175 Years Ago, Mary Appeared at La Salette, and Wept

What were the reasons for her tears? Our Lady said it was two great causes that estrange people from her son — blasphemy and the neglect of the Lord’s day.

Our Lady of La Salette
Our Lady of La Salette (photo: Tylwyth Eldar / CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

Tears are mysterious. While they “rise in the heart and gather in the eyes,” their purpose and cause remain subjects of curiosity and scientific study. 

Marian apparitions too, are soaked in mystery. Why do a select few experience inexplicable phenomena where others see nothing. 

This week marks the 175th anniversary of a mysterious rendezvous between two French peasant children and a woman in tears. On Sept. 19, 1846, Mélanie Mathieu and Maximin Giraud reported having encountered a lady seated along the hillside outside a small hamlet in the French Alps with her face buried in her hands. The “beautiful lady,” as the children described her, was crying inconsolably. 

What were the reasons for her tears? When the children approached the lady to inquire, the woman spoke of two great causes that estrange people from her son — blasphemy and the neglect of the Lord’s day. 

Like many reported apparitions, Mary did not explicitly introduce herself to the visionaries. Her identity remained a mystery until the context and purpose of her discourse revealed what was left unsaid. 

As she continued her conversation with the children, the crying woman expressed her deep concern about the empty pews at Mass on Sunday and the irreverent attitude among those who were present. Many chose work or other activities over worship. Worse yet, those inclined to skip Sunday Mass replaced the words of prayer with vain uses of her son’s name. After making her affection and sentiment known to her young audience, the woman relayed the hope that her message would move many souls to restore a relationship with her son through more faithful attendance at Mass. 

While eclipsed in popularity by Lourdes and Fatima, there is hardly a more relevant message for today than that of La Salette. In the U.S. and Europe, over the last several years, poll after poll has catalogued the rise of the “nones,” a growing segment of individuals who describe themselves as having no religious affiliation. Former Catholics make up a large percentage of this expanding population. Recent evidence shows that this group has grown not only among the younger millennial generation, but the older as well. 

Throughout southern France, the single encounter of the two peasant children with the woman in tears sparked a pronounced response among the faithful that resonated throughout the region as churches returned to capacity. This 175th anniversary of the apparition at La Salette is an opportune time for renewed attention to the lady’s simple message so that it re-echoes in our century. 

God’s ways are a mystery, but his concern for his people is not. Marking the anniversary of La Salette by relaying its call to return to the celebration of the Mass is one way to help bring forth a fruitful response from heavenly tears.