Our Lady’s apparitions to St. Catherine Laboure in Paris ushered in the “Age of Mary”. The first apparition took place on the night of July 18-19, 1830. Catherine knelt beside Our Lady and had conversation with her. Catherine later recalled this apparition saying, “Here I spent the most sweetest moments of my life; it is impossible for me to describe what I felt .”
On Saturday, November 27th, 1830, eve of the first Sunday of Advent, Catherine was in the chapel for meditation. Suddenly, she heard the faint swish of silk. She raised her eyes to the main altar and saw Our Lady standing on a large half globe and holding a golden globe in her hands as if offering it to heaven. Streaming from rings on Our Lady’s fingers as she held the globe were many rays of light. Our Lady explained that the rays symbolize the graces she obtains for those who ask for them. However, some of the gems on the rings were dark, and Our Lady explained that the rays and graces were available but did not come because no one had asked for them.
Catherine then saw the vision of Our Lady standing on a globe with her arms now outstretched and with the dazzling rays of light still streaming from her fingers. Framing the figure was an inscription: O Mary conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee.
The vision turned and there were twelve stars encircled a large “M” from which arose a cross. Below are two hearts with flames arising from them. Thorns encircle one heart and a sword pierces the other. Our Lady said, “Have a medal struck upon this model. Those who wear it will receive great graces, especially if they wear it around the neck.”
Catherine told her confessor the apparitions. At first, her spiritual director did not believe her, but after two years, he approached the Bishop of Paris and told him the apparitions. The Bishop was an ardent devotee of the Immaculate Conception. He said that the medal was in complete conformity with the Church’s doctrine on the role of Our Lady and had no objections to having the medals struck at once.
The first medals were made in 1832 and the devotion spread like wildfire with many graces and blessings. It was first called the “Medal of the Immaculate Conception”, but soon people started calling it the “Miraculous Medal”.
In 1841, Alphonse Ratisbonne, a wealthy Jew who hated Catholicism, was challenged by his friend to wear a Miraculous Medal and to say a Memorare. Soon after he did it, Alphonse had a vision of Our Lady as on the Miraculous Medal at the Church of Sant’Andrea delle Frate. He was converted instantly and asked for Baptism.
Alphonse became a priest and dedicated his life to evangelize the Jewish people. His brother was also a priest and among the converts of these two priest brothers were a total of twenty eight members of their own family.
After the apparitions of Our Lady in 1830, Catherine Laboure did not reveal to anyone, except her spiritual director, that she was the one who received the medal. She wanted to be left alone to carry out her humble duties as a Daughter of Charity. Catherine was known to be a “Saint of Silence”. Only after 46 years, and shortly before her death, did she reveal to her superior that she was the sister who saw Our Lady. Catherine asked the superior to have a statue made, depicting Our Lady holding the golden ball in her hands and offering it to God.
Catherine Laboure died on December 31, 1876. When her body was exhumed fifty-seven years later, it was found to be incorrupt. Catherine Laboure was canonized by Pope Pius XII on July 27, 1947.