THE SECRET OF LA SALETTE
Catholic in its people, its saints, its hierarchy
IT is difficult to imagine a mystery more simple than that of La Salette. A single apparition, on September 19, 1846, to two shepherds, a brief message which they memorise faultlessly, half in French which they hear and retain without understanding a word, and half in patois. The message is for everybody : “ And so, my children, you will pass this on to all my people. ” However, the “ beautiful Lady ” interrupted Her speech to give, first one and then the other, a secret. Each child has a secret which the other will not know, secrets which they will never tell for five years despite all sorts of ingratiating or brutal attempts to make them yield. Then, the Blessed Virgin, for it is She, since She speaks of Jesus as Her Son, ascends to Heaven, turning Her eyes towards Rome, as seen and understood by Mélanie. Thereafter the event is never repeated, and no heavenly enlightenment is given concerning this event, which is, therefore, sufficient in itself.
Because of this, the indefinitely repeated narration, always in exactly the same terms by the two children, will appear in countless books and studies on La Salette without any embellishment, with the danger that constant re-reading will end in boredom. But no, at every reading, thoughts and details are revealed which renew our interest and our emotion, generating a conversion of hearts and morals.
THE DIVINE ORTHODROMY
To discover the effect this apparition immediately had on the good Catholic people of France, I like to quote the testimony of the great Cardinal de Cabrières, Archbishop of Montpellier, disciple of Msgr. Freppel and friend of Action Française, known for his support of the wine growers’ revolt in 1907, because it is touching, but also because further on we shall invoke his authorised testimony as Prince of the Church. Here, it is the adolescent who had the good fortune to be informed of the nearby and recent event. Later, it will be the venerable and holy Archbishop of Montpellier, who will record his youthful emotion and his immediate certitude. This is what he will write in 1915 :
“ It is at this moment – September 1846 – that the rumour of mysterious events at La Salette reached the family circle. Need I say how piously and eagerly such news was greeted by my mother, my sister and her two nieces ?… They remembered the Apparition of the Most Blessed Virgin in the chapel of the Daughters of Charity in Paris, in 1830; and for them it was comforting to learn that, sixteen years later, the Mother of God Herself again wished to give proof of Her care. They asked themselves whether this very recent manifestation did not herald some menacing crisis affecting the country’s tranquillity, to which Our Lady promised in advance to supply the remedy of Her powerful intercession. How could I not thrill at the thought that not far from the place where I lived, the Blessed Virgin had shown Herself and had spoken and wept ! Moreover, there was nothing lacking to the austere poetry of this apparition… ” (Bassette, p. 30)
In fact, the de Cabrières family went to the heart of the matter in linking this event of 1846 with the apparitions of the Most Blessed Virgin at the rue du Bac in 1830, and in interpreting this further warning as the announcement of another chastisement – 1848 will bring back the same sad popular uprisings of the “ trois glorieuses ” of 1830 – but also of a renewed mercy. The “ orthodromic ” continuation of Our Lady’s great apparitions in the 19th century will confirm this constant two part lesson : the first, a warning and threats of chastisements for France, eldest daughter of the Church, the second, a promise of forgiveness and of renaissance…
A MESSAGE OF CONVERSION
There is nothing more simple or more accessible than the message addressed by the Blessed Virgin to the people and clergy of that period and of those poor and remote districts. This “ pastoral ” message was perfectly adapted, immediately understood and bore amazing fruits of conversion.
To quote only the early examples : the Parish Priest of La Salette himself who exclaimed in his naive faith (sic) on September 20 : “ Ah, my children, how happy you are ! You have seen the Blessed Virgin ! Ah, I said to my parishioners, you must not work on Sundays ! What will become of us ? ” And on that same day his sermon was pronounced with such feeling that, at the time, nobody understood a thing, but his flock were soon to be enlightened concerning the announced chastisements and God’s mercy to be gained. He himself will be the first to obey Our Lady (P. Laurent, Marie V, 1, p. 26).
And again this, which is more convincing than a hundred speeches, concerning the truth of the remarkable fact and of its immediate application… “ The wheelwright Giraud, Maximin’s father, was indifferent but not godless… One day, it was the Friday following the Apparition, September 25, exasperated by all that was being said about his son, he wanted to stop Maximin from telling his story in public and even beat him, but in tears the child said to him : ‘ But, Father, the Lady also spoke to me about you. ’ – ‘ About me ? ’, answered Maximin’s father; ‘ and what did She say about me ? ’ Maximin then related the episode of the land at Coin. The father was amazed to hear such a fact recalled – a fact he was sure of never having mentioned to anybody and which occurred without witnesses. ‘ Ah ! She told you that ! That is something quite extraordinary… Well then, I shall also go up and have a look. But then I have asthma; if it is the Blessed Virgin who appeared to you and if She is willing to cure me, I shall believe in the Apparition and I promise to convert ’ ”… And so it was done. Having drunk from the miraculous spring, he was suddenly cured and then he went to church. It was twenty years since he had last been to confession ! He remained a good Christian until the end of his days and died an edifying death (Les miracles de La Salette, Giray, p. 235). The wonderful simplicity of heavenly things !
The nearby town of Corps in Matheysine was also converted en bloc : they renounced their religious indifference; they found their way back to the Church and the practice of the sacraments to the amazement of the clergy of Grenoble. And shortly after, their parish priest, who had been barred for scandalous behaviour, repented and was reconciled to the Church in a most edifying manner through the grace of Our Lady of La Salette (Bassette, p. 286-287).
If the tears of the Queen of Heaven and the pleas of Her motherly Heart had the gift of touching hearts, Her grave words captured minds all the more in that they began to be fulfilled in the months following the apparition, freezing the smile on the lips of those who made fun of the “ Peasant Virgin ”. The year 1847 was a year of famine, claiming more than a hundred thousand victims in France and a million in Europe. At Christmas, there were no more potatoes as Our Lady had predicted. At the same time, the vineyards were ravaged by vine-pest. Nuts – so important in Dauphiné – had become worth their weight in gold, for there were no more. As though that were not enough, an epidemic decimated the number of small children, who were seized by shivering, and France would be devastated by cholera on two occasions. According to witnesses, out of every five persons who went up to La Salette in 1856, three were in mourning.
THE ENTHUSIASM OF THE SAINTS
It is important to emphasise the fact that the whole region was making a journey, not only physically by going on pilgrimage to the very place of the Apparition, but also morally, through a moral conversion modelled on the “ beautiful Lady’s ” warnings. Thus, it was the first time in France since the Revolution that countless pilgrims came on pilgrimage without a declaration or order of command from the clergy. The pilgrimage of the first anniversary was impressive : a hundred thousand pilgrims beneath torrential rain. The published reports of this pilgrimage stunned the whole of France. The “ Holy Man of Tours ”, the venerable Mr. Dupont, came on foot and recounted the happy news to the Carmelites of Tours, among whom was the confidant of the Holy Face, Sister Marie de Saint-Pierre, mysteriously warned of the heavenly apparition, which she had greatly desired through her prayers. Inset here, is an account of these supernatural and most certain events :
“ … Despite her insistence, Sister Marie de Saint-Pierre still bad not succeeded in having the Work of Reparation established as Our Lord seemed to want it. In 1845, having lost all hope of convincing Msgr. Morlot, she understood that her only recourse would be prayer. And it is towards the Blessed Virgin that she deliberately turned. Every day, she recited the Rosary in order to obtain the establishment of the Work and France’s salvation. Before the imminence of a danger she felt coming, and the supernatural certitude she possessed of the efficacy of a remedy people refuse to apply, she cried out : ‘ Ah, how much I suffer in being the only guardian of something so important for the whole of France… Blessed Virgin, appear to someone in the world and impart to him what has been communicated to me concerning France. ’
“ Nearly a year passed. But on the September 1, 1846, the Mother Prioress of the Carmel informed Mr. Dupont of what Sister Marie de Saint-Pierre had just related, and which had greatly impressed her. Mr. Dupont had noted the very terms related by the Prioress. Our Lord had just said :
“ My Mother has just spoken to men of My anger. She has shown Me her bosom saying : ‘ Allow Thyself to be moved by this bosom which suckled Thee and let blessings be poured over all My other children. ’ And then, She came down to earth, full of mercy. We must all have great confidence in Her ! ” (Le message de soeur Marie de Saint-Pierre, Louis Van den Bossche, p. 164-165)
A few days after this memorable first anniversary of the Apparition, Mr. Gérin, priest of the Cathedral of Grenoble, wrote an account of it for his friend, Fr. des Genettes, Rector of Our Lady of Victories in Paris : “ On September 19, I went to the mountain of La Salette; it was one of the loveliest days of my life. The pathway was all muddy after the rain of the previous day, not to mention its natural ruggedness. When we finally reached the holy Mountain, we were thrilled to see a veritable Israelite camp, groups on all sides with their horses and donkeys. I have never seen such a sight… ” (Bassette, p. 82) The divinely inspired devotions of the Church recall and support one another : at Our Lady of Victories, the most Blessed Virgin had offered Her most Holy and Immaculate Heart for sinners to take refuge; here, on the mountain of La Salette, She offered Herself as their “ Reconciler ”, according to the term sprung spontaneously from popular devotion.
Miracles of all sorts and in large number occurred. One of them, the cure of Marguerite Guillot, took place beneath the eyes of the future Saint Julien Eymard, the apostle of the Eucharist, on 8 September 1848. Having been miraculously cured, she will go on to become the co-foundress of the Servants of the Blessed Sacrament. As for Fr. Eymard, he adhered to La Salette with all his faith and for good; he had the grace of celebrating his last Mass in the chapel of the Missionaries at Grenoble on July 22, 1868 ! Another saint will, in his turn, also come to La Salette a few years later : Don Bosco who, from 1846, marvelled to learn that the Blessed Virgin Mary had chosen for Her confidants two poor disinherited children, speaking the patois of the mountains, like those for whom he had just been inspired to consecrate his life and his work. He immediately became the apostle and propagandist of Her Message.
THE CHURCH’S INQUIRY
Before such an influx of pilgrims and such an abundance of graces, it was for the Church to pronounce on the truth of the Fact of La Salette in its three components : The apparition in itself, the public message and the secrets given to each of the two children. In his book Le Fait de La Salette (1846-1854), Louis Bassette has decisively shown that the Church perfectly fulfilled her mission with wisdom, prudence and discretion, and that her conviction now rests on unshakeable foundations. The historian has retained all the facts and documents necessary to manifest the divine orthodromy, to satisfy the demands of historical science and to meet the needs of the heart and of the faithful’s devotion. He has discreetly mentioned the disturbing shadows – we shall come back to this –; but on the other hand, he has shown all the scandalous force of the opposition of unbelievers and their press campaigns in order to demonstrate their inanity and their odiousness and so highlight the divine Truth. Let us follow the main points of his demonstration :
The first information dates from the month of October 1846. Different ecclesiastics questioned the seers and then addressed reports to the Bishop of Grenoble, Msgr. de Bruillard, who before long appointed Fr. Rousselot, his Vicar General, one of the best theologians of the diocese, as official investigator. In the course of his inquiry, the Vicar General passed from uncertainty to faith; he will become one of the most zealous and perspicacious defenders of La Salette. For the moment, he limited himself to seeing that all the statements were concordant, that the accounts were truthful – the children seemed to be incapable of deceiving or of being deceived – and that the facts could not be reduced to natural forces alone.
The fury of the anticlerical press did not prevent the Bishop from convening, in November 1847, a commission of inquiry in which he was careful to include opponents among the clergy of his diocese. Fr. Rousselot was the appointed reporter, whose answers to the twelve objections against the reality of the Apparition (Bassette, p. 135-147) won the near unanimity of his fellow priests. His report entitled “ The Truth about the event of La Salette ” was addressed to Pope Pius IX in the month of August 1848. The Pope found the time to reply on 20 September, when the revolution that was soon to drive him into exile was already grumbling : “ It was especially pleasing for Us to learn what you relate of this numerous concourse of pilgrims who flock from all parts to honour the Blessed Virgin Mary, and it is particularly pleasing to learn that once there, these people implore the all powerful protection and the help of the Mother of God for Our humble Person. And so, we have the greatest desire that these people of whom you speak should be told that We impart to them Our apostolic blessing. ”
THE TRIAL OF THE CURÉ D’ARS
Msgr. de Bruillard could have given his judgement at that time, as he was empowered to do and dearly wished to do, but he was prevented by two curious procedures on the part of his Metropolitan of Lyon, Cardinal de Bonald, who went as far as to support the clergy of Grenoble who had declared themselves against the reality of the Apparition. It is painful to read this account in Bassette (p. 148 sq), but this we know : from the beginning, La Salette was a sign of contradiction, not only on the part of outside enemies, but also among the clergy, as Fatima will be 70 years later.
Especially as this veiled and ill-intentioned opposition was added to by what is called the “ Ars incident ”. On September 24 and 25, 1850, Maximin visited Ars, where he met the holy Curé, who had been in favour of La Salette the day before, preaching its Message, distributing medals, exhorting his penitents to go there on pilgrimage, but then after this interview he became painfully reticent on the subject. Here again, Bassette says all there is to be known about the circumstances of this painful event, which was “ the most cruel thorn in the crown ” of this holy priest (p. 186-205). He did not return to his previous belief until eight years later, after having obtained from Heaven the three signs he had requested in order to be free of this persistent doubt.
Another saint, Father Eymard, found that on this occasion too much credit had been given to the judgement of the Curé d’Ars, for whom he nevertheless felt the most ardent veneration and affection. “ In perspective, too much weight is given to the opinion of the Curé d’Ars. Here, it is very ordinary, as far as judgement is concerned (!)… ” he wrote to his great friend from Grenoble, Fr. Rousselot. And to the same priest, he wrote this letter dated January 29, 1851 :
“ Monsieur le Vicaire général et bon Père,
“ I thank you with all my heart for your two letters; they only confirm me in my original conviction concerning the truth of the apparition of La Salette. I have professed my conviction despite all its enemies, and the incredible thing is that through wanting to be prudent, the ecclesiastical scholars become incredulous ! What harm they have done to weak souls and to the indifferent ! I particularly like these words of Msgr. the Bishop of Belley (Msgr. Devie) to one of my friends : ‘ What has happened at Ars is no more than a trial, a storm mused by the devil; the fact of La Salette will emerge from that all the more brilliant. ’ Those who speak against La Salette were content to be able to justify their incredulity and paid no attention to avoid a woman’s credulity, as they call it, and they fell into a strange contradiction in basing their judgement on an event that is ridiculous in the eyes of reason and common sense, such as occurred at Ars, without proof, without examination, and without dignity. Today, they are beginning to fall silent and to say : the truth will come to light… ” (Bassette, p. 204)
THE TRANSMISSION OF THE SECRETS
The public’s curiosity and the interest of the clergy soon focused on the famous secrets. Every means were used to extort the secrets from the seers, who proved to be of an invincible constancy and never consented to divulge them to anyone. Fr. Dupanloup learned this to his cost… The children invariably repeated : “ The Lady has forbidden us to say it. ” And in answer to the question put to Maximin, “ What if you had to tell your secret or die ? ” he categorically replied : “ I would die… I would not tell it. ”
When Cardinal de Bonald ,in his turn, wanted to know the secrets, in March 1851, he argued that he was “ the Pope’s advisor ” and that he had to be given the secrets so that he could “ transmit them to His Holiness ”, who could then finally settle this quarrelsome problem. It was a crude trap, and was bound to succeed. The seers wrote their text separately. Maximin wrote his on the 2nd July and Mélanie on the 6th. But Mélanie was categorically opposed to her secret being transmitted to the Pope by any intermediary other than her own bishop. Msgr. de Bruillard, therefore, sealed the two envelopes himself, after having read their contents, and his two envoys, MM. Rousselot and Gérin placed them in Pope Pius IX’s own hand on 18 July. What took place at the papal audience is known to us through a letter Fr. Rousselot wrote to his bishop :
“ His Holiness unsealed the three letters in our presence, read them, and commenting on Maximin’s he said : ‘ This has the candour and simplicity of a child. ’ We replied that these children were little mountain dwellers, who, for some months had been in an educational institute.
“ In order to read these two letters more easily, His Holiness stood up and went towards the window to open the shutter. We followed him. After reading Mélanie’s letter, His Holiness said to us : ‘ I must re-read this with a calm head. ’ While re-reading Mélanie’s letter, the Holy Father showed a certain emotion in his cheeks. His lips contracted and his cheeks swelled.
“ When he had finished reading, the Holy Father said to us : ‘ France is threatened with scourges. She is not the only culpable one. Germany, Italy and the whole of Europe are culpable and deserve to be chastised. I have less to fear from Proudhon than from religious indifference and human respect. Your soldiers (the French army, which, after its victory of June 29, 1849 over the troops of Mazzini and Garibaldi, made it possible for Pius IX to return to Rome, which he did on the following April 12, whilst the French occupied the eternal City until 1866), your soldiers kneel when they see me, but only after looking left and right to make sure they are not seen. It is not for nothing that the Church is called militant and that you see here the Captain (bringing his right hand up to his chest)… I have had your book examined by Msgr. Frattini, promoter of the faith, and he told me that it was all right, he was pleased with it and that it radiated the truth. ”
“ Furthermore, His Holiness told us that he would reply to Your Excellency in a way to make you forget the vexations caused you by the Cardinal Archbishop of Lyons. It is impossible, my Lord, to tell you how good, affable and kind the Pope is. It is also impossible for us to describe our happiness as we emerged from this audience, especially when thinking of the happiness you would experience at seeing the work of La Salette crowned with the happiest success and having obtained the most decisive approval...
“ The next day, we saw H.E. Cardinal Fornari, to whom I paid homage in my writings on La Salette. The Cardinal had known of this fact during his time as Nuncio in France. He told us that he would read my work with pleasure : ‘ Besides ’, he added, ‘ I am alarmed by such wonders. We have in our religion all that is necessary for the conversion of sinners, and when Heaven employs such means, the evil must be very grave ’. ”
In his report, Mr. Gérin added this most important point :
“ Simply from the few crumbs of these secrets which have reached us, we think that Maximin foretells mercy and the rehabilitation of all things, and that Mélanie announces great chastisements. ” (Bassette, p. 229) The Pope also had the secrets read by Cardinal Lambruschini, Prefect of the Congregation of Rites. As neither the Pope nor the Cardinal could find fault with the contents of the message that had been transmitted to them, Pius IX encouraged Msgr. de Bruillard to recognize the supernatural facts of La Salette, by virtue of his competence as Ordinary of the place. The Church would at last pronounce through the authorised voice of her pastors.
The Pope’s fatherly kindness and the speed with which the decision was reached made Fr. Rousselot conclude : “ Finally, my Lord, I think that the calumnies of the press, the story of Ars and the ill will of the opposition, which are the prime reasons for our visit to Rome, will have contributed to the clearest, swiftest and most decisive solution of all the difficulties. Thus will be verified for the Fact of La Salette the words Salutem ex inimicis nostris. ”
THE OFFICIAL APPROVAL OF 1851
Msgr. de Bruillard did not have to be begged to do what he regarded as a sacred duty. On September 19, 1851, he published a pastoral letter for the fifth anniversary of the Apparition in which he affirmed that the Apparition “ has within itself all the characteristics of the truth, and that the faithful are justified in believing it beyond doubt and for certain ” (art. 1). “ Hence, in order to bear our warmest gratitude to God and to the glorious Virgin Mary, we authorise the devotion to Our Lady of La Salette. We allow the clergy to preach on this great Event and to draw the practical and moral consequences arising from it. ” (art. 3) “ We expressly forbid the faithful and the clergy of our diocese ever to speak or write against the Event which we proclaim this day and which, henceforth, demands the respect of all. ” (art. 5)
He concluded by saying : “ We entreat you, our dear brethren, for the sake of your heavenly and even earthly interests, seriously to examine yourselves, to do penance for your sins, and particularly for those committed against the second and third commandments of God. (A confraternity of reparation for blasphemies and profanations of Sundays will soon be raised to the rank of archconfraternity, under the name of Our Reconciling Lady of La Salette, by the Pope himself and enriched with numerous indulgences.) We entreat you, our dearly beloved brethren : make yourselves docile to the voice of Mary who calls you to penance, and who, on behalf of Her Son, threatens you with spiritual and temporal ills if, remaining insensitive to Her maternal warnings, you harden your hearts. ”
It was not by chance that the Blessed Virgin chose to manifest Herself in the diocese of such a pious and deserving bishop, just as we have seen Her favouring with Her visit priests according to Her Heart : good priests like Fr. Guérin at Pontmain, Fr. Peyramale at Lourdes and Fr. des Genettes at Paris ! Msgr. de Bruillard had been one of the seven “ guillotine chaplains ” under the Terror, and under the Restoration he was “ the model of Parisian parish priests ”, according to the Duchess of Angoulême. Appointed to the see of Grenoble in 1826, he did considerable good there despite the persecutions he had to suffer under Louis-Philippe’s government for his legitimist convictions : three hundred churches were built or enlarged, a hundred parishes erected, a great number of religious communities established, countless works of charity achieved…
A year had not passed since his doctrinal judgement before he announced, in a further pastoral letter of May 1, 1852, the erection of a shrine on the mountain of the Apparition and the institution of the Missionaries of Our Lady of La Salette, commissioned to serve the shrine. It was the venerable prelate’s Nunc dimittis which allowed his joy to spill over into an act of thanksgiving towards “ Her who came from above to our mountains to plant there something of a rallying sign, a sign of salvation, a radiant beacon, a bronze serpent to which pious souls have raised their eyes to divert the heavenly wrath and to heal us of incurable wounds ! ” And he concluded with these magnificent words :
“ It had to be thus, our Very Dear Brethren. It is not in vain that the Mother of Mercy deigned to visit the children of men. It is not in vain that at the sight of disorders which rouse the anger of Her Son, She came as though to take refuge in our mountains, to shed tears, to warn us of the chastisements that were reserved for us if we did not convert; to remind us of the fear of God, respect for His Holy Name, the sanctification of the Sunday and observation of all the commandments of God and of His Church. Words come down from such a height should have an immense echo and should be heard by every nation, just as the place where She showed Herself had to be, so it seems, high enough to be seen by all peoples. Go back to the origin of this great event : you see its almost unknown birth, its prompt and rapid diffusion throughout France and Europe, its soaring to the four corners of the world, and finally its providential arrival in the capital of the Christian world. To God alone be the honour and glory ! We have merely been the feeble instrument of His adorable will. This amazing and wonderful success is due to the August Virgin of La Salette : She alone has arranged everything to bring about this unhoped for result; She alone has triumphed over every obstacle, answered every objection and dissolved every difficulty; She alone has prepared the success; She alone will know how to crown Her work. For our part, we have only to thank her a thousand times for the purely gratuitous choice She has made of us to be the herald of Her glory and of the merciful protection with which She is ever willing to cover our beloved diocese, our dear country and the whole world. ”
The following May 25, he wanted, despite his age – he was 86 ! – to ascend his “ dear mountain ” on horseback in order to bless the first stone of the future shrine. Despite the persistent rain, whole parishes climbed the mountain in long processions (one should read the account of this magnificent and holy ceremony in Bassette, p. 284-285). Msgr. de Bruillard then tended his resignation.
APPROVAL CONFIRMED IN 1854
It fell to Msgr. Ginoulhiac, appointed bishop of Grenoble in May 1853, to consolidate his predecessor’s work. It was not easy, for the opposition had reared its head. Taking advantage of the new bishop’s liberal attitudes, the opposition multiplied infamous articles and pamphlets against La Salette. A lost priest even claimed to have discovered a certain demoiselle de Lamerlière who supposedly passed herself off in the mountains as the Blessed Virgin. It was grotesque ! Even more serious : a memorandum addressed to the Pope against the judgement of 1851 was published in Grenoble. Pius IX then urged Msgr. Ginoulhiac to intervene. The Bishop then re-examined the dossier, studying it scrupulously, and in a pastoral letter dated 4 November 1854, he not only condemned the memorandum in question but renewed his predecessor’s doctrinal judgement in a more explicit and this time definitive way. The following 8 December, the Bishop of Grenoble went to Rome to hear Pius IX proclaim the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, which was wonderfully confirmed four years later by the Immaculate Virgin herself at Lourdes. Thus, from one mountain to another, the thread of Marian orthodromy is unbroken.
At La Salette, the Church will now continue her work in an impeccable manner : the work of the pilgrimages will never stop, supported by all the bishops of Grenoble without exception, nor will that of the Missionaries whose main aim will be to spread the devotion to “ Mary, Mediatrix, help of mankind ” (Msgr. Ginoulhiac), all powerful and supplicating, turning away from sinful mankind the scourges of God’s wrath, on condition that we respond to Her appeal and obey Her… As for the seers, Msgr. Ginhoulhiac declared on September 19, 1855 : “ The mission of the shepherds is ended; that of the Church begins. They can move away, become dispersed in the world, even unfaithful to the great grace received, but the Apparition of Mary will not thereby be shaken; for it is certain and nothing coming after can act against it. ”
THE FIRST NATIONAL PILGRIMAGE
To end, let us relate a little known episode of the history of La Salette – an episode that could serve as a figurative for our last months of ascent towards Fatima. I find this episode related in the review Marie, written by the Assumptionist father, Émile Gabel (p. 66-69).
I quote : “ Fr. d’Alzon had the idea, from the time of the First Vatican Council, of forming a Catholic league for the defence of the Church. The plan, mentioned in a letter addressed to Frs. Picard and Bailly, on February 10, 1870, was grandiose… ” It took shape in 1872 under the form of a crusade of national pilgrimages. The goal of the first of these was La Salette. One by one, the obstacles were overcome and the pilgrims who left from Paris, on August 18, 1872, numbered seven hundred, soon to be joined by other groups from Dijon, Ars and Lyons. “ Pilgrims !… that they were through and through. Neither human respect nor fear of exhaustion moderated their ardour… Neither silly jokes nor insults could wear down the zeal of the pilgrims, encouraged on all sides by the sympathy of other fellow countrymen. At Grenoble, however, matters grew more serious and the pious procession was spared little by way of contempt : they were jeered, spat upon and showered with mud and stones. It was, as the biographer of Fr. Picard magnificenfly wrote, ‘ The consecration of this new crusade ’. The pilgrims felt no fear, no bitterness, no hatred and no regrets : they were content to answer those insulting them with : ‘ We shall pray for you at La Salette. ’
“ On August 21, our pilgrims finally arrived within sight of the mountain of the Apparition, some by coach, some on mule, some on foot. A group from Marseilles and several from Grenoble were already there, around their bishop, Msgr. Paulinier, an old friend of Fr. d’Alzon’s from their youth.
“ History has preserved the theme of the sermon given by Fr. Picard once the pilgrimage had gathered. Overflowing with faith and enthusiasm, he commented on the words of scripture with which the Bishop of Grenoble had greeted the pilgrims : ‘ Vadam ad montem myrrhae et ad collem thuris ’. Yes, truly on this day of splendour among all days, La Salette became ‘ the mountain of myrrh and the hill of incense ’. The prayer of the pilgrims, weeping over their sins and those of France, could not fail to be heard by Heaven. Two whole days were filled with ceremonies, processions and pious exercises. ”
On 22 August, a general Council of pilgrimages was established – a Council which would give an extraordinary momentum to this renaissance of faith and piety, to be greeted by holy Pope Pius IX as the dawn of a “ new era ”. The whole of France was shaken, and it would not have taken much for the long awaited “ restoration of all things ” to have come about in the following year… Tomorrow, it will come to pass, through the grace of Fatima and of the Immaculate Heart of Mary !