This call was made for the first time on 13th May, 1917, when the three little children from Aljustrel were pasturing their sheep in the field known as the Cova da Iria.
As was their custom, the three children ate their lunch shortly after noon, and then prayed. Then, to amuse themselves, they began to build a small wall of loose stones around a bush known as a “moita” from which people were accustomed to make sweeping brushes, hence the children’s desire to protect it so that the animals would not gnaw at it. They did this because, when they found such bushes in good condition, they liked to let them grow in order to make brushes from them later on, and these they would bring to their mother when they returned home at night.
When they did this, it was a joy to see their parents’ delight with their gift and with their caresses, so that each one did their best to find whatever would give them the greatest joy and pleasure. Poor, yes! But happy, because happiness comes not from riches nor from what can often be dangerous entertainments but from love. In truth, to love and to deny oneself for the sake of love is what brings happiness, joy, peace and well-being to families.
Well, as I was saying, the children were playing and amusing themselves when they were suddenly surprised to see a flash of light, which they thought must be lightning. It was a fine clear spring day, and the sun was shining, but the children were so small that they did not know how to interpret the look of the sky. Accustomed as they were to seeing flashes of lightning immediately after it had thundered, their only thought was to urge on the flock in order to return home before they got caught in a storm.
When they had gone a few steps down the slope they saw another flash of light, which they took to be a second flash of lightning, and this made them hurry even faster and urge the flock on even more. A few steps further on, about halfway down the slope, they stopped in surprise when they saw a lovely Lady of light on a small holm oak.
They were not afraid, because the supernatural does not arouse fear; causing instead a pleasant surprise of absorbing fascination.
The lovely Lady opened her lips as if about to speak and said to the children: “Do not be afraid. I will do you no harm.”
I think that these words of Our Lady—Do not be afraid—did not refer to any actual fear we might have had of Her, because She knew well we were not frightened of Her. The words must have referred to the fear that had caused us to hurry away from the supposed thunderstorm in which we thought we were going to get caught.
It has also been said that Francisco picked up a few stones to throw at the Apparition. I don’t think this can be true. There must have been some confusion or misunderstanding about the stones that shepherds often throw around the flock when they want to get the sheep to come together and move faster.
Once the silence had been broken, and encouraged by the trust that the lovely Lady inspired in us, I asked: “Where are you from?” “I am from Heaven” she replied. “And what do you want of me?” I asked. She replied: “I have come to ask you to come here on the 13th day of the month for six months in succession, at this same hour. Later on, I will tell you who I am and what I want. Afterwards, I will return here yet a seventh time.”
When I heard this reply, the thought that I was talking to someone who had come from Heaven gave me courage and I asked whether I, too, would have the good fortune to go to Heaven, whereupon the Lady replied: “Yes, you will.” “And Jacinta?” I asked. “She will go too.” She replied. “And Francisco?” I persisted. She replied: “He will go too, but he must say many Rosaries.”
I think that this special injunction to Francisco is for all of us. It is not that saying many Rosaries, as such, is an indispensable condition for going to Heaven, but that we must pray much. Naturally, to say the Rosary every day was the most accessible form of prayer for those children, as it is today for the great majority of people, and there is no doubt that it will be difficult for someone to be saved if they never pray.
We know how weak we are, that we slip back and fall. Without the help of grace, we shall not be able to pick ourselves up or overcome temptations. We can only acquire the strength we need, the strength that comes to us from grace when our soul meets with God in prayer. It was Jesus Christ Himself who told us this and urged it on his Apostles shortly before He gave Himself up to death for us: “Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Mt 26:41). And He gave us an example, preparing Himself by his prayer in Gethsemane for his sacrifice and his death. In addition to this, among other things in the Our Father, He taught us to pray: “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil” (Mt 6:13).
Now to return to the Apparition of Our Lady. I remember that I then asked her about a girl I knew who had died shortly before that; the reply Our Lady gave confirms that there is a Purgatory, and is at the same time yet another proof of the need we have to pray.
Sacred Scripture tells us that St. Peter went up to Jesus one day and asked Him: “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times? Jesus said to him, ‘I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven.'”
Then He went on:
Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. When he began the reckoning, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents; and as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, “Lord, have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.” And out of pity for him the lord of that servant released him and forgave him the debt.
