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Our Need for the Grand Return

Marian T. Horvat, Ph.D.

“Sometimes everything seems overwhelming in these days of uncertainty and chaos,” my friend Jan said sadly to me when I saw her recently. I understood she was also gently complaining to me for the somber, hard facts I usually present about the post-Conciliar Church and Popes when I write her these letters on understanding the crisis in the Church.

So, in order to encourage my friend, today I will focus on another aspect of the days ahead: the triumph of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, promised by Our Lady at both Fatima and Quito. How will it happen? When we see the growing moral corruption of society and the indifference of so many Catholics, that question legitimately arises: How will this grand return of faith and morals return and again fill the hearts of men, inspiring the foundation of a new Christendom?

A statue of a boat with Our Lady during a sunset

A boat carrying the Virgin appeared on the coast of Boulogne-sur-Mer...
Before his death in 1995, Prof. Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira often used the expressive French term “the grand return” in referring to the profound spiritual restoration that Our Lady will grant her faithful sons and daughters. To build the Reign of Mary, it is obvious there must be a general purification. Indeed, how can we build a new Christendom if we still have the virus of the Revolution in our souls? The prophetic teaching of St. Louis de Montfort referred to such a grace, which would transform the devotees of Our Lady into true apostles of the latter times, who, in union with Mary, “will crush the head of Satan and bring victory to Jesus Christ.” (1)

We should ask Our Lady for this change of mentality. We should pray for the down-pouring of graces that will transform us, making us what we must be. Such a grace seems indispensable to fashion those grand souls St. Louis de Montfort foresaw as the builders of a new era for Our Lady.

A rich and impressive history

The ‘grand return’ is an expression with a long and impressive history that begins in northern France in the 7th century. In the year 633, a boat without crew or oars arrived at the coast of Boulogne-sur-Mer in Pas de Calais, northern France.

The boat, surrounded by an extraordinary light, carried a statue of the Virgin sculpted in wood. She was seated, and in her arms she carried the Child Jesus. At the same time, Our Lady appeared to a group of persons praying in a chapel in Boulogne, telling them that, by the mysterious designs of God, the Angels had brought her Statue to port so she might be venerated in that chapel, where she would spread her favors far and wide.

A statue of the Virgin and Child in a boat

Our Lady of the Grand Return
This was the origin of the first Marian sanctuary of France and later one of the most important centers of pilgrimage in Medieval Europe. Charlemagne, St. Louis IX, and St. Bernard de Clairvaux all traveled there to ask her graces.

The graces Our Lady of Boulogne-sur-Mer granted in the cathedral that was later built on the site of the small chapel were so abundant that it became the target of the Devil’s special hatred. In the 16th century, the heresiarch King Henry VIII of England took the city, profaned the sanctuary and abducted the miraculous statue. Five years later, King Henry II of France regained the city and secured the return of its Patroness. But soon the Huguenots made new profanations, even going so far as to drag the sacred statue of Our Lady through the streets of the city.

Two centuries later, during the French Revolution, the Cathedral was razed, its treasures seized, its archives burned and the miraculous statue cast into the fire. Rumors immediately began to circulate that the statue had miraculously survived the satanic hatred of the French revolutionaries, and the pious tradition began that said some day the statue would reappear. And, in a providential way almost a century and a half later, she did.

A devotion that resurges

It was 1942, and France found herself battered and shaken by the Second World War. The country was in a state of complete physical and spiritual exhaustion. Half the country was occupied by the Nazi forces. Millions of her sons were dying in the trenches. The churches were semi-deserted, many without pastors.

In this crisis, someone had the providential inspiration to order four reproductions of Our Lady of Boulogne to be made. Carried in carts, these statues were sent on pilgrimage tours to parishes throughout France. Unexpectedly, they caused an extraordinary commotion and became vehicles for a great grace for the country.

A dome topped Cathedral

Today a dome-shaped cathedral replaces the gothic one destroyed in the French Revolution
In the beginning, there was no organized program or planned itinerary. But a grace accompanied Our Lady wherever she went, making her arrival a sensational event. The multitudes were caught up, moved, enthused. The confessionals and communion rails were taken by assault, so to speak, during the night vigils while the recitation of the Rosary resounded in the churches. There were spectacular conversions.

With their renowned gift for coining apt phrases, the French people began to call her Our Lady of the Grand Return - that is to say, the grand return of the statue brought a grand return of the spirit and practice of the Catholic Faith.

“The Grand Return is the most important spiritual movement of our time,” the Bishop of Arras affirmed. Others called it “Christianity re-awakening,” “a Marian epiphany,” “a conquistadora crusade,” and “the Redemption on the march.” (2)

From the years 1943 to 1948, Our Lady of the Grand Return visited 16,000 parishes, almost half the parishes of the country, causing a grand return of faith. In Nazi-controlled regions, she was smuggled in under many guises, once in a vegeatable cart, another time in a small boat. In areas under threat of attack by the Nazis, the processions were patrolled by planes.

