We exhort you to listen with simplicity of heart and honesty of mind to the salutary warnings of the Mother of God….
Bl. Pope John XXIII, February 18, 1959
Closing of the Marian Year
Contemporary humanity finds itself at the climax of what has been called the “Age of Mary.” The last two centuries have received more Church-approved Marian apparitions than any other time in the history of the Church. These Marian apparitions convey the urgent call of a Mother’s heart for humanity to return to the Gospel of Jesus Christ; to become more generous in prayer and penance in reparation and for the conversion of sinners; and to offset through prayer and sacrifice any conditioned purification that may face contemporary humanity due to its rejection of God, his law, and his love.
Nature and Purpose of Private Revelation
Public revelation—Latin, revelare, “to unveil”—consists of God’s manifestation of divine truths for humanity’s salvation, the revelation of which ends with the death of St. John, the last Apostle. These divine truths are transmitted through Scripture and Apostolic Tradition, which is then safeguarded by the Magisterium of the Church and comprise the deposit of faith entrusted to the Church.
Private revelation constitutes a revelation given by God to an individual for the spiritual benefit of the person, a specific group or the entire Church. In contrast to public revelation, private revelation has as its God-intended purpose not the revelation of new doctrine, but rather to encourage and lead the faithful to a more committed living of the Gospel in conformity with the revealed truths of Christian public revelation, as well as the proper development and understanding of Christian doctrine.
Bl. Pope John XXIII refers to this purpose of authentic private revelation in his 1959 address at the close of the Marian year:
The Roman pontiffs…if they have been constituted the guardians and interpreters of the Divine Revelation contained in Scripture and Tradition, also have the duty, when after mature examination, they deem it necessary for the common good of bringing to the attention of the faithful those supernatural lights which it pleases God to dispense freely to certain privileged souls, not for the purpose of presenting new doctrines, but rather to guide us in our conduct (1).
The specific function of private revelation then is to urge humanity to begin or return to lives committed to the most challenging Gospel calls of generous prayer, fasting, conversion, penance, sacrifice, and overall Christian holiness. Authentic private revelation can also serve the Church’s development of doctrine, by highlighting certain doctrinal elements already contained in Scripture and Tradition in order that they be more greatly emphasized in a given period of Church history. For example, the Divine Mercy private revelations to St. Faustina Kowalska has led the Church to accentuate even more profoundly the scriptural and traditional teaching of God’s infinite mercy for our present day.
Between the Old Testament revelation to the people of Israel and the full revelation of God’s Word in the person of Jesus Christ given to the Apostles, God revealed all that was necessary for the salvation of humanity, and therefore there would be no need for new doctrinal additions through private revelation. However, the challenge to live wholeheartedly the Gospel messages of continual faith, hope, prayer, penance, conversion, and Christian love will always remain. The value of authentic private revelation, then, is to encourage the faithful to incorporate into their lives the challenging aspects of the Gospel message or, in the words of Bl. John XXIII, to “guide us in our conduct” and understand and incorporate more deeply into our lives the doctrinal truths revealed by the Lord Jesus.
Theology of Private Revelation
Theologically, private revelation is associated with the gift of prophecy (cf. 1 Cor 12:10; Rom 12:6; Eph 4:11), whereby God grants the bearer a special revelation in order to encourage the faithful to seek a more dedicated adherence to the Gospel. The reality of authentic private revelation as a result of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit is scripturally verified in the prophecy of Joel: “And it shall come to pass after this, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy; your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions” (Joel 2:31). Accounts of prophecy are recorded in Scripture itself, for example the four daughters of Philip whom Scripture says prophesied, and Agabus, a prophet from Judea, who prophesied of St. Paul’s impending arrest in Jerusalem (cf. Acts 21:9-10).
Throughout Church history, numerous private revelations have been reported and approved as authentic by the Church. For example, private revelations were reported in Saragossa, Spain to St. James the Apostle in (40 A.D.) (2); in the early Christian text, the Didache (approximately 60-120 A.D.) (3); Pastor Hermas’ The Shepherd (second century) (4), to St. Gertrude (d.1301) (5), St. Bridget of Sweden (d.1373) (6), St. Margaret Mary Alacoque (d.1690) (7), not to mention Guadalupe and the number of the approved Marian apparitions of the nineteenth, twentieth and twenty-first centuries.
St. Thomas Aquinas rightly taught that the revelation of new doctrine ended with the death of John the Apostle, but that private revelation will always be present in the Church in the Holy Spirit’s guidance of human acts toward God:
At all times there have not been lacking persons having the spirit of prophecy, not indeed for the declaration of any new doctrine of faith, but for the direction of human acts (8).
These special revelations granted by God are referred to as “private,” not because they were necessarily to be limited to the knowledge of a few individuals, since their general purpose is for the upbuilding of the Church, which is sometimes local and sometimes universal, but to distinguish them from the public or official deposit of faith entrusted to and safeguarded by the Church. Among private revelations, theologians usually distinguish between three general kinds of visions: 1) “corporeal visions,” or visions with a bodily appearance which are perceived by the external senses and are usually referred to as “apparitions“; 2) imaginative visions which are perceived by the internal sense of the imagination, either during waking hours or during sleep; and 3) intellectual visions which are directly perceived by the mind. Some visions can exhibit several of these characteristics at the same time. Locutions are words spoken by a supernatural source that can be received corporally, intellectually, or by the imagination. Both visions and locutions can come from a divine Person of the Trinity, the Blessed Virgin Mary, angels, saints, or even from souls in Purgatory (9).
