The “Martyrdom” of Saint Catherine Labouré
under the Veil of the Immaculate
The 19th century was the «century of the Immaculate». This was the title we gave last year's summer camp, continued this year. Brother Francis' conference, which you have just read, effectively explains how this term was based on the proclamation of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception in 1854. This dogma was the precious stone, the encased diamond, in the midst of a series of apparitions of the Blessed Virgin that have entered into the fabric of the history of our Sweet and Holy France, renewing the ancient alliance of our people with their King Jesus and His gentle Queen Mary. Among the visionaries charged with transmitting these Messages from Heaven, Saint Catherine Labouré occupies a special place, as it was she who was blessed with the very first apparition in 1830, in the Rue de Bac, and also because she died in 1876, a few days after the last apparition, at Pellevoisin.
IF we go back to the origins of the Congregation in the 17th century, we are not surprised to see the Most Blessed Virgin Mary choosing a humble Daughter of Charity as Her confidante and messenger.
A “LITTLE CONGREGATION”
DEDICATED TO THE IMMACULATE
Let us go back to that blessed time when Anne of Austria was Regent of France. Saint Louise de Marillac, who along with Saint Vincent de Paul had founded the Congregation of the Daughters of Charity, went on pilgrimage to Chartres on 17 October 1644, in order to place her community under the protection or, to put it better, under the Veil, of Her whom King Louis XIII had recently proclaimed Sovereign of his Kingdom. In the pilgrim's heart burned an ardent devotion for the Immaculate Conception of Mary, something very rare at the time:
«We must, she said, honour this holy Conception which made Mary so precious in the eyes of God, and believe that the Blessed Virgin can assist us in our every need, as it is impossible, it would seem, that the goodness of God can refuse Her anything. Since He has never averted His divine and amorous gaze from Her, since She has always been according to His Heart, we must believe that His will is ever ready to grant Her what She asks, especially as She asks Him for nothing that is not for His glory and our well-being.»
On 7 December 1658, Louise de Marillac entreated her «most dear and venerable Father» to ratify by an official act the offering which she wished to make of herself and her daughters into the hands of the Immaculate Conception. The consecration took place on 8 December, during the course of the Mass. From that blessed day, the Congregation became the possession, the property, of the Immaculate:
«Thou hast inspired us, Lord, to choose Thy Holy Mother as the unique Mother of our little Congregation. Despise us not, O Mother of my God, we who are Thy children by adoption. It is true that Thou hast many such others, souls who are distinguished for their graces and merits, whom Thou couldst love more for the glory they render to Thy Son. But as we are the smallest and weakest, it is we who have need of Thy maternal succour... Suffer therefore that we may have recourse to Thee with trust, respect, humility and total submission.»
It was probably in the course of the night preceding this “Act of oblation” that she had the dream which our Father has described as prophetic: the Saint saw «in the heights» a mysterious Woman, so beautiful! whose immaculate soul seemed to have been conceived by God the Father «before the Creation of the world» to be the «commencement of the light that the Son of God was to bestow upon the world» (cf. English CRC no 316, p. 31).
Hearts truly enamoured of Our Lady are always in advance of their times! On that day the Daughters of Charity resolved to recite, between each decade of the Rosary, a profession of faith: «Most Blessed Virgin, I believe in and confess Thy Holy and Immaculate Conception, pure and without stain…»
Let us also draw attention to that ardent wish that sprang from the heart of the Mother foundress:
«O my God! May the perfection of that blessed soul united to its body, I pray Thee, be made manifest to all creatures, that they may admire and adore Thy omnipotence and glorify Thee eternally on account of Her most pure and Immaculate Conception!»
One hundred and seventy years later, this prayer was heard. This “manifestation” took place in the very chapel of the Daughters of Charity, before the ravished eyes of a young novice, who had just arrived from her native Burgundy.
«WHEN THOSE DAYS OF TRIBULATION ARRIVE…»
Catherine Labouré was a predestined child, born of a family of exemplary Christian country folk from old France. Her soul was all purity, uprightness and self-forgetfulness. Orphaned from her mother when she was but nine, a servant had discovered her embracing in her little arms a statue of the Virgin Mary and saying, «Now You will be my Mother.» In this school she had fulfilled to perfection, and for more than ten years! the heavy responsibility of being the mistress of the house, a task in which she displayed a rare energy, being strengthened by her ardent devotion to the Eucharist, which she received every day, and to the Immaculate whose picture adorned her village church. Even at that early age she looked after the poor and the sick. One day Saint Vincent appeared to her, in a dream, in the church of Fains-les-Moutiers, to tell her that she did well to look after the poor of her village, but that one day she would come to him, for «God had designs on her».
Overcoming the reluctance of her father, a good Christian despite his quick temper, she eventually entered the Daughters of Charity, initially at their house in Châtillon-sur-Seine, and then at the novitiate in Paris, where she arrived on 21 April 1830. The legitimate monarchy of Charles X was then in its last days, although at the time no one suspected this. The young novice herself was to learn of it in a quite unexpected way:
During the novena following the translation of the relics of Saint Vincent de Paul to the chapel of the Lazarists in the Rue de Sèvres, Sister Catherine prayed to her blessed Father to teach her what it was that she should pray for «with a lively faith» on behalf of herself, the communities and France.
First grace: the message of Saint Vincent. On returning to the community chapel, she had the vision of the Saint's heart «under three different aspects, on three consecutive days:
«WHITE, the colour of flesh, announcing peace, calm, innocence and unity; FIERY RED, indicating that charity must be rekindled in hearts and that the community was to be renewed and to extend to the ends of the world; and finally DARK RED, which filled my heart with sadness... a sadness connected with the change of government.» Evidence that the saints in Heaven are truly concerned about earthly affairs, about political affairs?
Second grace, a Eucharistic one. This time it was Jesus Himself who appeared to the Sister in the Blessed Sacrament, and not once or twice, but «throughout my whole novitiate», she says, for nine months therefore! apart from those occasions when she had doubts about the reality of this apparition. Thus it was that Jesus, a picture of whose Sacred Heart adorned the high altar at the time, manifested the reality of His Eucharistic presence and...the destiny that was reserved for it in the France of 1830: on 6 June, during Mass on the feast of the Holy Trinity, in which the Gospel recalls that «all power has been given to Him, on earth as in Heaven» (Mt 18.18), He appeared like a King with a Cross on His breast. A crusader King therefore... This was at the same time as the King of France's fleet was making its way towards Algiers. The spirit of Charles X, Marshal Bourmont and the noblest officers in the Army, made this expedition a veritable Crusade, one that was destined to wrest the whole of North Africa back from Islam.
