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With Bernadette, praying the rosary : Pastoral theme 2012

bernadette soubirous

in 2010 :
with Bernadette,
making the sign of the cross.

in 2011 :
with Bernadette,
praying the our father.

in 2012 :
with Bernadette,
praying the rosary.

Text by Fr. Horacio Brito and Fr. Marc Kemseke

En 2012, nous voulons mettre la prière du chapelet dans la lumière de Bernadette, la lumière qui enveloppait la Mère de Dieu pendant les apparitions et qui est la lumière que Dieu nous donne pour mettre nos pas dans les pas de son Fils.

“I heard a noise like a gust of wind”, that’s how Bernadette described the start of the apparitions, the start of the events which form the basis of what Lourdes is today. As on the day of Pentecost for the Apostles, the Holy Spirit is given to Bernadette so that she can contemplate, internalise, participate in and bear witness to the salvation of all humanity. In this undertaking, Mary, the Mother of God will become a true spiritual teacher for this girl. By her presence, her words and her gestures, she will lead Bernadette, little by little, into the contemplation of the mystery of her Son, the Redeemer of the world. The secret of this “Marian teaching” is found firstly in the mutual welcome given to one another by these two women, Mary and Bernadette. In welcoming Mary, Bernadette welcomes Christ: “Why should I be honoured with a visit from the mother of my Lord?” (Lk. 1:42) and in welcoming Bernadette, Mary welcomes Christ: “in so far as you did this to one of the least of these brothers or sisters of mine, you did it to me.” (Mt 25:40) The seal of this alliance, of this meeting and of this friendship is the sign of the Cross. “The sign of the cross is in a way the summary of our faith.”
(Benedict XVI, Lourdes 2008)

The other secret of this “Viae Mariae” will be the prayer of the rosary, as it is a kind of aid to the meeting. Firstly, a teaching aid, because all the prayers known by Bernadette, who knew nothing of religion at the time, are contained in this traditional devotion of the Church. And also, a spiritual aid, as it is also by this simple, accessible prayer that Christians can contemplate the unfolding mysteries of Christ’s life. In fact, what Mary confides and shares with Bernadette is her own experience of Christian life. “The memories of Jesus, imprinted in her spirit, accompanied with her at all times ...and it is these memories which, in a sense, constituted the “rosary” which she recited constantly during her earthly life.” (John Paul II, apostolic letter Rosarium Virginis Mariae n. 11, 2002)

So it is that, Mary, the spiritual teacher, and Bernadette, child of Mary, daughter of the Father and disciple of Christ, inaugurated and first opened the doors of this magnificent “school of prayer” which has been given to us in Lourdes for 154 years. By the recital of the rosary, today as in the past, millions of pilgrims, in the shrine and elsewhere, using different means of communication, continue to learn and take possession of the unfathomable riches of the mystery of Christ.

of many years, this basic text aims to help pilgrims live four intensive days of pilgrimage. For these four days, the mysteries of the Rosary can, through a series of daily mysteries, be our guide and, following an order which is pastoral rather than chronological: joyful, sorrowful, glorious and luminous, reflect the apparitions and message of Lourdes.


The Annunciation. The Visitation. The Nativity. The Presentation of Jesus in the Temple. The Finding in the Temple.

We contemplate the Emmanuel “the God with us”

mystère joyeuxThe news that a child is to be born to a couple, to a family, leaves no one indifferent. The entire mystery of life is there, life which is entrusted to humanity. The feelings generated by the birth of a child are, at
one and the same time, joy at the new birth and concern for the future of the child.

The contemplation of the five joyful mysteries is dominated by a momentous event, that of the Incarnation: God made man in the person of Jesus Christ. In fact, these mysteries unfold around the person of the Emmanuel, “the God with us”, and around Mary who is invited at biological mother of her Son but also to give birth to him by the Faith deep in her heart.

 This event is characterised by joy. The first words addressed to Mary by the angel Gabriel are already an invitation to be joyful: “Rejoice, Mary.” In her person, it is all humanity which is invited to be joyful. Likewise, in her “Fiat”, it is all humanity which shows
a willingness to do the will of God.

The Gospel accounts of the Visitation and the Nativity are also permeated with an atmosphere of joy. John the Baptist “leapt with joy” in his mother, Elizabeth’s, womb. (Lk.1:44) In Bethlehem, the angels announce to the shepherds “news of great joy.”