Response of the Church to Private Revelation
How does the Church respond to the domain of private revelation? The Church obviously acknowledges the existence of authentic private revelation by her history, but at the same time exercises a proper balance in its regard. Technically, the Church does not need private revelation in light of the Gospel, but she has always remained open to its possibility for the great fruits of encouraging the faithful to live the Gospel to its fullness.
The Church, in her wisdom, avoids the presumption of being closed to any additional graces which Christ wishes to bestow on the Church in any given historical period. At the same time, the Church does not want to risk the loss of confidence in her office as guardian of public revelation through any premature or hasty approval of a particular private revelation that may not be of supernatural origin. Consequently, the Church is, to use the expression, “open, but cautious” to the realm of private revelation.
Criteria for Evaluation of Reported Apparitions
What norms or criteria does the Church use in evaluating a reported private revelation? The general criteria used by the Church can be summarized in three categories: 1) message content; 2) ecstasy and other concurring phenomena; 3) spiritual fruits (10).
Any message content reportedly revealed in a private revelation must be examined in light of the public revelation contained in Scripture and Tradition as safeguarded by the Church. If any reported message conveys a substantial doctrinal or moral error against Church teaching, the reported revelations are deemed to be false. The Holy Spirit, the same divine source of inspiration for public revelation and authentic private revelation alike, cannot contradict himself. Since private revelation is at the service of public revelation, then the “guidance of conduct” given by private revelation must correspond to the “revealed doctrine” of public revelation.
It is also noteworthy that even in the case of an authentic private revelation, it often happens that some minor error in the receiving or the transmitting of the revelation may occur because of the ever-present human nature of the visionary. Several authentic private revelations that have received official Church approval have also had some secondary elements of human error, even when the visionary has been a canonized saint (11).
Secondly, the nature of the ecstasy experienced by the “visionary,” or recipient of the reported revelation, is another principal factor in the process of Church investigation. Oftentimes, the visionary or recipient of a major private revelation experiences a state of ecstasy whereby the person is at least partially removed from an ordinary time and space experience during the supernatural revelation and brought into the temporal-spatial experience of the giver of the revelation, whether it be Jesus or Mary, a saint, etc. The visionary is brought into an ecstatic state where his or her external senses are suspended in part, and that at least partially transcends his normal sense experience.
A medieval means of testing the authenticity of a reported visionary during ecstasy was injecting a large needle into the arm of the alleged visionary to test the legitimacy of his or her ecstatic state. The much improved modern means of medical-scientific testing during a reported ecstasy (which includes EKG, EEC, and other technological data) has been a great help to the Church in empirically evaluating a legitimate state of ecstasy (12).
Other phenomena related to private revelation and worthy of examination include reported physical signs, such as solar miracles (as exemplified at Fatima), or miraculous springs (as at Lourdes), which cannot be explained by natural means, but only by the direct intervention of God.
Thirdly, the spiritual fruits constitute a major criterion for determining the authenticity of a private revelation. This cornerstone criterion is based on the teachings of Christ that, “the tree is known by its fruit” (Mt 12:33). One of the best indications for the authenticity of a reported private revelation is when the resulting devotion manifests true and ongoing Christian conversion, such as a return to the prayer and sacramental life of the Church, for example, Sacramental Confession, the Mass, the Rosary, a life of Christian charity, etc.
Although it is possible for some spiritual fruits to result temporarily from a false private revelation because of its partial conveyance of the truths of Christianity, nonetheless, a revelation of either human or satanic origin cannot manifest substantial and ongoing spiritual fruits comparable to the qualitative and quantitative spiritual benefits of a true revelation which has God as its ultimate source. The work of God in comparison to the work of man, or even of the devil, can never have identical spiritual fruits.
If, after proper examination, which is typically initiated at the local diocesan level under the guidance of the bishop, the Church is satisfied with the indications of authenticity and has excluded probabilities of error or fraud, she can grant her official approval. Typically the examination of the reported private revelation takes place within the diocese where the revelation is reported. The bishop, if he discerns the reported revelation worthy of an official investigation, will contact the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith for the official guidelines of evaluation used by the Church for investigating a reported revelation. He will then establish a commission of investigation, which is usually made up of experts from the fields of theology, psychology, and medicine. Although the commission will arrive at a conclusion, the final judgment for authenticity at the diocesan level rests with the local bishop.
Degrees of Church Approval
The bishop, after receiving consultation from the commission of investigation, can come to one of three potential conclusions: 1) constat de supernaturalitate, which means that this apparition consists of a supernatural origin; 2) non constat de supernaturalitate, which neither approves nor prohibits the reported apparition, but typically allows for further investigation; and 3) constat de non supernaturalitate, which concludes that the reported revelations are not of supernatural origin, and thereby prohibits any public devotion or distribution of the alleged message.
Normally, official Church approval means that there is nothing against faith and morals in the revelation and concurring phenomena, and that the faithful are free to accept the private revelation without concern for doctrinal or moral error. This doctrinal clearance allows the faithful full freedom regarding the acceptance of the revelation.
Official Church approval does not technically oblige the faithful to accept a Marian revelation, as authentic private revelation is traditionally categorized as receiving an assent of “human faith,” rather than the “divine faith” appropriate for public revelation.
As Pope Benedict XIV stated:
Even though many of these revelations have been approved, we cannot and ought not give them the assent of divine faith, but only that of human faith, according to the dictates of prudence whenever these dictates enable us to decide that they are probable and worthy of pious credence (13).
On the other hand, the fact that the Church has given her approval after careful and oftentimes scrutinous examination offers strong moral evidence for the appropriateness of human acceptance of a particular revelation. This is specifically the case regarding private revelations that the Church has “made her own” through papal statements, canonizations or beatifications of the visionary, pilgrimages, and even liturgical feast days, such as with the revelations of the Sacred Heart of Jesus to St. Margaret Alacoque, the Marian apparitions of Lourdes and Fatima, and the feast of Divine Mercy which originated from the revelations received by St. Faustina Kowalska.
