Today we remember St Catherine Labouré. It is on this day in the year 1830 that the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to the young French nun entrusting to her the devotion to the miraculous medal. Standing before her with arms outstretched and brilliant rays emanating from her hands, the luminous letters of the words: “O Mary conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to Thee” appeared around her queenly head. A frame of gold surrounded the entire vision as Our Lady said, “Have a medal struck after this model. All those who wear it will receive great graces; it should be worn around the neck. Great graces will be given to those who wear it with confidence.” Then the apparition turned, revealing the model for the obverse. This was a large “M,” surmounted by a Cross on a bar. Below the “M” were two hearts, the Sacred Heart of Jesus encircled with thorns, and the Immaculate Heart of Mary pierced with a sword. Around the whole were twelve stars bordering the golden elliptical frame. The vision disappeared.
This recent true story relates to the medal.
The elderly woman before me on the hospital bed was pale, though in no apparent discomfort. Like most patients on the ward, she appeared to welcome a visit from one of the chaplaincy team. Before long, I settled down beside her to listen, reassure, chat, and possibly pray a little with her … or so I thought. All of a sudden, she fixed her gaze on the gold miraculous medal around my neck, asking what it was. I explained simply that I was a Catholic and that the Mother of Jesus, the Virgin Mary whom we venerate, was depicted on the medal. Her gaze turned into a wide-eyed stare.
“Beautiful, so beautiful”, she stammered repeatedly as her eyes became absorbed in my 2cm long matt gold medal. After what seemed like a long while, she started to blink and look away, whilst seemingly compelled to catch yet another glimpse. Already uneasy, I began to feel positively unnerved when the woman suddenly asked me to turn away. It seemed as though she could no longer bear to look at the blinding brilliance around my neck.
“Why don’t you close your eyes”, I suggested as I leaned over her, “and hold the medal in your hand instead”.
She relaxed and as she clasped her fingers around it, a deep peace enveloped us both. In silent prayer, I entrusted the woman to our heavenly Mother. It was a tender and moving moment. Later in conversation, I learned that she had been baptised a Catholic, but had lapsed throughout her adult life. As I listened to her story, I felt compelled to ask her if she would like to see a priest who could help her return to the sacraments. I had in mind not an on-call priest for the very sick and dying – this was apparently not her need – but a priest friend who had once agreed to minister to Catholic patients wishing to come back home to the Church.
“No, I’m not ready for that,” was her reply.
I invited her to think about my offer, quietly hoping she would accept at my next visit. After a short prayer together, I left her. On my return to the ward some days later, I went, as ever, from patient to patient, from one bay to another, amidst fractures and knee-replacements, sobs and smiles, prayers and silences. My intriguing lady patient seemed to have been moved, perhaps to another ward.
In the last bay I approached the bed of a young woman. No sooner had I introduced myself as a chaplaincy visitor, than the floodgates opened. In tears the young patient began to tell me how she had recently helped a patient in the bed near her pass from this life to eternity. It had become obvious to her that the distressed elderly woman’s breathing pattern was changing and that she was probably dying. Though nurses on the ward had been alerted, there seemed to be no hurry or sense of urgency. Calling her by name, the young woman spoke words of comfort to her neighbour, commending her soul to God’s mercy and pleading with all in heaven to assist and intercede for her dying sister in Christ. Some tried to silence her, but others joined in as this intrepid Christian warrior continued to pray out aloud. It was not long before the patient breathed her last. The day was a Saturday, Our Lady’s day. The deceased was the woman who had been mesmerised by the miraculous medal.
At first my heart sank. Too late for a priest, for sacramental reconciliation. And yet, what blessings! Our Lady had sent this soul intercessors to help her on her final journey. Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal had ensured that this child of hers, whom she had captivated so late in life, would be blessed at the hour of her death.
Requiescat in pace aeterna.
O Mary conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee. Amen.
Saint Catherine Labouré, pray for us.
For information about St Catherine Labouré and the Miraculous Medal, see: www.memorare.com/mary/app1830.html
For a powerful conversion story related to the medal, see: www.salvationisfromthejews.com/alljews.html#ratisbonne