About the Feast

On February 11, 1858, the first of the apparitions of Mary to fourteen-year-old Bernadette Soubirous, a peasant girl, occurred in Lourdes, France. On that day, while the girl was gathering firewood with her sister and friends, she saw "a beautiful Lady" dressed in white, with a rosary hanging from her arm, standing in a small cave-like space (grotto) in a cliff side. The Lady smiled at her and called to her. They prayed the Rosary together. Bernadette said the prayers, and the Lady joined in for the Glory Be.

A week later, on February 18, the Lady asked Bernadette to come to the same place for the next fifteen days. Day after day, Bernadette went to the grotto, and the Lady appeared. Each time, she told Bernadette a little more about who she was. More and more people went with Bernadette. They did not see the Lady, but they could tell that Bernadette was seeing something very special and beautiful, because Bernadette herself looked so happy and beautiful when the Lady was there.

The Lady told her that we all must "pray for the conversion of sinners", do "penance, penance, penance!" and "go tell the priests to have people come here in a procession and to have a chapel built here."

On February 25, two weeks after the beginning of her appearances, the Lady of the grotto told Bernadette to dig in the earth at the base of the cliff. Bernadette did as instructed, and a spring of water appeared, though there had never been any sign of a spring there before. The Lady told Bernadette to drink from it and wash herself in it. And even though the water was still muddy from her digging, Bernadette obeyed. Everyone watching was convinced that Bernadette had gone mad. Many people left and stopped believing that she was really seeing our Lady.

On March 25, the Lady told Bernadette, "I am the Immaculate Conception." Bernadette did not know what these words meant, but she carefully repeated them over and over to herself to remember them correctly. Bernadette went straight to the priest's house and said the words to the village priest. He was very surprised.

The "Immaculate Conception" means that Mary was sinless from the first moment of her existence in her mother's womb. Of course, it was only fitting that the one who was going to be the Mother of God and carry Jesus in her womb be without sin herself. Since the sin of Adam and Eve, Mary is the only human who was created untainted by Original Sin. The Church's declaration that Mary was conceived free from original sin had been made only four years earlier. This teaching was confirmed by our Lady in the grotto of Lourdes (see CCC nos. 491, 493). Our Lady appeared to Bernadette eighteen times in all, from February 11 to July 16.

The flowing spring that Bernadette brought forth at our Lady's command still flows today. Many people visit the shrine of our Lady of Lourdes and take Lourdes water home with them. Many people have been healed of all kinds of illnesses at Lourdes after either drinking the water or bathing in it.

The Feast of the Immaculate Conception is celebrated on December 8.

Celebrating the Feast

Lourdes is located in the south of France, in the Pyrenees mountains that separate France and Spain. The food from that area combines characteristics of both French and Spanish cooking. Here is a sample recipe from a meal. that Bernadette may have eaten on very special feast days.
Recipe: Poulet Basques


    Roasting chicken (two to three pounds)
    1 tablespoon salt (half for inside of chicken, half for outside) black pepper (to taste)
    1/4 cup olive (or vegetable) oil, for browning
    1/4 cup butter, melted
    31/4 tablespoons rosemary, rubbed to powder (or 1/2 cup fresh rosemary)
    2 sweet red peppers, thinly sliced
    3 tablespoons tomato paste
    1 medium onion, thinly sliced
    3 leeks or green onions, thinly sliced
    1 garlic clove (or more to taste), crushed
    3 tablespoons diced spicy sausage (such as salami)
    2 tablespoons brandy (optional)
    Finely chopped pimento, or roasted red pepper, for garnish


Rub the chicken inside and out with salt, black pepper, and 3 tablespoons of the rosemary. (Or place fresh rosemary inside the chicken. )

Brown it well in olive oil in a heavy roasting pan or,Dutch oven.

Pour off excess oil. Brush the chicken with melted butter, and cook in a 325°F oven until tender (a probe thermometer should read 140°F). Baste occasionally with the pan juices.

Carve the chicken into serving pieces, and keep them warm in the oven.

Make a sauce by sauteing the sliced red peppers in 3 tablespoons melted butter. When the peppers begin to go limp, add the remaining ingredients (except the garnish) and simmer gently until the vegetables are tender. Add the pan juices, and let the sauce reduce a bit.

Optional: Warm the brandy, and pour it over the chicken pieces.

Pour the sauce over the chicken; sprinkle with garnish. Serve with rice and a green salad.

Serves four adults.

Immaculate Mary: The Lourdes Hymn

It is not clear who wrote the words for "Immaculate Mary", known also as the "Lourdes Hymn". The music is a traditional French tune, with the refrain added.

Immaculate Mary, your praises we sing,
Who reignest in splendor with Jesus our King.
 Refrain: Ave, Ave, Ave Maria, Ave, Ave Maria.

In heaven, the blessed your glory proclaim;
On earth, we your children invoke your fair name.

Your name is our power, your virtues our light,
Your love is our comfort, your pleading our might.

We pray for our mother, the Church upon earth;
And bless, dearest Lady, the land of our birth.