Moreover, it would be reprehensible if any Catholic, after the Church had granted her official approval of a private revelation, were to contradict or ridicule a Church-approved private revelation or its corresponding devotion. Although the general faithful are called to give an assent of human faith to a true Marian apparition, it is also theologically held that the visionary and any others intimately connected with, or affected by, the revelation may and should accept the revelation with full assent to its divine origin (14).
Marian Message to the Modern World
The present era of the Church rightfully deserves the designation, Age of Mary, with its historically unparalleled events of Church approved Marian apparitions. This extraordinary number of Marian visits should evoke from the faithful a gratitude to God for this time of extraordinary graces. At the same time, it should also evoke a serious realism, a balanced reading of the signs of the times, about the needy state of the world that would necessitate such an exceptional number of heavenly visits from humanity’s Spiritual Mother.
What constitutes the overall Marian message to the modern world? Let us summarize the heart of the Marian message to the modern world by briefly examining the revealed messages from a few of the most universal Marian apparitions that have occurred in the last two centuries. We will see that Our Lady’s messages constitute one unified message of prayer, penance, conversion, and reparation which, over time, is gradually revealed with an ever greater specificity and concretization, in a beauty of diversity of cultures and geographies.
Miraculous Medal Revelation
The historical beginning of the modern Marian Era can be associated with the Marian apparitions of Our Lady of Grace, commonly known as the apparitions of the “Miraculous Medal” in 1830. A series of Marian visions was granted to St. Catherine Labouré, a religious sister of the Daughters of Charity, at their Paris motherhouse. On November 27, 1830, the Blessed Virgin appeared standing upon a globe and crushing a serpent beneath her feet. Rays of light, symbolizing graces from the Mediatrix, streamed from her outstretched hands. Around the image of Mary the following prayer was written: “O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee.”
The vision was then turned around, revealing a cross linked to an “M” by a horizontal bar through the top of the “M.” Beneath the letter “M” were the Hearts of Jesus and Mary, the Sacred Heart crowned with thorns and the Immaculate Heart pierced with a sword. The entire image was also encircled with twelve stars. Contained within these two visions are symbolic representations of Our Lady’s dogmas and doctrines, inclusive of her roles as a) Co-redemptrix (Mary crushes the serpent’s head (cf. Gen 3:15), the “M” attached to the cross, and her Heart pierced with a sword (cf. Lk 2:35)); b) Mediatrix of all graces (rays flowing from her outstretched arms); c) Advocate (the prayer, pray for us who have recourse to thee); d) Queen (a circle of twelve stars (cf. Rev 12:1)); and e) her Immaculate Conception (the prayer, O Mary, conceived without sin).
During the vision, Mary instructed St. Catherine with the following words: “Have a medal struck after this model. All who wear it will receive great graces. They should wear it around the neck” (15).
The Archbishop of Paris granted permission for the first medals, originally designated as the “Medal of the Immaculate Conception” (16), to be struck in 1832. So many spiritual and physical benefits were received upon the promulgation of the medal that the faithful spontaneously referred to the medal as “miraculous,” and hence its present name. A Church investigation in 1836 approved its supernatural authenticity, and specific papal approval of its devotion was granted in 1842. Since the time of its origin, the devout wearing of the Miraculous Medal has spread throughout the Catholic world. Wearers of the medal have received additional blessings and indulgences granted by several popes, including Bl. Pius IX, Leo XIII, St. Pius X, Pius XI, Pius XII, Bl. John XXIII, and Paul VI (17).
The Miraculous Medal apparitions also served as encouragement to Bl. Pope Pius IX from the domain of private revelation for the eventual dogmatic definition of the Immaculate Conception in 1854, as the Medal of the Immaculate Conception underscored Heaven’s appreciation of the doctrine, at this timely historical moment of the doctrine’s development, with the words, “O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee” (18).
The Miraculous Medal devotion continues to flourish today, with an endless list of spiritual benefits for those who wear the medal faithfully as a concrete sign of their devotion and love for the Immaculate Mother of God, Co-redemptrix, Mediatrix, Advocate, and Queen.
The Message of Lourdes
In 1858, the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to the fourteen-year-old peasant girl, Bernadette Soubirous, in the small mountain town of Lourdes, France. Between February 11 and July 16, 1858 Bernadette received eighteen apparitions of the Blessed Virgin. The fundamental message of the “Immaculate Conception” in this early stage of the Marian Era is one of prayer and penance in reparation to God, and for the conversion of sinners.
In the sixth apparition (February 21, 1858), the Lady dressed in white with a blue sash said to Bernadette: “Pray for the sinners.” During the eighth apparition (February 24, 1858), Mary communicated to Bernadette: “You must pray to God for sinners.” Bernadette further reported the words of the Lady: “Penitence, Penitence, Penitence” (19).
Throughout the apparitions at Lourdes, there is the call to pray the Rosary, through the example of the Lady herself. During all the apparitions, Mary was praying the Rosary silently, moving the beads through her fingers. Bernadette also felt the strong interior impulse to pray the Rosary. At the beginning and end of each apparition, the Rosary was prayed by Bernadette and the surrounding townspeople.
In the ninth apparition (February 25, 1858), the Lady directed Bernadette to uncover what was to become the physical sign of a miraculous spring. Here is Bernadette’s account of the event:
While I was in prayer, the Lady said to me in a friendly, but serious voice, “Go, drink and wash in the spring.” As I did not know where this spring was, and as I did not think the matter important, I went towards the river. The Lady called me back and signed to me with her finger to go under the grotto to the left; I obeyed but I did not see any water. Not knowing where to get it from, I scratched the earth and the water came. I let it get a little clear of the mud, then I drank and washed (20).
