Thomas McDonald has a great article here at National Catholic Register today giving details on the incorruptible body of St Bernadette.
I had a personal experience of St Bernadette which I recount in this blog post.
Thomas includes the famous written witness of those who were present at the exhumation of Bernadette:
The coffin was opened in the presence of the Bishop of Nevers, the mayor of the town, his principal deputy, several canons and ourselves. We noticed no smell. The body was clothed in the habit of Bernadette’s order. The habit was damp. Only the face, hands and forearms were uncovered.
The head was tilted to the left. The face was dull white. The skin clung to the muscles and the muscles adhered to the bones. The eye sockets were covered by the eyelids. The brows were flat on the skin and stuck to the arches above the eyes. The lashes of the right eyelid were stuck to the skin. The nose was dilated and shrunken. The mouth was open slightly and it could be seen that the teeth were still in place. The hands, which were crossed on her breast, were perfectly preserved, as were the nails. The hands still held a rusting rosary. The veins on the forearms stood out.
He goes on to discuss the phenomenon of incorruptibility and its mysterious nature. Why are some saint’s bodies preserved miraculously and others not? Why are some of the bodies like Bernadette’s perfectly preserved while others like Padre Pio show signs of normal decay?
As I was reading Tom’s article a thought occurred to me that I hadn’t come across before, and it has to do with the language of heaven.
The language of our faith is essentially poetic, liturgical, symbolic and metaphorical. Although we have turned the faith into a discursive exposition of doctrine, Biblical interpretation, theological, scholastic logic, the fact of the matter is, our religion is mystical, literary and poetic. The Bible and the lives of the saints? It is a collection of marvelous faith stories. It is not primarily a list of doctrines to be believed and rules to be followed.
We dunder headed and dull people turn it into that, but it is not that.The faith is first and foremost a saga, a myth, a poem, a hero’s quest, a tale told with wonder, a legend, a war story and a great drama. By the way, don’t be frightened of the word “myth”, I’m not saying the faith is just a make believe fairy tale. When I say it is a “myth” I mean it is “a myth that really happened” as C.S.Lewis discovered.
Saying all that to say this: Bernadette’s body is in such a remarkable state of preservation because she is the primary saintly witness to the Immaculate Conception. At Lourdes the Blessed Mother said to her, “I am the Immaculate Conception” and the experience I had with St Bernadette was instrumental in my coming to accept the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception. I tell the story here.
The Mother of God’s Immaculate Conception is the fact that she was conceived without the stain of original sin. She also remained perpetually pure. One of the consequences of sin is corruption, aging, death and decay of the mortal remains.
The Blessed Mother did not see corruption because of her Immaculate Conception. This is why, for example, you will see artwork like Michelangelo’s Pieta in which Mary appears to be a young woman, even though her son is thirty three years old. She did not show the usual signs of aging. Likewise, she did not see death. The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin otherwise called the Falling Asleep or Dormition shows that she did not experience death, corruption or decay.
It is therefore symbolically significant that this great sign of Bernadette’s incorruptibility should also be a sign confirming the divinely revealed doctrine of the Immaculate Conception.
We are going on pilgrimage to France in September and I can’t wait to visit Nevers again and say Mass with our pilgrims in the presence of these great relics. If you would like to learn more about that pilgrimage go here.
Would you like me to speak at your conference or parish on the importance of the Blessed Virgin Mary? I tell how she helped me come into full communion with the Catholic Church and I also speak on the importance of the Holy Rosary. Be in touch if you’d like to learn more.