Feb. 19, 1858: Our Lady's Little Mission for Bernadette

Retired Bishop of Lourdes Reflects on Today's Apparition Anniversary

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Bishop Emeritus Jacques Perrier of Tarbes-Lourdes, France

Yesterday the Lady, “Aquero” as Bernadette said, did not wish to write her name as Bernadette had asked her. Why? Because the word is still more important than writing? Because, in the biblical world a name is much more than a civil state: it says something about the person himself and, therefore, supposes a relation of confidence? Because the day chosen by the Lady to say that she is “the Immaculate Conception” will be the feast of the Annunciation, the day when the Angel said to the Virgin that she is “full of grace”?

Whatever were the motives of the Virgin, Bernadette suffered a refusal. A polite refusal, but a refusal nevertheless, without Bernadette being able to understand the reason. However, her question was legitimate. She could have been discouraged and left, but the attraction was stronger. The sweetness of the Lady, her beauty, her light, her smile held Bernadette. It is a lesson for believers and those who are seeking the truth: an obstacle should not halt the search.

To write her name might have put an end to the relationship that the Lady wished to form with Bernadette. Hence she proposed to Bernadette an engagement for the future: “Do you wish to do me the grace to come here during fifteen days?” All the words deserve to be savored.

“Do you wish?” Like Jesus, the Lady expresses: “If anyone wishes to follow Me …; if you wish to be perfect …” God addresses a liberty. He does not force anyone, with the risk of refusal if liberty lets itself be seduced by illusion: it is the history of sin from Chapter 3 of Genesis. At the ordination of deacons, priests or Bishops, the same question is posed to the one who is going to receive the Sacrament: “Do you wish …?” It is because of the engagements he assumes on accepting to become a deacon, priest or Bishop.

“Do me the grace.” The Lady spoke in <patois>. To those who, later, objected that in Heaven one does not speak in <patois>, Bernadette replied: “How can we know it if they don’t know it?” In <patois>, the word used by the Lady is truly that of “grace.” Sometimes it is translated as “kindness” or “goodness.” This does not change anything in regard to the matter. After having refused Bernadette’s question, it is now the Lady who addressed a question to Bernadette. Someone who comes from Heaven, she whom the Angel greeted as “full of grace” and who asks for a “grace,” a service from a child: this is something astonishing. There, again, the Lady expressed herself like Jesus. “Give me to drink,” says Jesus to the Samaritan woman. Man is capable of seeking God but, even more radically yet, it is God who seeks man. The dialogue between the Lady and Bernadette is an echo of this age-old history.

“Come during fifteen days.” The question is concrete: come. This would be very difficult for Bernadette and, twice during the 15-day period, the Lady did not appear to her. However, Bernadette knew what had been asked of her: simply to come. Later a mission would be entrusted to her, but it was not yet the hour. The Lady is a teacher. It is a lesson for the Church: ask for concrete, perhaps difficult engagements, but to the measure that the person can understand at that hour.

“During fifteen days”: the engagement is limited. It corresponds to the fifteen days during which a sort of great Lenten retreat is preached in the parishes of the diocese. The Cure of Lourdes did not find a preacher: Mary would be the preacher through Bernadette, her fidelity in coming to Massabielle, the beauty of her face when the Lady appeared to her. Increasingly numerous, the inhabitants would join her. Bernadette drew them in her prayer. And the Cure was very happy: those who frequented the Grotto also came to the church and prepared themselves, at the end of Lent, “to do their Easter,” as they said at the time.

Today, February 19, Bernadette begins to fulfill the engagement she assumed: she comes. This day and all subsequent days, she carries a candle of the Congregation of the Children of Mary. After the Rosary, the sign of the cross, holy water, still a Christian and also a liturgical sign. Since then, the candles have never been extinguished at Massabielle.

O Mary,

Today you asked for a service, a grace from Bernadette,

As your Son to the woman of Samaria.

You asked her to come, during fifteen days.

Many obstacles emerged to bar the way to Bernadette.

But you will give her your courage, your patience and your strength.

Support the Church and support each one of us on her path of faith.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit

Amen!

[Translation by ZENIT]