Throughout the Church’s history, Mary has revealed herself as our Mother in grace. There have been documented and authorized apparitions of Mary in many times and places in which she calls sinners to conversion and offers powerful new methods of prayer through which God’s grace can be obtained.
Two of the best-known of these revelations include the Blessed Mother’s apparitions to Simon Stock (upon whom she bestowed the gift of the Brown Scapular) and St. Dominic (to whom she offered the gift of the Rosary). More recently, Mary has appeared at Guadalupe, La Salette, Lourdes, and Fatima. and she has given the gift of the Miraculous Medal to the world.
Each of these approved apparitions has shared the same fundamental message. The Blessed Mother constantly calls us to return to the Gospel and to live generous lives of prayer and penance. The way these messages are conveyed, however, tend to be focused on the specific culture of those to whom she is appearing and consider the specific needs of the regions to which she appears.
While the Blessed Mother has appeared throughout the Church’s history, there have been more approved Marian apparitions since 1830 than any other comparable period in the history of the Church. Because of this, we call this time “the Age of Mary.”
some APPARITIONS OF OUR LADY
1531: Our Lady of Guadalupe
“Am I not here, I who am your mother?”
In December of 1531, Our Lady appeared to a Native American man named Juan Diego while he was on his way to celebrate Mass. She spoke to him in his native language of Nahuatl and asked that a church be built in her honor on the site where she appeared, the hill of Tepeyac north of Mexico City.
Juan Diego told Our Lady that he would have to ask for his bishop’s permission, but when Juan met with the bishop, the bishop did not believe him. The bishop told him that he would need a miraculous sign from the Virgin Mary to authenticate the vision. Juan told the Virgin Mary that the bishop wanted a sign, and she asked him to meet her the next day in the same place.
Since Juan’s uncle was very sick, Juan was late for the meeting. However, the Virgin Mary found him as he worried about his uncle, stating, “Am I not here, I who am your mother?” and told him that his uncle would be cured. She also told him to gather the roses that were growing on the hill (even though it was December, and roses did not grow at that time of year). The Virgin Mary told him to put the roses inside of his tilma, an outer garment made of coarse fabric worn by men of his tribe, to show to the bishop.
When Juan met with the bishop, he opened his tilma. When the roses fell out, a beautiful picture of the Virgin Mary was revealed on the inner side of his tilma, as if it had been stamped on the coarse fiber. Thanks to the three miraculous signs — the healing of Juan’s uncle, the roses that grew in the middle of winter, and the miraculous image of the Virgin on the tilma — the bishop was convinced of Juan’s story.
A church in honor of the Lady of Guadalupe was built on the site where Juan had spoken with the Virgin Mary. Once the story of the miraculous signs began to spread, millions of Mexican natives were converted to Christianity and the enmity between the Spaniards and the natives started to diminish.
Today, the miraculous image of Our Lady of Guadalupe is kept at a shrine on the hill of Tepeyac. It is the most visited Catholic shrine in the world, receiving over 12 million visitors each year. The tilma, while almost 500 years old and woven of fibers prone to disintegration within much shorter periods of time, is in excellent condition and its original colors are still bright.
In 1979, the tilma was examined by two Americans, Philip Callahan and Jody B. Smith, with infrared rays. They found no trace of paint and no evidence that the fabric had been treated. “[How] it is possible to explain this image and its consistency in time without colors, on a fabric that has not been treated?” asked another scientist, José Aste Tonsmann of the Mexican Center of Guadalupan Studies. “[How] is it possible that, despite the fact there is no paint, the colors maintain their luminosity and brilliance?” The most natural conclusion, of course, is that the image is a miraculous imprint on the fabric!
A parchment drawing of Juan Diego’s vision of the Virgin Mary, known is the Codex Escalada, came to light in 1995. It has been authenticated, and it appears to be a record of Juan Diego’s death in 1548.
The story of Our Lady of Guadalupe was released in the form of a tract by Luis Laso de la Vega, a Mexican priest. This tract was written in Nahuatl, the native language of the indigenous people of Mexico, and was published in Mexico City in 1649. While the tract was printed 100 years after the original apparitions, it is believed to be based on both the oral tradition of the people and on earlier handwritten manuscripts.
Sources and sites for further study:
1830: St. Catherine Laboure and the Miraculous Medal
“O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee!”
