On December 8, 1854, Pope Pius IX proclaimed the dogma of the Immaculate Conception in the apostolic constitution Ineffabilis Deus. A little more than three years later, on February 11, 1858, a young lady appeared to Bernadette Soubirous. This began a series of visions. During the apparition on March 25, the lady identified herself with the words: “I am the Immaculate Conception.”
Bernadette was a sickly child of poor parents. Their practice of the Catholic faith was scarcely more than lukewarm. Bernadette could pray the Our Father, the Hail Mary and the Creed. She also knew the prayer of the Miraculous Medal: “O Mary conceived without sin.”
During interrogations Bernadette gave an account of what she saw. It was “something white in the shape of a girl.” She used the word aquero, a dialect term meaning “this thing.” It was “a pretty young girl with a rosary over her arm.” Her white robe was encircled by a blue girdle. She wore a white veil. There was a yellow rose on each foot. A rosary was in her hand. Bernadette was also impressed by the fact that the lady did not use the informal form of address (tu), but the polite form (vous). The humble virgin appeared to a humble girl and treated her with dignity.
Through that humble girl, Mary revitalized and continues to revitalize the faith of millions of people. People began to flock to Lourdes from other parts of France and from all over the world. In 1862 Church authorities confirmed the authenticity of the apparitions and authorized the cult of Our Lady of Lourdes for the diocese. The Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes became worldwide in 1907.
The text chosen for the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes is the Miracle at Cana.
The Cana Miracle or the miracle of turning water into wine is found only in the Gospel of John and is the first of seven miracles in that Gospel. John calls the miracles “signs’. Though at first glance it might seem like a standard miracle story with a setting for the miracle, the preparation, the miracle proper and a confirmation of the miracle, there is much more than this here. The mention of terms like “hour” and “glory” indicate that one must look beyond the miracle to draw out its true meaning much like the servants drew wine from jars that had been filled with water.
In order to do this we must first become aware of the fact that by placing this miracle at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry and as the first “sign” that Jesus gives, John wants to communicate the abundance that is available in Jesus. Jesus wants to give freely and give to all. The setting of this miracle in the context of a marriage feast also increases the note of celebration and abundance. The mother of Jesus (Mary is never referred to by name in the Gospel of John and Jesus addresses her twice in the Gospel and both times as “Woman”) draws Jesus’ attention to the lack of wine. She makes no explicit request of him; however, the manner in which Jesus responds to her indicates that her words may have carried the connotation of asking him to intervene.
Though many have tried to lessen the harsh impact of the response of Jesus to his mother, it is clear that while Jesus is not being rude or hostile, he is certainly distancing himself from the request as both the address “Woman” and his words “what to me and to you” signify. The reason why he does not want his mother to interfere is because his “hour” had not yet arrived. The term “hour” is used here to signify the hour of Jesus’ glorification which includes not only his death and resurrection but also his ascension. All that Jesus does is done keeping this broader perspective in mind. His mother must realize this. That she does is made explicit in her instructions to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you”. This also signifies that this is the correct response to any request made of Jesus. His mother does not sulk or upset herself with Jesus’ response. She rises to the occasion.
While the “how’ of the miracle is not described, John describes in detail the preparation for the miracle. The stone jars were used instead of earthen jars because they were considered free of impurity and the water in them was probably used for the washing of hands before the meal. The quantity of water that the six stone jars hold is enormous and so what seems to be at the heart of the miracle is abundance and generosity. While the steward comments on the quality of the wine, John goes even further when he remarks about the manifestation of the glory of Jesus and calls the miracle a “sign” signifying therefore that one must look beyond it to draw out its full meaning. Thus the miracle points to the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus, because that would be when his “hour” would indeed come.
In our modern age of the advancement of science and technology when we attempt to find rational explanations for most things, this miracle raises more questions than it answers. However, John is not concerned with these. His intention is to move the reader from fact to meaning. He does this by the numerous pointers or symbols that he gives in the story. These are the narration of the first miracle in the context of a wedding feast, the reference to Jesus’ “hour”, the manifestation of Jesus’ glory and the use of the word “sign”. If one reads these in the context of the whole Gospel, then one realizes that our well defined categories are shattered. The limits that we set on what God can and cannot do need revision, because the miracle speaks of the revelation of God and of the super abundance of gifts that his presence brings.
The reaction of Mary in this miracle is also significant and must be commented on. Though Jesus distances himself from her “request”, she does not react negatively. As a matter of fact, she allows Jesus his space and does not impose but leaves him free to act as he sees fit. She respects his authority and will not interfere when asked not to. This is evident in her comment to the servants, a comment which she continues to make even today: “Do whatever he tells you”. She knows her place in the scheme of God’s plan and will stick to that place. She will not exceed her authority. She knows where it ends. Significantly, though Jesus’ “hour” has not come he still works his first miracle at the behest of his mother. He knows that she will support him on his way to that “hour’.