On May 29, 1954, in the year of the centenary of the proclamation of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception by Pius IX, Pope Pius XII canonized Saint Pius X. Four years later, a few months before surrendering his soul to God, the Angelic Pastor had the joy of celebrating the centenary of the apparitions.
With this in mind, on July 2, 1957, Pope Pius XII published an encyclical written in French, The Lourdes Pilgrimage, in which he emphasizes the importance of this “century of Marian devotions” that was the nineteenth century, and he recalls the many graces received through the intercession of Our Lady, not only in Lourdes. Quoting his predecessor Pius XI, the Pope reaffirms that “this sanctuary has now rightly become one of the leading Marian shrines in the world,” and that the sovereign pontiffs, aware of the importance of these pilgrimages, “have never stopped enriching them with spiritual favors.”
In the second part of his encyclical Pius XII explains the spiritual lessons of the apparitions at Lourdes. More than 60 years later, his remarks are strikingly topical. After having encouraged individual conversion, Pope Pius XII calls for a Christian renewal of the whole society for which are mobilized priests, consecrated souls, Christian families, all those who have professional and civic influence, without forgetting the little ones, the poor and the sick, whose “sufferings united to those of the Savior” are precious help in this enterprise of the Christian renewal of society.
“These lessons, a faithful echo of the Gospel message, accentuate in a striking way the differences which set off God’s judgments from the vain wisdom of this world. In a society which is barely conscious of the ills which assail it, which conceals its miseries and injustices beneath a prosperous, glittering, and trouble-free exterior, the Immaculate Virgin, whom sin has never touched, manifests herself to an innocent child. With a mother’s compassion she looks upon this world redeemed by her Son’s blood, where sin accomplishes so much ruin daily, and three times makes her urgent appeal: ‘Penance, penance, penance!’ She even appeals for outward expressions: ‘Go kiss the earth in penance for sinners.’ And to this gesture must be added a prayer: ‘Pray to God for sinners.’ As in the days of John the Baptist, as at the start of Jesus’ ministry, this command, strong and rigorous, shows men the way which leads back to God: ‘Repent!’(Mt. 3:2-12) Who would dare to say that this appeal for the conversion of hearts is untimely today?”
“But the Mother of God could come to her children only as a messenger of forgiveness and hope. Already the water flows at her feet: ‘Omnes sitientes, venite ad aquas, et haurietis salutem a Domino.’ At this spring where gentle Bernadette was the first to go to drink and wash, all miseries of soul and body will flow away. ‘And I went and washed and I see,’ (Jn 9:11) the grateful pilgrim will be able to reply, in the words of the blind man of the Gospel. But as was true for the crowds which pressed around Jesus, the healing of bodily ills is still a gesture of mercy and a sign of that power which the Son of Man has to forgive sins.(cf. Mk 2:10) The Virgin invites us to the blessed grotto in her Divine Son’s name for the conversion of our hearts and in the hope of forgiveness. Will we heed her?”
“The true greatness of this jubilee year is in the humble answer of the man who admits that he is a sinner. Great blessings for the Church could be justly anticipated if every pilgrim to Lourdes—in fact, every Christian united in spirit with the centenary celebrations—would first realize within himself this work of sanctification, ‘not in word, neither with the tongue, but in deed and in truth’ (1 Jn 3:18). Moreover, everything invites him to this work, for nowhere, perhaps, except at Lourdes does one feel so moved to prayer, to the forgetting of oneself, and to charity. When they see the devotion of the stretcher-bearers and the serene peace of the invalids, when they consider the spirit of brotherhood which unites the faithful of all races in a single prayer, when they observe the spontaneous mutual assistance and the sincere fervor of the pilgrims kneeling before the grotto, then the best of men are seized by the appeal of a life more completely dedicated to the service of God and their brothers; the less fervent become conscious of their lukewarmness and return to the road of prayer; quite hardened and skeptical sinners are often touched by grace, or at least, if they are honest, are moved by the testimony of this ‘multitude of believers of one heart and one soul’” (Acts 4:32).
