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OUR LADY OF LOURDES
BY HENRI LASSERRE
SINCE the last day of the Quinzaine, Bernadette had several times re-visited the Grotto, but much like any other simple individual, that is to say without hearing in her heart the irresistible voice which was wont to summon her to the spot.
She heard this voice, however, once more on the twenty-fifth of March, in the course of the morning, and immediately proceeded towards the Rocks of Massabielle. Her countenance was beaming with hope. She felt within herself that she was going to see the Apparition once more, and that Paradise would throw its eternal gates half open to her ravished eyes.
It may be easily conceived that she had become the object of general attention at Lourdes, and she could not take a step without becoming “the observed of all observers.”
“Bernadette is going to the Grotto,” was the observation of the one to the other as she was seen passing by.
A moment afterwards, a crowd, issuing from all the houses and collecting from all the alleys, rushed in the same direction and reached the Grotto at the same time with the child.
In the valley, the snow had melted within the last two or three days, but still remained on the crests of the neighboring peaks. The weather was fine and clear, and not a speck was to be seen in the calm blue of the firmament. The sun seemed to rise with royal pomp from the bosom of the white mountains and threw a splendor over his cradle of snow.
It was the anniversary of the day on which the Angel Gabriel had descended to the purest of virgins, the Virgin of Nazareth, and had saluted her in the name of the Lord. The Church was celebrating the Feast of the Annunciation.
While the crowd was hurrying to the Grotto, and amongst it might be noticed the greater number of those who had been cured―Louis Bourriette, the widow Crouzat, Blaisette Soupenne, Benoite Cazeaux, Auguste Bordes, and twenty more, the Catholic Church, at the close of her morning office was intoning those wonderful words, “At that moment shall the eyes of the blind be opened, the ears of the deaf shall recover their hearing, the lame shall leap like the deer, for the waters have burst forth in the desert, and torrents in the wilderness.”
Bernadette had not been deceived by the joyful presentiment she had felt. The voice which had called her was the voice of the faithful Virgin.
As soon as the child had fallen on her knees the Apparition made herself manifest. As ever before, an ineffable aureole beamed around her, of boundless splendor and infinite sweetness; it was like the eternal glory of absolute peace. As ever before, her veil and her robe falling in chaste folds were white like the glistening snow. The two roses which blossomed on her feet had the yellow tinge which pervades the base of heaven at the first light of the virgin dawn. Her girdle was blue as the azure firmament.
Bernadette, plunged in ecstasy, had forgotten earth in the presence of her spotless beauty.
“O lady,” she said to her, “would you have the goodness to inform me who you are and what is your name?”
The queenly Apparition smiled but gave no reply. But at that very moment, the Universal Church, proceeding with the solemn prayers of her Office was exclaiming:
“O Holy and Immaculate Virginity, what praises can I give unto Thee? In truth, I know not, for thou hast borne in thy womb Him whom the Heavens cannot contain.”
Bernadette heard not these distant voices, nor could she surmise these profound harmonies. Notwithstanding the silence on the part of the Vision, she urged her request, and repeated:
“O Lady, would you have the kindness to inform me who you are and what is your name?”
The Apparition appeared to become more radiant, as if her joy kept increasing, and yet she did not reply to the child’s question. But the Church, spread over the whole of Christendom, was continuing her prayers and chants and had reached those words:
“Wish me joy, all ye who love the Lord, for when I was yet a child, the Most High hath loved me, and from my womb was produced the God-Man.”
Bernadette redoubled the urgency of her request and pronounced for the third time the words: “O Lady, would you have the kindness to inform me who you are and what is your name?”
The Apparition appeared to enter more and more into the glory of beatitude, and as if absorbed in her own felicity, continued to return no answer. But, by an extraordinary coincidence the universal choir of the Church was at that moment bursting forth into a song of joy and pronouncing the earthly name of the marvelous Apparition, “Hail Mary, full of Grace, the Lord is with Thee, blessed art Thou among women.”
Bernadette pronounced once more these suppliant words:
“O Lady, I beseech you, have the kindness to inform me who you are and what is your name?”
The hands of the Apparition were clasped with fervor and her countenance was radiant with the splendors of infinite beatitude. It was Humility crowned with Glory. At the same time that Bernadette was contemplating the Vision, the Vision was doubtless contemplating, in the bosom of the Divine Trinity, God the Father of whom She was the daughter, God the Holy Ghost of whom She was the Spouse, and God the Son of whom She was the Mother.
At the last question of the child She unclasped her hands, slipping over her right arm the chaplet, whose alabaster beads were strung on a golden thread. She then opened both of Her arms and bent them towards the ground, as if to show to the earth Her Virgin hands, full of blessings. Afterwards, raising them towards the eternal region, from which on that very day centuries before the Divine Messenger of the Annunciation had descended, She joined them again fervently, and gazing up to Heaven with an expression of unspeakable gratitude, she pronounced the following words:
“I am the Immaculate Conception.”
Thus saying, She disappeared, and the child, like the multitude, found herself opposite a solitary rock.
At her side, the miraculous Fountain, falling through its wooden conduit into its rustic basin, soothed the ear with the peaceful murmur of its waters. It was the day and the hour, when Holy Church was intoning in her Office the magnificent hymn,―”O most glorious of Virgins.”
O Goriosa Virginum,
Sublimis inter sidera.
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