Never did a wayward bomb place at risk those who travelled with Our Lady of the Grand Return. And at the liberation of the country from the Nazi invasion, she was present at the celebration, the people enthusiastically attributing the victory to her protection.

What was the grand return?

This extraordinary grace called the Grand Return was unexpected, inexplicable and marvelous in its effects. One of its most notable characteristics was to make persons long for the time of their first baptismal innocence. “I felt as if I were again a child of ten years,” said one man who accompanied the pilgrim statue. Another man stated, “The soul, by some miracle, assumes a simplicity, a child-like freshness before Our Lady.” (3)

“When the Virgtin passes, you feel the need for purification, light, clarity ... you cannot remain in sin,” was another testimony. “The Virgin instantaneously removed obstructions from the soul’s path and revealed the need for a truly Catholic life. It was like a flash of lighting that struck. It was a light that illuminated in an instant the deepest part of the mind. One saw instantly what he had never seen before and understood what before had been closed to him.” (4)

An old photograph of a street procession through Boulogne-sur-Mer

A street procession through Boulogne-sur-Mer
Wherever Our Lady of the Grand Return went, a torrent of graces accompanied her and followed in her trail, reinvigorating the faith and hope of the people. It was the providential means that God gave to convert France again to Jesus through Mary.

One can only wonder what would have happened had the country been faithful to that grace. Certainly there were people who recognized the significance of these pilgrim statues that traveled on the wings of the Holy Ghost, as can be seen from testimonies of the time. “I think that if the Bishop would send us a similar Virgin every year,” noted one man, “before 10 years the people of France she visits would be converted to Jesus Christ through Mary.”

Unfortunately, this was not done. After the war, the statues were retired to various sites and soon forgotten. Why didn’t the French Bishops give this spiritual renewal the strong impulse it merited? I have no answer to this question.

Nonetheless, a precedent was set. That grace of moving the hearts of a people en masse, the grace to see their sorry state and long for a return to a first innocence, the desire to be clean and pure before God and the Holy Virgin – Our Lady gave all these graces to the people of France in this period.

Certainly we have reason to hope that Our Lady will once again give the grace of the Grand Return to a world consumed by sin and corruption. That grace is all the more necessary because the Revolution has entered inside the Church, wracked by the chaos and destruction that has followed in the wake of Vatican II. The grace of a grand return is a requisite for the restoration of the Church and Catholic civilization.

Our need for the grand retour

I end this missive, my dear friend Jan, encouraging you to pray for the grace of the grand return – asking Our Lady to send it completely and as soon as possible to yourself, your family and friends, and all those called to a special relationship with her. For the grace of the grand return produces a special bond between her and her children, as preached by St. Louis in his True Devotion to Mary.

A little statue of the Virgin and Child in a boat

An old statue of Notre Dame du Grand Retour

What will they be like, these slaves, these children of Mary? St. Louis tells us they will be like flaming fire, enkindling everywhere the fires of divine love. They will become, in Mary's powerful hands, sharp arrows to pierce her enemies. Guided by her spirit, supported by her arm, sheltered under her protection, St. Louis tells us, “they will fight with one hand and build with the other.” (5)

Yes, with one hand they will build. But unless they take up the sword to give battle with the other hand, “overthrowing and crushing heretics and their heresies, schismatics and their schisms, idolaters and their idolatries, sinners and their wickedness,” (6) there will be no Reign of Mary.

In this light, you can perhaps understand better the importance of the fight we, the counter-revolutionaries, are making against the Revolution in the Church, infiltrated by many heresies and blasphemies that St. Louis says must be exterminated. The very apex of the counter-revolutionary fight has become the denouncement of Progressivism infiltrating Rome, which. unfortunately. is collaborating with the Revolution for the demolition of Christianity and the Church. St. Louis warns us that those who make this fight will make many enemies, but “it will also bring about many victories and much glory to God alone.”

By the will of God, Our Lady will prepare the way to set afire the hearts of the faithful and extend Christ’s rule over the impious and unbelievers. We who await that day realize how much we need this special grace of a grand return, and we ask Our Lady to send it soon.
1. Treatise of True Devotion to Mary, Part 1, No. 54.
2. L. Devineau, Dans le Sillage de la Vierge (Paris: Apostolate de la Press, 1963), p. 35-36,65, in “Nossa Senhora do Grand Retour,” Catolicismo, September 1988, No. 453, pp. 12-13.
3. Ibid., p. 106.
4. Ibid., p. 89.
5. True Devotion to Mary, No. 48.
6. Ibid., See also Nos. 56-59.
Posted on January 19, 2008

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Prayer for the Grand Return

O Virgin Mary, Mother of Mercy, grant me immediately and entirely the grace of the grand return. Grant it also to all of thy faithful sons and daughters so that they will assent to this special alliance with thee, which is the grand return.

Have pity on us, O Mother, and hasten to our aid.

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