But now the vision showed Christ stripped of His ornaments and the attributes of His power. It seemed to the Sister that the Cross slipped down beneath His feet:
«It was then that it occurred to me that the King of the earth would be struck down and stripped of His royal garb. I cannot explain all my thoughts regarding the devastation wrought.»
In the following month, our Father writes, «the Revolution known as the “Three Glorious” – or rather odious! – Days of July would reject our divine King Jesus and cast Him from His throne by forcing the true king Charles X to abdicate and to go into exile. It is from these events that dates the great revolt whose criminal follies France, the Church and the world will have to live through, as well as the subsequent torments of war, revolution, persecution, numerous deaths and damnation.» (English CRC no 284, p. 2)
But all was not lost. It was then that God sent His Mother: «In His great mercy, our dearest Heavenly Father had provided that the Immaculate Virgin would remain in this Paris already so blessed with graces, in the very thick of the revolutionary horrors, in order to sustain the victims of the persecution and to maintain devotion to Her Immaculate Heart during the coming times of apostasy».
Third grace: the visit of the Queen of Heaven. On the night of 18 to 19 July, Sister Catherine heard herself being called: «Sister Catherine! Sister Catherine!» It was her Guardian Angel who had awoken her in order to escort her to the chapel. He was of the purest light. The doors opened before them, like one reads in the Acts of the Apostles. After a moment of waiting on her knees in the chapel choir, the Sister heard «the rustle of a silk dress coming from the sanctuary».
«Behold the Blessed Virgin», said the Angel in a loud voice. In just one bound Sister Catherine found herself on the steps of the altar, her hands folded on the knees of the Blessed Virgin, who was seated in the Director’s chair. It was, the Sister will say, «the sweetest moment of my life». Which is perfectly understandable! Was not the Blessed Virgin her «true and only Mother»? The conversation lasted almost two hours, involving both personal spiritual direction and prophetic revelation. Unfortunately for us, Saint Catherine has only reported a very small part of it. However, the two versions of 1856 and 1876 are sufficient to reflect the divine charm and the wise simplicity of the Queen of Heaven's words.
«My child, the good God wishes to entrust you with a mission. You will have much to suffer, but you will bear it all knowing that you are doing it for the glory of the Good God… You will understand what the Good God desires and this knowledge will torment you until you have made it known to him who has responsibility for directing you. You will be contradicted, but you will have the graces you need. Do not fear. Tell everything with trust and simplicity…»
With a gesture of Her hand, She drew Her confidante’s attention to the foot of the altar, telling her that she would only have to go and pour her heart out there to receive the consolation and supernatural light necessary to fulfil her mission. The seer would often put into practice this salutary and precious counsel.
The conversation then turned to the community of whom the Immaculate was, as we have seen, «the one and only Mother»:
«My child, I love to pour My gifts out on the community. I love them immensely, but I am distressed because there are some serious abuses: the Rule is not observed and regularity leaves much to be desired. There is great laxity in both communities. Tell this to him who is in charge of you…»
She then descended into the details of their daily life in order to correct everything that was not right! It was a true reform, a «work of light, justice and sanctity», as our Father says. No question of changing the Rule, of adapting it to modern tastes, as was being demanded at the time by a false prophet called Lamennais who would end up in apostasy, the wretch!
Finally the Blessed Virgin will speak about France, for which the Sister had prayed with such ardour and anguish:
«The times are very bad. Misfortunes will rain down on France. The throne will be overthrown [ten days later, this had happened]. The whole world will be convulsed by disasters of every description (the Virgin appeared very pained as She said this, notes Sister Catherine). But come to the foot of this altar. Here graces will be poured out on everyone who asks for them with confidence and fervour. They will be poured out on both great and small…»
And the Blessed Virgin continued: «A time will come when the danger will be very great, and it will seem as if all were lost. At that time I will be with you. Have confidence. You will recognise My visit and the protection of God and that of Saint Vincent over both the communities.»
«There will be many victims. The Archbishop will die. My child, the Cross will be despised. Blood will flow in the streets [here, notes Sister Catherine, the Blessed Virgin could speak no further, so great was the pain written on Her face]. My child, She said to me, the whole world will be in distress. At these words, I thought: when will this be? I then understood clearly: in forty years.» Forty years, the space of one generation, as in the Gospel! Our Lord announced in the year 30 that «before this generation passes», Jerusalem would be captured and laid waste, and forty years later the prophecy was fulfilled to the letter, because the Jewish people had not recognised the time of their visitation… In the same way, one can say that France had forty years to convert, but, alas, she would not do so, and therefore, forty years later to the day, the Franco-German War would be declared, leading to a whole series of disasters: defeat, invasion, civil war and persecutions… The Blessed Virgin wept when She predicted all this in 1830, just as Jesus wept over faithless Jerusalem!
Often, in the case of prophecies, as our Father and Brother Bruno have taught us, predicted events are spread over several successive periods. It should be noted that here, in the final version of her account, the sister will add, doubtless due to a qualm at not having stated everything the first time: «Forty years and ten and after the peace…» When this more precise dating became known, after the 1870 war, it was believed that peace would come… in 1880, and that this date would mark the “great triumph” of the faith and the Church. Alas, 1880 passed without anything of the kind occurring… The disappointment was great, the enemies of the Church mocked, and there was even a certain Father Coste, from the Congregation of the Lazarists, who began to denigrate the Apparitions and to denounce what he called “the make-believe of the seer”, just as Father Dhanis would do with Sister Lucy!
Fortunately, for the honour of the Congregation, another Lazarist, Father Villette, who would become Superior General of the Order in 1914, professed an unreserved admiration for the seer and he defended her with great discernment. We discovered in the archives of his Congregation a manuscript in his hand, entitled “The prophetic mission of Catherine Labouré”, in which he states in connection with these dates:
«Between 1871 and 1880, one can truly say that Church affairs prospered in France, more perhaps than in any other period of the nineteenth century and for at least as long. The storm that will undoubtedly come in the end is being prepared and its dull rumbles can just be made out, but as yet it has not burst.
