The Lost Piety of Catholic France II – Our Lady of La Salette

Our Lady of La Salette in Catholic France

Our Lady of La Salette – 1896 French postcard image


Since the period of the French Revolution, there has been a series of Marian Apparitions, eight of which – as is commonly known – have been approved by the Church. This is to say that amongst untold hundreds of alleged apparitions, the Vatican after prolonged and exhaustive investigation accepted these as authentic appearances of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Many details naturally vary between these apparitions, but clearly they possess common features. One of the most noted of these is the tendency of Our Lady to appear to children, often poor and poorly-educated.

She appeared thus most famously to the child Bernadette at Lourdes and also to the shepherd children of Fatima. But in another of the eight approved apparitions, she appeared in 1846 to the young Mélanie Calvat and Maximin Giraud as they tended flocks near La Salette-Fallavaux in the French Alps.

La Salette! I have been writing at this site about my journeys with Kim through Catholic France. And La Salette made a very, very profound impression on me.

For La Salette contrasted powerfully with the other sites graced by the Mother of God which I visited, for example the Rue du Bac in Paris where Our Lady brought instructions for the Miraculous Medal and Lourdes where Our Lady brought forth miraculous healing water.

If Lourdes then is a site evoking joy, La Salette is very, very different.

For there Our Lady appeared weeping and on the site high in the mountains where the Blessed Virgin appeared to the shepherd children, there are statues.

There is a statue of Mary Mother of God as she appeared, head bent, back bowed down in grief.

And at the base of the statue, I witnessed something I will never forget. I saw crowds of people come and go, not in the happy chatter one might see at Lourdes. But silent and solemn.

This was not within the quiet interior of a church. The statue of Our Lady is outside and there was beautiful sunshine. But the people clustered round Her statue seemed unusually sober. I could not help but feel that many of us who gathered there felt quietly called to look solemnly at our own sin and failing.

This kind of solemness it seems to me is a gift of true Christianity. Catholicism is sometimes associated in the popular mind with a kind of morbid guilt – so opposed to the Freudian pleasure principle!

The truth is, I think, that there is morbid guilt rooted in an egocentric pride, where one bitterly berates oneself, because one does not live up to a false goal of perfection.

Such a goal can only lead to morose guilt and the true Saints knew that in this world they were fallen, hopelessly fallen … However hard they drove themselves, they did not drown in egotistical self-hatred for an unattainable perfection reserved amongst creatures for Our Lady alone.

No, what I saw at La Salette was not I fancy the much-hyped “Catholic guilt”, but a sober confrontation with the fact that we all sin every day of our lives … through what we have done and what we have failed to do. Mea Culpa. Mea Culpa. Mea Maxima Culpa.

Such sin must be taken seriously, but not turned into hatred. The experience of knowing that through the Sacraments we are not only cleansed but also LOVED is at the very core of an authentic Catholic spirituality.

Still sin is serious. And there at La Salette was a powerful ambiance bringing me at least an unforgettable reminder of that fact. At Lourdes Our Lady brought joy; here she brought tears. Both are important.

And for what was Our Lady weeping? It is evident in fact, that she was weeping for the Lost Piety of Catholic France.

For the Lady appeared to the children bowed down with tears and with these words:

“Come near, my children, be not afraid; I am here to tell you great news.

If my people will not submit, I shall be forced to let fall the arm of my Son. It is so strong, so heavy, that I can no longer withhold it.

For how long a time do I suffer for you! If I would not have my Son abandon you, I am compelled to pray to him without ceasing; and as to you, you take not heed of it.

However much you pray, however much you do, you will never recompense the pains I have taken for you.

Six days I have given you to labor, the seventh I had kept for myself; and they will not give it to me. It is this which makes the arm of my Son so heavy.

Those who drive the carts cannot swear without introducing the name of my Son. These are the two things which makes the arm of my Son so heavy.”

To the modern utilitarian mind which measures tragedy only in quantifiable terms – how much food or poverty there is or is not for example – Our Lady´s distress can appear baffling.

Now I believe Our Blessed Mother is weeping for all the poor, all the exploited, the starving, the cold and freezing. Of this I have no doubt.

But at La Salette she appeared explicitly weeping for lost piety … To remind us what tragedy there is in this.

And she appeared with another message baffling for the modern mind: that this loss of piety could not continue without serious consequence – for whether the idea pleases or not, we reap what we sow. There is the equilibrium of divine justice.

The materialistic mind reels at all this and more that Our Lady said to the children of La Salette in 1846. But at the site of her appearance in those French mountains, still drawing floods of the faithful in a palpable presence of contemplation and even healing sorrow, I am glad to say that my own all-too-modern mind was untroubled by any doubt at all as to the tears of Our Lady …

And how in the years since, I am grateful to say that I too begin to feel with a heart ever more pierced this sense of lost reverence. It goes without saying of course, that there is no comparison between the piercing that the stony recesses of my heart only begin to feel and the unfathomable piercing Her Immaculate Heart must feel.

There is much more I would like to explore concerning Our Lady of La Salette, but this is part of a series to be continued, and not necessarily immediately or consecutively …

From Amazon USA:

We have found all the books (and film) below deeply helpful to us in understanding the breathtaking and beautiful Mysteries and Miracles of Catholic France. The Jonas books however are academic, not traditional and require caution. These two and most others have reviews here at our site. You can also find these items in different sections of our Amazon UK store here.

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  1. Posted 4 March 2011 at 16:07 | Permalink

    What is really beautiful must always be true.

  2. Posted 12 March 2011 at 11:15 | Permalink

    Yes indeed, thank you eldelaexpok!

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