When I went to World Youth Day in Paris, my pilgrimage group was blessed to visit Chapelle Notre Dame de la Medaille Miraculeuse (the Chapel of the Miraculous Medal) at rue du Bac. Upon first entering the shrine, I was drawn to the breathtaking statue of Our Lady located high in the center of the sanctuary in which Mother Mary’s hands are reaching out to us and showering graces down upon us. To the right of the sanctuary lies the incorrupt body of St. Catherine Labouré and I was blessed to have medals touched to her glass tomb. Nearby is the chair Our Lady sat in when she appeared to St. Catherine. I still feel a thrill when I imagine this in light of her apparitions so many years ago.
“Come to the chapel. The Blessed Virgin is waiting for you,” spoke the little angel who appeared as a boy of five years old, with blue eyes and gold hair, as he awakened St. Catherine on the night of her first vision. A Sister at the convent of the Daughters of Charity, which St. Vincent de Paul founded in France, Catherine was nothing short of stunned to find the seraphic little figure waiting at her bedside at 11:30 p.m. on July 18, 1830. One can imagine her amazement and joy as the angel said, “Don’t be afraid … Come along. I’ll wait for you.” Our Lady had come, as she has throughout history and in our own time, to lead her children to the throne of her Eucharistic Son.
Although the other Sisters were fast asleep, as St. Catherine followed the angel to the chapel she noticed that all of the lights were on in the hallway and Church. The altar candles were even ablaze, “just as though there were going to be a Midnight Mass!,” she recalled. At the angel’s lead, she knelt by the altar rail on the right of the sanctuary. Our Lady came from the right of the altar and sat in the arm chair where the priest often sat when giving spiritual counsel to the Sisters. The little angel said, “It is the Blessed Virgin! Go to her! Can’t you see that she’s waiting for you?” St. Catherine hurried to the sanctuary and knelt by the arm chair with her hands on our Blessed Mother’s knees. Our Lady spoke to her and told her that God was to give her a special mission. She prophesied many sufferings that France and the world would undergo, and how she herself would experience many trials. Mother Mary also consoled her, “Do not be afraid. Tell them not to be afraid. The protection of God shall be ever present in a special way. I shall be with you myself. Always, I have my eye upon you. I will grant you many graces.”
Our Lady appeared to St. Catherine again on November 27 as she and her Sisters prayed at the chapel. She stood, once again, in the sanctuary—this time near St. Joseph—on a shining globe. In her hands Mary held a small golden ball with a Cross on the top and rings on her fingers, representing graces. The Virgin explained: “The globe which you see represents the world, especially France, and everyone in it. The rays are the symbol of the graces I shed on those who ask me for them. The stones which shed forth no light represent the graces for which people forget to ask me.”
Then, Our Blessed Mother showed St. Catherine a vision of the Miraculous Medal which read, “O Mary conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to Thee.” The Heavenly Queen spoke again saying, “Have a medal made after this model. All who wear it after it has been blessed will receive any graces, especially if they wear it around the neck. Grace will abound for those who wear it with confidence.” On the front of the medal is an image of Our Lady with graces pouring forth from her hands. She is standing with her heal crushing the head of the serpent. The “O Mary conceived without sin…” prayer surrounds her in an oval fashion. On the back is the letter M (for Mary) beneath the Cross and linked to the bar. The Sacred Heart of Jesus, crowned with thorns, and the heart of Mary, pierced with a sword, are side by side. This image is encircled by twelve stars.
Numerous miracles are attributed to the wearing of the medal. In St. Catherine Labouré’s own time those who wore it were saved from the cholera plague. In The Story of the Miraculous Medal by Armando Alexandre dos Santos, he recounts the healing of an elderly woman who was crippled, a young woman whose arm was to be amputated, along with the cures of several children globally. Moreover, dos Santos documents many spiritual miracles that have taken place, where Catholics and non-Catholics have been converted through Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal’s intercession.
In 1842 Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal appeared to Alphonse Ratisbonne, a young Jewish man, who at 24 years old had spent most of his life mocking the Church. He was converted instantly and wanted to be a priest. The prophecy of Simeon, that the sword would pierce Our Lady’s heart “that the thoughts of many hearts would be laid bare” (Luke 2:35) has certainly manifest itself as many hearts are pierced by the Divine Love of the Eucharistic Heart of Jesus, Whose Graces flood like rays through His Mother’s Heart.
These brilliant rays continue to shine today. Year after year countless miracles are reported. These resplendent graces are given, Our Mother said, to all who ask for them—especially those who pray with confidence. As Jesus said to St. Margaret Mary in His appearance to her in the Holy Eucharist, His Sacred Heart exposed: “If you believe, if you really believe, you will see miracles of My Love!” In the words of Our Lady to St. Catherine Labouré, “My child, you, too, will know sadness. But in time of trial come here before the altar and pour out all your troubles. Then you will receive every consolation.”
In his book Jesus Our Eucharistic Love, Fr. Stefano Manelli, O.F.M. Conv., S.T.D. writes that Our Lady is “inseparably united with Jesus in the Host. Jesus is always the Son she adores. He is Flesh of her flesh and Blood of her blood.” It is through Mary, whom the Saints call the “Mediatrix of all Graces” that the Source of grace is made known in our world. Our Lady always come to lead us to Jesus’ Real Presence, to the sanctuary where He dwells, the throne of grace. Alone we may be afraid to approach the mystery of God, so we come with Our Mother, our confidence. “Let us go with confidence to the throne of grace that we may obtain mercy and find grace.” (Heb. 4:16) When we go before Jesus on the altar, we always find Him “with Mary His Mother,” as the Magi did at Bethlehem. (Mt. 2:11) Jesus in the Sacred Host, from the altar of our hearts, can repeat to each one of us what He said to St. John the Evangelist from the altar of Calvary, “Behold thy Mother” (John 19:27), writes Fr. Manelli. As “it is quite natural that the great as well as the lesser Marian shrines always foster devotion to the Holy Eucharist, so much so that they can be called Eucharistic shrines … where crowds approach the altar in almost endless lines to receive Mary’s blessed Fruit.”
The Feast of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal is traditionally celebrated on November 27 followed by the Feast of St. Catherine Labouré on November 28. Fascinatingly, prior to her visions of the Miraculous Medal, St. Catherine received daily manifestations of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, Who appeared as King. Traditionally, following the recitation of the Miraculous Medal novena, there was always exposition of the Most Blessed Sacrament as noted even in the novena booklets of today. True Devotion to Our Mother is devotion to her Son in the Holy Eucharist. Let us remember the words of the little angel, “It is the Blessed Virgin! Go to her! Can’t you see that she’s waiting for you?” and “Come to the Chapel” for it is hear that Mary calls us and leads us to the Eucharistic Heart of her Son. As Our Mother said, “Come to the foot of the altar. Here graces will be showered on all, great and little, who ask for them. Graces will be especially showered upon those who ask for them.”