Bernadette Soubirous was born on 7th January 1844 in Lourdes, at the time a small town in the Pyrenees, to a family of millers who lived quite comfortably for the first few years of Bernadette’s life.
Two days after her birth, 9th January 1884, Bernadette was baptised in the parish church of St Peter, which was located on what is now the Place Peyramale, not far from the current parish church of Lourdes.
We have few details of Bernadette’s baptism, except that the little one cried throughout the ceremony, that her embarrassed young godfather concluded, like a bad prophet, that she would be wicked, the family celebrated at the Boly Mill by sharing a large basket of doughnuts, a culinary specialty of the mother, Louise, and a few bottles of red wine. It was a modest celebration.
When pilgrims go to Lourdes, they want to follow in “The footsteps of Bernadette” and visit the places that Bernadette saw and knew during her life in Lourdes.
Lourdes and the symbols of baptism
Humans have always used symbols to indicate something invisible by means of a visible reality.
The Lourdes apparitions are not merely the divine response to a human decision, because it was only four years after the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception, promulgated by Pope Pius IX, that the Virgin Mary came to Lourdes and, on 25th March 1858, she said to Bernadette, “I am the Immaculate Conception.”
Lourdes is also an explanation of the symbols of baptism, one of the sacraments of Christian initiation…
The Sign of the Cross
The sign of the Cross is the sign of the love of God and of recognition among Christians. On 11th February 1858, Bernadette went to look for wood to heat the only room where the Soubirous fault had been piling up for several months. She set out from one gloomy place (the cachot) and headed for another which was not very illustrious either (the Grotto of Massabielle). That day, a young lady dressed in white taught her to make the sign of the Cross.
The sign of the Cross is the key to entering into the mystery of faith!
The white garment
The white garment is the sign of the grace of baptism which shines. It is a sign of new life.
Bernadette Soubirous described the lady who appeared in the Grotto as a young lady dressed in white. The purity of the Immaculate Conception.
On 25th February 1858, Bernadette was told, “Go and drink at the spring and wash yourself there.” After several attempts, she uncovered the spring, a spring that purifies, washes and leads us to the living water that is Christ.
Water is a sign of death and life. This is the heart of baptism: baptised means “immersed”. Water brings the baptised into the life of God.
On 11th February 1858, Bernadette saw a light in the hollow of the Grotto and, in this light, was a young lady “like her”. Light featured in all the apparitions, represented by the candles that Bernadette and her companions brought when they came to the Grotto. These candles make us think of the candle that is lit on Easter night to tell us that Jesus “is with us always until the end of time” (Mt. 28:20).
During baptism, the godfather or godmother lights a candle from the Paschal candle to transmit this light of faith.
Baptism changes the darkness into light.