THE HISTORY OF THE MIRACULOUS MEDAL "Mary's Gift of Grace" Part One
Revelation of the Miraculous Medal (1830-1831)
In the presence of Catherine's guardian angel, Our Lady had told her: "God wishes to entrust to yo a mission."This mission was made known to her on Saturday, November 27th, 1830, the eve of the first Sunday of Advent.
We are again in the chapel of the Rue du Bac where, since five-thirty in the evening, the novices have been gathered for prayer. The silence is complete, and all are absorbed in their devotions. All at once, in the half light, Catherine, who has been kneeling at her place on the Epistle side, hears the rustling of a silken robe, coming from the sanctuary at the right. She trembles. for she recognizes the silky sound that she had marked on the night of July 19th. She raises her head. Once again she has seen the Blessed Virgin. But this time Our Lady stands as if suspended in the air at the right side of the altar, facing Catherine.
"She was of middle height," wrote Catherine, "and she wore a silk robe white as the glow of dawn, of the kind called 'a la Vierge' (a robe fitting close to the neck, and following the lines of the shoulders and arms). A long veil was on her head, and extended to her feet, covering her all over. Through this veil I was able to see her hair in braids held by a piece of lace about an inch wide. Her •face was uncovered; but it is so beautiful that I could not describe it."
This is the place in which we must take note of two phases in this most important apparition. In the first, Mary offers the world to God; in the second, she offers the grace of God to the world. In the first phase, she bears the aspect which is traditional in representations of the Immaculate Conception.
"Her eyes were turned toward Heaven, she stood erect upon a large white sphere, her feet were set upon a serpent, greenish in color but touched with yellow spots. At the level of her breast she held a little golden ball surmounted by a Cross, and this she was offering to God."
Both the golden orb and the white sphere represented earth and its peoples. We may remark that although Catherine saw no more than half of the white sphere, she was happy as a patriot to behold on it the shape and name of France. But then, suddenly, the golden orb was gone; and Our Lady extended her empty hands toward the earth.
Catherine continues: "On each of her fingers were three precious stones of differing size and from them came rays of light which fell upon the sphere at her feet. But from some of these stones no rays at all were cast. Just as I was thinking of this, the Blessed Virgin turned her eyes to me, and a Voice spoke within me: 'The sphere which you see, is the world; it includes France and every inhabitant of the Earth. The rays of light which come from my hands are the graces which I shower on those who ask for them.' Our Lady gave me to understand with what generosity rand great joy she dispensed grace. 'But,' she said, 'there are graces for which I am not asked, and it is for this reason that some of the stones you see are not sending forth any rays of light.' "
Catherine was now in ecstasy: "I might have been . . . or I might not have been ... ," she writes in her embarrassed way. "I was full of joy. . ."
Immediately there began the second phase of the apparition. A change took place in what Catherine saw before her.
"An oval frame seemed to form, and in its upper portion the following words were inscribed in semicircular form about the upper part of Our Lady's body: O MARY CONCEIVED WITHOUT SIN, PRAY FOR US WHO HAVE RECOURSE TO THEE. Once again the Voice made itself heard within my heart: 'Have a medal made after this pattern. Those who wear it, blessed, about their necks and who confidently say this prayer, will receive great graces and will enjoy the special protection of the Mother of God. Then the frame reversed itself to show me the other side of the medal."
What Catherine now saw was Mary's monogram: "A large M, surmounted by a cross, having a double bar under it. Beneath this M, the holy hearts of Jesus and Mary were placed side by side, the first being crowned with thorns, the other pierced by a sword. And round about were set twelve stars." This was the end of the vision.
As will be seen, the mission given to Catherine was a triple one: (1) she was to have the medal struck, (2) she was to spread its use, and (3) she was to promise great favors to those who wore it in a spirit of devotion. To this mission she consecrated the last forty-six years of her life, and she did so in self-effacement of the most absolute kind, and what is even more astonishing, in complete anonymity.
Our Lady returned to Catherine several times to confirm this mission, notably in December of 1830 and in March and in September of 1831. At one time she showed herself during evening prayer, beneath the picture of St. Joseph; at another, above the tabernacle during Mass. Finally in September 1831, she came for the last time:
"After this, my child," she said, "you shall see me no more; but you shall hear my Voice in prayer." This Voice made itself heard whenever Catherine had need of light or of encouragement. The Voice had already spoken to her, as a matter of fact. While Catherine was grieving because her director would not take her seriously and while she complained: "You can see well enough, dear Mother, that he does not believe me," the Voice had said: "Do not be disturbed! When the time comes, he will do as I wish, for he is my servant, and he would not wish to displease me."
Actually, Fr. Aladel was showing himself to be quite skeptical. And, in the apparition of September 1831, Our Lady complained that nothing had been done. However, we will allow the confessor to speak for himself on this subject. In writing to the Abbé Le Guillou, of whom we shall have something to say later, M. Aladel tells how it had taken a year to make him yield:
"From the day following her (first) vision," he wrote, "this novice tried to draw me into the matter; but I saw in it nothing but the work of her imagination, and I strove to convince her of this. As a matter of fact, she went away quietly. When the vision recurred, she came again to tell me of it. I attached no more importance to it this time, and I dismissed her as before. But then, months later, the vision appeared once again and the same things were shown and told to her. The Voice added, this time, that the Blessed Virgin was not pleased with him who had failed to have the medal struck. This time, fearing the displeasure of her whom the Church calls the Refuge of Sinners. I could not avoid attaching some significance to the words of the Sister, although I did not let her know this. Then, still in the grip of the notion that all could be no more than an illusion, I failed to do anything about it. However, a few weeks later, it chanced that I had occasion to see the archbishop, and I spoke to him of the matter."
At this time the archbishop of Paris was Monseigneur Louis-Hyacinth de Quélen (1778-1839). This prelate declared to the Lazarist that he found in the account of the apparition "nothing at variance with the faith of the Church and the devotion of the faithful; that, so far as he was concerned, he saw no objection to having such a medal struck"; and that "he wished himself to be the first to be given such a medal."
The archbishop's words spurred Fr. Aladel on, and he resolved to go forward. But he delayed a few months longer because there was an epidemic of the cholera in Paris and he was occupied in ministering to the victims. It was, therefore, not until May, 1832, that he had the medal made. Toward the end of that month, he ordered the engraver, Vachette, to strike fifteen-hundred of them, and these were placed at his disposal on June 30th.
When Catherine was given her medal, she found that it conformed to the model which had been shown to her, and she said: "I will wear it with veneration; but the important thing now is to make it known."