This joy, the fruit of the presence of God made man among us, finds its source in a quite unique event: this child has come into the world to accomplish the Father’s will and to give his life on the cross as a ransom for humanity. In fact, the mysteries of the Presentation and the Finding of Jesus in the Temple are an early prediction of the mystery of the Cross. The child “will be a sign that is rejected” (Lk.2:34). He must be “busy with his Father’s affairs” (Lk.2:49), “and a sword will pierce Mary’s heart” (Lk.2:35). So it
was that Mary who “kept all in her heart” began a long pilgrimage, following her Son.

Like the Apostles and all who come into the world, Bernadette has been called to contemplation, and the highest contemplation at that, the contemplation of God. The evangelist Saint Mark tells us: “Then he went up into the hills and summoned those he wanted.” (Mk.3:13) Before entrusting any mission to his disciples, the Lord calls them “to be with him.”

In the same way, at an early stage, Mary invites Bernadette to be with her. That explains the silence and prayer in which the first seven apparitions are steeped. This silence is essential for dialogue to take place and, equally, for the words said to be internalised and carried out.

During the third apparition Mary will make three statements: “it is not necessary”, “will you please come here for a fortnight?” and “I do not promise you the happiness of this world but of the other”.

These three statements are themselves impregnated with the joy of the Good News which the Mother of God wants to share with Bernadette and, at the same time, with the demands made by the radical nature of the Gospel. Although the first of these statements is in answer to a request to put her name in writing, it nonetheless highlights Mary’s teaching. For the moment, what is most important is “the joy of the encounter”. “Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word thatcomes from the mouth of God.” (Mt.4:4)

On the other hand, “come here for a fortnight” is necessary for the relationship and friendship between the two women to be reinforced. In this way, Mary’s catechesis, which has already begun in the silence and prayer, will be able to develop. However, that does not mean that there will not be difficulties, as, more than once during the fourteen days of the apparitions, Bernadette will have to remind herself and others of her commitment, her promise and her fidelity: “I promised to go.”

Furthermore, this invitation carries another important element: that of freedom. In the invitation, Mary risks all in the expectation of Bernadette’s answer. As much as there is joy in Mary at having encountered “grace in the presence of God”, so Bernadette displays joy in having encountered Mary. In the same way as Mary experienced joy in answering “yes” to the angel’s invitation, so too with this girl who answers “yes” to the Lady.

Her positive response to the invitation has a consequence: “the happiness of another world”. This other world is deep within this world. And this happiness is found at the very heart of the relationship being born between these two young women. And the aim of this relationship is to live according to the fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, trustfulness, gentleness and self control (Gal.5:22-23)

A pilgrimage is a time well suited to the joy of meeting and yet, it is a demanding time. Meeting involves: taking the initiative, going in search of others, putting charity always at the centre of the said meeting. The fruit of this experience of communion is the presence of the Lord at the heart of the pilgrimage.

Questions to ask ourselves
Who taught me to say the rosary? Where and when? Do I say it: on my own, with the family, with others, everyday, now and then, on the feasts of Our Lady?
• Is the fact that I am a Christian a source of joy in my life? Do the demands of the Gospel open up my life to another reality? Is prayer an important element in my search for God? Do I meet with others to pray and meditate on the Word of God? To share my Faith?
• Do I renew my commitment to live as a Christian in the depths of my heart? At Christmas? At Easter? At every mass? Everyday? Before making a big decision?

Things to do during the pilgrimage
At the start of the first celebration of the pilgrimage, invite the pilgrims to introduce themselves to one another quite simply because they are experiencing the joy of being able to share the pilgrimage together. Say the Joyful Mysteries of the rosary together in little groups.

After the pilgrimage
Some words from the Gospel can help us find the joy in the radical nature of Christian life: “nothing is impossible to God.” (Lk.1:37)


The Agony in the Garden. The Scourging at the Pillar. The Crowning with Thorns. The Carrying of the Cross. The Crucifixion and Death of Jesus on the Cross.

We contemplate the Servant of God. “Ecce Homo”.

mystère douloureuxThe sorrowful mysteries in the recital of the rosary are an invitation to contemplate both the culmination of the revelation of God’s love and the salvation offered to all humanity.

