Just five days after the news of the alleged appearance of Mary on Sept. 19, 1846, on the mountain of La Salette reaches the episcopal palace, Philbert de Bruillard, Bishop of Grenoble, quickly sends out a mandate and sternly orders all his priests in clear, canonical words:
"Monsieur le Curé, we forbid under the penalty of suspension incurred ipso facto to declare, to print or publish any new miracle, under any pretense of knowledge that it may be, if not from the authority of the Holy See or ours after an examination which cannot be but exact and severe."
In view of this alleged appearance, Bishop de Bruillard describes the precise conduct for his clergy – absolute silence. Despite this external silence, the event then opens to the bishop, eighty-two years of age, five years of intense work, and almost incessant activity. His Excellency is given the unusual burden of verifying the truth of this “visit from heaven.”
The Bishop reads and examines
The Bishop of Grenoble begins the task of verification of this event, deciding if it is truly “from heaven.” He initiates investigations, forms commissions of priests devoted to the study of all the circumstances of this said apparition: the children, their families, the countryside and the accompanying miracles that followed. The ecclesiastical investigators collect all the relevant information available across the entire diocese.
The bishop receives the sometimes boring accounts of many pilgrims returning from this mountain that was called the “new Calvary”. He reads all letters addressed to him. He seeks advice from his fellow-prelates. During many eighteen hour days, the Bishop of Grenoble works tirelessly to establish the veracity of the Apparition of La Salette. And this holy man never fails to pray to and seek out assistance from the very Lord who is “the way, and the truth and the life. (John 14:6)”
The children – clear answers and unwavering tenacity
While the Church and the State struggle to authenticate the Apparition, it is mainly the two witnesses, Maximin and Melanie, who feel the brunt of the various verification procedures. Long interrogation taxing both the patience and the resilience of these two children. More than one refined and perceptive mind dares to play games with these young shepherds who always manage to get off the hook. All listen to the eyewitness accounts, driven by the possible hope of finding even one divergence of the childrens’ testimony, however small it might be. Oh, how they tried to trick these children! But the childrens’ short and clear answers and unwavering tenacity did not fail to amaze their interrogators and leave them dumbfounded. This reminds us of the passage from St. Paul: “God chose the foolish of the world to shame the wise, and God chose the weak of the world to shame the strong… (1 Cor 1:27)”
The questions addressed to the children come from all sides. Melanie was asked: "How is it that you did not already know Maximin because on (Sept.) the 19th, you were good friends? You talked to him?" Melanie replied simply: "Sir, I’m speak to you and I do not know you!”
One day they said to Melanie, speaking about a religious sisters who claimed to know Melanie’s secret: "God has revealed your secret to a holy nun but I prefer to know it by you, thus ensuring me that you do not lie." And the child replied: "Because this religious knows, she can tell you, while I will not tell (you)."
"My secret is not a sin"
Maximin, meanwhile, met the same tricks. Wanting to embarrass him, they said: "You have agreed with Melanie and they gave you money for you to tell this entire story." Maximin replied: "Well, sir, since you know that much, say how much I was given."
The questioner also asked young Maximin: "You must tell your secret to your confessor, from whom you must hide nothing." And Maximin promptly answered: "My secret is not a sin. In confession we are obliged to tell only our sins.”
"Like a child covered with bees"
Everywhere, the children were bombarded with questions to trap them. Maximin himself told us what it was like for him to be a faithful echo of Mary's words: "This is not a complaint... for six years or more, I was like a child covered with bees from a hive, without being able to defend myself; the more I struggle, the more they tighten (around me) and sting." To corroborate that these remarks were not a complaint, see the answer that he gave to the question of a priest, a professor at the Major Seminary in Grenoble: "Aren’t you tired, little one, of having to repeat the same thing every day?” And Maximin replied: "And you, (Father), do you tired of saying Mass every day?"
Here, on the one hand, are faithful witnesses to their mission of spreading the message of the apparition, and, on the other hand, are members of a Church being faithful to her mission to firmly establish reasons to believe La Salette – this purportedly striking manifestation of heaven.
Multiple reports commissioned by the bishop, the results of investigations, the documentation of miracles attributed to the Beautiful Lady in tears – all these meet and mingle on the desk of the Bishop of Grenoble. Then they will eventually display the truth for all to see. The brightness of the veracity of the Apparition of La Salette will become blindingly obvious!
The Truth of the Apparition
Despite the ongoing efforts of the opposition to confuse the thoughts of believers, the Church, through the mouth of a successor of the Apostles, Bishop Philibert de Bruillard, proclaims the "great news." On September 19, 1851, the Bishop of Grenoble signed the following mandate:
"We give judgment that the Apparition of the Blessed Virgin to two herders on September 19, 1846, on a mountain in the Alpine chain situated in the parish of La Salette, in the territory of the archpriest of Corps, bears in itself within itself all the marks of truth, and that the faithful have grounds to believe it indubitable and certain."
The Church has spoken: we can believe in La Salette. And the holy Curé d'Ars left us this thought: "Not only can we, but we must believe in La Salette!" Can we not repeat the logic of St. Paul: “…how can they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how can they believe in him of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone to preach? (Rom. 10:14)”
Indeed, La Salette calls missionaries to preach to all nations the role of Mary, Reconciler. Bishop de Bruillard, an instrument of God’s Providence, called into existence a group of priests to exercise, according to his own words:
“the ministry of reconciliation... these priests shall be called the Missionaries of Our Lady of La Salette; their institution and existence shall be, like the Shrine itself, an eternal monument, a perpetual remembrance of Mary’s merciful apparition.”
The merciful Apparition of Our Lady of La Salette reveals to us not only a marvelous event but also the care and solicitousness of a Mother who, echoing the words of her Son, asks us to “make this message known” to all God’s people. The loving manner of her presence, the truth of her words, the power of her tears, the concern of her unceasing prayers for “her children” – all this can touch and melt our hearts, correct our wayward lives and reconcile us back to her Son.
(Republished from the La Salette Publication, Celle Qui Pleure (She Who Weeps),
October, 1961, pgs. 37-39; translated by Fr. Donald Jeffrey, M.S.)
Besides several Popes and bishops who were defenders
of La Salette, others included St. Peter Julien Eymard
(1811-1868), born in La Mure, near La Salette and
Fr. Louis Perrin, pastor of the parish in the village of La Salette.