“Finding again one’s faith is more important than finding one’s sight.”
In the framework of a religious sanctuary such as Lourdes, traditionally the land of miracles, pilgrims can look forward to benefit from an extraordinary healing and wish, in witnessing to it, all that is in their credit.
The mission given to the Medical Bureau of Lourdes, by the Bishop of Tarbes and Lourdes is to accept the accounts of those who say that they have been cured through the intercession of Our Lady of Lourdes in order to authenticate them so that they may eventually recognises officially by the Church as a miraculous cure.
“For a long time the medical profession was very important in helping with the discerning of miraculous cures according to their degree of competence. As medical science progresses, we understand better certain conditions. But there still remain many cures that can only be explained in the light of faith, that which scientific examination has cannot deny a priori and that must be respected, precisely in their order.” John-Paul II speaking to the members of the Lourdes International Medical committee in Rome with the Roman Congregation for the Canonisation of the Saints, l8th November 1988.
We must discern on two levels;
- On the level of medical science, where the doctor, as a man of science a person of art carries out his work with the utmost rigour according to his training and experience.
- On the spiritual level, which must be respected as such, since it is founded on the order of faith that the scientific examination can either accept or conceal.
In effect, a cure can only be recognised as miraculous only if is fulfils two conditions:
- It is beyond the normal laws of the development of the illness in question.
- That the person cured and those who witness to it recognise something spiritual in what has happened.
There are therefore two sides to be considered in acknowledging a miracle:
- The unexpected fact: that is the phenomenon of the cure itself which is characterised in what is totally unexpected according to thenormal course of medical practice.
- The sign that invited people to believe in the special intervention of God through the intercession of Our Lady of Lourdes (this is why it is considered a cure of Lourdes).
Faced with an amazing cure, it is essential to keep together these two approaches in the one and same reality: the unexpected fact and the sign, making a distinction but not separating them, that which brings to a two pointed enquiry, one strictly medical by a health practitioner and the other pastoral and of the Church.
Following up a cure
The supernatural cure is nothing other than a natural phenomenon of which the speed and fullness are outside normal rules. The miracle expands it, changes or cures: it does not create. It surpasses the forces of nature, but it does not break its laws. Determinism exists; as though they were used by a superior liberty, and it is in mastering them thus that this liberty mysteriously manifests itself”. H. Bouillard.
Having given the complexity and the difficulty of difference in diagnosing between a natural cure and a supernatural cure, a series of stages are shown as necessary for the medical examination of an alleged cure.
The first is to establish that there has indeed been a cure, this is “ a passage from an established pathological state to a state of health”. This is the role of the resident medical officer of the Medical Bureau who will examine and question the patient, make contact with the doctor accompanying the pilgrimage (if the person is part of an organised pilgrimage) and/or their own doctor. All the available medical documentation must be collected before a cure can be declared.
In the second stage is necessary to see the person at least each year with the up to date documents in order to make a comparative study of the condition before and after the cure. This is carried out in a consultation with the doctors present in Lourdes at that particular time and members of the Lourdes International Medical Association (AMIL), which gathers doctors and health professionals regardless of their beliefs.
The medical enquiry centres around seven exclusive facts, required by the Church in order to interpret whether this is a miraculous cure:
- that the fact and the diagnosis of the illness is first of all established
and correctly diagnosed;
- that the prognosis must be permanent or
- that the illness must be a physical and/or organic illness;
- that the cure is sudden, without convalescence, immediate;
- that the prescribed treatment could not be attributed to the cause of this cure or be an aid to it;
- that the cure is complete;
- that the cure is lasting.
The file can then be passed on to the Lourdes International Medical Committee (CMIL) a higher consultative body made up of 20 permanent members, hospital doctors having as their task to study the case already sufficiently instructed and to obtain a medical opinion and possibly a psychiatric opinion. The present chairman of the CMIL is Professor Jean-LouisArmand-Laroche.
According to their expert conclusions confirming the inexplicable nature of the cure they can decide to submit the file to the Magisterium.
The meaning of a cure
“A miracle is a sign of Divine intervention in our lives through events that happen outside the normal course of events”. Fr. Xavier Uon-Dufour
God shows himself more often through ordinary events and signs as seen through faith. If the sign defies usual norms, it is submitted to Church authority, because of the responsibility that Christ conferred on the Church for the faith. This discerning is the responsibility of the bishop of the diocese where the person who is cured lives. He depends on the opinion of a Diocesan Canonical Commission who, after a pastoral enquiry, judge the sincerity of the witness, discover the positive signs that accompany the circumstances of the cure and the spiritual fruits that flow from it, as well as how it conforms to the message of the Gospel. He then decides on the official canonical proclamation.
Of the 6,784 cures registered by the Medical Bureau, 69 have been recognised as miracles by the Church. The first, that of Catherine Latapie, happened very early on, during the Apparitions on 1st March 1858.
The canonical recognition of cures is rare. As well, they only concern the cures declared by the Medical Bureau, the obvious physical cures, those that can be analysed objectively and completely, those that are a gift for all, not an exception or privilege for some fortunate person. They exist to confirm the inner spiritual cures, the invisible ones. These cannot be counted!
The miracle ‘cure’
“When Jesus saves he makes the person stand up in all the areas of their life: He gives them their true dignity as a beloved child of God this is their real state.” E. Garin.
This is the context of prayer and faith that makes sense of miracles. The divine initiative cannot be scientifically demonstrated. We can never prove a miracle as a miracle proves nothing in itself! But to refuse to recognise it means that the fact of a miracle would fall into a scientific mentality. On the contrary, to recognise that miracles still exist today is to recognise that Christ is the only healer, the source of healing for each of us.
Miracles are truly signs what show us that our human world is not blocked in is destiny by evil and death. We recall that Christ came to announce the victory of life. “They are the gaps the open windows, the advance signs of the fullness of what God wants of us, a looking forward to the resurrection.” Bishop Perrier of Tarbes and Lourdes.
The Directors of the Medical Bureau
In a concern for strictness and truth, from 1859, Professor Vergez, Head of the Faculty of Medicine of Montpellier, had proposed a way of examining the cures. Doctor de Saint-Maclou succeeded him in 1883, which is the date of the founding of the Medical Bureau with its permanent and official structures. He remained president until 1891 and Doctor Boissarie succeeded him. From 1905, following the request of Pope Pius X ‘to submit to a proper process’ the most spectacular of the cures of Lourdes, the Medical Bureau set about doing this for all cases.
- Doctors Le Bec, Marchand, then Petit-Pierre and Abadie-Bayro as acting-Presidents from 1919 to 1927.
- In 1927 Doctor Vallet, who founded the International Medical Association.
- In 1947 Doctor Leuret, who with Bishop Pierre-Marie Theas, founded the National, later International, Medical Committee of Lourdes.
- In 1955 Doctor Pellissier.
- In 1960 Doctor Olivieri.
- In 1972 Doctor Mangiapan.
- In 1989 Doctor Pilon.
- In 1997 Doctor Lassalle.
- In 1998 Doctor Theillier
- The new Medical Bureau
The Medical Bureau will be situated in the Accueil Jean-Paul II from the beginning of the season 2001 it will have the use of a specially designed large area of 180m2: a reception room for visitors (the sick, doctors and journalists), Dr. Theillier’s office, an office for Dr. Theillier’s Secretary, Marilyne Plagnet, an area for the archives and a reception area. On the first floor of the same building you find a photographic exhibition of the people whose cure was recognised as miraculous by the Church and who have become witnesses of the faith, known as “Salle des Miracules”.