Some souls were led back to God through the Miraculous Medal (1830), the Archconfraternity of the Immaculate Heart (1836), and the “Badge of the Immaculate Heart” (1846), commonly known as “the Green Scapular.” Miracles of grace were given, as in the famous case of Alphonse Rathisbonne. But as a whole, the world continued to ignore Our Lady’s messages.
"As men of science made new discoveries," pride in intellectual prowess led most of them and others "to thrust God into the background" and then abandon Him altogether. “Books attacking religion were coming off the presses in great numbers. The ranks of freethinkers, agnostics and atheists were swelling every day.”
“An ordinary creature would have been tempted to leave the world to the fate it so richly deserved” – but not Our Lady! On September 19, 1846 - the eve of the “Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows” - the Madonna appeared in a one-time apparition to two children, the eleven-year old Maximin Giraud and the fifteen-year old Melanie Mathieu Calvat. At the moment these simple, barely catechized children first saw the Lady, they had been "tending cows on the slope of Mt. Gargas, which rises above the village of La Salette in southeastern France."
The children first “saw a globe of dazzling white. While they gazed in wonderment, the globe opened and they saw a woman seated on some stones” near a spring that was dry at the time. “The Lady’s elbows rested on her knees, her face was buried in her hands, and she was weeping.” The children were very afraid, not knowing who the Lady was or why She was so desperately crying.
The Lady rose, crossed her arms, and “in the sweetest of tones,” said:
“Come near, my children. Do not be afraid. I am here to tell you important news.”
Advancing closer to the Lady, the children saw that “Her face was beautiful, though her eyes were filled with tears. She wore white shoes encircles by roses. Her apron was golden and descended to the bottom of her full white robe. Her arms were concealed within broad straight sleeves which reached beyond her finger tips. A white cape bordered with roses hung over her shoulders. She wore a thin chain upon which hung a crucifix," upon which the Body of Christ seemed very real. "Her head-dress was white; above it was a royal diadem wreathed with roses of many hues.” Her beauty was “so radiant and dazzling that the children could scarcely look at her.” They would later say that “nothing could begin to compare with her beauty.”
“The Lady spoke again in a voice sweeter than the sweetest of melodies” but tears continued to fall from Her eyes as She spoke.
“If my people will not submit, I shall be forced to let go the hand of My Son. It is so strong, so heavy, I can no longer withhold it.”
“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. But, as to you, you take no heed of it.”
“However much you pray, however much you do, you will never recompense the pains I have taken for you.”
Halt for just a moment…think of those beautifully stirring words issued by the Virgin Mary, Mediatrix of All Graces! Although eternally happy in heaven, She showed Herself as the Weeping Madonna - weeping over the greater number of her spiritual children on earth who have left the Narrow Road. Why did they leave - and why do they continue in this vein - to seek so many “easy” but dangerous paths, unless the cause was at least one of the seven capital sins? For example, only spiritual sloth or anger could lead a baptized Catholic to desecrate the Sabbath or use Our Lord’s name in vain – and it was these two particular, latter sins of which Our Lady of LaSalette would speak.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit” – this Beatitude from Our Lord Himself, which centers on the virtue of humility coupled with trust in God, comes to mind even as we recall Our Lady’s words at LaSalette: “However much you pray, however much you do, you will never recompense the pains I have taken for you.” The best each faithful member of the Mystical Body can hope to accomplish here on earth is the work expected of one of God’s servants. We shouldn’t congratulate ourselves at all because if any good is accomplished, it is only through the grace of God. Knowing that, we should attempt to do more – in thought, word, and action - since we can never hope to recompense either Our Lord or His Virgin Mother for Their Sufferings on our behalf.
As if the Lady’s preceding tears and sad words were not enough, She continued to speak to the children:
“If the harvest is spoiled, it is your fault. I gave you warning last year in the potatoes, but you did not heed it. On the contrary, when you found the potatoes spoiled you swore, taking My Son’s Name in vain. The potatoes will continue to decay, so that by Christmas there will be none left.”
The Virgin made clear that the calamities then falling on the world were a result of two sins, seriously offending Her Son and wounding the Mystical Body of Christ. How many more of the Commandments are broken in our own day – and to what a greater extent!
Then Our Lady foretold the continuing failure of the potato crop if the people did not repent.