This spring at Lourdes has resulted in 67 documented miracles of healing, which have endured a scrutinizing medical examination which rules out anything but the direct supernatural intervention of God as cause for the healing (21), and constitutes a Marian precedent for the typical presence of physical signs at authentic apparition sites. These physical signs are means of encouragement for humanity to believe and to live the message of Lourdes, which is a Gospel call for conversion and reparation to God for the sins of the modern era.
During the eleventh apparition (February 28, 1858), the Lady requested the construction of a chapel at the apparition site: “Go and tell the priests that a chapel must be built here” (22).
And at the sixteenth apparition (March 25, 1858), we have the profound self-revelation of Mary as the “Immaculate Conception,” which served to confirm and promulgate the newly proclaimed dogma amidst the faithful, reinforcing the infallible statement of Bl. Pope Pius IX some four years earlier. Bernadette tells us:
“When I was on my knees before the Lady,” she continued, “I asked her pardon for arriving late. Always good and gracious, she made a sign to me with her head that I need not excuse myself. Then I spoke to her of all my affection, all my respect and the happiness I had in seeing her again. After having poured out my heart to her I took up my Rosary. While I was praying, the thought of asking her name came before my mind with such persistence that I could think of nothing else. I feared to be presumptuous in repeating a question she had always refused to answer. And yet something compelled me to speak. At last, under an irresistible impulse, the words fell from my mouth, and I begged the Lady to tell me who she was. The Lady did as she had always done before; she bowed her head and smiled but she did not reply. I cannot say why, but I felt myself bolder and asked her again to graciously tell me her name; however she only bowed and smiled as before, still remaining silent. Then once more, for a third time, clasping my hands and confessing myself unworthy of the favor I was asking of her, I again made my request…. The Lady was standing above the rosebush, in a position very similar to that shown in the miraculous medal. At the third request her face became very serious and she seemed to bow down in an attitude of humility. Then she joined her hands and raised them to her breast…. She looked up to Heaven…then slowly opening her hands and leaning forward towards me, she said to me in a voice vibrating with emotion: ‘I am the Immaculate Conception!’” (23)
We see in this March 25 apparition not only the highlighting of the newly proclaimed dogma of the Immaculate Conception, but also a sublime revelation about the depths of Our Lady’s fullness of grace and sinless state. As St. Maximilian Kolbe would later comment, it is a statement about the Mother of God’s very being, that by her very essence she was Immaculate. She was created by the Heavenly Father as possessing a plenitude of grace and without the slightest stain of sin (24).
The heart of the message of Lourdes consists then in a general Marian call to penance and prayer, particularly the Rosary, for the conversion of sinners and in reparation to God through the intercession of the Immaculate Conception.
The Message of Fatima
The six monumental Marian apparitions at Fatima in 1917, continue the basic Marian message to the modern world, but with greater specificity and concretization. Along with the general call to prayer and penance, “Our Lady of the Rosary,” summoned the specific calls for: the daily praying of the Rosary; the offering of all daily sacrifices to God in reparation for sin and for the conversion of sinners; greater Eucharistic Adoration and reparation; devotion and consecration to her Immaculate Heart; and the five First Saturdays of Reparation. Historically, the Fatima apparitions concurred with the climax of World War I.
The apparitions at Fatima to the three young visionaries, Lucia (age 10), Jacinta (age 7) and Francisco (age 8), were prefaced by three 1916-1917 angelic apparitions. The Guardian Angel of Portugal instructed the children to pray the following prayers of Eucharistic Reparation (as taken from the memoirs of the visionary, Sr. Lucia):
My God, I believe, I adore, I hope, and I love you! I beg pardon of you for those who do not believe, do not adore, do not hope, and do not love you.
Most Holy Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, I adore you profoundly and offer you the most precious Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ present in all the tabernacles of the world, in reparation for the outrages, sacrileges and indifferences with which he is offended. And through the infinite merits of his most Sacred Heart and the Immaculate Heart of Mary, I beg of you the conversion of poor sinners (25).
The historic Fatima apparition of July 13, 1917, can arguably be designated as the single most important revelation of the entire Marian Age. This message establishes: the quintessential importance of devotion to the Immaculate Heart; a vision of Hell; the conditional chastisement that would fall upon humanity during the twentieth century; the request for the consecration of Russia to the Immaculate Heart, and the promise of eventual victory with the “Triumph” of her Immaculate Heart:
A few moments after arriving at the Cova da Iria, near the holmoak, where a large number of people were praying the Rosary, we saw the flash of light once more, and a moment later Our Lady appeared on the holmoak.
“What do you want of me?” I (Lucia) asked.
“I want you to come here on the 13th of next month, to continue to pray the Rosary every day in honour of Our Lady of the Rosary, in order to obtain peace for the world and the end of the war, because only she can help you….”
“Sacrifice yourselves for sinners, and say many times, especially whenever you make some sacrifice: O Jesus, it is for love of You, for the conversion of sinners, and in reparation for the sins committed against the Immaculate Heart of Mary.”
