From Dom Guéranger's The Liturgical Year.
My bow shall appear in the clouds and I will remember My covenant with you.
The lessons at Matins on February 11, 1854 (Thursday in Sexagesima week) recalled these words, and the world soon learned that on this very day Mary had appeared, more fair than the sign of hope which typified her at the time of the deluge.
Portents, the realization of which we see in these days, were being multiplied. Mankind had grown old, and seemed about to perish in a deluge more dreadful than the former one. ‘I am the Immaculate Conception,’ said the Mother of divine grace to the humble child whom she chose at such a time to bear her message to the captain of the Ark of salvation. She pierced the gathering darkness with the light of that sublime privilege which the supreme pilot, to his eternal glory, had declared three years before to be dogma.
Indeed, if, as the beloved disciple says, it is our faith to which victory on earth is promised, and if faith is nourished by light—what individual dogma is there which so presupposes and recalls all other dogmatic truths, and at the same time throws such light upon them? It is a royal crown on the brow of the victorious queen, resplendent like the rainbow which breaks through the clouds with all the glories of heaven.
But perchance it was still necessary to open the eyes of the blind to these splendours, to inspire courage into hearts saddened by hell’s denials, and to infuse strength to make an act of faith into so many understandings weakened by the education of these days. The Immaculate Virgin summoned the multitudes to the scene of her blessed visit, and both sweetly and strongly succoured the weakness of souls by healing bodies. She smiled upon publicity, welcomed investigation, and confirmed by the authority of miracles her own words and the definition of the Vicar of Christ.
The Psalmist said that the works of God tell His praises in all tongues, and St. Paul taxes with folly and impiety those who will not accept this testimony. So, too, we may say that the men of these times have no excuse if they do not recognize the blessed Virgin in her works. May she extend the field of her beneficence and take pity on that worst of diseases—that weakness of soul which refuses to see out of a secret fear of the conclusions to be drawn from the evidence, and struggles against the truth until the mind is filled with contradictions and the heart with darkness, so that it seems as though the reason itself were given over to that reprobate sense which St. Paul describes as striking the pagans in their flesh.
The things that take place at Lourdes are as famous as any events of contemporary history. Let us listen to the short account which the Church has enshrined in the Liturgy:
Anno quarto a dogmatica definitione de immaculato beatæ Virginis Conceptu, ad Gavi fluminis oram prope oppidnm Lourdes Diœcesis Tarbiensis in Gallia, ipsa Virgo in rupis sinu super specum Massabielle puellæ cuidam, vernacula lingua Bernadette nuncupatæ, pauperrimæ quidem, sed ingenuæ ac piæ, pluries se conspiciendam obtulit. Immaculata Virgo juvenili ac benigno videbaturaspectu, nivea veste niveoque pallio contecta, ac zona cærulea succincta: nudos pedes aurea rosa ornabat. Primo apparitionis die, qui fuit undecimus Februarii anno millesimo octingentesimo quinquagesimo octavo, puellam signum crucis rite pieque faciendum edocuit, atque ad sacri rosarii recitationem, exemplo suo, coronam, quæ prius ex brachio demissa pendebat, manu advoleus, excitavit: quod in ceteris etiam apparitionibus præstitit. Altera autem apparitionis die, puella in simplicitate cordis sui, diabolicam fraudem timens, lustralem aquam in Virginem effudit: sed beata Virgo, leniter arridens, benigniorem illi vultum ostendit. Cum vero tertio apparuisset, puellam ad specum per quindecim dies invitavit. Exinde eam sæpius est alloquuta, ac pro peccatoribus orare, terram deosculari, pœnitentiamque agere est hortata: deinde imperavit ut sacerdotibus ediceret, ædificandutn ibi esse sacellum, solemnisque supplicationis more illo accedendum. Mandavit insuper ut e fonte, qui sub arena adhuc latebat sed mox erat erupturus, aquam biberet eaque se abstergeret. Denique die festo Annuntiationis, percontanti enixo puellæ illius nomen, cujus aspectu toties dignata fuerat, Virgo admotis pectori manibus elatisque in cælum oculis, respondit: Immaculata Conceptio ego sum.