Jesus’ prayer in Gethsemane “Let your will be done, not mine!”(Lk.22:42) expresses the “yes” which erases the “no” of our first parents. And it is this obedience to the Father’s will, under the appearance of a painful mission, which also appears in the other mysteries.

At the Grotto in Lourdes, Mary introduces Bernadette to the Gospel. Mary’s teaching meets Bernadette as she is: in her human condition stained by sin. At the
same time, she is met in her reality, her poverty, her ignorance, her illness and her destitution.

During the penitential apparitions (8th-11th), at the request of the Lady, Bernadette carries out three actions: she crawls on all fours and kisses the ground in the Grotto, she eats some grass and she smears her face with mud.

These three clearly penitential biblical actions bring us back to the major moments in the Passion of the Son of God. The bitter herbs in the Book of Exodus speak to us of the slaughtered lamb with which the
Jews try to win favour with God: “On the tenth day of this month each man must take an animal from the flock, one for each family: one animal for each household. The whole assembly of the community of Israel shall slaughter it between the two evenings. Some of the blood mustthen be taken and put on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses where it is eaten. That night the flesh is to be eaten, roasted over the fire; it must be eaten with unleavened bread and bitter herbs.”(Ex.12:1)

The mud which disfigures Bernadette’s face is the image of the “suffering servant of God” of whom the prophet Isaiah speaks (Is.52:14). Crawling on all foursand kissing the ground of the Grotto brings to mind the humiliation of Christ: “His state was divine, yet he did not cling to his equality with God but emptied himself to assume the condition of a slave, and became as men are; and being as all men are, he was humbler yet, even to accepting death, death on a cross!” (Phil.2:6-8)

These actions carried out repeatedly by Bernadette are intended to make us aware of another reality. Crawling on her knees and kissing the ground is an act of humiliation which reveals a connection and a tenderness with the ground in the Grotto. In the contemplation of the Ecce Homo, not only is God’s merciful love revealed, but also human fragility. And it is Mary at the foot of the Cross who helps us penetrate the depths of the great mystery of our redemption by the loving obedience of her Son.

The two others, eating grass and putting on mud, express a desire to clear this ground. This purification must take place to reveal what is hidden and what is the real treasure: the spring. We must love man, the child of God, a sinner and free him from sin in order that he can find in his heart the spring of love and charity, for man has been created in the image of God: “Go to the spring and drink and wash” Mary will say to Bernadette on the 25th February during the ninth apparition.

In contemplating the disfigured Son of Man, crowned with thorns, bloodied, we are looking at what is tragic in the history of humanity. Yet, at the same time, in the Son of Man is revealed God’s love for humanity: “one of the soldiers pierced his side with a lance; and immediately there came out blood and water.” (Jn:19.24)

“Pray to God for the conversion of sinners” the Lady will tell Bernadette on the 24th of February, 1858. These words which deeply affected the girl’s life will allow her to proceed in a determined fashion towards the love of God and her brothers and sisters. Bernadette is fully aware that she is a sinner and, furthermore, part of the company of sinners in the world. Her last words to the most Holy Virgin will be: “pray for me, a poor sinner.”

But just as there exists among humanity a communion in sin, there also exists a human communion in charity. It is prayer which allows us to purify our feelings in order to give the best of ourselves to others. “However great the number of sins committed, grace was even greater.” (Rom.5:20)

We need this purification of our feelings and our words to be able to communicate with our fellow humans, not on a superficial level but on the level of the spring of charity which lies dormant within us. Just as with the Samaritan woman, our conversion is possible. Jesus says: “the water that I shall give will turn into a spring inside him, welling up to eternal life!” (Jn.4:14)

Questions to ask ourselves.
• When do I discover the fragility of life? A wound? A frustration? Illness? A failure? A vice? An addiction?
• Can I remember a deep sense of freedom in my heart? Did someone help me? Did someone walk with me? Did I ask someone to pray for me?
• Have I thanked God and others for their help?
• Do I walk with others who have problems in their lives (physical or moral)? Am I a sign of compassion and hope to them? Do I take an interest in those who suffer?
• Have I done anything for them? Do I lend my assistance to those who help those who suffer?

Things to do on the pilgrimage
Take part in the Way of the Cross. Say the Sorrowful Mysteries in little groups.