As Our Lady spoke these last words, she opened her hands once more, as she had done during the two previous months. The rays of light seemed to penetrate the earth, and we saw, as it were, a sea of fire. Plunged in this fire were demons and souls in human form, like transparent burning embers, all blackened or burnished bronze, floating about in the conflagration, now raised into the air by the flames that issued from within themselves together with great clouds of smoke, now falling back on every side like sparks in huge fires, without weight or equilibrium, amid shrieks and groans of pain and despair, which horrified us and made us tremble with fear. (It must have been this sight which caused me to cry out, as people say they heard me.) The demons could be distinguished by their terrifying and repellent likeness to frightful and unknown animals, black and transparent like burning coals. Terrified and as if to plead for succor, we looked up at Our Lady, who said to us, so kindly and sadly:
“You have seen hell where the souls of poor sinners go. To save them, God wishes to establish in the world devotion to my Immaculate Heart. If what I say to you is done, many souls will be saved and there will be peace. The war is going to end; but if people do not cease offending God, a worse one will break out during the pontificate of Pius XI. When you see a night illuminated by an unknown light, know that this is the great sign given you by God that he is about to punish the world for its crimes, by means of war, famine, and persecutions of the Church and the Holy Father.”
“To prevent this, I shall come to ask for the consecration of Russia to my Immaculate Heart, and the Communion of Reparation on the First Saturdays. If my requests are heeded, Russia will be converted, and there will be peace; if not, she will spread her errors throughout the world, causing wars and persecutions of the Church. The good will be martyred, the Holy Father will have much to suffer, various nations will be annihilated. In the end, my Immaculate Heart will triumph. The Holy Father will consecrate Russia to me, and she will be converted, and a period of peace will be granted to the world….”
“When you pray the Rosary, say after each mystery: O my Jesus, forgive us, save us from the fire of hell. Lead all souls to Heaven, especially those who are most in need” (26).
This third Fatima message introduced the title “Our Lady of the Rosary” and re-emphasized the crucial need to pray the Rosary daily for world peace and for the end of World War I—a goal that God ordained to be realized only through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary (because only she can help you).
The three children received a vision confirming the reality of Hell and a conditional prophecy of a Second World War, persecutions of the Church, the annihilation of nations and suffering by the pope, if the world did not convert and continued its ubiquitous offenses against God, and specific reference is made to the Russia-based errors of Communism.
Yet Our Lady of the Rosary also revealed a message of hope. Through the consecration of Russia to her Immaculate Heart and the later revealed First Saturdays of Reparation, Mary’s Immaculate Heart will eventually triumph and a period of peace will be granted to the world. “In the end, my Immaculate Heart will triumph… and a period of peace will be granted to the world.” It is towards the fulfillment of this prophecy that every other authentic Marian apparition of the twentieth and twenty-first century has been directed and in which they find their purpose.
In the 1917 apparition of October 13, Mary identified herself as Our Lady of the Rosary and again called the world to pray the Rosary daily for peace in the world:
“I want to tell you that a chapel is to be built here in my honour. I am the Lady of the Rosary. Continue always to pray the Rosary every day. The war is going to end, and the soldiers will soon return to their homes.”
“I have many things to ask you: the cure of some sick persons, the conversion of sinners and other things….”
“Some yes, but not others. They must amend their lives and ask forgiveness for their sins.”
Looking very sad, Our Lady said:
“Do not offend the Lord our God anymore, because He is already so much offended.”
Then, opening her hands, she made them reflect on the sun, and she ascended, the reflection of her own light continued to be projected on the sun itself….
After Our Lady had disappeared into the immense distance of the firmament, we beheld St. Joseph with the Child Jesus and Our Lady robed in white with a blue mantle, beside the sun. St. Joseph and the Child Jesus appeared to bless the world, for they traced the Sign of the Cross with their hands. When, a little later, this apparition disappeared, I saw Our Lord and Our Lady; it seemed to me that it was Our Lady of Dolors. Our Lord appeared to bless the world in the same manner as St. Joseph had done. This apparition also vanished, and I saw Our Lady once more, this time resembling Our Lady of Carmel (27).
At the end of this sixth apparition, the 70,000 onlookers witnessed the extraordinary physical sign which became known as the “solar miracle.” The sun appeared to dance in the sky, giving off various colors and then approached the earth with great intensity, only to return later to its position in the sky. The solar miracle was reported in the major secular, anti-Catholic newspapers of Portugal, with the headlines reading, “The Miracle of Fatima” or “How the Sun Danced at Noon over Fatima” (28).
The seventh apparition to the professed Sr. Lucia of the Immaculate Heart took place in her Spanish convent on December 10, 1925. It is here that the important revelation of the five First Saturday devotions occurs. This is the account from Sr. Lucia’s diary:
On December 10, 1925, the most Holy Virgin appeared to her, and by her side, elevated by a luminous cloud, was a child. The most holy Virgin rested her hand on her shoulder, and as she did so, she showed her a heart encircled by thorns, which she was holding in her hand. At the same time, the Child said:
“Have compassion on the Heart of your most holy Mother, covered with thorns, with which ungrateful men pierce it at every moment, and there is no one to make an act of reparation to remove them.”
Then the most holy Virgin said:
“Look, my daughter, at my Heart, surrounded with thorns with which ungrateful men pierce me at every moment by their blasphemies and ingratitude. You at least try to console me, and say that I promise to assist at the hour of death, with the graces necessary for salvation, all those who, on the first Saturday of five consecutive months, shall confess, receive Holy Communion, recite five decades of the Rosary, and keep me company for fifteen minutes while meditating on the fifteen mysteries of the Rosary, with the intention of making reparation to me” (29).
