Message of Lourdes
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Body of Bernadette

Bernadette at Lourdes


The Fortnight

Final Visions

Making of a Saint

Personal Notes


"What I have to say to you does not have to be written down"  During the third Apparition on February 18th, 1858, the Virgin Mary spoke for the first time. Bernadette came with paper and pencil in hand. She was not to need it. Our Lady wanted to enter into a relationship with Bernadette person to person. At the start, Bernadette was invited to open her heart to the Message of Love.

In Bernadette's day, the Grotto was a dirty, hidden, damp and cold place. The Grotto was literally called the "pig–sty" because that was where pigs feeding in the area took shelter. It was there that the Virgin Mary, dressed in white, a sign of total purity, chose to appear. The contrast between this damp and obscure cave and the presence of the Virgin Mary reminds us of the Gospel, the meeting of the goodness of God and the poverty of the human person.

Before the apparitions Bernadette accepted her impoverished life with a stoic resignation, deeply motivated by the faith she learned from her parents. After the apparitions, when she realized more deeply the ways of God, she desired to never live any other way. "I want to remain poor" was the answer she gave to anyone who wanted to take her out of this condition. She had offers to go to Paris, where she could have made a fortune relating the story of the apparitions. In spite of her ignorance of the catechism, the enlightenment of the apparitions enabled Bernadette to understand the purpose of all the poverty which she and her family experienced. They resembled Jesus, who came as a poor man to mingle among the poor of spirit. This is the first message of Lourdes.

The disgusting mud of the pig–sty symbolizes penance. Bernadette, with her face smeared by the mud, becomes a symbol of the deep love that led Jesus to His Passion. She invites us to see the true nature of sin and observe the ugliness of evil. Tasting the bitterness of the grass in the Grotto, she courageously sought penance and the conversion of sinners. This was no simple act of symbolism. Bernadette suffered the disdain of the crowds, as they misunderstood her actions and lost faith in her. Jesus also was disfigured as he carried the cross. The mob mocked and spat at Him. He carried the weight and sins of the entire world on his battered shoulders. True penance enables us to see ourselves as the sinners that we are, and helps us as we recognize our mutual misery and be more compassionate towards each other.

At the ninth apparition, Mary asked Bernadette to scrape the ground, saying to her "Go to the spring, drink of it and wash yourself there." There is only a little muddy water to begin with, enough for Bernadette to drink. At first this water is muddy and dirty then, little by little, it becomes clear. The spring signifies the cleansing of the human heart, wounded by sin yet healed through prayer and penance. Bernadette was asked what the lady said to her. She replied, "Now and again she would say, 'penance, penance, penance, pray for sinners.' " Praying leads us to the Spirit of God. We understand that sin is contrary to the love of God and revealed to us through the Gospel.

During the thirteenth apparition Our Lady said to Bernadette "Go tell the priests to come here in procession and build a chapel here." The word procession, in Lourdes dialect, means a pilgrimage outside of one's parish into other parishes to meet with the people of God on their journey through life. Here, the nations of the Earth, continents and countries, young and old, the healthy and the sick meet in peace and brotherly love. Here, all languages are spoken, all kinds of music are played. On March 25, 1858, the day of the sixteenth Apparition, Bernadette went to the Grotto, and on the instigation of the parish priest, Abbé Peyramale, asked the Lady for her name. Three times Bernadette asked the question. On the fourth request, the Lady responds in dialect 'Que soy era Immaculada Councepciou' (I am the Immaculate Conception). Bernadette does not understand immediately the meaning of these words. She goes to the parish priest to tell him the Lady's name. He understands that it is the Mother of God who has appeared at the Grotto of Massabielle. Her name, the Immaculate Conception, given at the Grotto sums up the entire message of Lourdes.

St. Bernadette and Lourdes pages

Chronology of Apparitions at Lourdes

Bernadette photos
Photographs of St. Bernadette and Lourdes