«So there is no question of peace arriving after a ten year period of calm: peace comes after war, after a period of agitation and turmoil. Given the laconic nature of this enigmatic sentence, one is led to think that between this ten year period, a period of relative peace, and the predicted peace itself, we must intercalate an era of difficulties for the Church, an era that will be followed by peace, but whose duration the Blessed Virgin did not make known to Sister Catherine. We do not see any other plausible explanation of this difficulty.»
In fact the dates tally: it was in July 1880 that the antireligious persecution intensified in France with the execution of the first of the decrees of expulsion against those in religious life. We can say that, ever since that time, the persecution has never ceased: whether open or latent, the fight in sweet France is always the same, between the forces of antichrist and the children of Holy Church.
But the promised peace lies ahead of us: «And afterwards, peace», which coincides with the «certain period of peace» promised at Fatima. Sister Catherine seems to anticipate this happy restoration, when she writes: «The month of MARY will be honoured with great ceremony, which will be universal. Similarly, for the month of SAINT JOSEPH, there will be much devotion. Great will be the patronage of Saint Joseph. There will also be great patronage and devotion to the SACRED HEART OF JESUS.» The pontificate of Pius IX marked the first realisation of this, as Brother Francis has demonstrated, but we have seen nothing yet…
Having thus revealed the future in all its sombre colours, the Immaculate wished to give those who had recourse to Her, imploring Her aid and ranging themselves behind Her standard for the reconquest of Her beautiful Kingdom, a sure and infallible means that was accessible to all of passing through those difficult times in which «it seemed that everything had been lost»: the Miraculous medal.
« WHO IS SHE WHO COMES FORTH? » (Sg 8.5)
On Saturday 27 November 1830, the eve of the first Sunday before Advent, at the chapel in the Rue de Bac, our Sister had just heard, along with her companions, an instruction on devotion to the Blessed Virgin, which had given her a great desire to see HER and the conviction that she would see HER «beautiful in Her wondrous beauty». During the silence that followed the time of prayer, she again heard the «rustle of a silk dress coming from the sanctuary» and suddenly there appeared, to the left of altar and on a level with the picture of Saint Joseph, the Immaculate, in all the brilliance of Her original splendour. Everything about this vision recalls the mysterious dream of Saint Louise de Marillac: «Once the darkness had passed, I saw daylight return, and in a certain place high up in the sky I saw a figure… of a woman.»
To describe the apparition, it is best to repeat the indications given by Sister Catherine a few years later to the sculptor Letaille.
This information was also used by the painter François, with some artistic licence! to draw his picture, reproduced above: «Against a blue sky, studded with stars higher up and like the dawn nearer the bottom, appears in a sun the Most Blessed Virgin, Her veil like the dawn, Her dress white, Her mantle sky blue, Her feet on a crescent, crushing the head of the serpent with Her heel. Twelve stars encircle Her head, and there is a faint cloud beneath the crescent. Essential characteristic: the Blessed Virgin loosely holds in Her hands the globe of the world, which She illuminates with a vivid light.»
Dawn... The word recurs twice: at the base of the picture, «nearer the bottom», as if to announce the rising of the sun, and in the colour of the veil, «like the bright dawn».
Her feet rest «on a white sphere, of which I could see at least half». We read in the Book of the Proverbs, in connection with Wisdom: «When He laid the foundations of the earth, I was by His side, like a cherished child, forming His delight... playing on the sphere of the earth.»
This cherished child of God is crushing the head of the serpent: «a greenish coloured snake with yellow spots», the Sister will specify. The Immaculate is here engaged in Her last battle against the accursed Serpent, the victorious outcome of which was declared in the very beginning (Gn 3.15).
She holds in Her hands – and this is the novelty – «in a very loose way», a golden ball surmounted by a small gold cross. The seer then hears an interior voice saying to her, «This ball that you see represents the whole world, especially France and each person in particular.» The cross surmounting the globe of the world is the sign of the sovereignty of Christ the Saviour. The Immaculate, holding this globe in Her hands, shares in this sovereignty.
Laurentin, in his book on the Apparitions at the Rue de Bac, justifies this royalty of Mary’s by referring it to the royalty of man (sic), as «clarified by Vatican II». Poor fool!
Remembering that we find this “golden sphere” at Fatima, in the form of a «ball of light, suspended from Our Lady’s neck and reaching down to Her waist», let us adore this pure and adorable decree of God’s Good Pleasure, in accordance with which the Immaculate has received the world into Her charge in order to pray for it. Her eyes, writes the Sister, were at one moment raised towards Heaven and the next lowered towards the earth:
«When She prayed, Her face was so beautiful that it is quite impossible to depict it.» It was the sight of Mary imploring the Divine Mercy that most ravished the soul of Saint Catherine Labouré, giving her a particular attraction for the image of the Virgin with the globe, also called the Powerful Virgin. «Her features were tinged with a gravity mixed with sadness, which disappeared when Her face was illuminated by the radiant glow of love, especially at those moments when She was praying», writes Fr Chevalier in his transcription of the confidences made by the seer near the end of her life.
In response to Mary’s prayer, rings appeared on Her fingers, three on each finger. Each ring was decorated with precious stones, from whence shone rays each more beautiful than the other. The Prophet Habakkuk, in the Old Testament, had said of the Messiah to come: «Rays flash from His hands; it is there that His power lies hidden» (Hab 3.4) What is said of Christ applies here to His Immaculate Mother. «It is the symbol of the graces that I pour out on people who ask Me for them», hears Sister Catherine, who has no difficulty entering into the mystery of this mediation of graces:
«… Making me understand how agreeable it was to pray to the Blessed Virgin and how generous She was to people who pray to Her, what great graces She grants people who ask Her for them, what joy She experiences in granting them...»
But as regards the precious stones that do not emit beams of light, «these are the graces that people neglect to ask of Me».
In order to count the Ave’s of the Rosary, people of the time used rings threaded with ten beads or pearls, which they would turn between the thumb and the index finger. Let us count: three rings per finger makes fifteen rings worn by Our Lady on each hand... corresponding to the fifteen mysteries of the Rosary. It is with the prayer of the Holy Rosary that the heavenly Mediatrix opens Her hands full of light and grace. The recitation of the Rosary was a tradition already well established in the Congregation.