But that same servant, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii; and seizing him by the throat he said, “Pay what you owe.” So his fellow servant fell down and besought him, “Have patience with me, and I will pay you.” He refused and went and put him in prison till he should pay the debt. When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place. Then his lord summoned him and said to him, “You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt, because you besought me; and should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?” And in anger his lord delivered him to the jailers, till he should pay his debt. So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your hearts. (Mt 18:21-35)
This servant who was in danger of condemnation on account of the debt that he had incurred, threw himself at his master’s feet begging for mercy and to be given time to pay his debts: “Have patience with me and I will pay you everything.” Now, in this possibility of being given more time in which to pay what is lacking, we can see an image of Purgatory: a time of waiting to purify ourselves from any minor faults that we have not confessed, and of making any reparation we still owe for our sins because, while we were still living in this world, we had not done enough penance for them.
To begin with, the servant in the parable begged for complete forgiveness for everything, and this he was granted. But he then sinned again by his cruelty to his fellow servant, with the result that he ended up having to do penance and to pay all he owed to his master. This is what will happen to us, as Jesus Christ showed us by the conclusion of his story. The same thing will happen to us if, in addition to the forgiveness for our sins which we ask for and receive in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, we have not also made suitable reparation for them, including always the obligation on us to be merciful to others, as the Lord has been merciful to us.
Jesus taught us to ask for this, too, in the Our Father: “Our Father… forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” (Mt 6:12). Here it is clear that, in order to obtain forgiveness for our sins, we must ask for it from God, and that the extent to which forgiveness will be granted to us will be the same as the extent to which we have forgiven others for any wrongs they may have done to us. “Forgive and you shall be forgiven,” as Jesus explains after teaching us the Lord’s Prayer: “For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father also will forgive you; but if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Mt 6:14-15).
The belief in the possibility of making expiation for sin after death also underlies an event described in the second Book of the Maccabees:
As Esdris and his men had been fighting for a long time and were weary, Judas called upon the Lord to show himself their ally and leader in the battle. In the language of their fathers he raised the battle cry, with hymns; then he charged against Gorgias’ men when they were not expecting it, and put them to flight. Then Judas assembled his army and went to the city of Adullam. As the seventh day was coming on, they purified themselves according to the custom, and they kept the sabbath there. On the next day, as by that time it had become necessary, Judas and his men went to take up the bodies of the fallen and to bring them back to lie with their kinsmen in the sepulchers of their fathers. Then under the tunic of every one of the dead they found sacred tokens of the idols of Jamnia, which the law forbids the Jews to wear. And it became clear to all that this was why these men had fallen. So they all blessed the ways of the Lord, the righteous Judge, who reveals the things that are hidden; and they turned to prayer, beseeching that the sin which had been committed might be wholly blotted out. And the noble Judas exhorted the people to keep themselves free from sin, for they had seen with their own eyes what had happened because of the sin of those who had fallen. He also took up a collection, man by man, to the amount of two thousand drachmas of silver, and sent it to Jerusalem to provide for a sin offering.
In doing this he acted very well and honorably, taking account of the resurrection. For if he were not expecting that those who had fallen would rise again, it would have been superfluous and foolish to pray for the dead. But if he was looking to the splendid reward that is laid up for those who fall asleep in godliness, it was a holy and pious thought. Therefore he made atonement for the dead, that they might be delivered from their sin. (2 Mac 12:36-46)
This passage from Sacred Scripture helps us to understand better this truth of our faith concerning Purgatory as a place of expiation where the souls of those who die in grace are purified of all stain of sin before being admitted to eternal happiness with God.
Hence, Our Lady’s reply to the question I asked her about that girl—Amelia—was as follows: “She will be in purgatory until the end of the world.” This may seem a lot to us, but the mercy of God is always great. By our sins we have gravely offended Him and have deserved Hell! In spite of this, He forgives us and grants us time to pay for them and, by means of reparation and purification, to be saved. Moreover, He accepts the prayers and sacrifices that others offer to Him for the benefit of those who are in this place of expiation.
Our Lady then asked the three children the following question: “Are you willing to offer yourselves to God and bear all the sufferings He wills to send you, as an act of reparation for the sins by which He is offended, and of supplication for the conversion of sinners?” To which I replied in the name of all three: “Yes, we are willing!”
At the time, this reply was given spontaneously and in ignorance, because I had not the remotest idea what it really meant nor what its full implications were. But I never regretted it; on the contrary I renew it every day, asking God for the grace and strength that I need to keep it faithfully until the end.
