27 November 2018

The Miraculous medal and the Anglican Patrimony

I wrote this in 2010; I reprint it, together with its admirable thread.

 On Saturday 27 November 1830, a young French nun, (S) Catherine Laboure, beheld her second and third visions of the Mother of God in the Sanctuary of her Convent Chapel in the Rue du Bac in Paris. Our Lady appeared to her, radiant, standing on a globe, and with her arms stretched out in a compassionate gesture. From her fingers rays of light fell upon the globe at her feet. An oval frame then formed around her with gold lettering that read: O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee. Our Lady promised great graces to those who wore this design with confidence; she showed the Saint the design which now appears on the back of the Miraculous Medal: a large M surmounted by a bar and cross, with two hearts beneath it, one crowned with thorns, the other pierced with a sword, all encircled by twelve stars.

In 1836, Abbe Desgenettes, who had taken over the Church of Our Lady of Victories (a church degraded and desecrated during the Revolution and with a minute congregation), dedicated his parish to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, and founded a Confraternity of Prayer, which had the Miraculous Medal as its badge. In the days before Newman's conversion, intense prayer was offered for him in this Church by the members of that very same Fraternity. Back in Blighty, it was on the Octave Day of the Assumption in 1845 (a very patrimonial day: it was also the birthday of blessed Edward Bouverie Pusey) that Blessed John Henry Newman first began to wear the Miraculous Medal.

Yes! The greatest intellect of the nineteenth century! Like any Irish washerwoman, he wore a miraculous medal! Is there a sobering message here for our supercilious cultural pride? Should we each be a little more thorough in rooting out of our own minds the sordid dregs of Enlightenment superstitions? I stand by my mixed metaphor!!

Now back two or three years, to January 20, 1842. On this day, a wealthy Jewish banker called Alphonse Ratisbonne had, in the Church of S Andrea delle Fratte in Rome, a vision of our Lady just as she appeared on the Miraculous Medal. Shunt forward ... please ... to 1847: Newman and St John (who, after their reception, had visited the shrine in Notre Dame des Victoires in thanksgiving for the prayers offered for him there) found themselves now awaiting admission to the presbyterate of the Latin Church, lodged in the Collegio di Propaganda in Rome. Newman makes clear in a number of letters that their windows looked down on the Church of S Andrea delle Fratte; it clearly made some considerable impression upon him. On June 9 1847, his long-time intimate woman friend, Maria Giberne, painted a picture of Newman and St John in a room at Propaganda, with our Lady, as she appears on the Miraculous Medal, between the two of them.

In the Old Missal, in the Appendix pro aliquibus locis, November 27 is the feast of Our Lady Immaculate of the the Miraculous Medal. Let us hope that this commemoration will one day make its way into the Calendar of the Patrimony!


Joshua said...

I note the curious Secret of the Mass of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal (strictly speaking, of Blessed Mary the Virgin Immaculate of the Sacred Medal):

Beata virgine Maria intercedente, cujus precibus exoratus Jesus Christus Filius tuus fecit initium signorum: da nobis, Domine Deus, sacramentum corporis et sanguinis ejusdem Filii tui pura mente conficere; ut æterni convivii mereamur esse participes. Per eumdem...

This is noteworthy for several reasons.

Firstly, it refers to the Gospel of the feast (St John 2, 1-11), in a manner rather unusual for Roman prayers, but quite common in Neo-Gallican compositions (as in the 1738 Paris Missal), altho' by the time of the apparitions in the Rue du Bac, their subsequent approbation, and the preparation of this proper, the Neo-Gallican missals were on their last legs, being phased out and replaced by the Roman Rite as Guéranger urged so ferociously. (I don't have to hand the date when the Paris Missal was given up; I do recall that the last of the Neo-Gallican Missals and Breviaries were only abandoned in the late nineteenth century, in Orleans as I recall.)

Secondly, it contains a petition that the Lord God may "grant us.. with pure mind to confect the sacrament of the body an blood of the same thy Son" - the use of the verb conficere, to confect (as it was done into English), to describe the priest effecting the transsubstantiation at Mass, is I suspect a very late way of saying what would have been said, in the first millennium, somewhat in terms of the illapse of the Holy Ghost upon the elements. In other words, where we might expect a more epicletic prayer*, one for celebrating the Holy Mysteries worthily (pura mente) is found - does this not turn the focus from the objective to the subjective?

*Then again, only one Secret in the Roman Missal (that for the King; there is a cousin to it, for an ordinary Sunday, in the Sarum) calls directly for the oblations to be made the Body and Blood; most instead offer up the Sacrifice in some manner.

Thirdly, it does have what moderns would approve as a fine eschatological focus, looking beyond the sacraments of this world to the eternal realities of which they offer us a foretaste: "when sacraments shall cease" as the hymn has it, the Secret ends with the phrase "may we deserve to be partakers of the eternal feast".