THE ROSARY, THE CROWN OF MARTYRS
UNDER the reign of terror, at Arras, five Daughters of Charity were arrested, taken to Cambrai and condemned to death by the revolutionary tribunal for having refused to swear an oath to the Constitution.
Seeing them mounting the scaffold, telling the beads of the Rosary, the public prosecutor wished to make a laughing stock of them: «Since they are so fond of their Rosaries, let us make them into crowns for them.»
His order was duly executed, and it was with the Rosary on their heads that the courageous Sisters entered eternity, wearing the aureole of virginity and martyrdom.
Saint Catherine Labouré made the Rosary the prayer of her whole life, as Sister Dufès, her last superior, testifies: «In speaking of the devotion of my Sister Catherine towards Mary Immaculate, I must emphasise the importance she attached to the recitation of the Rosary. We were always struck, when we said it in community, by the grave and devout tone in which she pronounced the words of the Angelic Salutation.»
The rays had become so intense that the golden globe disappeared. The hands of the Immaculate were inclined in a gesture that was at once very maternal and very sovereign. An oval frame formed around Her with the following words written in golden letters, which started at Her right hand, passed over Her head and ended on a level with Her left hand: «O Mary conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee». This recourse to Mary, so powerful over the Heart of God, was already the essence of the Marian devotion of Saint Louise de Marillac! Then a voice was heard: «Have a medal struck according to this model. Everyone who wears it with confidence will receive great graces.»
Then it seemed to the Sister that the frame was turned over, presenting in its centre the letter M, surmounted by a cross with a bar at its base, a symbol of the altar on which the Sacrifice of the Cross is perpetuated. Below were the two Hearts of Jesus and Mary, the first surrounded by a crown of thorns, the second pierced by a sword.
Anxious to knowing how to decorate the other side of the coin, the seer one day during her meditation distinctly heard a voice saying to her: «The M and the two Hearts say enough.» Indeed! The monogram of Mary represents Her very Name, a name infinitely dear to God, terrible to the demons and so loveable. «In our French language», said Saint Francis de Sales, «the anagram of MARIE is none other than AIMER, so that to love means Mary, and Mary means to love.»
The Immaculate is at the foot of the Cross and the Altar, as She will appear in the vision of Tuy, Coredemptrix with Her Son. For it is in the Passion of Jesus and of Mary that the union of Their Hearts was at its greatest, as our Father writes in his Way of the Cross for the fourth station: «From that moment and right until the end, Your mutual love burned with its most active flame, Your common love of the Heavenly Father united You more intensely still, and Your unique love for us sinners, springing from Thy Sacred Heart, O Jesus, into Thy Immaculate Heart, O Mary, finally procured for You a beatifying fruitfulness. Teach us what pure love is!»
This is the same message as that contained in the Medal revealed to Saint Catherine Labouré, the summary of our Credo, the résumé of the one true Religion, and the efficacious sign of the omnipotence of the Immaculate. «The Miraculous Medal», writes our Father, «is the victory of Mary over Satan, a means of assisting all the poor bodies and souls that suffer. Such is the maternal solicitude of the Most Blessed Virgin for ordinary people in difficulty who wear Her medal with confidence.»
The Medal also reminds us, discreetly but unmistakably, of what was, during the Revolution and afterwards, the rallying sign of monarchical and Catholic fidelity: the two Hearts of Jesus and Mary for ever united. As for the twelve stars, they were placed by the engraver on the reverse side of the medal, whereas they should have crowned the head of the Blessed Virgin.
QUEEN OF THE UNIVERSE
The Immaculate is our Mother, but She is also our Queen. In December, Sister Catherine saw the same tableau again in another vision, but this time «near the tabernacle», a little further back. «To tell you what I felt at the time and everything I learned when the Blessed Virgin offered the globe to Our Lord, is something that is impossible to express.»
THE DEVOTION OF FATHER DE FOUCAULD
O MARY CONCEIVED WITHOUT SIN, PRAY FOR US WHO HAVE RECOURSE TO THEE. My good Mother, You who are so good to remember Your children in this way! Oh! May You never forget them!... One day You appeared at La Salette, on another at Lourdes, and on another at the Chapel where You revealed the Miraculous Medal... Now at Pompeii, now at Loreto, now at Our Lady of Perpetual Help, You continue to perform new miracles... Oh! How You multiply Your visits to every part of the globe to offer Your children that helping hand of which You see they stand so much in need! Oh! good Mother, how true it is that You are always there to help Your poor children!...
Star of the wayfarer, how You shine on each of us with Your gentle light at every step of our journey through life, no matter where it carries us... Pray for us, poor sinners, now and at the hour of our death... Oh! yes, You who always offer Your hand, take our hands, hold them tightly, put them in Yours, cover us with Your mantle, O Mother, at this supreme moment, at this moment that will decide everything for us, Your poor children.
However, one day she would write, with a lyricism quite unusual for her: «Oh! how beautiful it will be to hear people say, “Mary is the Queen of the universe, particularly of France”, and the children will shout with transports of joy, “and of each person in particular”. It will be a time of peace, of joy and happiness which will last a long time. She will be borne aloft on a banner and She will tour the world.»
To make known and loved this “Virgin with the globe, the Queen of the universe”, would be, if one may call it so, the torment of Saint Catherine Labouré’s life. She would even describe it one day as her “martyrdom”. It was only in 1876, the very year of her death, that she would receive permission from her superiors for a statue to be carved in accordance with her indications. It is nothing short of astonishing to see the Abbé Laurentin, having explained this “martyrdom”, then go on to reveal his scepticism as to the appropriateness of such a representation. In a word, he does not see the need, and concludes that it was after all nothing more than a private revelation (Vie de sainte Catherine Labouré, p. 215)!