Most curious is the fact that, up to this point, Our Lady spoke in the noble French of the cultured classes, not the “patois” dialect of the children. Melanie did not understand the “cultured” French word for “potatoes,” so she turned to Maximin and asked him for the meaning of “pommes de terre.”
“Ah, my children,” said the Lady, “you do not understand. I will say it in a different way.” (Of course, there can be no doubt the Our Lady already knew the children could not understand the “noble” French. It is clear She had a purpose for first speaking it – which was to place yet another piece of evidence before the Church authorities who would later investigate the claims of these very poor and uneducated children.)
So the Lady then proceeded in “patois”:
“If you have wheat, it is no good to sow it; all that you sow the insects will eat. What comes up will fall into dust when you thresh it.”
Then, the conditional prophecy became even more sorrowful:
“There will come a great famine. Before the famine comes, the children under seven years of age will be seized with trembling and will die in the arms of their mothers. Others will do penance by famine.”
“The walnuts will become worm-eaten; the grapes will rot.”
“But if the people are converted, the stones and the rocks will become heaps of wheat and the potatoes will be self-sown.”
Our Lady was asking for repentance, in itself an important form of “conversion,” and at the same time making clear that if Her requests were not heeded, God would impose terrible penances on the populace. If they did listen, the punishments would be withheld and their material needs abundantly met.
Suddenly, the Lady’s message became more personal. She spoke separately to each of the children, who later reported they could see Her lips moving as She spoke, first with one and then the other, but neither could hear Her words addressed to the other child. Then She asked both of them, “Do you say your prayers well, My children?”
“Not very well, Madame,” they both admitted. Of course, the Lady already knew that the children were poorly catechized, due to the grave neglect of their parents, but She was going to further the grace of faith given to them at baptism. In their adult lives, both children would fail in developing "heroic virtue," but they remained constant in the Faith and never denied the Vision of Our Lady of LaSalette. To the children's response about their prayers, Our Lady sweetly and seriously replied:
“You must say them well, morning and evening. When you cannot do better, say at least an ‘Our Father’ and a “Hail Mary.’ When you have time, say more.”
Once again, She complained of the few people who attend Mass on Sunday. When it came time for Her departure, Our Lady spoke again in the noble French.
“Well, my children, you will make this known to all the people.” She crossed the little stream and then turned to them to repeat, “Well, my children, you will make this known to all the people.”
"Moving along the tips of the grass, the Lady ascended the mountain for a short distance, then gently rose about a yard from the ground. Remaining in that position for a moment, She lifted her gaze heaven-ward and then back to the earth. Then She disappeared, but the light remained for another moment."
“Maximin had no idea who the Lady was…When She spoke of the heavy arm of Her Son, he thought She meant her son had been beating her.” Melanie was not much better informed than Maximin, but she was older and perhaps a bit more reflective. “Maybe she is a great saint,” she said.
This was a new idea to Maximin, who enthusiastically responded, “If we had known she was a great saint, we could have asked her to take us to heaven!”
“Oh, I wish she was still here,” answered Melanie.
It is reported that both children were “rather slow of mind.” Melanie was judged by a teaching nun "not to have sufficient knowledge to receive Holy Communion until her 17th year," and Maximin was unable to remember the “Our Father” until he was 15. Yet when questioned about the apparition – together or separately – they never failed to give complete details which never contradicted the other's testimony.
Although people began flocking to LaSallete, and miracles took place through use of the spring’s now-flowing waters, not enough responded to Our Lady’s call for repentance (much less reparation) and “the calamities foretold by Our Lady took place. The famine had already begun in 1845," as a heavenly warning. "In 1846, this famine was so severe in Ireland that Queen Victoria of England had to appeal to Parliament for special funds.” (The injustice done to Ireland, dear reader, is another sorrowful story in itself.) “The wheat shortage was so severe in Europe that more than a million people died. A grape disease decimated all of the vineyards in France. Babies and little children died trembling...just as Our Lady foretold.”
Within two years of Our Lady’s appearance at LaSalette, France lived through the horrors of the “February Revolution,” the “March Revolution” and then the “June Days.” The year 1848 saw Communism arising in France.
The punishments, so severe and sorrowful, may have been even greater if Our Lady had not continued to intercede before the throne of Her Divine Son and also because some people, at least, did respond to Her entreaties. Many began attending Mass again, the shops were closed on Sundays, people stopped doing unnecessary work on the Sabbath, and cursing and swearing became less common.