Three centuries later, on July 18, 1830, the Blessed Virgin appeared to St. Catherine Laboure at the Rue du Bac convent in Paris. Sister Catherine had always desired to see the Blessed Virgin. At about 11:30 pm that evening, she heard a voice call, “Sister Laboure” three times. She opened her curtain and saw a child of four or five years bathed in radiant light. He said to her, “Come, come to the chapel, the Blessed Virgin awaits you.” When they reached the chapel, the door opened at his touch and she found the altar resplendently lit as at a midnight Mass. The child led her into the sanctuary, so she knelt down and waited. After what seemed like a long time, the child told Sr. Catherine, “Behold the Blessed Virgin. Behold her”. She then heard what sounded like the rustling of a silk robe. At that moment, “a most beautiful lady” entered the sanctuary and took her seat in the place ordinarily occupied by the Director of the Community. Our Lady was wearing a white robe with a golden tinge and a blue veil. Sr. Catherine thought to herself that she strongly resembled the picture of St. Anne which hung in the sanctuary, but her face was not the same. She wondered if this could really be the Blessed Virgin. The child then spoke, assuming the voice of a man, and asked her if “the Queen of Heaven may not appear to a poor mortal under whatever form she pleases.” All of Sr. Catherine’s doubts vanished. Sr. Catherine threw herself at the Blessed Virgin’s feet and placed her hands upon the Blessed Virgin’s knees, “like a child beside its mother”.
During this first apparition, the Blessed Virgin told her how she must act in all her trials and that she must lay open her heart at the foot of the altar, as it was there that she would receive all the consolation she needed. The Blessed Virgin said to her:
“My child, I am going to charge you with a mission; you will suffer many trials on account of it, but you will surmount them, knowing that you endure them for the glory of the good God.”
After speaking with her for quite some time, the Blessed Virgin disappeared like a shadow.
Within the next few months, Sr. Catherine had new visions on three occasions. The Blessed Virgin appeared to Sr. Catherine as if she were in an oval picture. She was “standing on a globe, only one-half of which was visible; she was clothed in a white robe and a mantle of shining blue, having her hands covered, as it were, with diamonds, whence emanated luminous rays falling upon the earth, but more abundantly upon one portion of it.” Around the picture, written in golden letters, were the words: “O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee!” The back of the picture bore the letter M surmounted by a cross, having a bar at its base, and beneath the monogram of Mary were the hearts of Jesus and Mary — the first surrounded with a crown of thorns, the other pierced through with a sword.
Sr. Catherine then heard these words:
“A medal must be struck upon this model; those who wear it indulgenced, and repeat this prayer with devotion, will be, in a special manner, under the protection of the Mother of God.”
Then the vision disappeared. Sr. Catherine said she saw this same vision on three separate occasions.
On the evening of November 27, 1830, Sr. Catherine was in the chapel on the eve of the first Sunday in Advent when she heard a rustling silk robe. She glanced in that direction. When asked to describe what she saw, she said, “I perceived the Blessed Virgin standing near St. Joseph’s picture; her height was medium, and her countenance so beautiful that it would be impossible for me to describe it.” The Blessed Virgin cast her eyes upon Sr. Catherine and a voice said in the depths of her heart: “The globe that you see represents the entire world, and particularly France, and each person in particular.”
Sr. Catherine could not express the beauty and brilliance of the rays, but the Blessed Virgin added, “Behold the symbol of the graces I shed upon those who ask me for them.” She then saw the oval frame form itself around the Blessed Virgin with the words “O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee!”
Before the apparition ended, the Mother of God instructed Sr. Catherine to tell her spiritual director, Father Aladel, about the apparitions. He did not readily believe her. After two years, he approached the Bishop of Paris with her story. The Bishop at that time 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. He even asked to be sent some of the first medals to be cast.
This original order was for 20,000 medals. Around 10 million medals were made and sold within five years of them first becoming available. By the time of St. Catherine’s death in 1876, over a billion medals had been distributed around the world. This sacramental from Heaven was at first called the Medal of the Immaculate Conception, but it 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.
The apparitions to St. Catherine Labouré, the rapid spread of the Miraculous Medal, and the growth of Marian devotion in the first half of the 19th century convinced Pope Pius IX that the time had come to dogmatically proclaim the Blessed Virgin’s Immaculate Conception. While the Immaculate Conception was already a solidly held belief within the Church in February of 1849, Pope Pius IX asked the Catholic bishops of the world for their opinion on having it proclaimed as dogma. Over 90 percent of the 603 bishops who responded were in favor.