This question of Our Lady’s reminds me of the one Jesus put to the two sons of Zebedee, when they asked Him to grant them the two first seats in the Kingdom of Heaven: “But Jesus answered, ‘You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am to drink?’ They said to him, ‘We are able'” (Mt 20:22).
In order to attain salvation, we all have to drink of the chalice of self-sacrifice, renouncing our own illicit desires, our evil inclinations, our own exaggerated desire for comfort; while at the same time we must embrace whatever sacrifices life asks of us, whether material and physical, or moral, social and spiritual.
This kind of self-denial comes to everyone, even to those who do not have the happiness of possessing the gift of faith. They, too, are confronted by the need to make sacrifices, because the whole of humanity is marked by the sign of the redeeming cross of Christ, even when they are not aware of it, or do not wish to take advantage of it. We all have to carry that part of the cross of Christ which falls to us in the work of Redemption, because the cross weighs on account of sin, or rather, sin brings with it the weight of the cross.
In fact, it was in order to cleanse us from the stain of sin that Jesus Christ took upon Himself the weight of the Cross. But if this act of Christ is to be of benefit to us, each of us must take up his or her own cross with faith and love and carry it after Christ and in union with Christ; in other words, there is a need for sacrifice, accepted and offered to God with Christ for our own sins and for those of our brothers and sisters. It is in this sense that the Message asks us all, because it is addressed to all: “Are you willing to offer yourselves to God and bear all the sufferings He wills to send you, as an act of reparation for the sins by which He is offended, and of supplication for the conversion of sinners?”
But, for a fragile nature, weakened by sin as ours is, the constant, generous and meritorious bearing of self-sacrifice is not possible without the special help of the grace of God, who upholds and strengthens us. This is why Our Lady replied to the children’s humble little “Yes” with a promise of the help of grace: “Then you are going to have much to suffer, but the grace of God will be your comfort.”
What a beacon of light these words of Our Lady are for us! In fact, we know our own weakness and we know that, of ourselves, we are not capable of producing the fruits of eternal life but only when united to Christ, as He tells us in the Gospel: “He who abides in me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing” (Jn 15:5). This is why our Mother in Heaven promises the consolation of God’s grace: consolation, in the sense of strength to assist our weakness; consolation, in the sense of grace which comes to console us, animate, help and support us. And it is this certainty that generates the confidence which we must have in God.
Putting up with any sacrifices that are asked of us in our day-to-day lives becomes a slow martyrdom which purifies us and raises us up to the level of the supernatural, through the encounter of our soul with God, in the atmosphere of the presence of the Most Holy Trinity within us. We have here an incomparable spiritual richness! Anyone who has understood this lives in Light; in this Light, which is not from the sun nor from the stars, but comes to us from the source from which every other light springs and receives its being. It is a living Light, which both sees and penetrates as it enlightens, and causes us to see what it wishes to show to us. It is the living Light of God.
Hence, when the three little children saw themselves bathed in this Light, without understanding quite what they were saying, they were led to repeat: “O most Holy Trinity, I adore You! My God, my God, I love You in the most Blessed Sacrament!” It was a supernatural impulse that accomplished in them what of themselves they were incapable of doing. It led them to believe in the real presence of God in the Eucharist. It is the gift of faith that God grants to our soul with the Sacrament of Baptism.
And Our Lady ended her Message on that 13th May 1917 with the words: “Pray the Rosary every day, in order to obtain peace for the world, and the end of the war.”
Why should Our Lady have told us to say the Rosary every day rather than telling us to go to Mass every day?
This is a question that I have been asked many times, and it is one which I should like to reply to here. I cannot be absolutely certain of the answer, as Our Lady did not explain, and it never occurred to me to ask. Hence, I say only what I think, and what I have come to understand about it all. In fact, I willingly leave all interpretation of the meaning of the Message to Holy Church, because it pertains to the Church to do so; hence, I humbly and willingly submit myself to whatever It may wish to say or to correct, amend or declare.
As regards the question referred to above, I think that God is Father; and as Father He adapts Himself to the needs and possibilities of his children. Now, if God, through Our Lady, had asked us to go to Mass and receive Holy Communion every day, there would undoubtedly have been a great many people who would have said, quite rightly, that this was not possible. Some, on account of the distance separating them from the nearest church where Mass was celebrated; others on account of the circumstances of their lives, their state in life, their job, the state of their health, etc. On the other hand, to pray the Rosary is something everybody can do, rich and poor, wise and ignorant, great and small.
