The Miraculous Medal owes its origin to the apparitions of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the Chapel of the Rue du Bac, Paris in the year 1830. She appeared as the Immaculata to St. Catherine Labouré, a novice with the Daughters of Charity. On July 18, the Immaculate Virgin, seated in the same chapel, had spoken gentle words of encouragement to the young novice. On November 27, the Virgin Mother showed St. Catherine the design of a medal which would remind people of the love and protection that Our Lady continually offers to God's children.
You can read more about the visions of St Catherine here.
On November 27th, Catherine saw Mary standing on what seemed to be half a globe and holding a golden globe in her hands as if offering it to heaven. On the globe was the word “France,” and our Lady explained that the globe represented the whole world, but especially France. The times were difficult in France, especially for the poor who were unemployed and often refugees from the many wars of the time. France was first to experience many of those troubles which ultimately reached other parts of the world and are even present today. Streaming from rings on Mary's fingers as she held the globe were many rays of light. Mary explained that the rays symbolize the graces she obtains for those who ask for them. However, some of the gems on the rings were dark, and Mary explained that the rays and graces were available but did not come because no one had asked for them.
The vision then changed to show our Lady standing on a globe with her arms now outstretched and with the dazzling rays of light still streaming from her fingers. Framing the figure was an inscription: O Mary conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee.
The Meaning of the Back Side of the Miraculous Medal
The twelve stars can refer to the Apostles, who represent the entire Church as it surrounds Mary. They also recall the vision of Saint John, writer of the Book of Revelation (12:1), in which “a great sign appeared in heaven, a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of 12 stars.” The cross can symbolize Christ and our redemption, with the bar under the cross a sign of the earth. The “M” stands for Mary, and the interleaving of her initial and the cross shows Mary’s close involvement with Jesus and our world. In this, we see Mary’s part in our salvation and her role as mother of the Church. The two hearts represent the love of Jesus and Mary for us. (See also Lk 2:35).
Then Mary spoke to Catherine: “Have a medal struck upon this model. Those who wear it will receive great graces, especially if they wear it around the neck.” Catherine explained the entire series of apparitions to her confessor, and she worked through him to carry out Mary’s instructions. She did not reveal that she received the Medal until soon before her death 46 years later.
With approval of the Church, the first Medals were made in 1832 and were distributed in Paris. Almost immediately the blessings that Mary had promised began to shower down on those who wore her Medal. The devotion spread like wildfire. Marvels of grace and health, peace and prosperity, followed in its wake. Before long people were calling it the “Miraculous” Medal. In 1836, a canonical inquiry undertaken at Paris declared the apparitions to be genuine.
There is no superstition, nothing of magic, connected with the Miraculous Medal. The Miraculous Medal is not a “good-luck charm”. Rather, it is a great testimony to faith and the power of trusting prayer. Its greatest miracles are those of patience, forgiveness, repentance, and faith. God uses a Medal, not as a sacrament, but as an agent, an instrument, in bringing to pass certain marvelous results. “The weak things of this earth hath God chosen to confound the strong.”
When our Blessed Mother gave the design of the medal to Saint Catherine Labouré she said, “Now it must be given to the whole world and to every person.”
After two years' worth of investigation and observation of Catherine's normal daily behavior, Catherine's confessor took the information to his archbishop without revealing Catherine's identity. The request was approved and the design of the medallions was commissioned through French goldsmith Adrien Vachette. They proved to be exceedingly popular. The dogma of the Immaculate Conception had not yet been officially promulgated, but the medal with its "conceived without sin" slogan was influential in popular approval of the idea.
Sister Catherine spent the next forty years caring for the aged and infirm. For this she is called the patroness of seniors. She died on December 31, 1876 at the age of seventy. Her body is encased in glass beneath the side altar at 140 Rue du Bac, Paris.
Catherine Labouré's cause for sainthood was declared upon discovering her body was incorrupt, which currently lies in the Chapel of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal. She was beatified on May 28, 1933 by Pope Pius XI and canonized on July 27, 1947 by Pope Pius XII.
Novena of the Miraculous Medal
O Immaculate Virgin Mary,
Mother of Our Lord Jesus and our Mother,
penetrated with the most lively confidence in your all-powerful and never-failing intercession, manifested so often through the Miraculous Medal,
we your loving and trustful children implore you to obtain for us the graces and favors we ask during this novena,
if they be beneficial to our immortal souls,
and the souls for whom we pray.
(Here form your petition)
You know, O Mary, how often our souls have been the sanctuaries of your Son who hates iniquity.
Obtain for us then a deep hatred of sin and that purity of heart which will attach us to God alone so that our every thought, word and deed may tend to His greater glory.
Obtain for us also a spirit of prayer and self-denial that we may recover by penance what we have lost by sin and at length attain to that blessed abode where you are the Queen of angels and of men.