Maximin said: "The 'Beautiful Lady' wore a cross, about eight inches long: on one side of the cross there was a hammer and on the other, pincers" (from “Notes of Fr. D. Lagier”).
Melanie said: "She had a very small chain to which was attached a crucifix: at the right, pincers; at the left, a hammer" (from "The Truth Concerning La Salette" by Fr. Pierre J. Rousselot).
Why a Crucifix with a Hammer and Pincers?Such is the simple description given by the two witnesses of the crucifix which the Blessed Virgin wore, during her Apparition to them, upon the Mountain of La Salette, September 19, 1846. This crucifix, quite singular in its makeup, with its hammer and pincers, has become known as the "Crucifix of La Salette".
It has attracted many clients to the Blessed Virgin, who invoke her under the title of “Our Lady, Reconciler of La Salette.” An important question arises, concerning the instruments of the Passion which are symmetrically placed upon the arms of the cross, on which hangs the Redeemer of the world. Is this simply an artistic decoration or should we seek herein a symbolism especially desired by Our Lady? Had Our Lady of La Salette another motive besides that of ornamentation, in choosing the hammer and pincers in place of any other instruments of the Passion? We wish to answer these questions in the following article.
God’s SymbolsFirst of all, we must bear in mind that God never performs any of his works blindly. Every manifestation, revelation or apparition of God and his Saints is divine. Each detail, each movement bears with it a special significance, which should be considered according to the laws of symbolism, the base of religious iconography.
Rev. Michael Gasnier, O.P., in his study of "The Roses of the Apparition of La Salette", says: "Certain details even though they remain subordinate to the essential value of this Apparition, have nevertheless, a proper signification. This signification has a bearing on the end of Mary's message, completing and interpreting it, and which, in consequence, should be considered separately.
These particulars, when considered in their entire value, possess many a touching lesson. Not only do they give a greater comprehension of the inexhaustible mystery of the Apparition of La Salette, but they also permit one to advance more and more into the intentions and desires, and I would almost say, into the maternal psychology of Our Blessed Mother."
This same truth has also been affirmed by Mgr. Caillot, Bishop of Grenoble, in a sermon given on the Holy Mountain in 1928. Alluding to the last glance of the Virgin of La Salette towards Rome, he says: "Let no one tell me that this is only an insignificant detail. In an event of such great importance as La Salette, every particular has its own value. Every gesture, every movement, just as each of Our Lady's precious words, contains a useful lesson not to be overlooked."
Under this same aspect, should we consider the La Salette crucifix, in order to find its true signification. Bearing in mind that the hammer and pincers are placed on either side of the cross, on which Christ our Redeemer hangs crucified, we will consider their relations to the great mystery of the Crucifixion.
The HammerIn the order of causes which had for their terrible effect the nailing of Jesus to the cross, the hammer was the last or ultimate instrumental cause. It was the material cause, if you will, but nevertheless the real cause of this last episode of Our Savior's Passion. The hammer was moved and directly employed, only by the executioners charged with the task of crucifying the "King of the Jews". However, indirectly and by a remote act, it was moved by all the sinners of the earth. The hammer, therefore, was the instrument of God's enemies and of his enemies alone.
Mary, our Heavenly Mother, had been present at the awful agony of her Divine Son; she had heard the repeated blows of that barbarous instrument, which re-echoed in the depths of her maternal heart, filled with an infinite love for Jesus. In what better manner then, could she express her own sorrows and those of her Son, than by the sensible representation of the hammer?
What sign is more expressive than this, to symbolize the sins of humanity – these same sins which were the cause of Christ's sufferings and death? For it was sin that covered our Savior with infamy and which completed its dire task by nailing him to the fatal gibbet. Evidently then, no better symbol could be chosen to represent sin, than the hammer, the last instrument used in the crucifixion of our Redeemer.
The PincersAnd on the other hand, what is the true signification of the pincers? We all know from the Gospel that it was not Christ's enemies who unfastened and took down his Body from the cross. This first reparation of sin's dreadful work was reserved – not without a special design of God – for the disciples and friends of Jesus. All the evangelists are unanimous in narrating that Joseph of Arimathea "a good and just man" (Luke 23:50) obtained from Pilate the body of Jesus for burial.
