The Eighth Apparition of Our Lady of Lourdes
In the morning (Wednesday, February 24th), Bernadette had to pass through massive human barriers, and receive homage she little understood, before she could reach her granite prie-dieu. Everything, at first, happened as usual that is, blissfully. But soon there rolled, as it were, a cloud of sadness over the brightness of the ecstasy.
After she had started to pray, Our Lady once again appeared to her. But after a short while, the crowds saw the child drop her arms, like someone who has just heard some bad news, and tears ran down her cheeks. She then rose up, her face full of sorrow, to ascend the slope of the Grotto, pressing her lips to the earth each time she knelt. Having reached the wild rose-tree, which hung from above, she made fresh reverences to the invisible Being, and raised her head as though to hear her commands, whereupon, turning to the crowd, who deeply touched by her actions and her tear-stained face, they heard her cry out three times, while sobbing: “Penance! Penance! Penance!” At one and the same time, they were words of sadness, like the faults which they deplore; words of sternness as the repentance which they require; and yet words full of light, like the faith and hope in God which they imply. The conclusion of this touching scene was the command which the Vision gave to her confidant to pray for poor sinners. And the dialogue ended by the revelation of another personal secret for Bernadette, which, like the others, we, the uninitiated, shall only learn in the clear light of eternity.
Having returned to her place, the child-seer found there her usual peace, which the untimely and burlesque appearance of a sergeant of the gendarmes (police force) failed to disturb, though he came, he said, in the name of the law, to put a stop to all this nonsense. He only provoked the indignation of the spectators, whose menacing anger soon put to flight this over-zealous officer.
Each person, on coming away, asked himself if such an indictment, on the part of Heaven, did not imply the approach of grave trials, in view of their serious crimes, unless the Divine justice were appeased by an adequate satisfaction, clearly hinted at by the triple cry of the prophetess for penance.
This should be a warning and lesson to those who, forgetting the lessons of Lourdes, and also of La Salette, or even of the Gospel, all of which comes down to the same thing, seem, and who, in spite of every warning, to have taken for their motto: “Let tomorrow take care of itself!” Let those dilettanti (the superficial and frivolous), some of whom were crowding the flowery banks of the River Gave back then, and still do so today, as well as souls of mere sentimental piety and niceness, let them all understand that, except by “Penance, penance, penance,” there is no salvation for nations and no salvation for individuals. As Jesus Himself warned us in the Gospel: “Unless you shall do penance, you shall all likewise perish…No, I say to you; but except you do penance, you shall all likewise perish” (Luke 13:3–5).
A prominent inhabitant of Lourdes, of upright, but somewhat skeptical mind, related to Mr. Henri Lasserre, how, on that day, he was convinced by the evidence of the supernatural. He did not see the rose-bush bloom, but he saw Bernadette in ecstasy; he saw the heavenly reflection on the face of the humble child; and his good faith returned. How can we help believing in the sun, when, without yet seeing itself, we perceive the summit of the mountains gilded by its rays?
“I reached the grotto“ he said, “very much disposed to investigate, and, to tell the truth, to have a good laugh, expecting a farce or something ridiculous. I placed myself in the first row. The crowd was immense. About sunrise, Bernadette arrived. I was near her. She knelt down, without heeding the crowd which surrounded her, as if she had been alone. Very soon her look seemed to receive and reflect an unknown light. Before this transfiguration of the child, all my preconceived denials fell to the ground at once, and gave place to an extraordinary feeling which took possession of me, in spite of myself. I felt certain that a mysterious being was there. Suddenly and entirely transfigured, Bernadette was no longer Bernadette. Her attitude, her slightest gesture had a superhuman majesty. She smiled at the invisible being.
“I was no less moved than the other spectators. Like them, I held my breath to try and hear the conversation which was taking place between the vision and the child. At a certain moment, Bernadette advanced on her knees, from the spot where she was praying, that is to say, from the banks of the Gave, to the end of the grotto. This was about fifteen feet. Whilst she thus ascended the somewhat steep side of the rock, those who were in her way very distinctly heard her pronounce these words: ‘Penance! Penance!! Penance!!!’”