After the pilgrimage
These words of the apostle Paul might guide our reflection: “It makes me happy to suffer for you, as I am suffering now, and in my own body do what I can to make up all that has still to be undergone by Christ for the sake of his body, the Church.” (Col.1:24) This statement by Bernadette can help us in
our walk to conversion: “My own concerns no longer concern me.”


The Resurrection. The Ascension. The Descent of the Holy Spirit. The Assumption. The Coronation of Mary.

We contemplate the Risen Christ.

mystère glorieuxIn contemplating the Risen Christ, Christians rediscover the foundation of the Faith. At the same time, the Resurrection highlights the joy of the first witnesses, Mary Magdalene and the disciples on the road to Emmaus. The apostles, too, who after Jesus’ Ascension return to Jerusalem “full of joy” (Lk.24:52), “a joy which no one shall take from you.” (Jn.16:22) The
Virgin Mary appears to be intimately associated with this joy. “The apostles joined in continuous prayer, together with several women, including Mary, the mother of Jesus.” (Act.1:14) And so the mysteries of the Assumption and the Coronation are a kind of consequence to the Angel’s greeting: “Rejoice, Mary.”

“In the third glorious mystery, the Rosary puts at the centre of this glorious journey Pentecost, which shows the face of the Church like a family united to Mary, revived by the powerful outpouring of the Spirit and ready for the mission of evangelisation.” (John Paul II)

In this way, the glorious mysteries open the hearts of believers to the anticipation of a new heaven and a new earth. And so, formed into a people of God, humanity walks through history as a pilgrim people.

On the 18th of February, 1858, the day of the third apparition, Bernadette is called to “come here (the Grotto) for two weeks.” On Tuesday the 2nd of March, 1858, during the thirteenth apparition, Bernadette is sent: “go and tell the priests that a Chapel is to be built and that people come here in procession”.

Between the call and the sending, Mary and Bernadette met ten times. During these meetings no mission was given to the girl. Ten meetings distinguished by the joy of being with Mary. Ten meetings where Mary invited Bernadette to welcome her Son in the mystery of the cross.

But it is here that, unpredictably, this relationship between the two young women is opened to the whole Church, to all humanity: “go and tell the priests.” Just as Mary Magdalene and the disciples on the road to Emmaus were sent to proclaim the Good News of the Resurrection to the apostles, so Bernadette is sent by the Lady to proclaim “to the priests”, that is to say, the Church, that a chapel be built and that people come in procession.

Only the Church, with the help of the Holy Spirit, can render an individual grace given to one person accessible to all. Because she, the Church, has been given the power to make it possible that the whole world have access to the source of salvation. And so, the grace received by Bernadette, is spread to all, everywhere and forever.

Building the chapel and coming in procession means building the people of God, the Body of Christ and the Temple of the Spirit. But these words are also an invitation which leaves the Church in a position to perform its work. By proclaiming the Word of God and celebrating the sacraments,
the Church continues building the chapel. By inviting processions, the Church continues to invite humanity to access the mystery of Christ and to go on to the end: heaven and coronation with eternal life.

Questions to ask ourselves.
• Who taught me catechism? Would I like to teach catechism, be a catechist? What concrete evidence is there of my participation in life of the Church?
• The sacraments? Am I a member of a Church institution, group or movement? Do I let it be known that I am a Christian?
Did I receive a Christian education? Do I try to grow and educate myself in the Faith?
• Do I know a priest? Do I know other Christians in my parish? Am I the first witness of the Faith for my children?
• Have I asked myself about their Christian education?
• Do my principles, my words, my decisions and my actions proclaim a reality full of hope? Do I make an effort to find what is best for both myself and others to grow in charity and unity?

Things to do on the pilgrimage
Take part in the international mass (on Wednesdays and Sundays) and the processions (Eucharistic and torchlight) as a sign of the unity and the diversity of the Church sent to proclaim the Gospel to all nations. Say the glorious mysteries in little groups.

After the pilgrimage
Jesus says: “My words are Spirit and Light”. These words of Bernadette: “I have been instructed
to tell you, not to make you believe”.


The Baptism of Jesus. The Wedding Feast of Cana. The Proclamation of the Kingdom. The Transfiguration. The Institution of the Eucharist.