We see here (with a theology similar to the Scapular devotion), the invitation of the Mother of Jesus to intercede for the “gifts of eternal salvation” (cf. Lumen Gentium, No. 62), which necessitates the freely-willed cooperation of the individual. The great gift of the five First Saturdays devotion directs the faithful to the heart of the prayer and sacramental life of the Church, with Sacramental Confession, Eucharistic reception, and the praying and meditating on the Gospel mysteries of the Rosary, all with the overall intention of offering reparation to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. This motherly heart is mystically wounded “at every moment” by the ongoing rejections and blasphemies from so much of humanity who reject her love and her role as their Spiritual Mother. Our Lady herself refers to her Heart, “surrounded by thorns with which ungrateful men pierce me at every moment by their blasphemies and ingratitude” (30).
All of her earthly children are therefore invited to “console” her Immaculate Heart through the five First Saturdays devotion with its extraordinary promise of “the graces necessary for salvation,” a devotion which for many of Our Lady’s children becomes a perpetual practice of reparation and love.
On May 13, 2000, Pope John Paul II beatified the child visionaries, Francisco and Jacinta, at the Fatima Shrine, and announced the release of the “third part” of the July 13, 1917, message, known as the third secret of Fatima, which was publicly released on June 28, 2000:
After the two parts which I have already explained, at the left of Our Lady and a little above, we saw an Angel with a flaming sword in his left hand; flashing, it gave out flames that looked as though they would set the world on fire; but they died out in contact with the splendor that Our Lady radiated towards him from her right hand: pointing to the earth with his right hand, the Angel cried out in a loud voice: “Penance, Penance, Penance!” And we saw in an immense light that is God, “something similar to how people appear in a mirror when they pass in front of it,” a Bishop dressed in White, “we had the impression that it was the Holy Father” and other Bishops, Priests, men and women Religious going up a steep mountain, at the top of which there was a big Cross of rough-hewn trunks as of a cork-tree with the bark; before reaching there the Holy Father passed through a big city half in ruins and half trembling with halting step, afflicted with pain and sorrow, he prayed for the souls of the corpses he met on his way; having reached the top of the mountain, on his knees at the foot of the big Cross he was killed by a group of soldiers who fired bullets and arrows at him, and in the same way there died one after another the other Bishops, Priests, men and women Religious, and various lay people of different ranks and positions. Beneath the two arms of the Cross there were two Angels each with a crystal aspersorium in his hand, in which they gathered up the blood of the Martyrs and with it sprinkled the souls that were making their way to God (31).
Although various interpretations have been offered regarding the third secret, the comments of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (at that time Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith), provides fruitful insight as to its ingoing relevance:
The angel with the flaming sword on the left of the Mother of God recalls similar images in the Book of Revelation. This represents the threat of judgment which looms over the world. Today the prospect that the world might be reduced to ashes by a sea of fire no longer seems pure fantasy: man himself, with his inventions, has forged the flaming sword. The vision then shows the power which stands opposed to the force of destruction—the splendor of the Mother of God and, stemming from this in a certain way, the summons to penance. In this way, the importance of human freedom is underlined: the future is not in fact unchangeably set, and the image which the children saw is in no way a film preview of a future in which nothing can be changed.
Indeed, the whole point of the vision is to bring freedom onto the scene and to steer freedom in a positive direction. The purpose of the vision is not to show a film of an irrevocably fixed future. Its meaning is exactly the opposite: it is meant to mobilize the forces of change in the right direction (32).
Contemporary Reported Apparitions
Since the time of the Second Vatican Council, an unprecedented number of Marian apparitions have been reported throughout the world. Marian apparitions have been reported from such international locations as Cuapa, Nicaragua; Akita, Japan; Medjugorje, Bosnia-Herzegovina; Kibeho, Africa; Naju, Korea; Betania, Venezuela; Hrushiv, Ukraine; Amsterdam, Netherlands; and several other places. A good number of these apparitions have received official approval, while others still remain under Church investigation.
How should the faithful respond to a reported apparition before the Church has granted her official approval? By the Church’s own teaching and practice, it is clear that the faithful are free to believe in a reported apparition if nothing in the message or concurring phenomena are contrary to faith and morals as taught by the Church. Oftentimes, it is precisely the response of the faithful to a reported apparition site that invites the Church authorities to enter into a process of official evaluation and examination—a process which is of imperative importance to the faithful and to all involved.
For example, when the 70,000 onlookers at Fatima saw the solar miracle and began, along with the three visionaries, to live the message of Fatima in 1917 before official Church approval was given in 1930, they were in no sense violating proper Catholic response to private revelation or Church authority. It is a historical fact that the Basilica at Fatima was well under construction and the hospital completed by the time the 1930 official approval by the Church was pronounced. Moreover, John Paul II beatified Jacinta and Francisco for their heroic response to the Fatima message, although both died years before the Church granted the Fatima apparition her official approval.
Nonetheless, before an announcement is made regarding any reported Marian revelation, the Catholic faithful must retain an attitude of obedience to the Church—any individual determination concerning a reported Marian apparition must include a clear willingness to accept the final and definitive judgment of the Church.
The Reported Message of Medjugorje
Of the various contemporary reported Marian apparitions, none has received more international response from the faithful throughout the world than those coming from a small Bosnian mountain town known as “Medjugorje,” which means, “between the hills” (33).
In June, 1981, six Croatian youths reported apparitions of the Blessed Virgin under the title, “Queen of Peace.” An estimated twenty million people have since pilgrimaged to Medjugorje, inclusive of significant numbers of bishops, priests and religious from the five continents.
What is the present Church status of the Medjugorje apparitions? On April 10, 1991, the Bishops’ Conference of the former Yugoslavia issued a declaration entitled, “Declaration of the Ex-Yugoslavia Bishops’ Conference on Medjugorje.” While the declaration is inconclusive, stating that at this point in the investigation “it cannot be affirmed that one is dealing with supernatural apparitions and revelations,” it then goes on to state that “the faithful journeying to Medjugorje, prompted both by motives of belief and other motives, require attention and pastoral care” by the Bishop of Mostar and his brother bishops while the investigation continues.