The more than impartial witness, who relates this touching scene, saw Bernadette come out of her ecstasy and immediately become again a poor little girl, almost in rags, in no way distinguished from other peasant children. This witness was the local tax collector at Lourdes, and it was he, who, on the previous Sunday, had assisted and witnessed Bernadette’s interrogation by the local chief of police.
When, on leaving the grotto, Bernadette presented herself at the parish presbytery, where Father Peyramale, with his usual calmness, said to her, “Well, did you see the vision today? And what did she say?”
“I saw the vision,” answered Bernadette, “and I said to her: ‘Our pastor asks you for some proofs, for instance to make the rose-bush under your feet blossom; because my word does not suffice for the priests, and they will not trust me.’ Then she smiled but without speaking. Then, she told me to pray for sinners, and commanded me to come up to the end of the grotto. And she said three times: ‘Penance! . . . Penance!! . . . Penance!!!’ I repeated these words dragging myself to the end of the grotto on my knees. There she revealed to me a second secret which concerns only myself. Then, she disappeared.”
“And what did you find at the end of the grotto?”
“I looked after she had disappeared (for while she is there I notice nothing but herself, she absorbs me) and I saw nothing but the rock and in the ground a few blades of grass growing up in the sand.”
“Let us wait,” said the pastor. But in this recital Bernadette omitted some interesting particulars, of which we cannot deprive the pious reader.
Whilst the child was absorbed in the ecstasy, she was seen to kiss the ground, several times, ascending on her knees the rugged rock which arose before her, as far as the end of the grotto, on the left. The Blessed Virgin had said to her:“You will pray to God for sinners ... You will kiss the ground for the conversion of sinners.” And she signaled for her to advance on her knees.
Bernadette, raising her head, after having kissed the ground, looked for the Apparition; she saw her slowly drawing back and followed her, renewing her humiliating kisses of penance. She went in under the arch and remained some time motionless. At this moment, she saw the Virgin so near her, she said, that by raising and extending her arm, she could have touched her feet.
She turned toward the spectators, made a gesture which seemed to ask the crowd to bow down. It was not understood. Then her finger rested for a moment on her lips, then was pointed, quickly and imperiously towards the ground with an astonishing energy and authority. The look and gesture seemed to say to all of the bystanders: “You also, kiss the ground!” Many persons instantly bowed down, awed by the sudden supernatural grandeur and authoritativeness of that lowly child; and, thinking they obeyed an order from the Vision, they obediently kissed the ground. Bernadette turned back to the Vision and again knelt down, still kissing the ground, and returned to her contemplation before the niche of the grotto.
From this spectacle, which must have been so trying and testing to human pride, the spectators went home with various feelings. But all were awed and amazed. Many went away with the religious impression left by mysterious events behind which one feels that God is hidden, thinking that a great future was being prepared in the grotto. The Blessed Virgin made them feel a presentiment of her future mercies.
Subsequently, penance for sinners was again asked of Bernadette. She went up and came down on her knees, once, during each apparition, and always in silence; however, it was only that first time that she was heard to say out loud those words: “Penance! Penance! Penance!”
One day, she made several of these laborious ascents up the rock on her knees. Her face was continually lit up with a happy smile, a shade of melancholy veiled it at times, and even then the smile remained sad but happy. It is often remembered with astonishment what lightness the child displayed in that difficult ascent, over rough stone, on her knees,“I often thought,” writes an eye-witness, “that invisible beings were aiding her to ascend and descend so rapidly.” She was asked the first day: “But why did you walk on your knees and kiss the ground?”
“The Vision commanded me to do it; and it was a penance for myself and others.” “Why did you make us a sign to kiss the ground?” “The Vision seemed to say that you all should do penance for sinners.”
More than a year after, some priests who questioned her very closely, said to her in relation to this penance: “But it is very strange that the Blessed Virgin should have asked all that of you! These are extraordinary things, which appear to us unreasonable.” She answered with downcast eyes and in a thrilling tone: “Ah! For the conversion of sinners! …”
The desire of the Heart of Mary was revealed. It was sinners whom she called by Bernadette’s prayer and humiliation. It was sinners she also sought by the future miracles, which were to be performed, in their hundreds, at that favored grotto.