All people of good will can, and must, say the Rosary every day. Why? In order to put ourselves into contact with God, to thank Him for his benefits and ask Him for the graces we need. It is the prayer which places us in familiar contact with God, like the son that goes to his father to thank him for the gifts he has received, to talk to him about his special concerns, to receive his guidance, his help, his support and his blessing.
Since we all need to pray, God asks of us, as a kind of daily installment, a prayer which is within our reach: the Rosary, which can be recited either in common or in private, either in Church in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament or at home, either with the rest of the family or alone, either when traveling or while walking quietly in the fields. A mother of a family can say the Rosary while she rocks her baby’s cradle or does the housework. Our day has twenty four hours in it. It is not asking a great deal to set aside a quarter of an hour for the spiritual life, for our intimate and familiar converse with God.
On the other hand, I believe that, after the liturgical prayer of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, the praying of the Rosary, in view of the origin and sublime nature of the prayers used in it, and of the mysteries of the Redemption which we recall and on which we meditate during each decade, is the most pleasing prayer that we can offer to God, and one which is most advantageous to our own souls. If such were not the case, Our Lady would not have asked for it so insistently.
When I speak of saying the five or fifteen mysteries of the Rosary, I do not want to give the impression that God requires us to count the number of times that we address our supplications, our praise or our thanksgiving to Him. God certainly does not expect this of us: in Him everything is present! But we need to count, in order to have a clear and vivid idea of what we are doing, and to know positively whether or not we have completed what we had planned to offer to God each day, in order to preserve and enhance our relationship of intimacy with God and, by this means, preserve and enhance in ourselves our faith, hope and charity.
I would add that even those people who are able to assist at Mass every day should not, for this reason, neglect to say their daily Rosary. Obviously, the time they devote to saying the Rosary is not the same as that during which they are assisting at Mass.
For such people, praying the Rosary can be looked upon as a way of preparing themselves to participate better in the Eucharist, or as an act of thanksgiving after it.
I don’t know, but from the little knowledge that I have from my contact with people in general, I see that there are very few truly contemplative souls who preserve and maintain within themselves a relationship of intimate familiarity with God which prepares them for the worthy reception of Christ in the Eucharist. Thus, vocal prayer is necessary for them too, meditated, pondered and reflected upon as much as possible, as the Rosary should be.
There are many fine prayers that can be used as a means of preparing to receive Christ in the Eucharist, and of maintaining our intimate relationship with God. But I do not think that we shall find one more suited to people in general than the praying of the five or fifteen mysteries of the Rosary. For example, the prayer of the Liturgy of the Hours is marvelous, but I do not think it is accessible to all, nor that some of the psalms that one recites will be readily understood by all. It requires a certain degree of instruction and preparation which cannot be expected of all.
Perhaps for all these reasons, and others that we are unaware of, God, who is our Father and understands better than we do the needs of His children, chose to stoop to the simple ordinary level of all of us in asking for the daily recitation of the Rosary, in order to smooth for us the way to Him.
Finally, bearing in mind all that the Magisterium of the Church has said to us over the years about the praying of the Rosary… and what God, through the Message, has asked us for so insistently, we can conclude that the Rosary is the form of vocal prayer which is most suited to people in general, which we must appreciate, and which we must make every effort never to abandon. God and Our Lady know better than anyone else what is most appropriate for us and what we most need. Moreover, it will be a powerful means of helping us to preserve our faith, hope and charity.
Even for those people who do not know how, or who are not able to recollect themselves sufficiently to meditate, the simple act of taking the rosary in their hands in order to pray is already to become mindful of God, and the mention in each decade of a mystery of the life of Christ recalls Him to their minds; this in turn will light in their souls the gentle light of faith which supports the still smoldering wick, preventing it from extinguishing itself altogether.
On the other hand, those who give up saying the Rosary and who do not go to daily Mass, have nothing to sustain them, and so end up by losing themselves in the materialism of earthly life.
Thus the Rosary is the prayer which God, through his Church and Our Lady, has recommended most insistently to us all, as a road to and gateway of salvation: “Pray the Rosary every day.”
This article is an excerpt from Sr. Lucia’s “Calls” from the Message of Fatima, Secretariado dos Pastorinhos, Fatima, distributed by Ravengate Press.
(1) Our Lady, Fatima apparition of 13th May 1917.