After a thorough investigation, the Bishop of the diocese was satisfied that the appearance was authentically supernatural (which means issuing from God) and made his official declaration to that effect. Later, Pope Pius IX would also approve devotion to Our Lady of LaSalette and his successor, Pope Leo XIII, built a great basilica on the mountain. Five years after the apparition, Pope Pius IX would inquire about the Secrets of LaSalette and the children would agree to write down their secrets for him on two conditions: That the Secrets would be placed in sealed envelopes and that they would be directly delivered to the Pope. “Maximin wrote his four or five paragraphs quickly” but Melanie took awhile longer. As she was writing, she asked for the proper spelling of the word “infallibility” and the meaning of the word “anti-Christ.”
The two secrets were taken to Rome by two priests, Frs. Rousellot and Gerin of the Grenoble diocese. On July 18, 1851, the Holy Father Pope Pius IX received them in audience, took the sealed envelopes, and opened them in the presence of the two Fathers. He chose to first read Maximin’s letter. After finishing it, the pope smiled and said, “Here is all the candor and simplicity of a child.”
To read Melanie’s letter, however, he walked over to a window and opened the shutters for better light. Her letter was longer and its contents seemed to be more serious, for the Holy Father did not smile; in fact, “the Pope pressed his lips more tightly together and puffed out his cheeks.”
“Calamities threaten France,” he said to the two priest witnesses, “but she is not the only guilty nation. Germany, Italy, and all Europe are guilty and deserve punishment. I have less to fear from open impiety than from indifference and human respect. It is not without reason that the Church is called militant, and here,” he said, as he touched his breast, “you see Her Leader.”
That is all of what is officially known of the Secrets of Our Lady of LaSalette. Through the years, there has been much speculation about the revelations later made by Melanie in regard to the Secret given to her. One thing we must recall are the words of Pope Leo XIII, who said: “Do you want to know the secret? This is it: Unless you do penance, you shall perish.”
In this year of Our Lord 2008, we can deduce much of Melanie's Secret by the history that has already come to pass, as well as the hints and traces given by Pope Leo XIII and Melanie’s questions as she wrote the Second Secret imparted to her.
---We know that France, Germany, Italy and all of Europe suffered from war, famine and desolation – not once but many times since 1846. At LaSalette, the Virgin gave the reasons for these temporal chastisements. And, as Our Lady would later reveal at Fatima, "War is a punishment for sin."
---We know that the dogma of papal infallibility was defined in 1870 at Vatican I - about 25 years after LaSalette. It was Melanie who, as she wrote down her secret, asked for the spelling of the word "infallibility," so we know at least a part of the Secret had to do with papal infallibility.
---Because not enough people heeded the Weeping Madonna's requests, we know that an even greater chastisement fell upon France as well as other nations. Communism has spread not only through France but also -as Our Lady would prophesy at Fatima in 1917 – throughout the world. Many people understand the connection between Communism and the growing spirit of anti-Christ.
---Recalling Pope Pius' remarks after reading Melanie's secret: "Religion indifferentism" has infilitrated the Church, replacing the cardinal virtues of faith, hope, and charity. This great sin is born of "human respect," which itself has replaced a holy fear of the Lord.
---Finally, we might wonder at Melanie's question about "anti-Christ." Some declare that she never really asked about that particular word or that it did not appear in the Secret she wrote down. Can they be so certain? Since Melanie's Secret (nor Maximin's, for that matter) has never been officially released, and since the passage of time provides us with a different historical vantage point, we must again consider the unfolding importance of history and the reasons for Our Lady's continuing apparitions, especially those at Fatima (the crown of all the Marian apparitions proven to be supernatural and therefore worthy of belief):
"If my requests are not heeded, Russia will spread her errors throughout the world, causing wars and persecutions of the Church and of the Holy Father. Good people will be martyred...various nations will be annihilated." What else could be the cause of obstinate sin and the resulting terrible chastisements, except the spirit of anti-Christ permeating the world?
“The keynote of Our Lady's message at LaSalette lay in the words: ‘If my people will not submit.’ Although She still calls us Her people, "She summed up the great evil of our times – human pride. Her message was for all times and all places, but particularly was it meant to show how false was the idea that man no longer needs God.”
(All excerpts are denoted by quotations and come from “The Woman Shall Conquer” by Don Sharkey, now out-of-print)