The grotto of Lourdes has been the object of faith and debate since it emerged with the actions of St. Bernadette. There are many accounts of miracles. According to the official Lourdes Sanctuary, there has been over 7000 cases of unexplained cures. However, on 70 have been considered authentic by the Roman Church. Part of the problem is that initially, the records of cures were crude or nonexistent, and allegations of cures were accepted without question. Medical authorities clamored for more accurate reporting. In 1905, Pope Pius X asked that all cases of alleged miracles or cures related to Lourdes be examined through scientific analysis.
Emerging from the investigation is, first, and explanation (www.lourdes-france.com) from the medical office associated with the shrine that asserts its objective task is to be able to declare a cure “certain, definitive, and medically inexplicable”. To be designated a miraculous cure, four criteria must be met;
1) The act and diagnosis of the illness is first of all established and correctly diagnosed.
2) The prognosis must be permanent or terminal in the short term
3) The cure is immediate without convalescence, complete and lasting
4) The prescribed treatment could not be attributed to the cause of this cure or be an aid to it.
It is also requested that the pilgrims are accompanied by a physician who, beforehand, was furnished with a medical file detailing the condition. In sum, the rules demand that there must not be not be found in the cure any valid explanation, medical or scientific, natural or usual. This being established, it remains for the diocesan commission to determine that the cure comes from God.
Lourdes has also attracted the attention of the National Library of Medicine, as in a paper it is written; After many mental twists and turns, we reached the same conclusions as investigators did some eighty to hundred years ago: “Instead of being a simple place of miracles, of interest only to the pious, Lourdes presents a considerable scientific interest,” and “Although uncommon, the miraculous cures are evidence of somatic and mental processes we do not know.” Upping the ante, we dare write that understanding these processes could bring about new and effective therapeutic methods.
Overall, devotion to Our Lady of Lourdes has gripped the Catholic imagination since the mid-18th century. Lourdes is one of the very few apparitions the Vatican has officially commended as worthy of belief, with its own feast day, February 11, in the Church’s annual liturgical calendar. Some six million pilgrims come to the shrine in Lourdes, France, each year to pray and seek healing.
The history is well-known. This popular pilgrimage is one of the most visible examples of the devotion of many Catholics to Mary. In 1858, a 14-year-old girl named Bernadette Soubirous reported having 18 visions of a beautiful “young lady” in a cave near Lourdes, which was then a provincial town. Soubirous said that the figure identified herself as “the Immaculate Conception” and instructed the girl to dig into the earth and drink the water she found there. In other messages, the lady asked for a church to be built there so priests could come in procession.
Many Catholics interpreted the apparitions as confirming the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, which Pope Pius IX in 1854 had declared to be an essential element of Catholic faith. This teaching holds that Mary, as the mother of Jesus, was conceived without original sin.
Since the 1860s, Church officials have formally declared 70 of the Lourdes healings to be miracles. The most recent case, which they confirmed in 2018, involved the healing of a French nun who had been using a wheelchair and suffering severe pain for almost 30 years, but recovered soon after her pilgrimage to the grotto.
Over the course of the 20th century, the number of new miracles confirmed in Lourdes has gradually slowed because of growth in scientific understanding.
In 2006, Church officials declared that, beyond “miracles,” they would recognize three additional categories of healing at Lourdes, in light of advances in medical knowledge: “unexpected,” “confirmed” or “exceptional” healings. The new categories relax the previous strict division between “natural” and “supernatural” healings, with the implication that God intervenes in many cases in which health is restored, even those that do not strictly qualify as “miracles” in the sense traditionally used by the Catholic Church. Part of Biblical theology is that God intervenes with dramatic miracles, much in the way the Gospels portray the acts of Jesus. However, the Bible also teaches us that miracles often happen through natural processes, wherein the power of God enhances the natural laws of a circumstance. These additions seem to acknowledge the advances in Biblical scholarship over the last century.
Devotional practices involve the sensory experiences of seeing, touching, tasting and hearing. Visitors travel from all over the world to light candles in the grotto, touch the rock where Soubirous said the Virgin appeared, join in the chants of the twice-daily processions, attend Mass, take Communion, and bathe in and drink the holy waters of the spring.
St. Bernadette, pray for us.