Of the many forms of devotion to Our Lady, there are some which have been especially
recommended by the Church. Devotions which involve the use of physical objects are not
superstitious, because these objects are not thought to have any power in themselves.
Rather, they are external aids to interior devotion to the Mother of God.
An especially great Marian devotion is the Rosary. There is an ancient tradition that
St. Dominic received the Rosary from Our Lady in an apparition at Prouille in 1206 A.D. as
a weapon against the Albigensian heresy. What is entirely certain is that in one way or
another, numerous Popes have spoken of St. Dominic as author of the Rosary, without
pronouncing on the authenticity of the Prouille vision. They have strongly recommended the
Rosary. Vatican II in its Constitution on the Church # 67 wrote that whatever the Church
has ever recommended in Marian devotion should still be considered of great importance.
Not long after, Pope Paul VI in his Encyclical Christi Matris Rosarii pointed out
that that statement obviously included the Rosary. Countless are the favors individuals
have experienced through the Rosary. The whole Church benefitted especially when in
October 1571, Pope St. Pius V announced that the Christian fleet had won a decisive
victory over the Muslim fleet at Lepanto in the Gulf of Corinth. The Muslims were trying
to take over all Europe. The Pope explicitly attributed that victory to Rosary processions
being held the day of the victory; in addition, every man on the Christian flagship had
been given a Rosary before the battle. Our Lady at Lourdes and at Fatima called for a
great increase in the prayer of the Rosary, declaring it one of the conditions needed for
world peace and the conversion of Russia.
The Brown Scapular
Another recommended Marian devotion is wearing the Brown Scapular of Our Lady of Mount
Carmel. There are many Scapulars, all valuable, but this one is eminent among them. There
is a very ancient tradition that St. Simon Stock, Superior of the Carmelite Order in
England in 1251, after imploring the help of Our Lady, was favored with a vision in which
she gave him the Scapular, saying: "This will be a privilege for you and for all
Carmelites, that he who dies in this will not suffer eternal fire." The historical
evidence for this vision is very impressive, and gives at least some degree of moral
certitude that the vision really did take place. To gain this promise one must be enrolled
in the Confraternity of the Scapular. Pope Pius XII, on the 700th anniversary of this
vision, wrote to the Major Superiors of the Carmelites, clearly showing his belief in it:
"For not with a light or passing matter are we here concerned, but with the obtaining
of eternal life itself, which is the substance of the Promise of the Most Blessed Virgin
which has been handed down to us."
However, the Pope warned that the mere physical wearing of the Scapular is not enough:
"May it be to them a sign of their Consecration to the Most Sacred Heart of the
Immaculate Virgin, which in recent times we have so strongly recommended." If one
then uses the Scapular as the outward sign of living such a Marian consecration, then
faith in the fulfillment of the promise is well justified. In fact, Pope Pius XI said
(Explorata res. Feb. 2, 1923): "Nor would he incur eternal death whom the Most
Blessed virgin assists, especially at his last hour. This opinion of the Doctors of the
Church, in harmony with the sentiments of the Christian people, and supported by the
experience of all times, depends especially on this reason: the fact that the Sorrowful
Virgin shared in the work of the Redemption with Jesus Christ." In other words, a
solid Marian devotion is certain to bring one close to Jesus Christ, and so will assure
one of reaching salvation, even if the vision to St. Simon Stock might not be
authentic. Also, when Vatican II said that all things recommended by the Magisterium of
the Church towards her should still be considered matters of great importance, the
Scapular was clearly included, for numerous Popes have recommended it strongly.
There are many religious medals that are sacramentals. One of these is the Scapular
medal. It may be used in place of the cloth scapular, although the cloth is to be
preferred. It needs to be blessed before use, while the cloth Scapulars that replace the
original one blessed in the enrollment need not be blessed.
It is important to notice that some Scapular medals are incorrect. On one side there
must be the image of Our Lord, pointing at His Heart (this Heart is sometimes omitted), on
the other side, any image of Our Lady.
Especially well known is the Miraculous Medal. In 1830 The Blessed Virgin appeared
three times in the chapel of the motherhouse of the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de
Paul, to Catherine Laboure, then a novice. It is a medal in honor of the Immaculate
Conception. St. Catherine was canonized in 1947. Her body was found incorrupt, and
attracts many pilgrims to the original shrine.
Some Approved Marian Apparitions
The Church does not require belief in any apparition or other private revelation.
However, she does exercise her maternal judgment for the protection of the faithful in
declaring some apparitions to be inauthentic, others to be "worthy of belief."
Investigations into alleged apparitions are rigorous. The three which follow have been
judged worthy of belief, and devotions related to them have been encouraged by the truth.
Each has miracles associated with it which are unexplainable by the best scientists in the
world, as testimony to its authenticity.
Our Lady appeared 18 times at Lourdes, in the Pyrenees mountains in southern France, in
1858, to Bernadette Soubirous, a fourteen year old peasant girl. A spring appeared there
which feeds the baths at the shrine today. Many miraculous healings are reported from
bathing in the waters. The fact that there is no spread of infection, even though no
sanitary precautions are taken when people with all sorts of diseases take baths there, is
a marvel in itself. Many miracles take place when the Blessed Sacrament passes in
procession during the great pilgrimages. In passing, we notice that this fact testifies to
the Real Presence of Our Lord in the Eucharist there, a Presence which only the Catholic
Church has, and only the Catholic Church teaches. There is a medical bureau there, to
which any qualified M. D. can come to check alleged cures. Early in this century, Dr.
Alexis Carrel came to scoff, but was converted instead. The Church's demands for checking
and proof of alleged miracles are so stringent that in the more than a century since 1858
only a few more than 60 miracles have been approved. Madame Bire in 1908 came there, blind
because her optic nerve was withered; she regained her sight when the Blessed Sacrament
passed. But when the Doctors inspected her eyes, they found she was able to see even
though the nerve was still withered--arranged, doubtless, to keep anyone from saying it
was a case of suggestion. The nerve did recover within a few weeks.
On December 9, 1531 an Aztec Indian, Juan Diego, saw the Virgin Mary near Mexico City.
She put her image on his cloak, a cloak still to be seen in the great shrine of Guadalupe.
The fiber of the cloak should have disintegrated in about 30 years, but is still sound.
Scientific checks find that the process of impressing the image is nothing known to
science. And there are images in the eyes of the picture of several persons, who probably
were present when the image appeared. The images are threefold, just as they would be
found in a living eye (following the Purkinje Sanson Law).
Momentous for our own times is the shrine of Fatima Portugal, where Our Lady appeared 6
times to three small children, each less than 10 years of age. She asked for penance, the
Rosary, and Immaculate Heart devotion, saying that on these conditions, God would keep
Russia from spreading her errors throughout the world - this was said at a time when
Russia was still greatly religious, under the Czar. The great miracle of the sun dancing
on Oct 13, 1917 was seen by thousands, including nonbelievers. The clothing of all had
been drenched from heavy rain, yet when the sun settled down again, all clothing was found
to be dry. Hallucinations do not dry clothing.
Taken from The Basic Catholic Catechism
PART SEVENTEEN: The Sacramentals
By Fr. William G. Most. (c)Copyright 1990 by William G. Most
This electronic text (c) Copyright EWTN 1996. All rights reserved.