Today in the liturgical calendar we honor St. Bernadette. Yet, this is not her feast day. She died on April 16, 1879. So why do we commemorate her today?
When she was fourteen, St. Bernadette went with her sister, Toinette, and a friend, Jeanne, out to gather wood. Upon reaching a stream, her companions moved ahead of her, wading across the stream and beginning to gather wood along the other side. Bernadette began to pull her shoes and stockings off to follow her fellows when she heard the sound of wind. Though no wind was blowing, a wild rosebush nearby was tossing violently, as if it had been caught in a gale. Then, in a niche in the rock above the rose bush, the Blessed Mother appeared as a young woman, dressed in a white robe with a blue sash, holding a gold rosary with pearl beads, and with a golden rose resting on each foot. Bernadette had no idea who the beautiful young woman was. She and Bernadette prayed the rosary together. Throughout it, Mary only spoke aloud the Glory Be. Once they were done, Our Lady vanished.
Bernadette tried to keep her vision a secret, but word about it soon got out. It was several days before her parents let her return to the grotto in Massabielle where the lady had appeared to her. Once again, she prayed the rosary with the lady, and the lady vanished once they were done. Bernadette was left in an ecstasy. It caused her mother so much worry that again she was forbidden to go to the grotto. However, Our Lady was determined to have Bernadette return. A wealthy person arrived three days after Bernadette’s last vision and asked to go to the grotto with Bernadette. The permission was granted, and Bernadette went the following morning.
It was on this day, February 18, that the Lady first spoke to Bernadette outside of prayer. It was also the day that the Lady asked Bernadette to return to the grotto for fifteen consecutive days. Bernadette joyfully said yes. Then Our Lady told her that she could not promise her happiness in this world, but only in the next. Bernadette did her best to come for the next fifteen days, although she was hampered by her parents and the town officials, who brought her in for questionings and even threatened her with arrest if she did not stay away from the grotto. But who can keep anyone from God’s mother, whom He has given to us to be our mother as well? Throughout the course of the visions, not only did Our Lady pray the rosary with Bernadette, but she also urged Bernadette to pray for the conversion of sinners and do penance. Also within these fifteen days, Our Lady led Bernadette to a miraculous spring which still heals people both physically and spiritually in Lourdes today.
After the fifteen days were over, Bernadette only saw the Blessed Mother three times more: on the feast of the Annunciation, when she proclaimed herself the Immaculate Conception, on the following Easter, where she begged again for a chapel to be built at Massabielle, and on the feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, which was Bernadette’s last glimpse of the Blessed Mother on this earth. So although the feast of St Bernadette is in April, and the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes was this past Tuesday, we honor them both today because this was the day that the Blessed Virgin asked St. Bernadette to visit her for fifteen days in succession. While Bernadette was not perfectly happy in this life, surely, for all the persecution she suffered because of her acceptance, her Mother made her truly happy in the next, just as she had promised.
St. Bernadette, pure and simple child, you who were privileged to behold the beauty of Mary Immaculate and to be the recipient of her confidence; you who did desire from then on to hide youself in the cloister at Nevers and there live and die as a victim of sinners, obtain for us that spirit of purity, simplicity, and mortification, which will lead us also to the glorious vision of God and of Mary in Heaven. Amen
So that the Catholic reader may not be confused, the Saint’s feasts are taken from the traditional calendar, so if you follow the new calendar, this feast may not line up with the feast you may be celebrating today.
– St. Bernadette, pray for us!