by Fr Richard Heilman | March 30, 2015 8:50 AM
The story of the Catholic Miraculous Medal traces back to 1806, when a poor farmer’s daughter by the name of Zoe Laboure was born. At the young age of 24, she entered the Sisters of Charity and changed her name to Catherine. On July 18 of the same year, she saw a vision of the Blessed Virgin Mary, who came to her in the Chapel. Catherine and Mary supposedly spoke for more than two hours. On November 27, 1830, Mary revisited Sister Catherine and presented a beautiful picture of herself. Catherine confessed this vision, which after investigation was deemed authentic by Catholic authorities. Sister Catherine had one final vision of Mary, during which she received even more detailed descriptions about Mary’s miraculous medal. Then Mary spoke to Catherine: “Have a medal struck upon this model. Those who wear it will receive great graces, especially if they wear it around the neck.”
Two years after Sister Catherine first had these visions, the church minted and distributed medals throughout Paris. Thanks to the story of devotion surrounding the medal’s creation, the phenomenon swept across Paris. It became widely reported that the medal graced those who wore it with prosperity, health, and faith. Soon, people took to calling the medal “Miraculous.” In 1836, six years after Sister Catherine first witnessed Mary in the Chapel, the Catholic Church launched a canonical inquiry into the legitimacy of the apparitions. This inquiry concluded that Sister Catherine’s visions were indeed genuine. Today, hundreds of thousands of Catholics the world over wear Miraculous medals as testimonies of repentance, prayer, and faith.
Mary is standing upon a globe, crushing the head of a serpent beneath her foot. She stands upon the globe, as the Queen of Heaven and Earth. Her feet crush the serpent to proclaim Satan and all his followers are helpless before her (Gn 3:15). The year of 1830 on the Miraculous Medal is the year the Blessed Mother gave the design of the Miraculous Medal to Saint Catherine Labouré. The reference to Mary conceived without sin supports the dogma of the Immaculate Conception of Mary—not to be confused with the virgin birth of Jesus, and referring to Mary’s sinlessness, “full of grace” and “blessed among women” (Luke 1:28)—that was proclaimed 24 years later in 1854.
The twelve stars can refer to the Apostles, who represent the entire Church as it surrounds Mary. They also recall the vision of Saint John, writer of the Book of Revelation (12:1), in which “a great sign appeared in heaven, a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of 12 stars.” The cross can symbolize Christ and our redemption, with the bar under the cross a sign of the earth. The “M” stands for Mary, and the interleaving of her initial and the cross shows Mary’s close involvement with Jesus and our world. In this, we see Mary’s part in our salvation and her role as mother of the Church. The two hearts represent the love of Jesus and Mary for us. (See also Lk 2:35).
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