from the book: 33 Days to Morning Glory
by Fr. Michael E. Gaitley, MIC pg. 2169,170
Like the scapular, the miraculous medal is a sacramental. It originated from an apparition of Mary to St. Catherine Laboure, a French nun, living in Paris. The specific apparition that has to do with the miraculous medal occurred on November 27th, 1830.
In that vision of November 27, St. Catherine saw Mary standing on a half-globe, with a serpent crushed beneath her feet and her hands bejewelled with rings, holding a small golden globe with a cross on it. Bright light shone from some of the jewels on her fingers. Suddenly, the small golden globe disappeared from Mary’s hands, and she opened her arms outward. The light from the jewels extended out from her hands and a semi-circle frame with an inscription in gold: “O,Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee.”
The vision seemed to rotate and on the reverse side. Catherine saw the letter “M” with a cross on it and surrounded by twelve stars. The cross stood on a horizontal bar. Under the “M” were two hearts engulfed in flames, one encircled in thorns, and one pierced by a sword.
Mary then told Catherine, “Have a medal struck upon this model. Those who wear it will receive great graces, especially if they wear it around their neck.”
Mary explained the meaning of the medal to Catherine as follows. Mary is Queen of heaven and earth. She crushes Satan who is helpless before her, under her foot. ( see Gen. 3:15 ). Her arms are open and the many rays of light are graces she obtains for those who request them. The dark jewels, the ones that are not full of light, represent the graces that are available but that people don’t receive because they don’t ask for them.
The inscription, “O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee,” refers to Mary’s Immaculate Conception, which means that from the first moment of her conception, she was free from all stain of original sin.
On the back of the medal, the twelve stars which surround Mary, represent the twelve Apostles, who represent the whole Church. The “M” is for Mary and the cross is the Cross of Christ, the symbol of our redemption. The horizontal bar represents the earth. The placement of the cross and the bar on, and in the letter “M” shows Mary’s participation in the Cross of Christ and in our world. The two hearts are those of Jesus and Mary burning with love for us all.
With the Church’s approval, the first “Medals of the Immaculate Conception” were made in 1832, and almost immediately reports of miraculous cures began to spring up so much so that the medal became known as the “miraculous medal”
Since the time of the apparitions, millions of medals have been distributed around the world, especially by people like Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta. It’s reported that her Missionaries of Charity currently distribute 1.8 million medals per year.
The miraculous medal received liturgical approbation ( special recognition and approval for public prayer) at the direction of Aloisi Cardinal Masella, Prefect of the Sacred Congregation of Rites, in 1895. It’s one of only three sacramentals in the Church to be so liturgically honored, sharing this distinction with the rosary and the brown scapular.
Far from being a good luck charm or superstition, powerful conversions have taken place through Mary’s intercession and the use of the miraculous medal.
One of the most famous conversions happened to Alphonse Ratisbonne, a Jewish atheist, on January 20, 1842. He despised the Church and the Catholic faith, especially since his older brother Theodor converted to Catholicism and became a Catholic priest. On a dare from a Catholic friend, Baron de Bussieres Ratisbonne began to wear the miraculous medal and to recite the Memorare prayer to prove the fruitlessness of what he thought were just the ridiculous superstitions of the Catholic religion.
On January 20th, Ratisbonne accompanied Baron de Bussiers into a church, what is now the Basilica of St. Andres delle Fratte in Rome, where the Baron had some business to attend to. When the Baron returned to him, he found Ratisbonne weeping and kissing his medal saying, “I saw her! I saw her!”