We contemplate the Transfigured Christ.

mystère lumineuxChrist is the “light of the world.”(Jn.8:12)In fact, the entire mystery of Christ is light. And this light is revealed in his public life when he proclaims the Gospel of the Kingdom. Thus, it is in the mysteries of light of the Rosary that the Kingdom is henceforth revealed to us, present in the person of Jesus.

“With the exception of Cana, Mary is only present in the background in these mysteries.”
(John Paul II) However, Mary’s words “Do whatever he tells you” (Jn.2:5) are a Marian background to the mysteries of light: “This is my Son, the Beloved” (Mt.3:17) at his Baptism; “Listen to him” (Mk.9:7) at his Transfiguration; “Do this in memory of me” (Lk.22:19) at the Institution of the Eucharist.

On the 11th of February, 1858, Bernadette, already suffering from asthma, malnutrition and hunger, goes looking for dry wood and bones at a damp, dark cave. And it is at this very moment that, having heard what sounds like “a gust of wind”,
she looks in the direction of the Grotto and sees a lady dressed in white and surrounded by light. During the eighteen apparitions Bernadette sees the light and that light is reflected on her face which thus becomes a sign of the light.

heart. That is why, the following Saturday, the girl goes to see Father Pomian to confide in him the extraordinary experience she has just had. It is a highly significant meeting with the priest as it suggests to us that this same light which she sees in the Grotto is to be found in sacramental life the life of the Church. “Christ is the light of the people, and so the holy Council, byproclaiming the Good News of the GospelMary reflects the light of Him who is the light, Christ. And if Bernadette reflects that light on her face, it is because her heart is lit up by the light. At the same time, that light shows up the dark parts of her to all creatures, wishes to shine on all people the light of Christ which shines on the face of the Church.” (Con. Vat.II Lumen Gentium, n. 1)

From the third apparition on, Bernadette will carry a lighted candle. She will use this candle to light up the path to Massabielle from the earliest apparitions. But, little by little, this candle will take on another significance altogether. Firstly, the candle reminds Bernadette of her Baptism; she is a child of God, she carries the Easter light in her life: Christ died and rose for us. “Anything illuminated turns into light. That is why it is said: Wake up from your sleep, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” (Eph.5:14)

On the 7th of April, 1858, on Easter Wednesday, during the seventeenth apparition, the flame of the candle which Bernadette is carrying in her hand will lick her fingers for several minutes without burning them. Christ, the light of the world, did not come to condemn our humanity, but to save it. “Faith, in fact, lights up everything with a new light and lets us see the divine will for the integral vocation of all, steering the spirit towards fully human solutions.” (Const. Gaudium et Spes Vat.
II n. 11)

On the 3rd of June, the Feast of Corpus Christi, Bernadette received the Body of Christ for the first time in the hospice of the Sisters of Charity of Nevers. That day, she carried a lit candle in her hand. “The Church lives on the Eucharistic Christ, is nourished by him, and is enlightened by him. The Eucharist is a mystery of faith, and at the same time a mystery of light.” (John Paul II: Ecclesia de Eucharistia n.6)

On the 16th of July, the day of the last apparition, Bernadette will not carry a candle. However, that day, although far from the Grotto, she will say after gazing on the Lady: “I saw her more beautiful than ever.” If Bernadette can so admire Mary’s beauty, it is because each time she is looking a little
more like her. She carries in her heart the light of the Immaculate Mary. “You are the light of the world.” (Mt.5:14) “weshall be like him because we shall see him as he really is.” (1 Jn.3:2)

Questions to ask ourselves:
• Do I accept the dark parts in my intelligence? In my feelings? In my actions?
• Do I want the light to shine on these realities?
• Do I know how to ask for advice from people qualified to give it? Do I consider the Word of God a light in my life?
• As a father, mother, husband, wife, priest, religious, friend, do I speak in a way which lights up those around me?
• Each sacrament is a grace and a light for different aspects of life. Do I use them as often as I should?
• Do I thank the people who have helped to point my life in the right direction? My parents? My teachers? My friends? Catechists? Priests? Family?

Things to do on the pilgrimage:
Light my neighbour’s candle at the start of the torchlight procession. Say the mysteries
of light in small groups.

After the pilgrimage
“You will thank the Father who has made it possible for you to join the saints and with them to inherit the light.” (Col.1:12)