Don't mistake these comments for criticisms! This Secret could well be adopted, mayhap, by a devout priestly client of Our Lady, as his addition to the Ego volo celebrare missam, the Formula of Intention before Mass.

It is an interesting Secret.

Joshua said...

I find that Leo XIII approved the Mass and Office of this feast in 1894, so I don't know how much surviving Neo-Gallican liturgical influence was still around...

Woody said...

Notre Dame des Victoires was really quite the spiritual powerhouse of Paris for much of the XIX Century. Abbe Desgenettes had consecrated the moribund parish to Our Lady only after She had appeared to him on 3 December (St Francis Xavier) twice asking for it. The story goes that he announced the upcoming afternoon consecration to a congregation of about 12 or so, at Sunday Mass, and was astounded to be confronted with a full church in the afternoon for the event. Even so, things went along rather coldly until, in desperation, he began to recite the Litany of Loreto; when he reached "Refuge of Sinners...pray for us" the hitherto unresponsive congregation responded with an outpouring of emotion that was evidently very remarkable. Thus the confraternity is that of Our Lady, Conceived without Sin, Refuge of Sinners. I am happy to report that I am a member.

Not only were Bl. J.H. Newman and the Ratisbon brothers clients, but also, of course, Saint Therese of Lisieux (to whom a chapel is dedicated there now), and one of St. Therese's spiritual brothers, one might say, Saint Theophane Venard, martyr of Viet Nam; I believe it is true that like him, all of the missionaries from the Foreign Missions Seminary in Paris at the time joined the confraternity. Finally, Abbe Desgenettes played a key role in guiding Ven. Francis Lieberman in the foundation of his spiritual institute, which eventually became the rejuvenating force for the Holy Ghost Fathers of such great fame and many holy members (for the soul of at least one of which I pray daily).

Woody said...

As usual, my ever-aging memory got the name of Archconfraternity somewhat wrong (it is that of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, Refuge of Sinners). Instead of my second hand remarks, though, go to the source at:

not upgraded said...

Genesis 12:3 is one of my favorite verses in the Bible. I certainly have no right to demand that God bless those who bless his children, and curse those who curse his children, and to ask God to bless all who are blessed as the descendants of my Lord's forefathers. For what it is worth, I would prefer that those who curse just straighten up, and repent, and that those who bless continue to be happy. Every verse of the Bible is a gift, I guess.

Diane said...

Rene Laurentin wrote a beautiful monograph on the miraculous conversion of Alphonse Ratisbonne. Moving and rich in detail. I need to re-read it one of these days. Alphonse Ratisbonne, pray for us.

Banshee said...

St. Therese's dad, St. Louis Martin, was very devoted to Our Lady of Victories and the Miraculous Medal, which was why he had a replica statue of Our Lady of Victories in his house. (Known as "Our Lady of the Smile" to devotees of St. Therese.)

Read a thing claiming that people needing to be convinced by a vision being received 2 or 3 times before being obeyed was just a folklore trope. Heh, these folks don't know human nature, which usually does need to be convinced by hearing things 2 or 3 times! (And of course, if it is in the local lore, then people are more likely to wait and see if it's repeated.)

Banshee said...

Forgot to say that of course, St. Therese spent a fair amount of time praying for England's conversion. And that our contemporary, Fr. Longenecker did get converted by St. Therese, and he's not the only one.

Sometimes the workings of the Communion of Saints are really beautiful.

Stan Metheny said...

I have the texts and chants of the Missal and some Office antiphons in one of my editions of the _Liber_. Does anyone know where I might find the full texts of the proper Office? It may be right in front of me and I'm not seeing it, but I don't find it in any breviaries on my bookshelves nor in any online searches. Pointers to print or online sources would be much appreciated.

motuproprio said...

I attribute my conversion to Cardinal Newman and St Therese of Lisieux.

Banshee said...

Just read the Cincinnati archdiocese's newspaper, about the anniversary of the dedication of Delhi Township's parish church, Our Lady of Victories.

Guess where their founding pastor went to church, back in France!

Paul Goings said...

The feast of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal is kept at S. Clement's in Philadelphia, as Our Lady under that title is the Patroness of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

Scribe said...

Dear Father, I have read these comments on Alphonse Ratisbonne with great interest. In 2013 I published my own translation of the earlier accounts of the conversion, together with introduction, copious notes and appendices. It was very well received, and may be ordered from Amazon or any bookshop. It is published under my real name:
Norman Russell. The Conversion of Monsieur Marie-Alphonse Ratisbonne. Grosvenor House Publishing 2013. It is a very attractive and modestly priced volume.

(You may not want to post this, as it is a blatant advertisement! But I wanted you to know that a British (as opposed to US) translation exists.) I am myself a devotee of the Miraculous Medal.