Here is a scene entirely different from that which immediately preceded our Savior's death. We have not here the enemies of Christ. We find instead Joseph of Arimathea and the friends of Jesus who detach his inanimate body from the cross. Mary was likewise present for this touching scene. Almost overcome by sorrow, it was a great solace for her, to witness this act of love on the part of her true sons.
It was love therefore, which detached Jesus from the cross and rendered him the first acts of holy reparation. It was love (in a true though mystical sense) which destroyed the work of hate, the work of sin. Once again, we have the material and instrumental cause – the pincers. It was this instrument which served to detach Jesus from the cross, to destroy the work accomplished by the hammer; and it was used only by the friends of Jesus.
Simple indeed, yet how eloquent are these pincers on the crucifix of La Salette. Placed in opposition to the hammer, they seem to invite us to detach Jesus once more from the cross, where every day sinners "crucify anew the Son of God" (Hebrews 6:6).
The very position of these instruments on the La Salette crucifix has a striking symbolism. The hammer, instrument of hate, instrument of Christ's enemies, is on the left side of the crucifix. And on the last day, the "Dies Irae (Day of Wrath)", Christ will say to those on his left, “Depart from me, you accursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matthew 25:41).
The pincers, on the other hand, instrument of love, instrument of Christ's friends, is placed on the right of our Crucified Lord. And on that same day of Judgment, Christ will say to those on his right, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (Matthew 25:34).
A Lesson to be LearnedHere then, briefly exposed, is the natural significance of the instruments which characterize so distinctly the crucifix of La Salette.
The lesson to be drawn from these instruments is an earnest demand for fervent reparation. The presence alone of the crucifix upon Mary's breast should have excited this demand. But how much more clearly does it appear from the sensible representation of these instruments. On the one hand, we have hate and sin, the true authors of Christ's death; and on the other, love and reparation, which ought to appear in the soul of every Christian on the final day of Resurrection and Glory. It is this same love and reparation which will offer to Mary the true consolation which she sought at La Salette. This is precisely the fruit of her visit at La Salette.
Her Reconciling Mediation
How perfectly in harmony with the remainder of the Apparition does the La Salette crucifix appear! All was in harmony with the circumstances of the time at which the Beautiful Lady appeared – which day, at that time, was designated as the Feast of Our Lady of Seven Dolors (now celebrated on September 15):
- in harmony with the mournful attitude of Mary, seated upon a rock, and bowed down in sorrow;
- in harmony with the tears of our Heavenly Mother which ceased not to flow because of our repeated insubordination; tears which are a loving and maternal invitation to reparation; and finally…
- in harmony with her merciful message, in which she rebukes us for our sins – blasphemy, profanation of the Lord's Day, sensuality and immodesty in all its modern forms.
The Distinctive Crucifix of the La Salette Missionaries
This, then, is the crucifix which was worn by her, whom the Church calls, "Virgin, Reconciler of Sinners". It is this same crucifix that is worn by the Missionaries of La Salette, bestowed upon them by their heavenly Foundress. Following her example, it is fitting that the Missionaries should wear this crucifix as a "distinctive mark" – a symbol of their mission "to combat the crimes of the day" (Rule of the Missionaries of La Salette). Such is the mission assigned to them by the Blessed Virgin and by the Church.
In conclusion, we may say that this detail of the crucifix of La Salette is one more proof of the divinity of the Apparition. Indeed, nothing less than a superhuman intelligence could present such perfect harmony in all the details of the Apparition and make them all converge towards its one great end – Reparation. This harmony, we have seen, appears in a very evident manner in the crucifix worn by Our Lady of La Salette. The two young witnesses were incapable of even imagining such a perfect and arrangement and distinctive symbolism.
Top row left to right: Paul Rajaonsaona 1911-1989; Fidele Rakotosalama 1909 - 1980; Jean-Baptiste Razafimanantsoa 1919-1992; Jean Marie Rakotondrasoa; Jean-Baptiste Rakoto; Jean-Baptiste Rabary 1915-1992
Botom Row left to right: Antoine Ralaizafinahorina 1905-1969;Jean-Baptiste Razafindrakoto 1905-1974;Benoit Ralaimbola (Secular priest); Rene-Martial Rakotovas (Secular priest and brother of Fr. Francois; Joseph Ralaimanana 1910-1970