A week ago, I would have just arrived back in Singapore and (trying) to sleep very soundly with the six hour time difference with France. One week later, and I have just (barely) survived my first week as a proper Year 3 Mass Communication student.
It has been a ride.
Hence, I would like to throwback to the (slightly) more carefree time a month ago when I was in Lourdes. Boy, the difference between life here and life there is drastic.
For this post, I would specifically like to focus on the Sanctuary, where I spent at least 70% of my time outside the apartment hotel at. You would probably think I know the place very well then, but trust me, the area is so big! I’ll zoom in to the key features, the must-dos and must-sees of this amazing sight in Lourdes.
1. The Grotto
If you go to Lourdes and you don’t at least pray at the Grotto once, you have not experienced Lourdes. The Grotto was the exact spot where Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception, often referred to as Our Lady of Lourdes, appeared to St Bernadette when she was only 14. The 18 apparitions, or visions as better known to people, that our Mother Mary appeared to her was at this same place but of course, the flooring has been cemented and pews added for pilgrims. A fun fact that I didn’t know about was that the statue was really where Our Lady appeared and that “hole” in the rock wasn’t created by man, so she really did appear in that hole.
2. Drink the Lourdes Water
“Drink at the spring and wash yourself there,” said Our Lady to St Bernadette. So what do we do? We drink, and carry some back home for our friends and family. This water, of which the source of the spring is still unknown, has been said to have cured many – physically and spiritually. In all honesty, I still don’t know why I went but this water, often dubbed as the “Lourdes Water”, was one of the best tasting water I have ever drunk. It was so clean and fresh that I think maybe I was healed unknowingly.
3. The Baths
Do take note that waiting time can be very long, especially when there is a big group and they do give priority to the handicapped. The second time I went, it took three hours from the time I queued, to when I came out. However, the experience is worth the wait. I felt so rejuvenated and there was this happiness that I couldn’t really quite explain why. Though my feet were numb from the freezing cold water, I just wanted to prance around and dance – it was amazing! I didn’t know what was going to happen when I went into the room, but the system was terrific and very organised. You will have to take out all your clothes (don’t worry, they will cover you with a cloth), then enter the bath area where you dip into the water. The experience was super cool.
4. Visit the 3 churches
The reason for the three churches on top of one another was that, the first (The Crypt) got too small so they built another, the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception (Upper Basilica) on top. Then it was too small, with the growing number of people going there, they had to dig the rock and build another one, the Rosary Basilica. All three churches are very impressive, and often crowded as well. Do take your time to explore and just sit there and admire the architecture, something I did quite a lot.
5. Eucharistic Procession
I think this was one of the most meaningful things I did, and the walk from one side of the Sanctuary to another with everyone singing in various languages was wonderful. The Eucharistic Procession happens everyday at 5pm, unless stated otherwise, and everyone gathers at the underground St. Pius X basilica for adoration and healing of the sick. Not to mention, the organist and singers are on point – perfecto. 👌🏼
6. Night Procession
Through out my three weeks there, I only managed to go for one Marian night procession. I would have loved to go for at least one more though. The procession starts at 9pm every night, and pilgrims start lining up from 8pm. The rosary will be said while walking, with everyone holding a candle. The part that took me away was when every sang the chorus of “Ave Maria” and lifted the candles. Not only was it visually appealing, it was also very heartwarming to see Catholics from all over the world singing this same song with all their hearts.
7. Where is Mass in English?
English Mass is held daily, including Sunday mass, at 9am, at theChapel of Sts. Cosmas and Damian. Saturday sunset mass is also available at 6.15pm. Other than that, you can enjoy mass in other languages, sometimes at The Grotto. The international mass, said in several languages, is held every Sunday, Wednesday and on Feast Days in the St. Pius X basilica at 9.30am.
8. High and Low Stations of the Cross
I highly recommend going for the High Stations if you can only go for one, and if you are fit enough. The High Stations does require quite a bit of walking on uneven grounds and the slopes can get pretty steep, hence do be careful! I managed to go for both the High and Low Stations, but I do prefer the former. I felt that the climbing up and down makes me experience a bit of what Christ experienced when He was climbing up Mount Calvary, and the statues are really beautifully made. I especially like the station where Jesus dies, not because I am morbid (anyone who knows me, knows I hate gore and absolutely cannot withstand the Passion of Christ movie) but because of the serene surroundings that were great for reflecting. I remember Paddy, the volunteer who was leading us in the stations, saying that this was our station, and to put all our burdens at the foot of the cross and Jesus will take it up to Our Father. And quite literally, you can do that. Which was what I liked about it.
9. Other things to do
You can light a candle for Mother Mary, go for Reconciliation (in English!), or head to the Adoration Chapel for some quiet time. Take your time to explore the place and pray while at it. 😉