Mary, As Intercessor
January 17 marks the 146th anniversary of the Apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary at Pontmain, France. Here is a shortened version of what occurred that night in 1871:
Twelve-year-old Eugene Barbadette was working with his father, Cesar, and younger brother, Joseph, when he walked outside the family barn and saw the sky filled with the vision of a beautiful woman dressed in a blue gown and wearing a crown. Joseph could see her as well. However, Cesar, his wife, Victoire, and an adult neighbor could not. The local schoolteacher, Sister Vitaline, was brought to the Barbadette home; she, too, could see nothing. She then called for two young girls, who could see the apparition. Over the course of the next three hours, as more villagers arrived, it became apparent that only children could see the Blessed Virgin Mary; adults could only discern a triangle of stars. The villagers sang songs to Mary, and she revealed a message to the children: “But pray, my children. God will hear you in time. My Son allows Himself to be touched.”
This extraordinary event, celebrated as Our Lady of Hope of Pontmain, is just one of the many recorded sightings of the Blessed Virgin Mary that have occurred over the centuries. In many instances, shrines have been built for the faithful to offer their prayers to Mary for intercession with Jesus. And that fact reminds us of one of the important roles of the Blessed Virgin Mary in our lives—that of Intercessor.
Mary intercedes for us, upon our request, with the Son. The model of her intercession is the wedding at Cana. Protestants insist that they have a relationship directly with God and may pray directly to him. So they do, and so they may. But the same man who insists that he prays only to God and does not need to pray to Mary, or any of the saints, for intercession, sees nothing inconsistent with asking friends, ministers, or even strangers to pray for him or his family. Consider the prayer chains in many churches which pray for the sick. Protestants find no problem in requesting intercessory prayers from the living, even from strangers. So it is not intercession that is the problem.
The problem is an insufficient understanding of “the communion of the saints,” which most Protestants acknowledge in their creeds. The communion of the saints is the community of the entire Church. It includes the “Church Militant,” living on earth today. It also includes the “Church Triumphant,” composed of those already in heaven. The living may speak to the dead in their prayers. There seems little reason to think that those already in heaven, partaking of the joys and powers of eternity, cannot hear our intercessory prayers to them and do not have the charity to want to intercede for us with God, in whose presence they stand.
If we may speak in our prayers to the saints in heaven, and if it is all right to request intercession, why on earth would we not request intercession from the only mortal who ever led a sinless life, Mary, the Mother of God? Many Protestants confuse prayer for intercession to Mary, or to the saints, and the respect or veneration paid to them, with worship, which is due only to God. Again, Cana is the model. Mary tells the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” She points them to obedience to Jesus, to God. That is the same function Mary, and all the saints, perform when we venerate them and seek their intercession. They point us toward obedience to Jesus, to God.
Mary also is active in another form of intercessory activity. She appears from time to time to humans to ask them to intercede on behalf of someone. The best documented example of this nature is the series of apparitions to the shepherd children at Fatima, Portugal. Mary asked the children to tell the faithful to pray the rosary for the conversion of Russia. She promised to send a sign that would make their witness to the apparitions credible to others. Thousands saw the sun “dance” on October 13, 1917, including Marxist atheists many miles away.
Here are some of the confirmed apparitions of the Blessed Virgin Mary over the last 500 years:
1531 – OUR LADY OF GUADALUPE – Mexico City, Mexico
The Blessed Virgin Mary appeared four times to a devout Mexican Indian named Juan Diego near the hill of Tepeyac beginning on December 9, 1531.
1664-1718 – OUR LADY OF LAUS – Saint-Etienne-le Laus, France
The Blessed Virgin Mary appeared several times to a shepherdess named Benoite Rencurel beginning on May 16, 1664.
1830 – OUR LADY OF THE MIRACULOUS MEDAL – Rue du Bac, Paris, France
The Blessed Virgin Mary twice appeared to Catherine Laboure, a member of the Daughters of Charity of Saint Vincent de Paul, on July 18 and November 27, 1830.
1846 – OUR LADY OF LA SALETTE – La Salette-Fallavaux, France
The Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to two shepherd children, Maximin Giraud and Melanie Calvat on September 19, 1846.
1858 – OUR LADY OF LOURDES – Lourdes, France
The Blessed Virgin Mary appeared eighteen times to a shepherd girl, Bernadette Soubirous, between February 11, 1858 and July 16, 1858.
1871 – OUR LADY OF PONTMAIN – Pontmain, France
The Blessed Virgin Mary appeared for three hours to first the Barbadette children and then children of the village, on January 17, 1871.
1879 – OUR LADY OF KNOCK – County Mayo, Ireland
The Blessed Virgin Mary, along with Saint Joseph and Saint John the Evangelist, appear to fifteen people on August 21, 1879.
1917 – OUR LADY OF FATIMA – Fatima, Portugal
The Blessed Virgin Mary appeared six times to three shepherd children—Lucia Santos, Jacinta Marto, and Francisco Marto—between May 13, 1917 and October 13, 1917. During the October apparition, between 30,000 and 100,000 people who had gathered to see the Blessed Virgin Mary saw the “Miracle of the Sun,” in which the sun was described as “dancing.”.
1932-1933 – OUR LADY OF BEAURAING – Beauraing, Belgium
The Blessed Virgin Mary appeared thirty-three times to five children—Fernande, Gilberte, and Albert Voisin, and Andree and Gilberte Degeimbre—between November 29, 1932 and January 3, 1933.
1933 – OUR LADY OF BANNEUX – Banneux, Belgium
The Blessed Virgin Mary appeared eight times to a young girl, Mariette Beco, between January 15, 1933 and March 2, 1933.
In addition to these apparitions, which have been investigated and declared authentic by the Church, Mary sometimes appears to those who derive comfort and inspiration from her apparition but, for one reason or another, do not seek the laborious and often controversial investigation by the Church. Nevertheless, there seems little reason to question that there have been more apparitions of Mary than those officially acknowledged by the Church.
So, as we meditate today, let us remember that when we pray to the Blessed Virgin Mary, such as at these memorable shrines dedicated to her appearance among the people, we are, in fact, praying to Mary to act as an intercessory in our prayers to God; we are not worshipping Mary, but God through our prayers to the Intercessor.