On November 27, 1830, the evening of the Saturday before the first Sunday of Advent, St Catherine Labouré was meditating in deep silence, when the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to her. According to the description of the saint, the Blessed Virgin was of medium stature but of such extraordinary beauty that it was impossible to describe it. She stood upright and was dressed in a white dress with reddish reflections, buttoned around the neck and with narrow sleeves. A white veil covered her head and went down from both sides to her feet. Her forehead was adorned with a small thin lace band that adhered tightly to her hair. Her face was uncovered and under her feet was the globe of the earth. Her hands gently held up another globe (symbol of the whole universe), her eyes were turned toward heaven, as if offering to God the whole universe and her face radiated an increasingly intense brilliance. St Catherine Labouré relates that on the Blessed Virgin’s fingers there appeared precious rings adorned with gems of immense value from which shone rays of light that spread in all directions. Those rays surrounded her with such splendour that her face and gown became invisible.
As St Catherine contemplated the apparition, the Blessed Virgin looked at her and with an interior voice said her: "The globe that you see represents the whole world and every single person... The rays that you see emanating from the palms of my hands are the symbol of the graces that I bestow on those who ask me". In this way, Mary Most Holy made St Catherine understand and makes us understand how great her generosity is towards those who have recourse to her, how many graces she grants to all those who invoke her.
Then, St Catherine saw the Blessed Virgin surrounded by an oval frame, on which appeared written, in golden characters, these words: O Mary conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to You. The Blessed Virgin requested that a medal be coined according to that model, and that all those who carry it would receive great graces, especially if they carry it around their necks and confide themselves to her. Saint Catherine then recounts seeing the other side of the coin where there was the letter 'M', from the centre of which stood a cross. Below the monogram of the Holy Virgin were: the Heart of Jesus surrounded by a crown of thorns and the Heart of Mary pierced by a sword. Twelve stars surrounded the whole thing. The medal was coined in the year 1832 and immediately there began to occur some amazing miracles of conversion, while the medal was in so much demand that in the first ten years 80 million specimens were coined.
What is the value of the Miraculous Medal? The medal became very famous and received its present name as a result of the numerous miracles worked and graces obtained through it. But this is not its main importance. The Miraculous Medal is a small book of faith, a little treatise of Mariology teaching us the main truths about the Virgin Mary.
When we look at the medal, we see the image of Our Lady crushing the head of the serpent and around the image we read the words: O Mary conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to You. The image and the words coincide: the figure of the Immaculate represents the One who was conceived without sin, crushing the devil's head. The Immaculate, clothed with the sun and with the moon under her foot (Ap 12:1), is as terrible as an army set in battle array (Ct 6:3). She is the terror of demons. The defeat of Satan was decreed already by God when He placed enmity between the serpent and the Woman, between his seed and her seed: She will crush your head (Gen 3:15).
It is narrated that a young woman, who went to confess to the holy Curate of Ars, accused herself of having participated in a dance. The Saint asked her: “Did you not notice anything at that dance?”. “No Father”, was the reply. "Wasn't there a brilliant young man, who made all the girls dance except you?” The young woman replied, “I remember he was very attractive, but he instilled a little fear in me." “And nothing else?”. "No, except that when he left, I noticed sparks from under his feet." And the saint said to her, “Now you understand, my daughter. That elegant young man was the devil. And can you tell me why he didn't invite you to dance with him?” “I don’t know”. "Because you had around your neck the miraculous medal which kept him away."
The image of the Immaculate Conception, with arms spread downwards and with a myriad of brilliant rays shining from her hands, represents Mary Most Holy in a luminous way as Mediatrix of all graces. Mary Most Holy has been entrusted, by God, the mission of universal mediation towards mankind. Jesus Christ is the only Mediator between God and man. But she is our Mediatrix before her Son, Jesus. She always intercedes on our behalf, even when we do not explicitly have recourse to her. The rays that shine from the hands of the Virgin are the symbol of the graces that she bestows on people who ask them of her. In this way we understand how sweet it is to pray and how generous she is with the people who pray to her. This is why Mary Most Holy is called Mother of divine grace, because all the graces that men receive, all without exception, come from her Heart, come to us through her hands.
On the other side, we see the letter M, Mary's monogram, surmounted by a cross. Below we see the Sacred Heart of Jesus crowned with thorns and the Immaculate Heart of Mary, pierced by a sword. In the cross, in the heart and in the sword we find in compendium all the doctrine of Marian Co-redemption. Mary Most Holy, with her sufferings, was associated with Jesus in the work of redemption. For her union and collaboration in the sufferings of Christ, Mary deserved to become the Co-redemptrix of humanity.
The Miraculous Medal recalls to mind the prodigious sign of the Woman of Revelations whom St John the Apostle saw clothed with the sun, with the moon beneath her feet and with a crown of twelve stars on her head (Ap 12:1). In the apparition of 27 November, 1830, Mary rests her feet victoriously on the globe, and seems to tell us: "Do not be afraid: I have conquered the world!" (Jn 16: 33). And our hearts are filled with immense joy in knowing that we are the lucky children of an almighty and merciful Mother, beautiful and glorious, all love and splendour, Queen of the earth and paradise.
In addition to teaching us the truths about the Virgin Mary, the Miraculous Medal is a small program of Christian life inspired by those Marian truths. The Miraculous Medal, depicting Mary as the Immaculate, reminds us of the fundamental truth of original sin. To repair that first sin and all the consequent sins, the death of Jesus was necessary, and so also was the sacrifice of Mary, Mother of God. This is the message we read in that Cross, in those two Hearts, one surrounded by thorns, the other pierced by a sword. For our part, we need to be humble and grateful. We enough humility to recognise that our sins are the cause of the sorrows of Jesus and Mary. We need to show gratitude for the boundless charity that Jesus and Mary exercised towards us. Contemplating this boundless love of the Sacred Heart and the Immaculate Heart for us, we must feel encouraged to sacrifice and penance, in order to reciprocate this generosity of Jesus and Mary. The Medal invites us even more to reconsider our duties to Mary Most Holy, which are essentially the duties of children towards their Heavenly Mother, that is, to love and imitate the virtues of Mary. She is our Queen and we must have the holy pride of being her subjects, of obeying her joyfully in everything, of fighting generously for her, for her glory, so that she may reign with Jesus in every heart that beats on earth.