Portents, the realization of which we see in these days, were being multiplied. Mankind had grown old, and seemed about to perish in a deluge more dreadful than the former one. "I am the Immaculate Conception," said the Mother of divine grace to the humble child whom she chose at such a time to bear her message to the captain of the Ark of salvation. She pierced the gathering darkness with the light of that sublime privilege which the supreme pilot, to his eternal glory, had declared three years before to be dogma.

Indeed, if, as the beloved disciple says, it is our faith to which victory on earth is promised (i John v. 4), and if faith is nourished by light--what individual dogma is there which so presupposes and recalls all other dogmatic truths, and at the same time throws such light upon them? It is a royal crown on the brow of the victorious queen, resplendent like the rainbow, which breaks through the clouds with all the glories of heaven.

But perchance it was still necessary to open the eyes of the blind to these splendours, to inspire courage into hearts saddened by hell's denials, and to infuse strength to make an act of faith into so many understandings weakened by the education of these days. The Immaculate Virgin summoned the multitudes to the scene of her blessed visit, and both sweetly and strongly succoured the weakness of souls by healing bodies. She smiled upon publicity, welcomed investigation, and confirmed by the authority of miracles her own words and the definition of the Vicar of Christ . . .

The things that take place at Lourdes are as famous as any events of contemporary history. Let us listen to the short account, which the Church has enshrined in the Liturgy:

In the fourth year after the definition of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, the blessed Virgin vouchsafed to appear on several occasions to a poor but pious and innocent child named Bernadette, in a rocky cavern overlooking the grotto of Massabielle on the banks of the Gave near the town of Lourdes in the diocese of Tarbes in France. She showed herself as a young and gracious figure, robed in white, with a white veil and blue girdle, and golden roses on her bare feet. At the first apparition on February 11, 1858, she taught the child to make the sign of the cross correctly and devoutly, and, taking a chaplet from her own arm, encouraged her by example to say her rosary. This was repeated at subsequent apparitions. On the second day, Bernadette, who feared an illusion of the devil, in all simplicity cast holy water at the apparition, who smiled more graciously than before. At the third apparition Bernadette was invited to repeat her visits to the grotto for fifteen days, during which the blessed Virgin conversed with her, exhorted her to pray for sinners, kiss the ground and do penance, and finally commanded her to tell the priests that a chapel was to be built in the place and processions held. She was also bidden drink and wash in the water, and a spring, until then invisible, gushed out of the ground. On the feast of the Annunciation, the child earnestly begged the Lady who had so often visited her, to reveal her name, and the blessed Virgin, joining her hands and raising her eyes to heaven, said: "I am the Immaculate Conception"

Rumours of favours received at the holy grotto spread rapidly, and the crowds of devout visitors increased daily, so that the Bishop of Tarbes, who had been impressed by the candour of Bernadette, found it advisable to hold a judicial enquiry into the facts. In the course of the fourth year he gave sentence, recognizing the supernatural character of the apparition, and permitting devotions to our Lady under the title of the Immaculate Conception to be held in the grotto. A chapel was soon built, and since then every year has witnessed innumerable pilgrimages from France, Belgium, Italy, Spain, and all parts of Europe and America. The name of Our Lady of Lourdes has become famous all over the world, and cures are obtained everywhere by use of the water. Lourdes has been enriched by a grateful world with splendidly decorated churches, where countless banners bear witness to the favours received and to the desire of peoples and cities to adorn the house of the blessed Virgin, who is honoured there as in her own palace. The days are filled with prayers, hymns and solemn ceremonies, and the nights are sanctified by the pious supplications of countless people who walk in procession carrying torches, and singing the praises of the blessed virgin Mary.

All men know how, in spite of the coldness of the world, these pilgrimages have revived faith, restored the observance of the Christian religion, and increased devotion to the Immaculate Virgin. The Faithful are led by their priests in this marvellous development of faith and devotion . . .

"O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee!" Thou didst teach us this prayer in 1830 as a safeguard against the dangers of the future. In 1846 the two shepherds of La Salette reminded us of thy tears and exhortations: "Pray for poor sinners, pray for the world which is so disturbed." Today the little seer of the grotto of Massabielle brings us thy message: "Penitence! Penitence! Penitence!"

We desire to obey thee, O blessed Virgin, to combat in ourselves and all around us that enemy of mankind who is our only real enemy, and sin, that supreme evil which is the source of all others. Praise be to the Almighty, who saved thee from all stain of sin, and thus inaugurated in thee the full restoration of our fallen race. Praise be to thee, who, having no debts of thy own, didst pay our debts with the Blood of thy Son and the tears of His Mother, thus reconciling heaven and earth and crushing the head of the serpent.

Prayer, expiation--the Church from apostolic times has ever urged these thoughts upon us during the days which immediately precede Lent. Dear Mother in heaven, we bless thee for having thus united thy voice to that of our Mother on earth. The world no longer desired, no longer understood, the infallible but indispensable remedy offered by the justice and mercy of God to the misery of man. Men seemed to have forgotten the words: "Except you do penance, you shall all perish" (Lk. 13: 5). Thy pity wakes us from this fatal stupor, O Mary. Thou knowest our weakness, and hast mingled sweetness in the bitter draught. Thou lavishest temporal favours upon man in order that he may ask of thee eternal blessings. We will not be like those children who welcome their mother's caresses, but neglect her admonitions and the corrections, which her tenderness bought to make acceptable. We will pray and suffer in union with Jesus and thee. By thine assistance during this Lent we will be converted and do penance.

Back to Seasonal Customs
Back to Being Catholic