Pope Pius IX declared the Immaculate Conception of Mary to be Church dogma on December 8, 1854. This began a century of ever-increasing devotion to Mary within the Church, culminating in Pope Pius XII’s dogmatic declaration in 1950 of the Assumption of Mary into Heaven.
Sources and sites for further study:
“The Miraculous Medal” Its Origin, History, Circulation, Results by M. Aladel, C.M. Loreto Publications, Fitzwilliam NH 2005
(Father Aladel was the spiritual director to whom the Mother of God instructed Sr. Laboure to reveal the apparitions.)
www.olrl.org Our Lady of the Rosary Library
Donal Anthony Foley, author of several books on Marian Apparitions
1846: Our Lady of La Salette
“When they met the Blessed Virgin, she appeared as a beautiful lady who had buried her head in her hands out of sorrow. She explained that she wept for the sins of the people of the town, who worked seven days a week, failed to keep the Sabbath holy, and constantly took the name of the Lord in vain. “
The story of La Salette takes place in France following the French Revolution (1789 -1794) and the Napoleonic Wars (1803-1815). It was a time of great upheaval in the traditionally Catholic country and a time when the people were abandoning their faith and the traditions of the Church for secularism. Our Lady’s apparitions were a warning to the people that they needed to change their ways and return to their Catholic faith.
On September 19, 1846 in La Salette, France, Our Lady appeared to two shepherd children who were tending cows on a hillside high in the Alps. Both the fourteen-year-old Melanie Calvat and the eleven-year-old Maximum Girard were from poor families, and they and had been hired by farmers to tend the cows. Neither of the children had been particularly pious — as they admitted to Our Lady, they seldom prayed or went to Mass.
When they met the Blessed Virgin, she appeared as a beautiful lady who had buried her head in her hands out of sorrow. She explained that she wept for the sins of the people of the town, who worked seven days a week, failed to keep the Sabbath holy, and constantly took the name of the Lord in vain. She warned that, if the people of the town did not restore the practice of Sabbath rest and show greater respect for the Lord’s name, the year’s potato crop would fail. Our Lady also gave a secret to each of the children.
The children told the farmers who had hired them about the apparition, and they were sent to the parish priest. The priest asked each of them to explain what they had seen, and, after he listened to each of them tell their own version of the story, he determined that they were credible witnesses.
The priest led the people of the town to the hillside to investigate, and when they arrived, a rock broke off from an outcropping and water flowed out. This new spring proved to be a source of healing waters when a woman who drank from it was healed. While the potato crop was not good that year, as the Blessed Mother predicted, many people returned to the Catholic faith as a result of the apparition and thousands came to La Salette to drink of the healing waters of the spring.
In 1851, Pope Pius IX approved the public devotion and prayers to Our Lady of La Salette. In 1852, Philibert de Bruillard, the Bishop of Grenoble, founded the Missionaries of La Salette. Eventually, so many people came to La Salette that a was basilica built on the spot where the apparition occurred. Today, over 300,000 pilgrims visit La Salette each year.
Memorare prayer to Our Lady of La Salette:
Remember, Our Lady of La Salette, true mother of Sorrows, the tears you shed for us on Calvary. Remember also the care you have taken to keep us faithful to Christ, your Son. Having done so much for your children, you will not now abandon us. Comforted by this consoling thought, we come to you pleading, despite our infidelities and ingratitude. Virgin of Reconciliation, do not reject our prayers, but intercede for us. Obtain for us the grace to love Jesus above all else. May we console you by living a holy life and so come to share the eternal life Christ gained by His cross. Amen.
Sources and sites for further study:
1858: St. Bernadette and Our Lady of Lourdes
On Feb. 11, 1858, Our Lady began to appear to St. Bernadette at Lourdes, France. Bernadette Soubirous was a young, poor girl who had been collecting firewood with her sister and a friend when she saw a vision of a lovely lady near a grotto. In the words of St. Bernadette,
“I raised my head and looked towards the grotto. I saw a Lady dressed in white, wearing a white dress, a blue girdle and a yellow rose on each foot, the same color as the chain of her Rosary.”
In Bernadette’s vision, Our Lady was praying the Rosary.