Percrebrescente fama bencficiorum, quæ in sacro specu recepisse fideles dicebantur, augebatur in dies hominum concursus, quos loci religio ad specum advocabat. Itaque prodigiorum fama puellæque candore motus Tarbiensis episcopus, quarto ab enarratis anno, post juridicam factorum inquisitionem, eupernaturales esse apparitionis notas sua sententia probavit, cultumque Virginis Immaculatæ in eodem specu permisit. Mox ædificatum sacellum: ex illa die pene innumeræ fidelium turbæ, voti ac supplicationis causa, ex Gallia, Belgio, Italia, Hispania, ceterisque Europæ provinciis necnon ex longinquis Americæ regionibus quovis anno illuc adveniunt, nomenque Immaculatæ de Lourdes ubique terrarum inclarescit. Fontis aqua in cunctas orbis partes delata, ægris sanitatem restituit. Orbis vero catholicus tantorum memor benefactorum, ædes sacras mirabili opere ibi exstruxit. Vexilla innumera, acceptorum beneficiorum veluti monumenta, illuc a civitatibus ac gentibus missa, ædem Virginis miro ornatu decorant. In hac sua veluti sede Immaculata Virgo jugiter colitur; interdiu quidem precibus, religioso cantu solemnibusque aliis cæremoniis; noctu vero sacris illis supplicationibus, quibus infinitæ propemodum peregrinantium turbæ cereis facibusque accensis procedunt et laudes beatæ Virginis concinunt.
Peregrinationes hujusmodi fidem frigescente sæculo excitasse, animum ad christianam legem profitendam addidisse, cultumque Virginis immaculatæ mirum in modum auxisse, omnibus compertum est. In qua mirabili fidei professione Christianus populus sacerdotes veluti duces habet, qui illuc suas plebes adducunt. Ipsi etiam sacrorum Antistites sanctum locum frequenter adeunt, peregrinationibus præsunt, solemnioribusque festis intersunt. Nec adeo rarum est ipsos RomanæEcclesiæ Purpuratos Patres humili peregrinorum more accedentes conspicere. Ipsi quoque Romani Pontifices, pro sua erga Immaculatam de Lourdes pietate, sacram ædem donis nobilissimis cumularunt. Pius nonus, sacris indulgentiis, Archiconfraternitatis privilegio ac minoris Basilicæ titulo ipsam insignivit; ac Deiparæ imaginem ibidem cultam, solemni ritu per Legatum suum Apostolicum in Gallia diademate distinctam voluit. Leo vero decimus tertius innumera etiam contulit beneficia, indulgentias ad modum Jubilæi vigesimo quinto Apparitionis anno vertente concessit, peregrinationes sua auctoritate verboque provexit, ac solemnem Ecclesiæ sub titulo Rosarii dedicationem suo nomine peragi curavit. Quorum beneficiorum amplitudinem cumulavit, cum plurium Episcoporum rogatu,solemne festum sub titulo Apparitionis beatæ Mariæ Virginis Immaculatæ proprio Officio et propria Missa celebrandum benigne conoessit. Tandem Pins decimus Pontifex Maximus pro sua erga Deiparam pietate, ac plurimomm votis annuens sacrorum Antistitum, idem festum ad Ecclesiam universam extendit.
In the fourth year after the definition of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, the blessed Virgin vouchsafed to appear on several occasions to a poor but pious and innocent child named Bernadette, in a rocky cavern overlooking the grotto of Massabielle on the banks of the Gave near the town of Lourdes in the diocese of Tarbes in France. She showed herself as a young and gracious figure, robed in white, with a white veil and blue girdle, and golden roses on her bare feet. At the first apparition on February 11, 1858, she taught the child to make the sign of the Cross correctly and devoutly, and, taking a chaplet from her own arm, encouraged her by example to say her rosary. This was repeated at subsequent apparitions. On the second day, Bernadette, who feared an illusion of the devil, in all simplicity cast holy water at the apparition, who smiled more graciously than before. At the third apparition Bernadette was invited to repeat her visits to the grotto for fifteen days, during which the blessed Virgin conversed with her, exhorted her to pray for sinners, kiss the ground and do penance, and finally commanded her to tell the priests that a chapel was to be built in the place and processions held. She was also bidden drink and wash in the water, and a spring, until then invisible, gushed out of the ground. On the feast of the Annunciation, the child earnestly begged the Lady who had so often visited her to reveal her name, and the blessed Virgin, joining her hands and raising her eyes to heaven, said: 'I am the Immaculate Conception.’
