Of the many forms of devotion to Our Lady, there are some which have been especially recommended by the Church. Devotions which involve the use of physical objects are not superstitious, because these objects are not thought to have any power in themselves. Rather, they are external aids to interior devotion to the Mother of God.
An especially great Marian devotion is the Rosary. There is an ancient tradition that St. Dominic received the Rosary from Our Lady in an apparition at Prouille in 1206 A.D. as a weapon against the Albigensian heresy. What is entirely certain is that in one way or another, numerous Popes have spoken of St. Dominic as author of the Rosary, without pronouncing on the authenticity of the Prouille vision. They have strongly recommended the Rosary. Vatican II in its Constitution on the Church # 67 wrote that whatever the Church has ever recommended in Marian devotion should still be considered of great importance. Not long after, Pope Paul VI in his Encyclical Christi Matris Rosarii pointed out that that statement obviously included the Rosary. Countless are the favors individuals have experienced through the Rosary. The whole Church benefitted especially when in October 1571, Pope St. Pius V announced that the Christian fleet had won a decisive victory over the Muslim fleet at Lepanto in the Gulf of Corinth. The Muslims were trying to take over all Europe. The Pope explicitly attributed that victory to Rosary processions being held the day of the victory; in addition, every man on the Christian flagship had been given a Rosary before the battle. Our Lady at Lourdes and at Fatima called for a great increase in the prayer of the Rosary, declaring it one of the conditions needed for world peace and the conversion of Russia.
The Brown Scapular
Another recommended Marian devotion is wearing the Brown Scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. There are many Scapulars, all valuable, but this one is eminent among them. There is a very ancient tradition that St. Simon Stock, Superior of the Carmelite Order in England in 1251, after imploring the help of Our Lady, was favored with a vision in which she gave him the Scapular, saying: "This will be a privilege for you and for all Carmelites, that he who dies in this will not suffer eternal fire." The historical evidence for this vision is very impressive, and gives at least some degree of moral certitude that the vision really did take place. To gain this promise one must be enrolled in the Confraternity of the Scapular. Pope Pius XII, on the 700th anniversary of this vision, wrote to the Major Superiors of the Carmelites, clearly showing his belief in it: "For not with a light or passing matter are we here concerned, but with the obtaining of eternal life itself, which is the substance of the Promise of the Most Blessed Virgin which has been handed down to us."
However, the Pope warned that the mere physical wearing of the Scapular is not enough: "May it be to them a sign of their Consecration to the Most Sacred Heart of the Immaculate Virgin, which in recent times we have so strongly recommended." If one then uses the Scapular as the outward sign of living such a Marian consecration, then faith in the fulfillment of the promise is well justified. In fact, Pope Pius XI said (Explorata res. Feb. 2, 1923): "Nor would he incur eternal death whom the Most Blessed virgin assists, especially at his last hour. This opinion of the Doctors of the Church, in harmony with the sentiments of the Christian people, and supported by the experience of all times, depends especially on this reason: the fact that the Sorrowful Virgin shared in the work of the Redemption with Jesus Christ." In other words, a solid Marian devotion is certain to bring one close to Jesus Christ, and so will assure one of reaching salvation, even if the vision to St. Simon Stock might not be authentic. Also, when Vatican II said that all things recommended by the Magisterium of the Church towards her should still be considered matters of great importance, the Scapular was clearly included, for numerous Popes have recommended it strongly.
There are many religious medals that are sacramentals. One of these is the Scapular medal. It may be used in place of the cloth scapular, although the cloth is to be preferred. It needs to be blessed before use, while the cloth Scapulars that replace the original one blessed in the enrollment need not be blessed.
It is important to notice that some Scapular medals are incorrect. On one side there must be the image of Our Lord, pointing at His Heart (this Heart is sometimes omitted), on the other side, any image of Our Lady.
Especially well known is the Miraculous Medal. In 1830 The Blessed Virgin appeared three times in the chapel of the motherhouse of the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul, to Catherine Laboure, then a novice. It is a medal in honor of the Immaculate Conception. St. Catherine was canonized in 1947. Her body was found incorrupt, and attracts many pilgrims to the original shrine.
Some Approved Marian Apparitions
The Church does not require belief in any apparition or other private revelation. However, she does exercise her maternal judgment for the protection of the faithful in declaring some apparitions to be inauthentic, others to be "worthy of belief." Investigations into alleged apparitions are rigorous. The three which follow have been judged worthy of belief, and devotions related to them have been encouraged by the truth. Each has miracles associated with it which are unexplainable by the best scientists in the world, as testimony to its authenticity.
Our Lady appeared 18 times at Lourdes, in the Pyrenees mountains in southern France, in 1858, to Bernadette Soubirous, a fourteen year old peasant girl. A spring appeared there which feeds the baths at the shrine today. Many miraculous healings are reported from bathing in the waters. The fact that there is no spread of infection, even though no sanitary precautions are taken when people with all sorts of diseases take baths there, is a marvel in itself. Many miracles take place when the Blessed Sacrament passes in procession during the great pilgrimages. In passing, we notice that this fact testifies to the Real Presence of Our Lord in the Eucharist there, a Presence which only the Catholic Church has, and only the Catholic Church teaches. There is a medical bureau there, to which any qualified M. D. can come to check alleged cures. Early in this century, Dr. Alexis Carrel came to scoff, but was converted instead. The Church's demands for checking and proof of alleged miracles are so stringent that in the more than a century since 1858 only a few more than 60 miracles have been approved. Madame Bire in 1908 came there, blind because her optic nerve was withered; she regained her sight when the Blessed Sacrament passed. But when the Doctors inspected her eyes, they found she was able to see even though the nerve was still withered--arranged, doubtless, to keep anyone from saying it was a case of suggestion. The nerve did recover within a few weeks.
On December 9, 1531 an Aztec Indian, Juan Diego, saw the Virgin Mary near Mexico City. She put her image on his cloak, a cloak still to be seen in the great shrine of Guadalupe. The fiber of the cloak should have disintegrated in about 30 years, but is still sound. Scientific checks find that the process of impressing the image is nothing known to science. And there are images in the eyes of the picture of several persons, who probably were present when the image appeared. The images are threefold, just as they would be found in a living eye (following the Purkinje Sanson Law).
Momentous for our own times is the shrine of Fatima Portugal, where Our Lady appeared 6 times to three small children, each less than 10 years of age. She asked for penance, the Rosary, and Immaculate Heart devotion, saying that on these conditions, God would keep Russia from spreading her errors throughout the world - this was said at a time when Russia was still greatly religious, under the Czar. The great miracle of the sun dancing on Oct 13, 1917 was seen by thousands, including nonbelievers. The clothing of all had been drenched from heavy rain, yet when the sun settled down again, all clothing was found to be dry. Hallucinations do not dry clothing.
Taken from The Basic Catholic Catechism
PART SEVENTEEN: The Sacramentals
By Fr. William G. Most. (c)Copyright 1990 by William G. Most