Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal: ‘Pray for us who have recourse to thee’

July 16, 2013

After the Cross, the Miraculous Medal, also known as the Medal of the Immaculate Conception, is one of the most widely worn religious symbols in the world. 

Strung about the necks of countless Catholics and the centerpiece of even more rosaries, the Miraculous Medal owes its existence and near ubiquity in Catholic devotional life to the apparitions of the Blessed Mother to a 19th Century French nun who would later become a saint.

Believers are reminded of the powerful and ever eager intercession of St. Mary of the Miraculous Medal by the words inscribed upon it: Oh Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee.

St. Catherine Labouré was a young novice with the Daughters of Charity discerning a life with the religious order in 1830 when, late one night, a child believed to be her guardian angel appeared at her bedside. The child summoned her to the convent’s chapel because, he said, the Virgin Mother was waiting for her. 

St. Catherine would later recount to her spiritual director that she indeed found Our Lady awaiting her that July night. She said she spoke with her for hours, even laying her hands in the Virgin’s lap. 

“There I spent the most pleasant time of my life. It would be impossible for me to describe what I experienced. The Blessed Virgin told me how I should conduct myself with regard to my confessor and many other things,” St. Catherine said.

She was also told that she would be given a mission. 

The second time she saw the Virgin was in November while she was deep in meditation one evening. St. Catherine said that Our Lady appeared to her standing on a half globe and holding a small golden globe in her hand. The Virgin’s feet were crushing a serpent and soft, bright beams of light were emanating from her fingers. The rays were symbols of the graces obtained through her intercession for the believers who asked for them. 

St. Catherine recounted further that suddenly a kind of oval frame appeared around the Virgin and in the border appeared this prayer in golden letters: Oh Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee. The picture then turned. 

On the other side she saw the letter M superimposed and interlaced by a cross. At the bottom of the image were two flaming hearts — one crowned with thorns and the other pierced by a sword. Twelve stars encircled the image, representing the 12 apostles. 

“Have a medal struck upon this model. Those who wear it will receive great graces, especially if they wear it around the neck,” the Virgin told St. Catherine.

Through her confessor, St. Catherine would find a way to have the medals made and propagated with the approval of the Church two years later. 
At that same time, a terrible outbreak of cholera was sweeping through Paris. As the Daughters of Charity began to distribute the medals, people started coming forward bearing witness to miraculous cures and conversions. 

Thus, the medal began to be called the “Miraculous Medal.” Devotion to Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal took off. 

St. Catherine hid the fact that the Virgin Mary had commissioned her directly to have the medals struck. She kept this secret from her sisters until only a short time before her death in 1876. 

The incorruptible body of St. Catherine, who was canonized in 1947 for her quiet service to the poor, lies near the altar where the Virgin appeared to her.

The site of the apparitions in the motherhouse of Daughters of Charity at Rue du Bac 140 in Paris draws pilgrims from around the world.

The theological significance of the miraculous medal lies in the Virgin making herself known as being conceived without sin. This teaching would be officially defined by the Church as a dogmatic truth of the Immaculate Conception in 1854. 

Later, the apparitions of the Virgin at Lourdes, France in 1858 to St. Bernadette Soubirous, then a poor, young peasant girl, would also confirm this.