There have been hundreds of purported appearances of Mary around the world over the centuries, but the Catholic church only officially recognizes a small number (16?). I would guess the two most famous alleged appearances were at Lourdes, France in 1858 and at Fatima, Portugal in 1917. There are VERY large shrines at both sites to accommodate the millions of pilgrims who visit each year. For the purpose of this post, let’s take a closer look at the alleged Lourdes apparition.
Fourteen-year-old, Bernadette Soubirous of Lourdes, the eldest daughter of a miller, claimed that a Marian apparition, which she named “Aquero” (translated “that which I am speaking of”), appeared to her eighteen times at the grotto of Massabiell (French-Bigorre dialect: ancient rock) between 11 February and 16 July 1858. The messages from the alleged apparition were simple, including the need for prayer and “penance.” As part of the sixteenth appearance, Aquero was alleged to have identified herself as the “Immaculate Conception.” Pope Pius IX had declared the immaculate conception of Mary as a dogma of the church only four years prior in 1854. When news of Bernadette’s allegations spread throughout the area, the local people were divided as to their authenticity, but some began to claim miraculous healings from the spring water at the grotto. The Catholic church launched an investigation and in 1862 ruled that the apparitions were authentic.
Bernadette joined a religious order, the Sisters of Charity, in 1866 and died in 1879 of tuberculosis at the age of thirty-five. Pope Pius XI canonized Bernadette as a saint in 1933. Her wax covered corpse, which is claimed to be “incorrupt,” is displayed at the Chapel of Saint Bernadette at the mother house of the Sisters of Charity in Nevers, France. The story of the alleged apparitions at Lourdes was actually made into a Hollywood film, “The Song of Bernadette” in 1943.
What to make of the Marian apparition at Lourdes and elsewhere? The purported entity never speaks of the Gospel of salvation by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone, but always admonishes the visionary/visionaries to double-down in their attempts to merit their salvation, with exhortations for more and more prayer, penance, reliance on sacramentals (e.g., religious medals, rosary, holy water, scapulars), obedience to church authorities, and works-righteousness in general. Bernadette, like the other visionaries, was either a religious hysteric or a tool of a demonic entity. The bottom line for all of these apparitions is they encourage devotion and worship of Mary among pious Catholics. Six-million Catholics from around the world visit the shrine at Lourdes, France each year. Yes, folks, that’s 6,000,000 souls per year or 16,438 per day.
Out of curiosity, I checked Amazon to see if there was any commerce in the “holy water” of Lourdes and sure enough there were MANY examples (see photo above for just one example). Poor, credulous Catholics chase after apparitions that exhort them to work harder at meriting their salvation, while the genuine Good News! Gospel of salvation by God’s grace alone, through faith alone, in Jesus Christ alone, goes unheeded.
Below is just one example of the popular Mariolatrous views within Catholicism:
“God the Son imparted to his mother all that he gained by his life and death, namely, his infinite merits and his eminent virtues. He made her the treasurer of all his Father had given him as heritage. Through her he applies his merits to his members and through her he transmits his virtues and distributes his graces. She is his mystical channel, his aqueduct, through which he causes his mercies to flow gently and abundantly.” – from “Treatise on True Devotion to the Blessed Virgin” by St. Louis de Montfort
In contrast, the Bible mentions nothing about Mary in connection with salvation.
“He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.” – John 3:36
In fact, Mary is conspicuously missing in all of the epistles of the New Testament.
Are the apparitions of Mary really Mary?
Postscript: Writing this post motivated me to check our local library system to see if they had any good examinations of the apparitions at Lourdes. Sure enough, they had “The Happening at Lourdes: The Sociology of the Grotto” (1967) by Alan Neame. I’m about one-third of the way through this very interesting book, which I will be reviewing down the road.