Let us listen instead to what was said by Mgr Thiel, a Lazarist born in Westphalia, who was driven out of Germany at the time of the Kulturkampf and sent to Costa Rica, where he was again persecuted and exiled by the freemasons. It was with a good understanding of the case that he came to Rome in 1884 to ask that the prohibition against reproducing this image be lifted. At his audience with Leo XIII, he stated:
«The Blessed Virgin Mary, in accordance with the Church's hymns to Her, has vanquished all heresies throughout the world, and even in our own times She vanquishes them still and will ever vanquish them in the future. The mortal enemy of the Church in our times is the sect of the freemasons; the particular characteristic of this sect is its ardent desire to set ablaze the whole of mankind or rather to tear up all religion by the roots. The Blessed Virgin Mary will most assuredly overcome this sect as well. It is important that the Christian people possess this confidence in the aid of the Blessed Virgin; but we must always inspire such confidence afresh in the Christian people, not only by words, but also by external example. It seems to me that such an end can be obtained by means of the image described: in this way, we shall signify very clearly and openly to the Christian people that the Blessed Virgin will save the human race from this enemy who is now persecuting it in its entirety and wishes to precipitate it into the abyss of iniquity.»
Leo XIII granted the authorisation requested, but with this restriction, which leaves one a little flabbergasted: «I am wholly against anything appearing in this image that connects it to the revelation supposedly received by a Daughter of Charity.» But why, Most Holy Father? To safeguard the humility of the seer, who, in 1884, had already been dead for eight years! The same thing would happen again a few years later with the request for the consecration of the world to the Sacred Heart transmitted by Sister Mary of the Divine Heart... Leo XIII had fewer scruples about having his own papal arms engraved in the crown of the Virgin of the chapel of the Miraculous Medal!
Ultimately, despite all these procrastinations and the obstacles put in the way of Heaven’s intentions by those at the heart of the Church, it is certain that the prophecy of Saint Catherine Labouré will one day be fulfilled, as Saint Maximilian-Mary Kolbe forcefully reminds us: «Then, heresies and schisms will die out, and hardened sinners, thanks to the Immaculate, will return to God, to His Heart so full of love, and all the pagans will be baptised. Thus will be fulfilled what Saint Catherine Labouré, she to whom the Immaculate revealed the Miraculous Medal, had foreseen: namely that the Immaculate will become “the Queen of the whole world... and of each person in particular”.»
We find the same assurance at Fatima, where Our Lady said, «God wishes to establish in the world devotion to My Immaculate Heart» and «in the end, My Immaculate Heart will triumph» (13 July 1917)!
It now remains for to us to see with what self-abnegation and fidelity Saint Catherine Labouré accomplished her “prophetic mission”, prefiguring that of Lucy of Fatima.
THE “SAINT OF SILENCE”
It is thus that several of her biographers have referred to her. In February 1831, Sister Catherine was assigned to the house in Reuilly, on which depended a hospice founded by the House of Enghien, in the eastern suburbs of Paris. She would remain there until her death in 1876, truly relegated to the last place, but treasuring this because it kept her remote from the world, as though hidden under the veil of the Blessed Virgin.
«Sister Catherine?» people said, «Is she not the Sister at that henhouse in Reuilly!» She fulfilled to perfection all the exercises of the Rule as well as her service to the old people in the very spirit of the Congregation’s founders. Everything she did had a perfect simplicity about it, as well as being both solid and practical. Her astonishing humility preserved her from any indiscretion; she faithfully kept the Secret of the Queen, limiting herself to reminding Our Lady's ministers of Her demands when they were taking too long to carry them out.
First of all, for example, there was the striking of the medals. On two occasions in 1831, she had tried to gain an audience with her confessor. But Fr Aladel did not take it well that a simple novice should be transmitting him orders from the Blessed Virgin!
Sister Catherine complained of this in her prayers:
«My good Mother, You can see that he does not believe me.
– Remain calm, was the answer. The day will come when he will do what I desire. He is My servant. He would be afraid of displeasing Me.»
Consoled by Her words, Sister Catherine, who had a sacred respect for her superiors, «seeing them in God and God in them», nevertheless had the courage to declare to her confessor during a third interview:
«Father, the Blessed Virgin is angry.»
Then Fr Aladel had a change of heart, understanding that, if She were angry, it could only be against himself! So he made the necessary approach to the Archbishop of Paris, Mgr de Quelen, who straightway granted his authorization. The “medals of the Immaculate Conception”, distributed during the cholera epidemic which devastated France in the summer of 1832, immediately effected such wonders that they soon merited the popular name of “MIRACULOUS MEDALS”.
The Association of the Children of Mary, whose creation the Blessed Virgin had announced and for which She wanted Fr Aladel to be the first director, was accepted by the ecclesiastical authorities.
As for the chapel of the apparitions, Sister Catherine was obliged to pass on what Our Lady had said: «Come to the foot of this altar, where graces will be poured out...» Unfortunately, her superiors did not look favourably on this request, fearing that it might disrupt the novitiate, and they would persist in their refusal... for fifty years! This refusal and its derisory pretext prefigure those employed by the hierarchy of the 20th century to oppose the requests of Our Lady of Fatima.
OUR LADY OF VICTORIES
One day in 1834, a venerable priest from Paris, who had recently read an account on the Medal composed by his friend, Father Aladel, gave him this advice: «You should institute a pilgrimage to the chapel of the Sisters in memory of the glorious manifestation.» This priest was Father des Genettes, the parish priest of Our Lady of Victories! It was he who, two years later, would receive the heavenly inspiration to consecrate «his parish to the Most Holy and Immaculate Heart of Mary» and to found an archconfraternity there, to which he would be eager to give the humble Medal of the Rue de Bac as its distinctive symbol. Certainly, to achieve Her ends, the Blessed Virgin was not lacking in resources! But when the humble parish priest saw the Sisters of Charity coming to pray in his church, he would say to them: «What makes you come here, Sisters; you have left the source to draw from a mere brook!»
Echoing this, Sister Catherine confided to her companions, in a tone of regret which impressed them: «Are you aware that Our Lady of Victories has been privileged with all the graces promised by the Blessed Virgin to our chapel?»
ROME AND LA SALETTE 1842
1842: at Rome, in the church of Sant’Andrea della Fratte, the Immaculate Conception appeared to the Jew Alphonsus Ratisbonne, standing radiant in the midst of a brilliant light, «just as She is on my medal», exclaimed Ratisbonne. He would clasp his medal and point to it saying, «I saw Her, I saw Her!» Returning to Paris, he asked to meet the nun who had had the privilege like himself of seeing the Immaculate Virgin. But she flatly refused, having recently refused the same request from the Archbishop of Paris!
