Extract from ‘Bernadette of Lourdes’ by Father Ralph SVD – 1948 (you can download an online copy of this book here)
At The Rock Of Massabielle
The next day full of eagerness and anticipation, Bernadette went to the Rock of Massabielle — and she was not disappointed. The Beautiful Lady appeared and seemingly to make up for the trials of the day before, showered on Bernadette heavenly smiles and said to her: “Here I am… I have a secret to tell you for yourself alone and concerning yourself… Do you promise me never to repeat it to anyone in the world?”
Bernadette promised, and the secret, together with two others of a like kind, despite all cunning and repeated attempts to make her tell them, went inviolate with her to the grave.
The Vision continued: “And now, my child, go and tell the priests that I want them to erect a chapel here in my memory.” She went at once to the parish priest and delivered the message of the Lady. He did not yet believe in the celestial visitant, and warned Bernadette, but she said: “I do not know if she is the Holy Virgin, but I have seen her as I see you, and she speaks to me as you speak to me. And I come on her behalf to say to you that she wishes a chapel erected at the Rock of Massabielle, where she appeared to me.”
The Skeptic Estrade
The following day Estrade, one of the officials of Lourdes, an irreligious sceptic, went to the Grotto, and thus he relates the experience which began his conversion: “At the customary hour, toward sunrise, Bernadette arrived, I was near her. I remarked in her infantine features that character of sweetness, innocence and profound tranquillity which had struck me several days before… She went down on her knees, naturally, without ostentation or embarrassment, without confusion, or being put out by the crowd which surrounded her, absolutely as if she had been alone in church or in a lonely wood, far from the sight of men. She took out her rosary and began to pray. Soon her face appeared to receive and reflect an unknown light; her face was full of admiration, radiant with happiness, looking at the opening in the rock. … I saw nothing but the branches of the sweetbrier, stripped of its leaves…
Yes, I attest it, a Divine Being was there. Suddenly and completely transfigured, Bernadette was no longer Bernadette. She was an angel of heaven plunged into unspeakable raptures… Her attitude, her slightest gestures, the manner, for instance, in which she made the Sign of the Cross, had a nobility, a dignity, a greatness more than human… She smiled at the invisible Being, and all this gave a striking idea of her ecstasy and bliss.
I was not less moved than other spectators. Like them, I held my breath to try to hear the discourse that was taking place between the Vision and the child. She listened with an expression of most profound awe, or rather, of most profound adoration mingled with love. Sometimes, however, a tincture of sadness passed over her countenance, but its habitual expression was that of exceeding joy.”
It was during this Apparition that, as Bernadette said: “She told me to pray for sinners… and she cried out three times: ‘Penance! penance! penance!’ which I repeated’ Estrade, together with many others who were near Bernadette at this time, heard her cry “Penance! penance! penance!”
The Miraculous Spring
On February 25th, Bernadette again saw the Lady of the Grotto, who ordered her to: “Go, drink, and wash herself in the fountain, and eat of the grass which comes forth at the side.” Bernadette turned toward the river Gave, the only water visible, but the Vision again motioned her toward the corner of the Grotto, where she scratched in the earth.
Soon a little muddy water appeared, and after three vain attempts to overcome her natural repugnance, the child swallowed the water, and ate some of the grass growing beside it. Slowly this tiny pool filled and overflowed; within a day or two it was a small stream, crystal clear and icy cold. Gradually it increased in size, and has continued all these years to flow abundantly at the rate of over a thousand gallons an hour.
It is in this water that so many miracles have taken place, though the shrewdest scientists have been unable to find any healing mineral or therapeutic value in the water itself.
The First Miraculous Cure
The very first day this miraculous stream appeared, Louis Bouriette, blind for twenty years from a mine explosion (Dr. Douzous of Lourdes testified he had an incurable organic lesion), bathed his eyes with the water, still dirty and sandy and his sight was restored. This was the first of the miraculous cures at Lourdes, which have ever since been taking place there, and at a distance, through the intercession of Our Lady of Lourdes, thus testifying the power of the Mother of God.
March 4th, the last of this remarkable fortnight, there were over 20,000 people of all sorts and conditions, from near and far, gathered near the Grotto. They waited in prayerful anxiety, hoping they, too, could see the Beautiful Lady. They could all see that Bernadette was in an ecstasy, but still the Vision would not give her name. Nearly all were convinced it was our Heavenly Queen.
Bernadette continued to go to the Grotto to pray, the spring continued to increase its flow, and miracles continued to be wrought, until, on the Feast of the Annunciation, the Vision again appeared to Bernadette. This time, having waited purposely till this most appropriate feast, in response to the thrice repeated request of Bernadette to grant her the favour of saying who she was, “the Apparition joined her hands with fervour, and her face shone with the splendour of infinite beatitude. It was Humility in its Glory!..
She then unfolded her arms, as if to show the earth her virginal hands full of benedictions. Then raising them toward heaven, rejoined her hands and looking up to heaven with an expression of unspeakable gratitude pronounced these words “Que soy era Immaculado Counceptiou” — “I am the Immaculate Conception”
Throughout all the conversations with Bernadette, our Lady had used the patois, Bearnais, of the district, for Bernadette could not understand French.
Bernadette did not grasp the meaning of the words ‘ Immaculate Conception” and kept repeating them to herself all the way to the Pastor of Lourdes, Abbe Peyramale, lest she forget them.
He at one recognized the significance of this revelation. The Vision was indeed the Mother of God! (The dogma of whose Immaculate Conception had been defined as an article of faith just four years before by Pope Pius IX). She had now given new proof of her love for mankind under the title of the greatest of her attributes, by appearing to the young shepherdess in the miraculous Grotto of Lourdes, whence flowered her stream of living water, a symbol of the stream of God’s blessings flowing through her hands to earth’s troubled ones.
July 16th, 1858, was the last of the Apparitions. The work was completed. The Blessed Virgin’s little handmaid had served her purpose, the glory of Lourdes was to shine forth through the years, growing in majesty and power, a channel of grace to all mankind, while the humble / instrument, having accomplished her Queen’s bidding, retired into obscurity.