This declaration makes clear that the Medjugorje apparitions are at present neither formally approved (constat de supernaturalitate) nor formally condemned (constat de non supernaturalitate), but represent the middle category of Church evaluation referred to as non constat de supernaturalitate, which allows for both continued personal belief in the apparitions and personal (non-diocesan sponsored) pilgrimages to Medjugorje while the investigation is ongoing.
The legitimacy of personal belief in the Medjugorje apparitions and personal pilgrimages to the apparition site at the present time has been confirmed by the Holy See in a 1998 statement by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which verified the 1991 former Yugoslav bishops’ Zadar statement as the present position of the Holy See; specifies the unofficial opposition of the local bishop which runs counter to the 1991 Zadar position as simply his own personal position; and confirms the legitimacy of private pilgrimages to the Medjugorje site (34).
The basic message from the “Queen of Peace” can be summarized under five main themes: Faith, Prayer, Fasting, Conversion, and Peace.
The Medjugorje call of faith is a Marian call for a more committed faith in the one God and in Jesus Christ as the one Mediator to the Father. The call to prayer constitutes a greater generosity in terms of both quality and quantity of prayer, summarized in the often used request for “prayer of the heart.” Apart from the invitation to daily Mass and Eucharistic Adoration, the Blessed Virgin has asked for the daily praying of the fifteen decade Rosary, the frequent reading of Scripture and a personal consecration to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Several of the monthly messages (given on the 25th of each month) echo the simple but persevering refrain: “Pray! Pray! Pray!”
The Medjugorje call for fasting began with a call to fast on Fridays, and in August 1984, the Blessed Virgin requested that Wednesdays also be added as a day of strict fasting. This Wednesday and Friday fasting practice reflects the same practice present in the first centuries of the Church, as recorded in the Didache (c. 60-120 A.D.): “Do not fast like the hypocrites on Monday and Thursday; you (Christians) are to fast on Wednesday and Friday” (35). Rather than requesting a new fasting practice, it appears that the Blessed Virgin seeks to return the faithful to the more committed fasting practice of the early Church.
The conversion theme is a call of greater conversion to Jesus Christ, specifically through the reception of the Sacrament of Reconciliation at least on a monthly basis. The theme of peace calls for the spiritual peace of Christ in the heart of each believer as the fruit of greater prayer, greater faith, greater fasting, and greater conversion. This interior spiritual peace of Christ in the heart should then blossom to family peace, then social peace, with the eventual goal of world peace. However, a global peace is possible only if it is founded upon the spiritual and interior peace of Jesus Christ in the hearts of humanity (36).
The Lady of All Nations Apparitions
A recent series of apparitions that have received the positive constat de supernaturalitate declaration from its local bishop are the apparitions of the “Lady of All Nations” in Amsterdam, Holland. Between 1945 and 1959 the visionary, Ida Peerdeman, received numerous apparitions and messages from the Mother of Jesus which called for a new unity between nations, warned of upcoming dangers of moral “degeneration, disaster, and war,” and prophesied such events as the Second Vatican Council, conflicts in the Holy Land and the Balkans, and forms of terrorism and chemical warfare (37).
Our Lady revealed to the visionary the following prayer to be prayed by all people for a new descent of the Holy Spirit upon all nations (in a way similar to the prayer of Bl.
Pope John XXIII for a “new Pentecost” at the beginning of the Second Vatican Council):
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Father,
send now Your Spirit over the earth.
Let the Holy Spirit live
in the hearts of all nations,
that they may be preserved
from degeneration, disaster, and war.
May the Lady of All Nations,
the Blessed Virgin Mary,
be our Advocate.
This prayer was also given to prepare the Church and the world for the proclamation of a new Marian dogma, the “dogma of the Co-redemptrix, Mediatrix, and Advocate” (38). This would constitute the dogmatic definition of the existing Church doctrine of Mary as the Co-redemptrix, Mediatrix of all graces and Advocate by the Roman Pontiff. Concerning this Marian dogma, the Lady of All Nations revealed that, “I know the struggle will be bitter, but the outcome is already assured” (39), and that the proclamation of this fifth Marian dogma would bring peace to the world in an echo of the Fatima promise for peace:
Once the dogma, the final dogma in Marian history, has been proclaimed, the Lady of All Nations will grant peace, true peace to the world (40).
On May 31, 2002, Bishop Joseph Punt of Amsterdam issued the following official
declaration which concludes to the supernatural origin of the fundamental Amsterdam apparitions and message:
I have come to the conclusion that the apparitions of the Lady of All Nations in Amsterdam consist of a supernatural origin (41).
In sum, we can say that the many appearances of the Mother of Jesus to humanity in this Age of Mary have been nothing short of an inestimable gift to the Church and has most likely led to the salvation and sanctification of many.
We conclude with the words of the theologian, Fr. Garrigou-LaGrange, who, as far back as the 1930’s, spoke strongly of the need for responding to the contemporary Marian message to the modern world:
Exterior peace will not be obtained for the world except by the interior peace of souls, bringing them back to God and working to establish the reign of Christ in the depths of their intellects, of their hearts, and of their wills. For this return of straying souls to Him Who alone can save them, it is necessary to have recourse to the intercession of Mary, Universal Mediatrix and Mother of all men. It is said of sinners who seem forever lost that they must be confided to Mary: it is the same for Christian peoples who stray. All the influence of the Blessed Virgin has as its end to lead them to her Son….
That is why on all sides many interior souls, before the unprecedented disorders and tragic sufferings of the hour, feel the need for recourse to the redeeming love of Christ through the intercession of Mary Mediatrix (42).