This keen determination to remain in the shade and to be treated as though she were nothing appears even more admirable when we remember that, at the time, her confessor, Father Aladel, continued to contradict her when she reminded him that the chapel was to be opened up to pilgrims. If Sister Catherine had not been a saint, she would have taken advantage of these occasions to make the wishes of Heaven known to the outside world.
1846: France had failed to heed the call of her Queen and to be converted; certainly her elites remained liberal and sensualist. And the people themselves were in great danger of losing their souls. Then Our Lady decided to return and to take up things «from the beginning», as our Father explained in his study on La Salette (English CRC no 287). To the two little shepherds of the Mountain chosen to be Her messengers to «Her people», the Virgin Mary showed a face overcast with an immense sadness, like «a mother who has been beaten by her children and has fled into the mountains to weep at her leisure» (Maximin): «For all this time I have suffered for you», She tells them. If I do not wish My Son to abandon you, I must take it upon Myself to pray for you continually. And the rest of you think nothing of this! Pray and do as you will, you will never be able to make up for all the trouble I have taken over you!»
If the two apparitions are perfectly related, the contrast between the two seers could not be more striking: Melanie, adulated beyond measure, will let herself be caught in the snares of illusion and fabrication, a figure of the Church disorientated by the Evil One in the last times. As for Catherine, Saint Catherine! happily preserved by her life of self-abnegation at Reuilly, she personifies the fidelity of the Church to her crucified Spouse, a fidelity whose source is the Immaculate Heart of Mary. No wind of pride ever stirred the seer in the accomplishment of her mission, as she knew that she was but an instrument in the hands of her dear Mother. She took Her as her model in all her actions, as can be seen from her notes: «O Immaculate Heart of Mary, obtain for me the faith and love which fastened You to the foot of the cross of Jesus-Christ... Make me love You, and then it will not be difficult for me to imitate You».
But she soon had a new vision to report to her confessor.
A MYSTERIOUS CROSS
1848: once again the Revolution rumbled in Paris. In July, Sister Catherine wrote a short letter to Father Aladel. It has been preserved with devotion, but to our knowledge no one has been able to cast any real light on its contents. This communication is so different from the previous ones that Father Villette does not rule out the possibility of a trap by the devil disguised as an Angel of light to unsettle the seer and make her give up her ordinary way of life, whereas the Abbé Laurentin sees in it nothing but the manifestation of a «deep sensitivity to the events of her time»!
Transcribed in its uncut form, in a style that is prophetic and almost apocalyptic, this vision does not appear to apply exclusively to the events of 1848. It concerns a «Cross covered in black crêpe, carried by men with angry faces and spreading terror in hearts, then falling to the ground»; then «an arm appears and a voice is heard: “Blood flows! The innocent dies. The shepherd gives his life for his sheep.”» Does this refer to Mgr Affre who died on the barricades in 1848, or to Mgr Darboy who was shot at the time of the Commune in 1870, or to another Good Shepherd still to come? The question remains unanswered, but the similarities with the Third Secret of Fatima are remarkable...
In the end there shines forth the triumph of the Cross, erected in the square of Notre-Dame, at the foot of which there lie «some of those killed or injured during these painful events». What are these events? The question remains unanswered. Unless Fatima…
«This Cross, known as the “Cross of Victory”, appeared to me to be immensely beautiful, adds the Sister. Our Lord looked like He had just died. He had the crown of thorns on His head, His hair was scattered in the crown behind, and His head bent down on the side of the heart. The wound in the right side appeared me to be the length of three fingers, and from it fell drops of blood. This Cross seemed to be made of a precious foreign wood, trimmed with gold or gilded.»
1854: Pope Pius IX solemnly proclaims the dogma of the Immaculate Conception. The extraordinary diffusion of the miraculous Medal throughout the world providentially prepared people’s hearts and minds for this, while the Apparition at Lourdes would be its heavenly confirmation. The Blessed Pope referred to the manifestation of 1830 in the bull INEFFABILIS DEUS:
«She who appeared in the world through Her Immaculate Conception, like the bright dawn, casting beams of light on every side».
But the chapel of the apparitions had still not been opened up to the public, and the message of the “Virgin with the globe” remained partially hidden. Poor Sister Catherine was afflicted by this: among the papers found after her death is this little sentence which tells us so much about her inner distress: «My good Mother, up to now they have refused to do what You want. Show Yourself elsewhere.» That was in January 1858... In the following month, the Immaculate appeared at Lourdes, which thus became «the Holy City over in the mountains, where there was all the space needed and ecclesiastical superiors to authorise the crowds of people in their processions» (English CRC no 284, p. 2).
On 25 March, when Bernadette asked the beautiful Lady for Her name, She stretched out Her arms as at the Rue de Bac, then, folding Her hands together on a level with Her chest and lifting Her eyes to Heaven, She pronounced these ineffable words: «QUE SOY ERA IMMACULADA CONCEPTIOU.» «You see, it is indeed the same Lady as ours!» Sister Catherine would say when she learned of this, and she let this complaint escape her: «To think that these miracles [which had immediately multiplied in Lourdes] ought to have taken place in our chapel!»
She never visited Lourdes. However, according to her superior, «although she had not read any of the books published about the grotto of Massabielle, my Sister Catherine knew more about what took place there than people who had gone on pilgrimage there.»
THE WAR OF 1870
1870: The fateful “forty years” had passed. We can guess the anguish with which Sister Catherine saw events coming. War was declared in July. Unlike her sisters, the seer did not share the euphoria of the first few days. During a parade of the troops, she was heard to murmur, «Poor lambs who are being let to the butcher's!» She remained grave and silent, and she prayed... Then came the defeat of our armies, the capitulation of Sedan, and the siege of Paris by the Prussians. General Trochu defended the capital, while the government fled to Tours.
«When informed of an alleged victory, Sister Catherine would smile in an incredulous way; she knew the contrary. One day, one of her companions asked her:
– “My Sister Catherine, will we be victorious after so many defeats?
– No, no, she replied...
– You talk like my Sister Vincent. Will you thus become a bird of ill omen, you who have always encouraged us? Are you going to alarm us at a time when we need so much courage?...