But in itself this experience of a few brief days of pilgrimage is not usually sufficient to engrave in indelible letters the call of Mary to a genuine spiritual conversion. That is why We exhort the shepherds of dioceses and all priests to outdo one another in zeal that the centenary pilgrimages may benefit by preparation, and, above all, by a follow-up which will be as conducive as possible to a profound and lasting action of grace. Only on condition of a return to regular reception of the sacraments, a regard for Christian morals in everyday life, entry into the ranks of various works and other apostolates recommended by the Church, can the great crowds expected to gather at Lourdes in 1958 yield—according to the expectations of the Immaculate Virgin herself—the fruits of salvation so necessary to mankind today.”
The Christian Renewal of Society
“But however important it may be, the conversion of the individual pilgrim is not enough. We exhort you in this jubilee year, Beloved Sons and Venerable Brothers, to inspire among the faithful entrusted to your care a common effort for the Christian renewal of society in answer to Mary’s appeal. ‘May blind spirits . . . be illumined by the light of truth and justice,’ Pius XI asked during the Marian feasts of the Jubilee of the Redemption, ‘so that those who have gone astray into error may be brought back to the straight path, that a just liberty may be granted the Church everywhere, and that an era of peace and true prosperity may come upon all the nations’” (Letter of January 10, 1935, A.A.S. XXVII 1935, p.7).
“But the world, which today affords so many justifiable reasons for pride and hope, is also undergoing a terrible temptation to materialism which has been denounced by Our Predecessors and Ourselves on many occasions. This materialism is not confined to that condemned philosophy which dictates the policies and economy of a large segment of mankind. It rages also in a love of money which creates ever greater havoc as modern enterprises expand, and which, unfortunately, determines many of the decisions which weigh heavy on the life of the people. It finds expression in the cult of the body, in excessive desire for comforts, and in flight from all the austerities of life. It encourages scorn for human life, even for life which is destroyed before seeing the light of day. This materialism is present in the unrestrained search for pleasure, which flaunts itself shamelessly and tries, through reading matter and entertainments, to seduce souls which are still pure. It shows itself in lack of interest in one’s brother, in selfishness which crushes him, in justice which deprives him of his rights—in a word, in that concept of life which regulates everything exclusively in terms of material prosperity and earthly satisfactions. ‘And I will say to my soul, the rich man said, Soul, thou hast many good things laid up for many years; take thy ease, eat, drink, be merry. But God said to him, Thou fool, this night do they require thy soul of thee’” (Lk. 12:19-20).
Mary’s Cry of Alarm
To a society which in its public life often contests the supreme rights of God, to a society which would gain the whole world at the expense of its own soul(cf. Mk 8:36) and thus hasten to its own destruction, the Virgin Mother has sent a cry of alarm. May priests be attentive to her appeal and have the courage to preach the great truths of salvation fearlessly. The only lasting renewal, in fact, will be one based on the changeless principles of faith, and it is the duty of priests to form the consciences of Christian people. Just as the Immaculate, compassionate of our miseries, but discerning our real needs, came to men to remind them of the essential and austere steps of religious conversion, so the ministers of the Word of God should, with supernatural confidence, point out to souls the narrow road which leads to life (cf. Mt 7:14). They will do this without forgetting the spirit of kindness and patience which they profess, but also without concealing anything of the Gospel’s demands (cf. Lk 9:55-56). In the school of Mary they will learn to live not only that they may give Christ to the world, but also, if need be, to await with faith the hour of Jesus and to remain at the foot of the cross.
