Many healings, including those of people for whom there was totally no hope, have been attributed to the “Miraculous Medal.” Just in the American city of Philadelphia alone, between 1930 and 1950, more than 750,000 favors were granted and registered. St. Catherine Laboure lies in an incorruptible state at the right of the altar in the chapel of Rue du Bac 140, in Paris. She still looks as though she only died yesterday!
Between July and December 1830, Sister Catherine, a young seminary sister (novice) of the Daughters of Charity, received the extraordinary favour of conversing with the Virgin Mary on three occasions. In the preceding months, Catherine had the privilege of other apparitions. Saint Vincent de Paul showed her his heart. While at prayer in the chapel, Catherine saw, on three successive days, the heart of Saint Vincent in three different colours. The heart first appeared white, the colour of peace; then red, the colour of fire; and then black, an indication of the misfortunes that would come upon France and Paris in particular. Soon afterwards, Catherine saw Christ present in the Eucharistic host. “I saw Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament all the time of my seminary except the times when I doubted.” On June 6, 1830, feast of the Holy Trinity, Christ appeared as a crucified King, stripped of all his adornments.
July 18, 1830, the eve of the feast of Saint Vincent whom she loved so much and whose heart she had seen overflowing with love, Catherine prayed that, through his intercession, her desire to see the Blessed Virgin would finally be fulfilled. At 11:30 PM, she was called by name. A mysterious child was at the foot of her bed and asked her to get up. “The Blessed Virgin is waiting for you.” Catherine dressed and followed the child who was “bringing rays of brightness wherever he passed.” Having arrived in the chapel, Catherine stopped near the chair used by the priest in the sanctuary (the current location of the statue of Saint Joseph). She then heard a sound “like the rustle of a silk dress.” Her little guide said, “Here is the Blessed Virgin.” She hesitated, but the child repeated in a stronger tone of voice, “Here is the Blessed Virgin.” In a single bound, Catherine was at the feet of the Blessed Virgin, seated on a chair and her hands resting on the knees of the Mother of God. “There, a period of time passed, the sweetest of my life. It would be impossible for me to say what I experienced. The Blessed Virgin told me how I should behave towards my spiritual director and also several other things.” The Blessed Virgin pointed to the altar where the tabernacle was and said, “Come to the foot of this altar. Here, graces will be spread over all who ask for them with confidence and fervour.” A difficult mission was announced as well as a request for the establishment of a Confraternity of the Children of Mary. Father Aladel would accomplish this request on February 2, 1840.
On November 27, 1830, the Blessed Virgin appeared to Catherine again in the chapel. This time it was at 5:30 pm, during meditation, under the painting of Saint Joseph (current location of Our Lady of the Globe). First, Catherine saw something like two living paintings, one fading into the other, in which the Blessed Virgin stood on a half-globe, her feet crushing a serpent. In this first image, the Virgin held a small golden globe topped with a cross, which she lifted up toward heaven. Catherine heard, “This globe represents the entire world, including France, and every person.” In the second image, beautiful rays of light streamed from the Blessed Virgin’s open hands, covered with jeweled rings. At that same moment,Catherine heard a voice saying, “These rays are a symbol of the graces that I pour out on those who ask them of me.” Then an oval formed around the apparition, and Catherine saw in a semi-circle this invocation emblazoned in gold letters: “O Mary conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to you.” She then heard a voice saying, “Have a medal made according to this model. For those who wear it with confidence, there will be abundant graces.” Finally, the image turned, and Catherine saw the reverse side of the medal: the letter “M” surmounted with a little cross and two hearts below, one crowned with thorns and the other pierced with a sword.
In the month of December 1830, during meditation, Catherine again heard the rustling sound, this time behind the altar. The same image of the medal appeared near the tabernacle, slightly behind it. “These rays are the symbol of the graces that the Blessed Virgin obtains for those who ask them of her…You will not see me anymore.”
In this chapel, chosen by God, the Virgin Mary came in person to reveal her identity through a little object, a medal, intended for all without distinction. Mary’s identity had been the subject of controversy among theologians since the beginnings of the Church. In 431, the Council of Ephesus proclaimed the first Marian dogma: Mary is the Mother of God. Starting in 1830, the invocation that rises up toward heaven, repeated in the hearts of thousands of Christians all over the world at the request of that same Mother of God, would have an effect:“O Mary conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to you!” On December 8, 1854, Pius IX proclaimed the dogma of the Immaculate Conception: by a singular privilege and grace granted by God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Saviour of the human race, Mary is without sin from the moment of her conception.
Sister Catherine was assigned to the Hospice of Enghein (in the 12th district of Paris) to care for elderly men. She set about her work. However, an interior voice kept insisting that the medal must be struck.Catherine spoke about it again to her confessor, Father Aladel. In February 1832, a terrible cholera epidemic broke out in Paris that would cause more than 20,000 deaths. In June, the Daughters of Charity began to distribute the first 2000 medals produced at Father Aladel’s request. Cures accumulated, as did protection from the disease and conversions. It was overwhelming. The people of Paris began to call the medal “miraculous.”
By autumn of 1834, there were already 500,000 medals in existence. In 1835, there were more than one million worldwide, and in 1839 more than 10,000,000 medals had been distributed. At the time of the death of Sister Catherine, in 1876, there were more than a billion medals. The words and images on the front of the medal express a message with three intimately connected aspects. “O Mary conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to you.”Mary’s identity is explicitly revealed to us:the Virgin Mary is immaculate from the moment of her conception. The power behind her intercession for those who pray to her comes from this privilege derived from the merits of the Passion of her Son Jesus Christ. This is why the Virgin invites everyone to have recourse to her in the difficulties of life.