Lourdes / by Robert Hugh Benson


AFTER déjeûner I set out again to find the Scottish priest, who hoped to be able to take me to a certain window in the Rosary Church, where only a few were admitted, from which we might view the procession and the Blessing of the Sick. But we were disappointed; and, after a certain amount of scheming, we managed to get a position at the back of the crowd on the top of the church steps. I was able to climb up a few inches above the others, and secured a very tolerable view of the whole scene.

The crowd was beyond describing. Here about us was a vast concourse of men; and as far as the eye could reach down the huge oval, and far away beyond the crowned statue, and on either side back to the Bureau on the left, and on the slopes on the right, stretched an inconceivable pavement of heads. Above us, too, on every terrace and step, back to the doors of the great basilica, we knew very well, was one seething, singing mob. A great space was kept open on the level ground beneath us -- I should say one hundred by two hundred yards in area -- and the inside fringe of this was composed of the sick, in litters, in chairs, standing, sitting, lying and kneeling. It was at the farther end that the procession would enter.

After perhaps half an hour's waiting, during which one incessant gust of singing rolled this way and that through the crowd, the leaders of the procession appeared far away -- little white or black figures, small as dolls -- and the singing became general. But as the endless files rolled out, the singing ceased, and a moment later a priest, standing solitary in the great space began to pray aloud in a voice like a silver trumpet.

I have never heard such passion in my life. I began to watch presently, almost mechanically, the little group beneath the ombrellino, in white and gold, and the movements of the monstrance blessing the sick; but again and again my eyes wandered back to the little figure in the midst, and I cried out with the crowd, sentence after sentence, following that passionate voice:

"Seigneur, nous vous adorons!"

"Seigneur," came the huge response, "nous vous adorons!"

"Seigneur, nous vous aimons!" cried the priest.

"Seigneur, nous vous aimons!" answered the people.

"Sauvez-nous, Jésus; nous périssons!"

"Sauvez-nous, Jésus; nous périssons!"

"Jésus, Fils de Marie, ayez pitié de nous!"

"Jésus, Fils de Marie, ayez pitié de nous!"

Then with a surge rose up the plainsong melody. "Parce, Domine!" sang the people. "Parce populo tuo! Ne in aeternum irascaris nobis."


"Gloria Patri el Filio et Spiritui Sancto."

"Sicut erat in principio et nunc et semper, et in saecula saeculorum. Amen."

Then again the single voice and the multitudinous answer:

"Vous êtes la Résurrection et la Vie!"

And then an adjuration to her whom He gave to be our Mother.

"Mere du Sauveur, priez pour nous!"
"Salut des infirmes, priez pour nous!"

Then once more the singing; then the cry, more touching than all:

"Seigneur, guérissez nos malades!"
"Seigneur, guérissez nos malades!"

Then the kindling shout that brought the blood to ten thousand faces:

"Hosanna! Hosanna au Fils de David!" (I shook to hear it).

"Hosanna!" cried the priest, rising from his knees with arms flung wide.

"Hosanna!" roared the people, swift as an echo.

"Hosanna! Hosanna!" crashed out again and again, like great artillery.

Yet there was no movement among those piteous prostrate lines. The Bishop, the ombrellino over him, passed on slowly round the circle; and the people cried to Him whom he bore, as they cried two thousand years ago on the road to the city of David. Surely He will be pitiful upon this day -- the Jubilee Year of His Mother's graciousness, the octave of her assumption to sit with Him on His throne!

"Mère du Sauveur, priez pour nous!"
"Jésus, vous êtes mon Seigneur et mon Dieu!"

Yet there was no movement.

If ever "suggestion" could work a miracle it must work it now. "We expect the miracles during the procession to-morrow and on Sunday," a priest had said to me on the previous day. And there I stood, one of a hundred thousand, confident in expectation, thrilled by that voice, nothing doubting or fearing; there were the sick beneath me, answering weakly and wildly to the crying of the priest; and yet there was no movement, no sudden leap of a sick man from his bed as Jesus went by, no vibrating scream of joy -- "Je suis guéri! Je suis guéri!" -- no tumultuous rush to the place, and the roar of the Magnificat, as we had been led to expect.

The end was coming near now. The monstrance had reached the image once again, and was advancing down the middle. The voice of the priest grew more passionate still, as he tossed his arms end cried for mercy:

"Jésus, ayez pitié de nous! -- ayez pitié de nous!"

And the people, frantic with ardour and desire, answered him in a voice of thunder:

"Ayez pitié de nous! -- ayez pitié de nous!"

And now up the steps came the grave group to where Jesus would at least bless His own, though He would not heal them; and the priest in the midst, with one last cry, gave glory to Him who must be served through whatever misery:

"Hosanna! Hosanna au Fils de David!"

Surely that must touch the Sacred Heart! Will not His Mother say one word?

"Hosanna! Hosanna au Fils de David!" "Hosanna!" cried the priest.

"Hosanna!" cried the people. "Hosanna! Hosanna! Hosanna! . .

One articulate roar of disappointed praise, and then -- Tantum ergo Sacramentum! rose in its solemnity.

When Benediction was over, I went back to the Bureau; but there was little to be seen there. No, there were no miracles to-day, I was told -- or hardly one. Perhaps one in the morning. It was not known.

Several Bishops were there again, listening to the talk of the doctors, and the description certain cases on previous days. Père Salvator, the Capuchin, was there again; as also the tall bearded Assumptionist Father of whom I have spoken. But there was not a great deal of interest or excitement. I had the pleasure of talking a while with the Bishop of Tarbes, who introduced me again to the Capuchin, and retold his story.

But I was a little unhappy. The miracle was that I was not more so. I had expected so much: I had seen nothing.

I talked to Dr. Cox also before leaving.

"No," he told me, "there is hardly one miracle to-day. We are doubtful, too, about that leg that was seven centimetres too short."

"And is it true that Mademoiselle Bardou is not cured?" (A doctor had been giving us certain evidence a few minutes before).

"I am afraid so. It was probably a case of intense subjective excitement. But it may be an amelioration. We do not know yet. The real work of investigating comes afterwards."

The Grotto in 1914

How arbitrary it all seemed, I thought, as I walked home to dinner. That morning, on my way from the Bureau, I had seen a great company of white banners moving together; and, on inquiry, had found that these were the miraculés chiefly of previous years -- about three hundred and fifty in number.{1} They formed a considerably large procession. I had looked at their faces: there were many more women than men (as there were upon Calvary). But as I watched them I could not conceive upon what principle the Supernatural had suddenly descended on this and not on that. "Two men in one bed . . . Two women grinding at the mill . . . One is taken and the other left." Here were persons of all ages -- from six to eighty, I should guess -- of all characters, ranks, experiences; of both sexes. Some were religious, some grocers, some of the nobility, a retired soldier or two, and so on. They were not distinguished for holiness, it seemed. I had heard heartbreaking little stories of the ten lepers over again -- one grateful, nine selfish. One or two of the girls, I heard, had had their heads turned by flattery and congratulaion; they had begun to give themselves airs.

And, now again, here was this day, this almost obvious occasion. It was the Jubilee Year; everything was about on a double scale. And nothing had happened! Further, five of the sick had actually died at Lourdes during their first night there. To come so far and to die!

On what principle, then, did God act? Then I suddenly understood, not God's principles, but my own; and I went home both ashamed and comforted.

{1} The official numbers of those at the afternoon procession were 341.

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