Assembled around their priests, the faithful must cooperate in this effort for renewal. Wherever Providence has placed a man, there is always more to be done for God’s cause. Our thoughts turn first to the host of consecrated souls who, within the framework of the Church, devote themselves to innumerable good works. Their religious vows dedicate them more than others to fight victoriously under Mary’s banner against the onslaught which inordinate lust for freedom, riches, and pleasure makes on the world. In response to the Immaculate, they will resolve to oppose the attacks of evil with the weapons of prayer and penance and by triumphs of charity. Our thoughts turn also to Christian families, to ask them to remain faithful to their vital mission in society. May they consecrate themselves in this jubilee year to the Immaculate Heart of Mary! For married couples this act of piety will be a valuable aid in performing their conjugal duties of chastity and faithfulness. It will keep pure the atmosphere in which their children grow up. Even more, it will make the family, inspired by its devotion to Mary, a living center of social rebirth and apostolic influence. Beyond the family circle, professional and civic affairs offer a vast field of action for Christians who desire to work for the renewal of society. Gathered about the Virgin’s feet, docile to her exhortations, they will first take a searching look at themselves and will try to uproot from their consciences any false judgments and selfish impulses, fearing the falsehood of a love for God which does not translate itself into effective love for their brothers (cf. 1 Jn 4:20). Christians of every class and every nation will try to be of one mind in truth and charity, and to banish misunderstanding and suspicion. Without doubt, social structures and economic pressures of enormous weight burden the good will of men and often paralyze it. But if it is true, as Our predecessors and We Ourselves have insistently stressed, that the quest for social and political peace among men is, above all, a moral problem, then no reform can bear fruit, no agreement can be lasting without a conversion and cleansing of heart. In this jubilee year the Virgin of Lourdes reminds all men of this truth!”
“And if in her solicitude Mary looks upon some of her children with a special predilection, is it not, Beloved Sons and Venerable Brothers, upon the lowly, the poor, and the afflicted whom Jesus loved so much? ‘Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest,’ she seems to say along with her divine Son (Mt 11:28). Go to her, you who are crushed by material misery, defenseless against the hardships of life and the indifference of men. Go to her, you who are assailed by sorrows and moral trials. Go to her, beloved invalids and infirm, you who are sincerely welcomed and honored at Lourdes as the suffering members of our Lord. Go to her and receive peace of heart, strength for your daily duties, joy for the sacrifice you offer. The Immaculate Virgin, who knows the secret ways by which grace operates in souls and the silent work of this supernatural leaven in this world, knows also the great price which God attaches to your sufferings united to those of the Savior. They can greatly contribute, We have no doubt, to this Christian renewal of society which We implore of God through the powerful intercession of His Mother. In response to the prayers of the sick, of the humble, of all the pilgrims to Lourdes, may Mary turn her maternal gaze upon those still outside the limits of the only fold, the Church, that they may come together in unity. May she look upon those who are in search, who are thirsty for truth, and lead them to the source of living waters. May she cast her glance upon the vast continents and their limitless human areas where Christ is unfortunately so little known, so little loved; and may she obtain for the Church freedom and the joy of being able to respond everywhere, always youthful, holy, and apostolic, to the longing of men.”
“‘Kindly come . . . ,’ said the Virgin to Bernadette. This discreet invitation, which does not compel but is addressed to the heart and requests with delicacy a free and generous response, the Mother of God addresses again to her children in France and the whole world. Christians will not remain deaf to this appeal; they will go to Mary. It is to each of them that We wish to say at the conclusion of this letter with St. Bernard: ‘In periculis, in angustiis, in rebus dubiis, Mariam cogita, Mariam invoces. . . Ipsam sequens, non devias; ipsam rogans, non desperas; ipsam cogitans, non erras; ipsa tenente, non corruis; ipsa protegente, non metuis; ipsa duce, non fatigaris, ipsa propitia, pervenis… ‘Amid dangers, difficulties, and doubts, think of Mary, invoke Mary’s aid…. If you follow her, you will not stray; if you entreat her, you will not lose hope; if you reflect upon her, you will not err; if she supports you, you will not fall; if she protects you, you will not fear; if she leads you, you will not grow weary; if she is propitious, you will reach your goal.’” Second Homily on the Missus est: PL CLXXXIII, 70-71