Rumours of favours received at the holy grotto spread rapidly, and the crowds of devout visitors increased daily, so that the Bishop of Tarbes, who had been impressed by the candour of Bernadette, found it advisable to hold a judicial enquiry into the facts. In the course of the fourth year he gave sentence, recognizing the supernatural character of the apparition, and permitting devotions to our Lady under the title of the Immaculate Conception to be held in the grotto. A chapel was soon built, and since then every year has witnessed innumerable pilgrimages from France, Belgium, Italy, Spain, and all parts of Europe and America. The name of Our Lady of Lourdes has become famous all over the world, and cures are obtained everywhere by use of the water. Lourdes has been enriched by a grateful world with splendidly decorated churches, where countless banners bear witness to the favours received and to the desire of peoples and cities to adorn the house of the blessed Virgin, who is honoured there as in her own palace. The days are filled with prayers, hymns and solemn ceremonies, and the nights are sanctified by the pious supplications of countless people who walk in procession carrying torches, and singing the praises of the blessed Virgin Mary.
All men know how, in spite of the coldness of the world, these pilgrimages have revived faith, restored the observance of the Christian religion, and increased devotion to the Immaculate Virgin. The Faithful are led by their priests in this marvellous development of faith and devotion. The Bishops make frequent visits to the holy spot, lead pilgrimages, and take part in the ceremonies, and the Cardinals of Holy Church are often seen in the humble quality of pilgrims. The Roman Pontiffs have shown their devotion to our Lady of Lourdes, and have bestowed remarkable favours on her sanctuary. Pius IX. enriched it with indulgences, gave it the privilege of an Archconfraternity and the title of minor basilica, and delegated the Apostolic Nuncio in France to crown in his name the statue of the Mother of God. Leo XIII. also granted many favours, including the jubilee of the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Apparition. He encouraged pilgrimages, and ordained that the consecration of the Rosary Church should be performed in his name. Moreover, he crowned all these favours by conceding, at the request of many bishops, the celebration of a solemn feast under the title of the Apparition of Our Lady Immaculate, with a proper Office and Mass. Finally, Pius X., out of devotion to the Mother of God, granted the petition of many prelates that this feast should be extended to the Universal Church.
‘O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee!’ Thou didst teach us this prayer in 1830 as a safeguard against the dangers of the future. In 1846 the two shepherds of La Salette reminded us of thy tears and exhortations: ‘Pray for poor sinners, pray for the world which is so disturbed.’ To-day the little seer of the grotto of Massabielle brings us thy message: ‘Penitence! Penitence! Penitence!’
We desire to obey thee, O blessed Virgin, to combat in ourselves and all around us that enemy of mankind who is our only real enemy, and sin, that supreme evil which is the source of all others. Praise be to the Almighty, who saved thee from all stain of sin, and thus inaugurated in thee the full restoration of our fallen race. Praise be to thee, who, having no debts of thy own, didst pay our debts with the Blood of thy Son and the tears of His Mother, thus reconciling heaven and earth and crushing the head of the serpent.
Prayer, expiation—the Church from apostolic times has ever urged these thoughts upon us during the days which immediately precede Lent. Dear Mother in heaven, we bless thee for having thus united thy voice to that of our Mother on earth. The world no longer desired, no longer understood, the infallible but indispensable remedy offered by the justice and mercy of God to the misery of man.
Men seemed to have forgotten the words: 'Except you do penance, you shall all perish.’ Thy pity wakes us from this fatal stupor, O Mary. Thou knowest our weakness, and hast mingled sweetness in the bitter draught. Thou lavishest temporal favours upon man in order that he may ask of thee eternal blessings. We will not be like those children who welcome their mother’s caresses, but neglect her admonitions and the corrections which her tenderness sought to make acceptable. We will pray and suffer in union with Jesus and thee. By thine assistance during this Lent we will be converted and do penance.
 Gen. ix. 14-15.
 1 John v. 4.
 Ps. xviii. 2-5.
 Rom. i. 18-22.
 Ibid. i. 28.
 Luke xiii. 5.