Our Lady of Lourdes


Commentary on the Readings: Isaiah 66:10-14; John 2:1-11 Today we celebrate a series of apparitions of the Virgin Mary at Lourdes, in the foothills of the Pyrenees in the south-west of France.

The apparitions of Our Lady of Lourdes began on 11 February 1858, when Bernadette Soubirous, a 14-year old peasant girl from the nearby town of Lourdes, went with her sister and a friend to gather firewood.  Inside the cave of Massabielle, just outside the town, Bernadette saw a “lady” standing on a ledge. Afterwards, on realising that she alone among her companions had seen the apparition, she asked her sister Toinette not to tell anyone what had happened. Toinette, however, was unable to keep silent, and told their mother, Louise Soubirous. After being questioned by her mother, Bernadette told about seeing the “lady”.  Both girls were given a beating and Bernadette was forbidden by her mother from returning to the Grotto again. However, a few days later, Bernadette asked for permission to return to the cave with her siblings and the permission was granted.

Similar appearances then took place on 17 further occasions that year – February 14, 18-21, 23-25, 27, 28, March 1-4, 25, April 7, and July 16. 

Bernadette described the lady that she saw as dressed in a flowing white robe, with a blue sash around her waist. This was, in fact, similar to the dress of the Children of Mary (a form of the former Sodality of Our Lady).

 The cave at Lourdes is now visited by millions of pilgrims every year from all over the world.  Several cures have been confirmed as miraculous over the years but no one knows the many other unrecorded forms of healing which many pilgrims experience. 

In addition to the Grotto, there are a number of churches in the pilgrimage area, a hospital and life-size Stations of the Cross.  Few pilgrims leave without a bottle of Lourdes water, from the spring begun by Bernadette.

Reflection

Readings: Isaiah 66:10-14; John 2:1-11

The Gospel is the story of the marriage feast at Cana from John’s gospel.  The passage comes at the end of a week introducing the person of Jesus and his first disciples, a week which recalls the week of creation in the book of Genesis. 

On this last day there is a new creation, the creation of the New Covenant between God and his people, who from now on will include people from all over the world.

A wedding is a traditional Old Testament image for people’s relationship with God.  Some of the prophets have described God as the spouse of his people, a people who again and again are scolded for their unfaithfulness to their Spouse.

Here at this wedding, we are told that the wine began to run short, a dreadful thing to happen for the hosts, who would be the bride’s family.  The mother of Jesus draws Jesus’ attention to the crisis.  And Jesus at first tries to brush it off as none of his business.  But his mother ignores his response and goes and tells the servant to go and do what Jesus tells them.  He then instructs the servants to fill six large jars, each capable of holding 20-30 gallons, with water and then to bring them to the steward.  When the steward was invited to taste, what had now just been water was discovered to be a wine of the very first quality.  The steward is amazed.  It was the custom to serve the good wine first and then, when people’s palates had been dulled, to serve a lower quality of wine.

The meaning is clear.  The heart of the story are those six jars of water.  They represent a traditional Jewish custom, according to the Law, of purifying oneself on entering the house and, by implication, the whole of the Mosaic Law, whose observance was the core of serving God. 

For John numbers are important.  The perfect number is seven – for instance, there are seven ‘signs’ which Jesus gives in this gospel; there are seven ‘I AM…’ statements.  But here there are only six jars, short of perfection.  They are now replaced by the high class wine of the New Covenant of which Jesus is the sign.  In fact, the passage ends with “this deed at Cana in Galilee is the first of the signs by which Jesus revealed his glories and led his disciples to believe in him”.

In a way all this happened because Mary told Jesus what he should do.  So here, as we honour Our Lady of Lourdes we see Mary now telling Bernadette what she should do.  And that is just how Bernadette responded, so that today literally millions of people go on pilgrimage to Lourdes in search of peace and healing.

The First Reading which is from the prophet Isaiah speaks of Jerusalem as the source of peace for the Jewish people of the time.  Here it is applied to what Lourdes means for so many people.  “I will send peace flowing over her like a river… As a mother comforts her son, so will I myself comfort you…”  In the passage, they are the words of God but here it is through the Mother of Jesus that the promise is made.  And many have discovered that it is really true.

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