This article was excerpted from Introduction to Mary: The Heart of Marian Doctrine and Devotion, Queenship, Third Edition, June 2006
(1) Pope John XXIII, closing statement of 1959 Marian year, February 18, 1959, emphasis added.
(2) Cf. Bonano, C.M.F., “Marian Shrines and Apparitions” Mariology, III, p. 334.
(3) Cf. Didache, 15:1.
(4) Hermas, The Shepherd, 11:7.
(5) Cf. Life and Revelations of Saint Gertrude the Great.
(6) Cf. St. Bridget, Revelationes.
(7) Cf. Timothy O’Donnell, Heart of the Redeemer, Ignatius, 1992, p. 125ff.
(8) St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, II-II, Q. 174, art. 6, ad 3.
(9) Cf. St. John of the Cross, The Ascent of Mount Carmel, Bk. II; Jordan Aumann, O.P., Spiritual Theology, London, Sheed and Ward, 1980, p. 425ff; G.M. Roschini, O.S.M., The Virgin Mary in the Writings of Maria Valtorta, Quebec, Kolbe Publications, 1989, p. 10, footnote 9.
(10) For discussion of Church criteria for private revelation, cf. Frederick M. Jelly, O.P., “Discerning the Miraculous: Norms for Judging Apparitions and Private Revelations,” Marian Studies, 44, 1993.
(11) Cf. Aumann, O.P., Spiritual Theology, pp. 429-430.
(12) For example, cf. Laurentin and Henri Joyeux, Scientific and Medical Studies in the Apparitions at Medjugorje, Dublin, Veritas Press, 1987.
(13) Pope Benedict XIV, De servorum Dei beatificatione et beatorum canonizatione, v. 1-7 of Opera Omnia, 17 v. in 20; 2:32; 3:53.
(14) Cf. Aumann, O.P., Spiritual Theology, p. 429.
(15) Cf. Laurentin, The Life of Catherine Labouré, London, 1983; Laurentin, Catherine Labouré et la Médaille Miraculeuse, Paris, 1976; Laurentin, Bernard Billet, O.S.B., Lourdes, Documents authentiques, 7 Vols., Lethielleux, Paris, 1957-1966; J. Dirbin, C.M., St. Catherine Labouré of the Miraculous Medal, Tan, 1958.
(17) Cf. “Miraculous Medal,” New Catholic Encyclopedia, 1978, Vol. 13.
(18) J. Dirbin, C.M., St. Catherine Labouré of the Miraculous Medal, Tan, 1958, p. 178; cf. Laurentin, Catherine Labouré et la Médaille Miraculeuse, Paris, 1976.
(19) This quote and all quotes of Bernadette Soubirous and accounts of Lourdes taken from J.B. Estrade, J.H. Girolestone, tr., The Appearance of the Blessed Virgin Mary at the Grotto of Lourdes, Westminster, Art and Book Co., Ltd., 1912; cf. also Alan Heame, The Happenings at Lourdes.
(21) Cf. 67th Lourdes Miracle Officially Proclaimed, Zenit, November 15, 2005.
(22) Estrade, The Appearance of the Blessed Virgin Mary; cf. also Alan Heame, The Happenings at Lourdes.
(24) Cf. St. Maximilian Kolbe, letter from Nagasaki to the youth of the Franciscan Order, February 28, 1933; Manteau-Bonamy, O.P., Immaculate Conception and the Holy Spirit, p. 7.
(25) Sr. Lucia, Memoirs, Fourth Memoir.
(28) For example the October 15, 1917 edition of the Lisbon newspaper, O Seculo, ran such headlines as: “The Miracle of Fatima” as well as: “Amazing Phenomenon!” and “How the Sun Danced at Noon over Fatima”; cf. Fr. Robert J. Fox, Fr. Antonio Martins, S.J., Documents on Fatima & the Memoirs of Sister Lucia, Fatima Family Apostolate, 2002, pp. 58-59.
(29) Sr. Lucia, Memoirs, Appendix I.
(31) Special insert, The Message of Fatima, from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, L’Osservatore Romano, English edition, June 28, 2000, p. IV.
(32) Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, special insert, The Message of Fatima, “Theological Commentary,” L’Osservatore Romano, English edition, June 28, 2000, p. VIII.
(33) The Medjugorje message outlined here is a summary from Miravalle, Introduction to Medjugorje, Queenship, 2004.
(34) Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, letter from Archbishop Tarcisio Bertone, former Secretary to Cardinal Ratzinger, to Bishop Msgr. Gilbert Aubry, May 26, 1998, Protocol Number 154/81-06419.
(35) Didache 8:1, Glimm, tr., Fathers of the Church, New York: C.I.M.A., 1947, I, p. 177.
(36) For a more basic summary of the Medjugorje message cf. Miravalle, “Medjugorje” entry, New Catholic Encyclopedia, 1989, Vol. 18, p. 304; and Miravalle, Introduction to Medjugorje.
(37) Cf. The Lady of All Nations, messages of October 1, 1949, February 11, 1951, May 19, 1953, October 11, 1953, May 31, 1955, in The Messages of the Lady of All Nations, The Lady of All Nations Foundation, 1999.
(38) Ibid., messages of April 29, 1951, December 31, 1951, May 10, 1953.
(39) Ibid., message of April 29, 1951.
(40) Ibid., message of May 31, 1954.
(41) Joseph Maria Punt, letter In Response to Inquiries Concerning the Lady of All Nations Apparitions, May 31, 2002.
(42) Garrigou-LaGrange, O.P., Mother of the Savior and the Interior Life, p. 272.