St. Catherine Laboure - Miraculous Medal
How did the Miraculous Medal come to be known as such?
Being one of the most popular Marian devotions, you’ve probably seen one of the medals and have always wondered what its origins are. Would it surprise you to know that it was created in response to a request from the Blessed Virgin Mary herself?
The story begins in 1830 when Our Lady appeared three times to St. Catherine Labouré, an obscure Sister of the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul in Rue du Bac, Paris, France. At that time, St. Catherine was working at a home for elderly men where she cooked, mended, and cared for the inmates.
During the third vision in what is now called the Chapel of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal, Mother Mary gave St. Catherine a mission saying, “Have a medal struck after this model. All who wear it will receive great graces.” The Blessed Virgin’s hands swept open and rays of light streamed forth, and then she presented herself in the position of the medal. The vision rotated to show the image on the back of the medal.
With the assistance and skillful hands of goldsmith Adrien Vachette, the first medals were created and spread in 1832 throughout France, and eventually the rest of the world.
Not long after, in 1836, the Church declared the apparitions genuine. And in 1895, during the pontificate of Pope Leo XIII, approval was given by the Holy See for the use of the medals.
The medal was originally called the “Medal of the Immaculate Conception.” However, because of the many answered prayers, conversions, and cures, the medal eventually became popularly known as the “Miraculous Medal.”
The Miraculous Medal is rich in symbolism, altogether creating a little primer in Mariology or the study of the Blessed Virgin Mary. If you have the Medal or if you plan on wearing one, it would be profitable if you understand its meaning.
Circling the front face of the medal is a prayer honoring the Immaculate Conception of Our Lady. The Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to St. Catherine surrounded by the words “O Mary Conceived Without Sin, Pray For Us Who Have Recourse To Thee” and this is the same prayer you would see in every medal. Interestingly and miraculously, this apparition happened years before the dogma of the Immaculate Conception was officially defined by the Church. Mary’s open arms in the medal is our constant reminder to have recourse in her.
Although quite hard to see on most medals, there are rays coming from the hands of Our Lady. In St. Catherine’s vision, Mary had three rings on each finger. Emanate from some of these rings were rays of light that touch the globe at Mary’s feet. Mary said those rays indicated the graces people ask for from God, and from God gives them to us. Her other rings were struck with light but did not emit rays. Mary explained that those were the graces she was ready to give but no one had asked for yet.
Mary stands on a globe on the front of the medal, although it is often obscured by engravers by adding the year of the apparitions. Mary is actually crushing a serpent wrapped around the world (Genesis 3:15). Mary standing on the globe is an allusion to her glorious Assumption.
The M with the Cross
At the center of the back of the medal is an “M,” which stands for Mary. She is our Mediatrix, meaning that she presents our prayers to Jesus Christ, and that He gives us graces through her. One may recall that in the Davidic Kingdom (see 1 Kings 2:13-20), this is the role of a Queen Mother. God chose Mary for this role. The Cross, a sign of Jesus’ suffering and redemption, entwines the “M.” The bar below the Cross signifies Mary’s presence at the foot of the Cross where she witnessed her Son’s sacrifice. At the foot of the Cross too, Jesus gave us His own mother to be our mother also (John 19:26-27).
The back of the medal is bordered by 12 stars surrounding the M with the Cross, one star for each of the 12 Apostles, who formed the Church. By extension, the 12 stars are a symbol for the whole Church.
The Two Hearts
Just below the M with the Cross are two hearts. The heart on the left has a crown of thorns and it belongs to Jesus Christ. This symbolizes his Passion and love for all of us. It is called the Sacred Heart of Jesus. On the right is a heart pierced by a sword and it belongs to Mary. The sword brings us back to Simeon’s prophecy in Luke 2:35 and represents Mary’s sorrow. This heart is called the Immaculate Heart of Mary. The two hearts are next to each other to show the intimacy between them. The fires show the intensity and purifying nature of their love.
The use of sacramentals, such as the Miraculous Medal, prepares the faithful in receiving grace and disposes them to cooperate with it (see Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1670 and 1674).
Perhaps Our Lady is inviting you to wear her Medal today.
Article written by Gem Penetrante for Christian Catholic Media
Gem Penetrante is a freelance editor, columnist, language teacher and Catholic seminarian from the Philippines.