Making Mourning Meaningful at the Shrine of Our Lady of Montligeon
Since the 19th century, the shrine has been devoted to praying for souls in the purgatory and giving comfort to those suffering.
“A shrine that does good to souls.” That is the way the members of the Fraternity of Montligeon like to describe their sanctuary, a world center of prayer for the deceased.
Nestled in the heart of the regional park of Perche, in French Normandy, Our Lady of Montligeon is a world-famous pilgrimage site that attracts some 150,000 visitors every year and offers consolation to all those hit by mourning and other difficulties of life.
Like every year on the occasion of All Saints’ and All Souls’ festivals, the shrine is about to host a series of five “Heaven’s Pilgrimages,” designed to be a large gathering of prayer for the dead, starting on Nov. 1 and 2 and then developing during the three following Sundays. It represents an occasion for the faithful worldwide to come and entrust their deceased loved ones to Our Lady of Liberatrix (Deliverance), find consolation and be renewed in Christian hope.
Our Lady of Montligeon is the fruit of an intuition of Father Paul Buguet, then parish priest of La Chapelle-Montligeon (a small commune of Normandy), who founded, in 1884, the Association for the Deliverance of Souls in Purgatory, a spiritual fraternity of prayer, with Pope Leo XIII’s support. Thanks to the impact and success of the fraternity’s first pilgrimage of prayer, the renown of Montligeon spread rapidly, and donations started to pour in from around the world, enabling the building of a large neo-Gothic basilica there, whose first stone was blessed and laid in 1896. The first Mass was held in 1911.
Since then, perpetual Mass has been celebrated on a daily basis at the shrine for the souls in purgatory and for all those, living or deceased, entrusted to the fraternity’s prayer. “This perpetual Mass, that has endured for more than a century, is the great originality of Montligeon,” Father Paul Denizot, rector of the shrine since 2018, told the Register, highlighting the fact that the first message of Montligeon is hope in the face of death.
Solidarity in Suffering … and Hope
Father Denizot, who has been residing at the shrine since 2016 (first as the shrine’s vice rector), is well-acquainted with grief and pain. Together with the priests from his Community of St. Martin (that runs the shrine) and the Sisters of the New Convenant, he accompanies visitors daily, whether they are believers or not, in their long course of mourning.
“Sometimes we see people arriving in indescribable states, parents whose child has just committed suicide, for instance, and we see them go through this ...,” he said. “When you lose a child, you basically lose everything; but amidst such inexpressible, harrowing pain, the Lord manages to touch all these people, in a mysterious and often silent way,” he continued, also evoking the strength of the encounter of the bereaved among themselves.
“Sharing one’s pain with other people who have come for similar reasons generates a kind of solidarity in suffering, but also a solidarity in hope: There is always a smile, a friendship, something that touches the heart, that does not belong to us, but comes from above.”
The real grace for the 44-year-old clergyman, who sees himself as a mere instrument of God, is to see that hope always finds its way to the visitors’ hearts, in spite of everything. For him, hope is not a message, but God’s love that comes through the reality of one’s life, through “all the mud,” the difficulties and the trials of life.
He remembered in particular a woman who was far away from the Church who recently visited the shrine and was deeply touched by the perpetual Mass, to the point of feeling like a Christian again. “She needed to forgive God for the death of her father when she was 16, as she had been told that God had called him back, but she understood that God does not rejoice in death and doesn’t enjoy making people die.”
The Strength of the Christian Message About Death
The rector of Our Lady of Montligeon likes to remind the pilgrims and visitors of the uniqueness and beauty of the Christian message about death. Quoting Vatican II, he reminds them that the bond between those who died in the peace of Christ and those who are still journeying is never weakened or interrupted (Lumen Gentium, 49).
It is, in his view, this Christian message that has the greatest impact on people away from the Church or from other religions, notably Islam, given it has a very different approach regarding this permanence of the bond between the living and the dead.
“I tell people that, through Christ, their relation with their deceased loved ones is still alive and that it keeps growing through spiritual goods and prayer,” he said, noting that, so often, the people he accompanies are full of regrets for omitting to say or do things, or for not being able to say goodbye, for instance.
“In Spe Salvi, Benedict XVI tells us that it is never too late to send our deceased — through prayer and everything we do in our lives — a thank-you, a request for forgiveness, that can actually help these souls go through a purification step, as well.”
The shrine also gives the possibility, to this extent, to download “‘Thank You’/’Sorry’ cards” that can be filled out and sent back to the community that place them in the “Petitions” box beneath the statue of Our Lady of Montligeon in the basilica.
In the same way, it is not unusual for the faithful to also offer perpetual Mass for living people. “One day, an American man came here from New Orleans with an old form from our shrine that he had found among the documents of his mother who had passed away a month earlier, and he wanted to know what it was,” Father Denizot remembered. “We explained to him that his mother entrusted him to our perpetual Mass in Montligeon when he was born, and he was really moved,” he added, considering that entrusting one’s children or grand-children to the shrine’s perpetual Mass is a kind of prayer insurance, a part of a big movement of prayer between the dead and the living who will be dead one day.
He added that the shrine also has a chapel for parents who lost a baby from miscarriage or abortion, highlighting the importance for Catholics to pray for dead children.
The Greatest Happiness Is Ahead of Us
The mission of the community of Montligeon has a special significance on the verge of All Souls’ Day, offering the reminder that Christian hope is not just some abstract concept but must inhabit our days and inspire each of our actions.
“I’d like to tell all the faithful, on the occasion of this important Catholic feast, that we Christians have the gift of knowing that the greatest joys of our lives, the greatest happiness, are always ahead of us,” Father Denizot continued.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that Christian hope is “the theological virtue by which we desire the kingdom of heaven and eternal life as our happiness, placing our trust in Christ’s promises and relying not on our own strength, but on the help of the grace of the Holy Spirit” (1817).
Referring to the spirit of this world, that is paralyzed by the future and tends to make us believe that happiness is only for young and healthy people, he explained how Christian hope represents an exceptional testimony. “Let’s think about an old lady, who was once young, danced at the ball, loved her husband and was going to have children, and who is now a lonely widow in a home for the elderly… and let’s remember that the greatest possible joy is still ahead of her.”
He concluded: “For us Christians, the future is never dark: We all have to go through the trials of grief and sickness, but we know that behind this darkness the light of the Risen One shines, that we are heirs, that we have a homeland, a Kingdom waiting for us.”
Father Paul Denizot and Martine Courvoisier, the English-speaking missions assistant, will be on EWTN Live on Dec. 8, at 8pm Eastern.