Bernadette reluctantly told her parents of the apparition, and in response, they forbade her from going back to the grotto. A few days later, on February 14th, Bernadette was permitted to return to the grotto, and the Lady appeared to her a second time. This happened again on February 18th. On this third visit, the Lady asked Bernadette to come back to the grotto every day for the next two weeks.
At these subsequent visits the Lady, who had not yet identified herself as the Blessed Virgin Mary, asked for three things — for a chapel to be built near the grotto, for Bernadette to pray for the conversion of sinners, and for Bernadette to drink the spring water that was revealed to her at the grotto.
Word of these apparitions spread rapidly and caused quite a stir in town. In response, Bernadette was detained, interrogated, and harassed by the civil authorities as if she were a common criminal. The villagers, however, came to her rescue and demanded that the child be released.
Through all the difficulties that she suffered because of the apparitions, Bernadette was given an interior strength. She recognized that,
“There was something in me that enabled me to rise above everything. I was tackled from all sides, but nothing mattered, and I was not afraid.”
Many of the townspeople believed that Mary was appearing to Bernadette, and they came to the grotto in large numbers to pray. The spring that the Lady asked Bernadette to drink from quickly revealed itself to be blessed water with miraculous healing properties.
On March 25th, the Feast of the Annunciation, the Lady appeared at the grotto again, this time identifying herself as the Immaculate Conception. St. Bernadette stated:
“With her two arms hanging down, she raised her eyes and looked up at the sky, and it was then that she told me, joining her hands together now at the height of her breast, that she was the Immaculate Conception. Those were the last words she ever said to me.”
The Marian dogma of the Immaculate Conception had been pronounced by Pope Pius IX on December 8, 1854, less than four years before the Blessed Mother’s apparition to Bernadette. This infallibly defined dogma declared that the Blessed Virgin Mary,
“from the first moment of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege of almighty God, and in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, Savior of the human race, was preserved free from every stain of original sin. . .[It] is a doctrine revealed by God and, for this reason, must be firmly and constantly believed by all the faithful. “
Bernadette suffered much. Not only did she suffer physically from chronic poor health, she also suffered a great deal from the jealousy and suspicion that her grace of being visited by the Blessed Mother provoked in others. This proved true the words Our Lady spoke to Bernadette at the grotto:
“I do not promise to make you happy in this world, but in the other.“
Four years after Our Lady of Lourdes appeared to St. Bernadette, the local bishop ruled that the apparitions were authentic. St. Bernadette eventually entered a religious house. While she continued to suffer physically and died at an early age, she always sought to unite her suffering to Christ.
Today, a beautiful church has been erected on the grounds near the grotto at Lourdes. Next to Rome and the Holy Land, the most popular place of pilgrimage for Catholic faithful is Lourdes, France. Numerous medically-documented healings have occurred at Lourdes, and the miracles that occurred there have resulted in conversions to the faith. The water of Lourdes is readily available to all pilgrims.
Source and site for further study:
www.CatholicCompany.com – article originally published in February 2013
1917: Our Lady of Fatima
Our Lady of Fatima appeared to three young shepherd children — Lucia de Santos, aged 10, and her younger cousins, Francisco, age 9, and Jacinta Marto, aged 7 — in Fatima, a small village about 100 miles north of Lisbon, Portugal. In the spring of 1916, the three shepherd children were visited three times by an angel who identified himself as the guardian angel of Portugal. He asked them to pray:
“My God, I believe, I hope, I adore, and I love thee, and I ask pardon of all those who do not believe, do not hope, do not adore and do not love thee.”
Subsequently, on May 13th, 1917, the children reported seeing a beautiful woman and a bright light as they were tending their sheep. She told them to pray the Rosary daily to obtain peace for the world and the end of World War I, and that she would return a month later. On June 13th, the beautiful lady dressed in white reappeared to the children. Since the story of the apparition had spread, 50 people from the village were there with the children. The woman said that Francisco and Jacinta would be taken to Heaven soon, but that Lucia would remain to tell the story of Fatima and promote the devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. This visit sparked an ardent love for the Immaculate Heart in the children.
On July 13th, the children again went to the apparition site. This time, 3,000 people were waiting with them. The lady appeared and told them they should continue to visit monthly until October, when she would tell them who she was and give them a sign. She asked them to make sacrifices in their personal lives and told them that when they did so, they should pray:
“O Jesus it is for love of thee, for the conversion of sinners, and for the crimes committed against the Immaculate Heart of Mary.”
