This month of May, when we begin to see more of the sun and blossoms budding; the Church turns Her collective heart to Mary. Our Blessed Mother, who in her fiat, her courageous yes, gave birth to Life Himself. The dedication of the month of May has been a tradition in the Church since the Middle Ages and gained a greater structure in the eighteenth century at the Jesuit Roman Collage in Rome. Our Blessed Mother has received with great honor in both the east and west since her time on earth. Like our Lord in the Eucharist, Mary has not left us. She has appeared to us all over the world also since early times in the Church. One of those appearances was to Saint Catherine Labouré in Burgundy, France in the month of May 1806.
The Church has many devotions from the Stations of the Cross, the Brown Scapular, and so forth. Another ancient devotion is that of the Miraculous Medal. The Miraculous medal is associated with Saint Catherine Labouré, a witness to true humility in her own spiritual life in imitation of our Blessed Mother. Saint Catherine Labouré was born during the ringing of the Angelus in Burgundy, France on May 2, 1806. She was born into a middle-class farming family, the ninth of eleven children. She was baptized on the feast of the Finding of the True Cross the day after her birth. Her mother died when she was nine years old, prompting her to place herself under the motherly care of the Blessed Mother.
As a child, Saint Catherine had a dream of an old priest who told her of her future glorious life the Lord had in store for her. The priest told her to not forget. Years later when Saint Catherine was visiting the sick in a Daughters of Charity hospital, she saw a picture of an old priest on the wall. She asked one of the nurses about the priest and the replied it was the founder of the order, Saint Vincent De Paul. It was the same priest she saw in her dream years earlier!
In 1830 at age 22 after much struggle and protests from her father, Saint Catherine Labouré entered the postulancy of the Daughters of Charity. During her postulancy she had a vision of the Blessed Mother who showed her the Miraculous Medal. The vision occurred one summer night on July 18, 1830. An angel appeared to her and drew her to the convent chapel by a very bright light. The angel said, “Come, our Lady waits for you. The angel took her to the superior’s chair where the Blessed Mother sat and spoke to Saint Catherine for two hours. The young sister sat with her hands in her lap gazing on our Lady. Our Lady told her, “God wishes to charge you with a mission. You will be contradicted but do not fear; you will have the grace to do what is necessary. Tell your spiritual director all that passes within you. Times are evil in France and the world.”
The Blessed Mother appeared to Saint Catherine a second time when she was a novice on Saturday, November 27, 1830. Our Lady appeared standing on a globe and spoke to her saying, “Have a medal struck after this model. All who wear it will receive great graces; they should wear it around the neck. Graces will abound for those who wear it with confidence.”
The medal should be struck according to this apparition. On one side our Lady was standing on a globe with rays of light coming from the rings on her hands. Around the edge of the ring were the words, “O Mary conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee.” As Saint Catherine watched, the image changed to twelve stars, which appeared on the edge of the circle with a large letter M and a Cross-in the middle and a stylized image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus crowned with thorns and the Immaculate Heart of Mary pierced with a sword. Saint Catherine asked why some of the rays were dull and our Lady told her these were the graces not being asked for by souls. The Blessed Mother told Saint Catherine to take these images to her confessor and have them made into medals. “All who wear them will receive great graces.”
After these brief apparitions, the devotion of the Miraculous Medal flourished. Saint Catherine returned to her regular life as a Daughter of Charity for the next 46 years. Only her confessor knew Our Lady had appeared to her. Saint Catherine wished to live a humble life united to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and Our Lady, and to promote devotion to the Miraculous Medal, which promised many graces. Saint Catherine Labouré’s uncorrupt body along with the co-founder of the Vincentians Saint Louise de Marillac is venerated in the chapel of the Mother House of the Vincentians in Paris.
The Miraculous Medal was first called the Medal of the Immaculate Conception. The medal was fashioned several years before the dogma of the Immaculate Conception was a recognized official teaching of the Church in 1854 by Pope IX. The visions and apparitions of Saint Catherine are also where Our Lady’s title as Mediatrix of Grace stems from. Grace is the divine life of God in our souls. God our Father pours His divine life into our souls through the sacraments, first, of course, through Baptism, but also through the Eucharist, Reconciliation, and the other Sacraments of the Church. Consequently, the Sacraments are great accompaniments and dispensers of divine life on our pilgrimage of Faith this side of eternity. As Mediator, Our Blessed Mother is always interceding for us at the feet of Her Son. She pleads for us and aids us through Her prayer to Jesus in giving us this Divine Life. She is our helper and we take refuge in Her aid to us at Mediatrix. Our Lady, Mediatrix of Grace is the principal patron of my monastic community her at Saint Louis Abbey. The official name of the Abbey is the Abbey of Saint Mary and Saint Louis. She is a powerful intercessor for our Abbey, School, and Parish families.
We are blessed to have our own Shrine to the Miraculous Medal an hour south of Saint Louis in Perryville, Missouri. The Vincentian Fathers founded the Church of Saint Mary’s of the Barrens in 1818. The Shrine was built in 1929, by those wishing to promote the Miraculous Medal. In the shrine church you can see the front and back depiction of the Miraculous Medal. The statue of our Lady is above the altar with the inscription, “O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee.” Many pilgrims travel there each year.
There are many miracles and conversions attributed to the Miraculous Medal. One powerful event is that of Marie Alphonse Ratisbonne. Ratisbonne was a French Jewish nobleman who was hostile to the Church from a very early age. His brother converted to Catholicism at a young age and was ordained a priest. Alphonse felt so strongly against the Church that he more or less disowned his brother for years. A friend of his brother who was also a convert was relentless in bringing Alphonse to the Faith almost to the point of driving Alphonse even further away. One day the friend convinced Alphonse to wear the Miraculous Medal and pray the Memorare twice a day. Later Alphonse traveled to Rome and found himself in a church in Rome. As he waited for his traveling companion to see the priest, Alphonse fell into a deep ecstasy. He had a vision of our Lady. When his friend asked him what had happened; Alphonse said he saw the Blessed Virgin Mary! He was moved to tears by the graces and gifts he received. He desired to be baptized and receive the sacraments. Alphonse was later ordained a priest and founded a religious order called The Sisterhood of Our Lady of Zion.
We see in this powerful encounter of Marie Alphonse with our Blessed Mother the reality and influence of Mary’s persevering presence with the Church. She is always with us. As she was with the Apostles and the early Church, so Our Blessed Mother continues to be with us through the ages down to the various apparitions attested to by shrines dedicated to her throughout the world. We also take comfort in the little ways Our Blessed Mother has assured us of her care and presence to us in our own lives. As we now near the end of this month dedicated to Mary, let us rededicate ourselves to her. May we entrust ourselves to Her and to her son, Jesus Christ, the one to whom She directs us and who is the ultimate source of all grace.
Fr. Aidan is a Benedictine monk and priest of the Abbey of Saint Mary and Saint Louis in Saint Louis, Missouri. Father Aidan grew up in Saint Louis with his mother and father and two sisters in a working class Irish Catholic family. He was ordained to the priesthood in 2015, on the Feast of the Holy Name of Mary, and currently serves as the Pastor of Saint Anselm Parish in the Archdiocese of Saint Louis. Fr. Aidan holds a BA in English Literature from Webster University in Saint Louis, and a MDiv from Saint John XXIII National Seminary in Massachusetts.
Father Aidan prays his contributions will help the faithful discover how the Benedictine virtues of obedience and humility, can be helpful in their particular vocation to seek the image of Christ through purity of heart in their lives.