– Fear not. The Blessed Virgin protects us. She keeps an eye on us, on the whole community.
– Will the Prussians enter Paris?
– They will enter Paris, she said sighing deeply.
– Alas! how shameful, how embarrassing! Then will we capitulate?...
– We will capitulate...
– Oh! it would be better to die than to surrender to these Prussians. My God, what does General Trochu think about all this, him a Breton and so brave? It is a disgrace for France...
– Whatever your wishes, my dear Sister, things cannot turn out otherwise... Moreover, the Prussians will not do any damage, once they have entered Paris...”» (Laurentin, p. 148)
THE SKY ABOVE PONTMAIN
And indeed they did not inflict any damage, just as Sister Catherine had predicted. In the west, however, their armies were continually on the advance, sowing ruin and desolation everywhere, until 17 January 1871... That evening, recounts Sister Anne-Marie Tranchemer, «my Sister Catherine, sitting near the garden door, looked up in silence at the sky in the west. She said nothing, half smiling, looking very serious and recollected. Her eyes sparkled in a lively way. The sister who looked after the children also observed the sky: “The sky is quite extraordinary this evening”, she said to her pupils. “It is full of mystery. It is as though it were wrapped in a veil of fine crêpe.”
– We were unable to describe it, but that is exactly how it looks, said the children.
– Heaven shoulders the grief of all our own griefs. What do you say about it, my Sister Catherine? asked her companion. Something extraordinary is going on which we cannot see. The sky is both solemn and sad at the same time. Perhaps the Blessed Virgin is appearing in some part of the world to console us.
– Perhaps, said Sister Catherine smiling gently with a serious expression. She is so good! I believe that She may be appearing somewhere. This is the first time that I have seen the sky like this.
– We also, said the girls. It is certainly something we don't know about and which we will learn about later.
– That is quite possible, said my Sister Catherine, and she continued to examine the sky, her eyes turned towards the west. She remained very pensive.» (Laurentin, vol. II, p. 149)
A few days later, they learned in Reuilly that the Blessed Virgin had appeared at Pontmain. Crowned and dressed as the Queen of France, but “shouldering the griefs of all our own griefs”, as the Sister had said, She had halted the enemy with Her powerful hand. And when the following golden letters were inscribed in the sky, Her attitude was the same as that on the Medal:
«But pray my children. God will hear you in a little while. My son allows himself to be touched.»
As for the indescribable sadness which took hold of the Blessed Virgin when She held the bloody crucifix, one of the Sisters read the same expression on the face of Sister Catherine a few weeks later, just before the beginning of the civil war.
When they were both on their way to the hospice, the seer suddenly stopped, gripped with fear:
«O my God, my God, so many deaths, so many casualties, so much blood!... Poor mothers, how you are going to weep! Children will fight against their fathers, and fathers against their children. My God, so many tears… so much blood, all those corpses in the streets. It is horrible!»
When the other sister asked her how she knew all this, she replied:
« – It matters not. I am telling you what I know.»
During the time of the Commune, the Saint displayed an extraordinary courage and serenity. Set upon on several occasions by the federates, she succeeded in pacifying them by distributing medals to them, proof that they were not all wicked rascals! She would constantly remind her Sisters that the Blessed Virgin was among them, that She would protect them, that all that was needed was trust... On 31 May, the last day of the month of Mary, the Sisters were back at Reuilly, as she had predicted.
PRAYER «WELL SAID»
1873: There was much talk in France of restoring the monarchy. At Reuilly, a Breton Sister could not conceal her legitimist sentiments, and even spoke of them with a certain exaltation. She would give evidence during the Saint’s process. Speaking of herself, she would say: «All her wishes were for a King, for Henry V. Having been raised in the purest form of legitimacy, she detested the Republic.»
One day, sister Catherine said to her:
«Much prayer is needed. There will be great misfortunes, but prayer will arrest their course.
– But we do pray much, my Sister Catherine.
– Yes, but still not enough. To prayer must be joined a spirit of penance and sacrifice. It is this that gives it strength, and there are many who do not pray well. People do not pray with sufficient disinterestedness; it is essential to desire the holy will of God before all else. People ask for what they want and not enough for what the Good God wants. That is not the right way to proceed.
– True, her companion said to herself, I will take this to heart.»
Let we be under any misapprehension, Sister Catherine was herself a legitimist, as is proved by a prayer copied out in her own hand, found among her papers after her death: «Restore and secure the throne which Thou didst so often restore to the son of Saint Louis; enlighten his mind and fill his heart; be his counsel and his support; may he ever walk in the ways of justice and may he one day be a KING ACCORDING TO THY HEART, captivating the heart of all his subjects.»
But for Saint Catherine, as for all the other saints of the 19th century, the restoration of the monarchy was a grace which had to be requested of the Immaculate, who alone was capable of effecting this miracle.
THE SECRET FINALLY REVEALED
1876: Sister Catherine, as a true countrywoman, sensed that her end was approaching. As a matter of obedience, she allowed herself to be photographed (see across), but she was anguished to think that she was going to see the Blessed Virgin again before her mission was fully accomplished: the chapel in the Rue de Bac had still not been opened up for public worship (this would only happen in 1880), and as yet there was no statue representing the Queen of the universe with the globe in Her hands. One day, she confided to one of her Sisters:
«Oh! if they wanted it, I would happily go to Rome to obtain permission», modestly adding, «But let them send another Sister there, and she will obtain it», a prophecy that would be fulfilled.
For her part, she simply asked for permission to go to Paris to openly discuss this matter with the Superior General of the Congregation. Unfortunately, she was once again shown the door. Then, returning to Reuilly, with tears in her eyes, she declared to her superior:
«I have not much longer to live now. I believe that the moment has come for me to speak... You know what the subject is, I think.
– My good Sister Catherine, answered her superior, I suspected, it is true, that you had received the Miraculous Medal, but out of discretion I never spoke to you about it.
– Well, my Sister, tomorrow I will consult the Blessed Virgin in my prayers. If She tells me to recount everything, I will do so. If not, I will keep silent.»
Was the “Saint of Silence” finally going to confide her secret? The following day, at 10 o’clock, she informed her superior that she must speak with her, and it was there, in the poor office of the hospice that the two nuns stood opposite one another and the elderly Sister told all, with a precision and fluency that astonished her superior. The latter, who had not suspected anything like this, restrained herself from falling on her knees before the Sister, contenting herself with murmuring: «You have been greatly favoured.»
– Oh! responded Sister Catherine, I was but an instrument. It was not for my sake that the Blessed Virgin appeared, it was for the good of the Congregation and the Church. If She chose me, I who know nothing, it is so that no one could be in any doubt that it was Her.»
In connection with the “Virgin with the globe”, her superior declared: «People will say that you are mad!
– Oh! it would not be the first time, answered Sister Catherine. Father Aladel treated me as a “malicious wasp” when I questioned him on the subject!
– And what will become of the Medal, if that is published?
– Oh! it must not affect the miraculous Medal.
– But if Father Aladel refused, he must have had his reasons!
– That is the martyrdom of my life.»
The phrase reveals the private agony suffered by the seer for more than forty years! The Superior of Reuilly was shaken, for she had never heard Sister Catherine speak in this tone. She had a statue carved in Paris, the last of the Saint’s consolations. She received this modest representation at Reuilly, where one can still venerate it. However, when she saw it, she could not prevent herself from muttering:
«Oh no! that is not it!»
In October 1876, during her last retreat at the Mother House, she revisited the sites of the apparitions. Contemplating with emotion the two pictures commemorating the apparitions in the exercise room, she slipped away when she saw some young Sisters who suspected something approaching her. She then took a Sister she had a great affection for to the chapel, and there she told her «in a tone much firmer than was usual with her:
«“The Blessed Virgin absolutely insists that an altar be built on the spot where She appeared; but She wishes to be represented as offering the world to the eternal God, so intensely has She prayed for the world.
«Here she paused for a moment and here eyes lit up; and looking at the sky like someone who can read the future, she said to me:
«Great tribulations are coming [the year was 1876: therefore, she was speaking not of 1870, but of events still to come...]
– Are the Prussians going to return, I said, or will we have another Commune?
«Then, with tears in her eyes, she answered me:
– You will see, you will see...
«Then coming closer, she said to me three times:
– Above all, do not let our Sisters leave; for the good will be taken along with the bad. It will all happen in a moment... blood will flow in the streets.»
«After a pause, she added: “At a certain moment, everything will seem to be lost; but everything will in fact be won. For the Blessed Virgin will save us. Yes, when this Virgin offering the world to the eternal Father is honoured, we will be saved, we will have peace.”» (quoted by Laurentin, vol. 2, p. 274)
This prophecy is all the more striking in that, in that same year of 1876, in Pellevoisin, a little village in Berry, the Immaculate appeared to a humble young girl, Estelle Faguette, and spoke to her concerning France:
«WHAT HAVE I NOT DONE FOR FRANCE, AND YET SHE REFUSES TO LISTEN. I CANNOT HOLD BACK THE ARM OF MY SON ANY LONGER.»
We thus begin to understand the designs of Heaven: after the chastisement of 1870, the newly found peace should have been a time of conversion, a time of prayer and penance. This was the period of the “ten years” of the prophecy of July 1830 (supra, p. 27). But it was nothing of the sort, as our Father has shown in his conferences on the sacred history of France. Therefore, at the end of this period, new persecutions broke out, heralding further misfortunes.
However Our Lady would always be present. She promised that She would never abandon Her people, even though they were unfaithful. At Pellevoisin, She reminded people that Her Heart was all mercy:
«I have come particularly for the conversion of sinners. The treasures of my Son are on offer, if people will but pray for them...»
This is exactly what Sister Catherine said at Reuilly in that month of December 1876: «Everything will depend on prayer, but prayer well said; it will stop many of the tribulations, which will be prevented from wreaking their full damage... Listen, many great tribulations are still to come, but it is important not to act like the first time and flee them. This will be useless, as they will be everywhere. But prayer will stop them in their tracks and then the Blessed Virgin will always be there.» For herself, her preferred way of invoking the Immaculate Conception was: “Terror of demons, pray for us!”
THE IMMACULATE EXTINGUISHES THE FLAMES
IN 1863, a wallpaper factory adjacent to the House at Reuilly caught fire. Flames leapt from all sides, threatening the hospice chapel, much to the agitation of the Sisters and the neighbouring people. Sister Catherine arrived on the scene, tranquil as ever and saying her Rosary: «Come, come, my good Sisters, why all this agitation? The Blessed Virgin is looking after the house. No harm will come to it.» And, in fact, just as she had predicted, the fire did not reach the House at all.
The Saint displayed the same assurance during the terrible month of May 1871. The Commune was wreaking havoc in Paris; the Tuileries and several other buildings were on fire. A Sister returned to Reuilly in a panic: «Paris is burning! What is to become of the Mother House?» Sister Catherine remained imperturbable: «Fear not for our houses. The Blessed Virgin is looking after them. They will not be harmed.»
In 1915 a violent fire set ablaze the stores of the Bon-Marché in the Rue de Bac. While the Sisters were at prayer in the miraculous chapel, the inferno, which should have caught hold of the little wooden bell-tower, turned back on itself, leaving the Mother House undamaged. It was if a ray from the right hand of the Immaculate had deflected the flames...
On 31 December, a few hours right before her death, she made the following confidence to her superior. It is like a spiritual testament and anticipates the conversation that Sister Lucy would have with Father Fuentes in 1957, forty years later:
«The Blessed Virgin is pained, because insufficient account has been taken of the treasure She has given the community in the devotion to the Immaculate Conception; we have not known how to profit from this; but above all because the Rosary is not said well. The Blessed Virgin has promised to grant particular graces every time one prays in the chapel: especially an increase in purity, that purity of mind, heart and will which is pure love.»
On the evening of 31 December 1876, Sister Catherine Labouré died peacefully in the midst of her Sisters, happy «to go and meet Our Lord, the Blessed Virgin and Saint Vincent», as she said. She left them a double heritage: the treasure of her hidden virtues and the steadfastness of her beautiful testimony, which she had silently maintained for almost fifty years, testifying to the wishes of the Immaculate and paving the way for the testimony of Lucy of Fatima, her “soul sister” and her “sister in martyrdom”.
Brother Thomas of Our Lady of Perpetual Succour
CCR n° 333, september 2000, p. 25-34