During this same apparition, the lady gave them a vision of the horrors of Hell and asked for the consecration of Russia to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
In total, the children were granted six apparitions by our Lady between May 13th and October 13th. The children gained notoriety worldwide because of the apparitions.
As the lady had told the children that there would be a sign for all the world to see at the final apparition on October 13th, over 70,000 people gathered at Fatima on that day to see the sign she had promised. Both the ground and the people were soaked, as it had rained all night. The lady appeared and told Lucia her name:
“I am the Lady of the Rosary”.
After the Blessed Mother revealed her identity, the crowd bore witness to the Miracle of the Sun. The people who were present said they had been able to look directly at the sun without hurting their eyes.The soaked ground and the witnesses’ wet clothes immediately dried up.
Many reporters had come to see what would happen. Even a Masonic newspaper stated that the sun “resembled a flat plate of silver… the sun trembled; it made strange and abrupt movements outside of all cosmic laws; the sun ‘danced’ according to the typical expression of the peasants.”
Like the apparition at La Salette, our Lady gave the children secrets which were to be revealed at the proper time. The first secret was a vision of Hell, which Lucia revealed in 1927. It was meant to serve as a warning to people of the consequences they could face if they did not repent and convert. The second secret concerned the devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary and included a request for the consecration of Russia to the Immaculate Heart of Mary by the Pope and the bishops. The third secret was a prophecy in which a bishop in white was shot while he and many other martyrs of the Church were climbed a hill to a cross. This secret was revealed in 2000 by Pope John Paul II.
The third secret of Fatima was of great personal relevance to Pope John Paul II. On May 13, 1981, after he was shot in the Vatican by a Turkish man, Mehmet Ali Ağca, he requested the third secret of Fatima, which had been written down by Lucia in 1944 and kept at the Vatican. After he finished reading the secret, he noticed that the date of the assassination attempt was the same as the date of the first apparition of Our Lady at Fatima. He felt that the prophecy of the shepherd children was fulfilled in the shots fired at him, but he had been protected from death by Our Lady. In his book, Crossing the Threshold of Hope, Pope John Paul II explained his belief in Fatima:
“And what are we to say of the three children from Fatima? …They could not have invented these predictions. They did not know enough about history or geography, much less about social movements and ideological developments. And nevertheless, it happened just as they said.”
On May 13, 1982, Pope John Paul II offered a Mass at Fatima to thank Our Lady for his saving his life a year earlier. In 1984, he consecrated the world to the Immaculate Heart of Mary in St. Peter’s Square in Rome, thus fulfilling the request of Our Lady of Fatima.
Today, an entire building complex has been built on the site where Our Lady appeared to the shepherd children. The complex includes the Basilica of the Rosary and the Chapel of the Apparitions. Four million people visit the shrine each year, with about a million pilgrims arriving on May 13th and October 13th, the most significant dates. As a result of the apparitions of Fatima, devotion to the Rosary and devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary has increased the world over.
Sources and sites for further study:
In addition to the many Marian apparitions — which, apart from the approved apparitions listed above, could include a number of unconfirmed apparitions such as the reported apparitions at Medjugorge and Garabandal — we have had more definitions of Marian dogma in this time than in any other comparable age. In 1854, Blessed Pope Pius IX defined the third Marian dogma: The Immaculate Conception. In 1950, Venerable Pope Pius XII defined the fourth Marian dogma: The Assumption of Mary.
Of course, these two elements are not entirely unrelated, as apparitions have been known to influence dogmatic definitions. For example, Pope Pius IX considered the “Miraculous Medal apparition” to St. Catherine Laboure in 1830 to provide final confirmation for his decision to define the dogma of the Immaculate Conception. The prayer associated with the medal is, “O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee.”
The dogma of the Immaculate Conception underscores the fact that Our Lady is full of grace. The saints excel in grace, but Our Lady alone has the plenitude of grace. Next to the humanity of Jesus, Mary is the greatest masterpiece of God the Father’s creation.
The Assumption, then, is the proper capstone to a life full of grace. As the Catechism of the Council of Trent teaches, not only was Mary free from original sin, but she was also free from actual sin while still retaining the full freedom of her human will. On a more universal level, the Assumption also confirms the promise of the resurrection of the body — a promise which becomes all the more tangible in light of the Blessed Mother’s many apparitions.
(Adapted from Marians of the Immaculate Conception website at http://www.marian.org)
More on Mary’s apparition to St. Simon Stock: