What's the Story Behind the Miraculous Medal?
The Miraculous Medal, a heavenly gift designed and revealed by the Blessed Mother herself, bestows extraordinary graces upon those who wear the medal and pray for Mary’s intercession and help. Worn by millions, it is the most popular piece of Catholic jewelry - which means it is quite possibly something that you have worn yourself and hold close to your heart. However, if you are new to the story, or unfamiliar with the Saint who received the apparition, you’ll want to keep reading to discover the history of one of the most recognized and popular sacramentals associated with miracles and conversions.
The First Apparition
The story began on July 18, 1830, when Catherine Laboure, a novice of the Daughters of Charity in Paris, was awakened by a beautiful child emanating a heavenly light. He led her to the lit Chapel where Mary, beautifully adorned in a white dress and blue veil, appeared and sat near the altar. Catherine described the first apparition by remarking, “I went closer and, throwing myself on my knees, rested my hands on the knees of the Blessed Virgin. At that instant, I tasted the sweetest joy of my life – a delight beyond expression.” During the first apparition, Mary revealed to Catherine that she was going to give her a mission.
The Second Apparition
Mary appeared to Catherine again four months later, on November 27, 1830, while at prayer with the other Sisters of Charity. Catherine would later recount that she heard the faint rustling of a silk dress and after glancing in that direction, she saw the Blessed Virgin standing near St. Joseph’s picture. It would be difficult to paraphrase Catherine’s experience in a way that matches the beauty of her own words:
“Her head was covered with a white veil, which floated over Her shoulders down to her feet. Her feet rested upon a globe, or rather one half of a globe, for that was all that could be seen. Her hands, which were on a level with Her waist, held in an easy manner another globe, a figure of the world. Her eyes were raised to Heaven, and Her countenance beamed with light as She offered the globe to Our Lord. As I was busy contemplating Her, the Blessed Virgin fixed Her eyes upon me, and a voice said in the depth of my heart, ‘This globe which you see represents the whole world, especially France, and each person in particular.’ There now formed around the Blessed Virgin a frame rather oval in shape, on which were written in letters of gold these words: ‘O Mary conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to Thee.’ Then a voice said to me: ‘Have a medal struck upon this model. All those who wear it, when it is blessed, will receive great graces especially if they wear it round the neck. Those who repeat this prayer with devotion will be in a special manner under the protection of the Mother of God. Graces will be abundantly bestowed upon those who have confidence.’ At the same instant, the oval frame seemed to turn around. Then I saw on the back of it the letter ‘M’, surmounted by a cross, with a crossbar beneath it, and under the monogram of the name of Mary, the Holy Hearts of Jesus and of His Mother; the first surrounded by a crown of thorns and the second transpierced by a sword.”
The Third Apparition
In December of 1830, Catherine heard the rustling sound one final time during meditation. Near the tabernacle, the same image of the medal appeared, and she heard, “These rays are the symbol of the graces that the Blessed Virgin obtains for those who ask them of her…You will not see me anymore.”
A Medal that Changed the World
During the apparitions, it was requested that Catherine keep Mary’s visits a secret from everyone but her confessor, Father Aladel. He originally dismissed her and told her she had “too much imagination.” On January 30, 1831, Catherine received the habit of the Daughters of Charity and was assigned to the Hospice of Enghein, Reuilly. While there, an interior voice continued to insist that the Medal must be struck, which led her to bring the request to her confessor again. Father Aladel finally went to the Archbishop of Paris with Our Lady’s request who approved of the medals being made immediately. However, an unfortunate cholera epidemic in February of 1832 delayed the creation of the medal until May of 1832. The first order of 2,000 medals began to be distributed by the Daughters of Charity on June 30, 1832, and almost immediately, the blessings that Mary promised were showered down on those who wore her medal. The people of Paris began to call the medal “Miraculous” and by 1835 there were more than one million medals distributed worldwide. By the time of Sister Catherine’s death in 1876, more than a billion medals had been made.
Catherine’s Secret Revealed
Sister Catherine’s holiness continued to flow from her ability to see Christ in daily life and she spent the next 46 years of her life at Reuilly humbly serving the elderly patients. While millions of medals had been distributed around the world, only Father Aladel knew the identity of the sister who was blessed to receive the apparition of the Miraculous Medal. However, when Catherine was aware that the end of her life was near in May of 1876, Mary gave her permission to share her story. Upon her death, she was buried in a tomb under the chapel of the House of Reuilly, and when her body was exhumed for beatification 57 years later, it was found to be incorrupt. Catherine’s body was placed in a reliquary in the Chapel of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal where Mary appeared to her, and she can still be seen there today.
Symbolism of the Miraculous Medal
The Miraculous Medal is a reminder of Mary’s motherly love and powerful intercession in dispensing God’s grace. Mary does God’s will perfectly and we should wear the medal with love and trust while trying our best to imitate her virtues. Each symbol on the medal tells us something about Our Lady and Christ in a simple, yet beautiful way.
Front of the Medal:
- Mary stands upon the globe, as queen of heaven and earth, crushing a serpent beneath her feet. The serpent represents Satan who was defeated by Mary’s obedience to God.
- The rays coming from Mary’s hands symbolize the graces that Mary sheds upon those who ask for them. The fingers that do not have rays falling are the graces for which souls forget to ask.
- The year 1830 is in remembrance of the year the Blessed Mother appeared to St. Catherine.
- “O Mary conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee.” These words from the vision form an oval around Mary.
Back of the Medal:
- The cross represents Christ’s sacrifice for our salvation.
- The bar underneath the cross is representative of the Earth.
- The M stands for “Mary”, which is interwoven with the bar and cross to symbolize her true devotion to Jesus and her children on Earth.
- The Sacred Heart of Jesus and Immaculate Heart of Mary represent their love for us.
- Twelve stars surround the entire image are representative of both the twelve Apostles and the verse, “a great sign appeared in heaven, a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under feet, and on her head a crown of 12 stars” (Revelation 12:1).
Many may still wonder how such a tiny piece of metal can be so powerful, and Fr. Kieran Moran had a very simple explanation in one of his Perpetual Novena homilies to help provide an answer. He told the congregation, “the power of the Miraculous Medal isn’t based on the material it’s made of, just as the kind of paper a check is written on doesn’t determine the check’s value.” We know the source of the medal’s power is heavenly, as it is the only medal designed by Our Lady herself.
Devotion to Mary through the Miraculous Medal is just as important today as it was back during St. Catherine’s time. We all need our Blessed Mother’s intercession, comfort, and protection now more than ever, and wearing a Miraculous Medal is a great reminder of Her love for you. Whether the medal is something that is already close to your heart or a sacramental that you’re just learning about, Stella & Tide has many beautiful options to offer in our Miraculous Medal collection, including our best-selling Miraculous Medal Necklace. It was the first piece of Catholic jewelry ever made for our shop, and we’ve handcrafted thousands of Miraculous Medal necklaces to date!
Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal, pray for us!
Andrea, I’m glad to hear this post was a blessing to you, and I’m so, so sorry to hear about the loss of your mother. Please know we will be praying for her and your family during this difficult time.
This means so much to learn about as my beautiful saint of a Mother prayed this prayer most frequently. We only just lost her two days ago but learning more about this medal draws her even closer to me in this great trial. Thank you.
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