Sixteenth Apparition Of Our Lady Of Lourdes
Thursday 25 March 1858
For the next twenty one days, Bernadette did not go to the Grotto in the early morning as she had been doing until then – she had not felt the call within herself which was her summons. But surely the matter had not reached a satisfactory conclusion – after all, the Lady had still not identified Herself, despite the child’s repeated requests.
However, the child did go to the Grotto – but alone. She would go in the late afternoon and spend long hours in prayer and contemplation. But unlike the days of the visions, Bernadette would not kneel in her usual place; instead, she would go deep into the large rock vault at the base of the Grotto. There, cloaked in the gloom of the place, she would pour out her soul to the Lady of the Apparitions – whom she saw with the eyes of her soul, if not her body. By this time, some pious people in Lourdes had set up a small altar beneath the niche – upon an old table, they had placed a small statue of the Blessed Virgin, surrounded with flowers and candles. In fact, candles burned all over the Grotto. Whenever people were gathered at the place, they would begin to sing hymns to the Queen of Heaven. Nearly all of the pilgrims there would leave a small monetary donation, which would later be used to carry out the requests of the Lady. Strangely, none of this money was ever stolen – although it was left there with no-one to watch over it.
On the evening on March 24th, Bernadette told her parents of the feeling she had that she was being called to the Grotto once more by an interior impulse – she intended to return there in the morning. It had been a long time since the Lady had visited her – more than two weeks! How long that night was – try as she might, the child was unable to sleep. As soon as the first light of dawn began to pierce the darkness of night, she rose and quickly dressed.
There were a number of people present there at the Grotto already; it seemed they too felt there may be a fresh occurrence that day. But why today, after the silence of two weeks? That was simple to answer – today was the feast of the Annunciation of the Archangel Gabriel to the Blessed Virgin Mary – the day he saluted Her as ‘Full of Grace’.
So perhaps ….
Bernadette arrived at the Grotto at five in the morning, with her blessed candle in her hand. Her parents were with her. Even before she reached the rock, she could see the wondrous light filling the niche, in which stood her beautiful Lady.
“She was there”, said
Bernadette, “tranquil and smiling and watching the crowd just as a fond mother watches her children. When I knelt down before Her, I begged Her pardon for coming late. Still kindly towards me, She made me a sign with Her head that I had no need to apologise. Then I told Her of all my love and regard for Her and how happy I was to see Her again. And after pouring out my heart to Her I took up my beads”.
At this moment, the Figure bathed in the heavenly light moved from the niche down into the larger vault. Rising to her feet, Bernadette went into the vault to be closer to the Lady. She remained standing in front of Her and a conversation followed. Soon afterward, the oval of light moved back up into the niche once more and prayers were resumed.
Bernadette herself describes the conversation and events which followed this moment –
“Whilst I was praying, the thought of asking Her name came to my mind with such persistence that I could think of nothing else. I feared to be presumptuous in repeating a question She had always refused to answer and yet something compelled me to speak. At last, under an irresistible impulsion, the words fell from my mouth and I begged the Lady to tell me who She was.
“The Lady did as She had always done before; She bowed Her head and smiled but She did not reply.
“I cannot say why, but I felt myself bolder and asked Her again to graciously tell me Her name; however, She only smiled and bowed as before, still remaining silent.
“Then once more, for the third time, clasping my hands and confessing myself to be unworthy of the great favour I was asking of Her, I again made my request.
“The Lady was standing above the rose bush, in a position very similar to that shown on the Miraculous Medal. At my third request, Her face became very serious and She seemed to bow down in an attitude of humility. Then She joined Her hands and raised them to Her breast. She looked up to Heaven.
“Then slowly opening Her hands and leaning towards me, She said to me in a voice vibrating with emotion
‘I AM THE IMMACULATE CONCEPTION’ (Que Soy Era Immaculada Conceptiou)
“She smiled again, spoke no more, and disappeared smiling”.
After the vision, Bernadette asked her aunt Lucille to allow her to keep the blessed candle which she had used throughout the Apparitions. Lucile agreed. Having obtained the necessary permission, Bernadette placed the candle between some of the rocks beneath the niche, where it slowly burned itself out.
Lucile asked why Bernadette had wanted to do this. She replied –
“The Lady asked me if I would leave the candle to burn at the Grotto – as it was your candle, I could not leave it there without your permission”.
Leaving the Grotto, the child was laughing and smiling and quietly repeating some words to herself. Some neighbours from Lourdes came toward her and asked the cause of her happiness and what it was that she was saying. The child replied –
“Oh, I’m repeating the name the Lady has just this moment given me, for fear that I might forget it. She said to me, ‘I am the Immaculate Conception’ .”
The child was mispronouncing the word ‘Conception’ and had to be corrected.
From the Grotto, the little one went directly to the Presbytery – still smiling, still repeating the words which already were spreading so quickly throughout Lourdes.
She was still repeating them when she entered the garden of the Presbytery, where Abbe Peyramale was praying his Office. He asked what she wanted today, but the child did not hear his question.
“What’s that you’re saying, you conceited little thing!”
” ‘I am the Immaculate Conception’ it’s the Lady who has just said these words to me!”
He asked if she knew what the words meant. She replied that she did not know their meaning.
“I see you are still being deceived. How can you say things you don’t understand?” he asked.
“All the way from the Grotto I have been repeating the words ‘I am the Immaculate Conception’ for fear that I would forget them.”
“Good!” added the Priest, “I shall consider what is to be done” and he entered the house, leaving the child and her aunt standing in the garden.
Later that day, the Priest admitted to a neighbour the effect of the child’s words on him
“I was so amazed by it that I felt myself stagger and I was on the verge of falling.”