One hundred years after the Mother of God appeared in a village in Portugal to Lucia Santos, and Francisco and Jacinta Marto, Catholics and non-Catholics alike continue to be intrigued by the story of Fátima and Our Lady’s message to the three little shepherds.
During this centenary of those apparitions, we consider some perennial questions related to private revelation that pertain not only to Fátima but also to the other Church-approved appearances of Jesus and Mary, as well as how we may respond to what happened at the Cova da Iria a century ago.
What is the difference between public revelation and private revelation?
Public revelation is the Deposit of Faith, which includes sacred Scripture and the Apostolic Tradition. Private revelation, which does not belong to the Deposit of Faith, is a help to the faithful during a particular time in the history of the Church. The Catechism of the Catholic Church declares that private revelation does not “improve or complete Christ’s definitive Revelation.” The authority of the Church has recognized some private revelations as authentic: “Guided by the magisterium of the Church, the sensus fidelium knows how to discern and welcome in these revelations whatever constitutes an authentic call of Christ or his saints to the Church” (No. 67).
For what reasons have Jesus and Mary appeared in various places?
As one would expect, Our Lord and Our Lady have come on occasion to deliver a message. Whether from Christ in Paray-le-Monial, France, to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque, or in Poland to St. Faustina, or from the Virgin in Guadalupe, Mexico, to St. Juan Diego, or in Lourdes, France, to St. Bernadette Soubirous, a heavenly communication is given, often as a directive to cooperate with God as He does something for His sons and daughters, and sometimes even to avoid evil.
Are Catholics obliged to accept the apparitions of Our Lady of Fátima?
Catholics do not need to accept Our Lady’s message at Fátima as public revelation but rather recognize it as a private revelation that is useful in our era. No one is duty-bound to have a particular devotion to Mary under this title. At the same time, it appears difficult not to conclude that the apparitions of Our Lady of Fátima, which is honored by the highest authority in the Church and encourages adherence to the same, have a significant meaning in our time and have resonated in the hearts of countless Catholics for the last century.
What response should be given by Catholics to the apparitions of Our Lady of Fátima?
Given the long-lasting esteem of the Church for Our Lady’s message that she delivered at Fátima, the following seems to be an appropriate reply.
Although many Catholics have given at least a cursory glance to these apparitions of Our Lady, very few know Fátima in detail. Thus there exists a general lack of understanding about what the Blessed Mother proclaimed there and, consequently, what is required of us.
Perhaps the most basic question is: Why should we learn about Mary’s appearances at Fátima? True, the Fátima message adds nothing to, but rather complements, the Deposit of Faith. It is in accord with God’s revelation to us. It offers to us a contemporary lens through which we may consider Our Lord, all that has been disclosed about Him and His benevolent plan for us.
Our Lord, fully aware of the challenges of our era, allowed His mother to grace our earth with her appearances to Lucia, Francisco and Jacinta. Christ gave Mary this singular mission: to go to Fátima to proclaim the holy Gospel in a way that would attract modern ears.
Since God never does anything without reason, He intends that the Fátima message find root deep within us. He has done His part. The time has come for us to do ours.
Gratitude is always to be our response to who God is and what He does for us. That He sent Our Lady to Fátima in order to remind us of what is truly important is only another reason to be thankful to Him.
What most concerns the Mother of God is our everlasting salvation. She wants each of us to be able to enter paradise! Such maternal compassion for her sons and daughters can only move our hearts to joy and gratitude.
The best and most lasting appreciation that we can show Our Lord for the Fátima message is our sincere conversion. Nothing compares to our genuine change of heart.
Much of what Our Lady said at Fátima can be seen as being under the umbrella of “encouragement.” Mary wished for all who heard her to put into practice what she conveyed to the children.
Spiritual authors are agreed that based on Our Lady’s words to the children and her subsequent mandates to Sister Lucia, we and all who seek to follow Christ are to: receive the Church’s sacraments, particularly confession and the holy Eucharist, worthily and often; recite the Rosary daily; wear the brown scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel; pray for sinners, especially — in the words with which we address our Lord Jesus Christ in the Fátima ejaculation — “those in most need of Thy mercy”; make sacrifices in reparation for the sins that offends the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary; perform our “daily duty,” which is our personal vocation and all that that entails.
Great effort and courage are needed to live the Fátima message. We tire, our mood can change quickly, we become distracted, etc. Despite those real challenges, however, we must, with the help of the Holy Spirit, overcome them and reply positively to what Mary desires of us.
There is much we can do in our families and parishes to promote Our Lady and her words at Fátima. We can recite the Rosary at home with our family. We can ask our pastor for permission to pray it in the church before or after Mass; to make brown scapulars that are presented to the pastor so that he can enroll both children and adults in the devotion of the brown scapular; to provide materials that bear an imprimatur about Mary and Fátima at the doors of the church and that may be used in the parish religious education classes; to invite someone who is well-versed in the Fátima message who can address the parishioners, etc.
Private revelation approved by the Church is a boon for us on the way to heaven. Our Lady’s words at Fátima remain informational and inspirational, guiding us to embrace the Gospel of Jesus Christ as never before.
Msgr. Charles M. Mangan is the director of the Marian Apostolate in the Diocese of Sioux Falls, South Dakota, where he serves as the vicar for consecrated life and canonical adviser to the bishop.
First Saturday Devotion
During the apparition of July 13, 1917, Our Lady said to Lucia, “I shall come to ask for the consecration of Russia to my Immaculate Heart, and the Communion of Reparation on the First Saturdays.”
On Dec. 10, 1925, the Infant Jesus and Our Lady appeared to Sister Lucia, then a Dorothean religious, in Pontevedra, Spain. Jesus said: “Have pity on the Heart of your Most Holy Mother. It is covered with thorns with which ungrateful men pierce it at every moment, and there is no one to remove them with an act of reparation.” Mary then spoke: “Do you, at least, strive to console me. Tell them that I promise to assist at the hour of death with the graces necessary for salvation all those who, in order to make reparation to me, on the First Saturday of five successive months, go to confession, receive holy Communion, say five decades of the Rosary, and keep me company for a quarter of an hour, meditating on the 15 mysteries of the Rosary.”
On May 29, 1930, Jesus explained to Sister Lucia that five offenses against Mary’s Immaculate Heart are repaired by the First Saturdays — namely, offense against her Immaculate Conception, Perpetual Virginity, Divine and Spiritual Maternity, sacred images, and the offense of those who implant indifference or hatred against the Immaculate Mother in the hearts of children.
Our Lady appeared in Mexico to an Indian peasant, Juan Diego, and left her image on his tilma (cloak). During the next 10 years, there were 9 million conversions of Aztecs to the Catholic faith. A fresh spiritual vitality — centered on prayer, self-denial, chastity and the reception of the sacraments — now reigned.
On February 11, the Ever-Virgin appeared to Bernadette Soubirous in the cave of Massabielle near Lourdes, France. There would be 17 more apparitions. Our Lady identified herself as the Immaculate Conception and asked that a chapel be built there, which has become renowned as a place of healing for the sick.
There were three appearances to the children in 1916 of the “Angel of Peace,” who emphasized the importance of prayer and sacrifice, the real presence of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament and the reparation to be offered. Mary first apperad on May 13, 1917. There were six apparitions, the last October 13, during which the sun spun in the sky and then hurtled to the earth before it resumed its place. Our Lady highlighted the daily recitation of the Rosary, one’s “daily duty” and the need for reparation.