A MESSAGE FOR QUINQUAGESIMA SUNDAY
A hundred and sixty years ago today, on February 11, 1858, the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared for the first time to a young peasant girl called Bernadette in the town of Lourdes in France. It was the week before Lent started, and the parish priest of that town was busy confessing his many penitents before Ash Wednesday. Little did he know the turmoil his parish was about to undergo, specially chosen by the Mother of God as the site of one of her most important apparitions.
The Mother of God would appear a total of 18 times, as reported by Bernadette, between today and July 16. By then, the Mayor of Lourdes had barricaded the site of the apparitions, and had stationed guards to prevent public access. Processions were being made through the town, and pilgrims from all over France were beginning to arrive, anxious to drink and bathe in the Lourdes water, which had been the cause of several miraculous cures.
Last week, our Matins readings of Noah’s Ark reminded us that water would no longer be the element of destruction for mankind, but of salvation instead. While the waters of baptism are our chief reminder of this, our Lady of Lourdes gave us another sign that we shall be saved by water. It was at the ninth apparition, a week or so into Lent, that the Mother of God commanded Bernadette to dig in the dirt. She gladly obeyed, to the confusion and even disgust of many in the crowd, some of whom thought she had lost her mind as they witnessed her apparently eating the dirt she dug up. But when a spring of water miraculously began to flow from the spot, they would change their mind, especially as the lame began to walk and the blind to see after coming into contact with the water of the spring.
At the parish church that Easter, the words of the Vidi Aquam, sung before the Easter Sunday High Mass, must have had a very special significance that year for the people of Lourdes. It is sung in the place of the usual Asperges, as the priest sprinkles the people with holy water, the words reminding us of the water that flowed from the side of Christ: “I saw water flowing from the right side of the temple…”
As our own Lent now approaches, we must fix our minds on its ultimate significance, that last drop of Christ’s most precious Blood that would flow from his Sacred Heart, pierced with a lance. When there was no more Blood, then indeed water flowed out to wash us from our sins. It is indeed the element of our salvation, as we are cleansed from the filth of our wickedness by the Passion and Death of God’s only Son. It is the very essence of the God’s love for us, his children, with its healing message that after he had no more Blood to shed for us, his graces would continue to flow until the end of time.
Those graces come to us from the Holy Mass, where, at the Offertory, a few drops of water are added to the wine that will become the Precious Blood of Christ. The godless criticize our belief that Christ is truly present in the chalice, replacing the water and wine with his Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity. Like the faithless at Lourdes, they watch the priest drinking from the chalice, and think of it as an act of madness. But we, the faithful, see “water flowing from the right side of the temple, and all they to whom that water came were saved.”
Unite with our Lord in Holy Communion as often as you can this Lent. Our Blessed Lady has shown us the way, and we her children are happy to obey her.