Marian Apparitions, the Bible, and the Modern World, by Donal Anthony Foley
Published by Gracewing Publishers - Foreword by Fr Aidan Nichols OP
Imprimatur from Bishop McMahon of Nottingham Diocese, England
This is an in depth investigation into the major Marian apparitions that have occured during the last five centuries. It relates them to secular happenings and important revolutionary events in Western history including the Reformation and the French and Russian Revolutions.
This article appeared in the December 2002 issue of the Homiletic and Pastoral Review
Fatima and the First Saturdays Devotion
By Donal Anthony Foley
There is a tendency nowadays, in some quarters, to downplay the importance of Fatima, perhaps dismissing it as not "intellectual" enough, or even as something of an embarrassment in a modern Church. But the fact that all the popes since Pius XII have given it such strong support is an implicit rejection of such a position. In particular, Pope John Paul II has gone out of his way to affirm the importance of the message of Fatima, having recently beatified, in the Holy Year 2000, two of the three children, Jacinta and Francisco. He also authorized the release of the third part of the secret and directed Cardinal Ratzinger to publish it together with a Theological Commentary.
In addition, in October 2000, in Rome, in union with the largest assembly of bishops since Vatican II, he entrusted the Third Millennium to Mary, in the presence of the statue of Our Lady of Fatima which had been specially brought from the Capelhina at the Portuguese shrine. Going back in time, there are serious grounds for believing that the 1984 collegial consecration, which fulfilled Our Lady's request in July 1917, led to the dissolution of communism, and the cessation of the Marxist atheist persecution of the Church, in Russia and Eastern Europe. Likewise, there are a number of other papal acts which could be cited to indicate the importance the various popes have attached to Fatima.
However, at present the situation seems to be that whereas the Pope has encouraged the Church to embrace Fatima by his teaching and his acts, a large part of the Church does not yet appear to be following his lead. Thus Fatima is in the anomalous position of not yet fully evangelizing the Church for the good of souls, in the way that God desires. Perhaps this is why the "conversion of Russia" is proving slow to come, and why, in more general terms, the Western Church seems to be largely in a state of malaise, although there are also strong signs of vitality, such as in the activities of the new ecclesial movements.
Historically, when Marian devotion has been strong, then the Church has been dynamic, or at least has shown signs of vigor, even if under pressure. One only has to instance the situation in the early Church after the Council of Ephesus declared that Mary was Theotokos, the God-bearer; or the situation in the medieval Church, as reflected in, amongst other things, the building of the great Cathedrals, many of which were dedicated to Mary. Or again, during the nineteenth century revival after the French Revolution, a revival which was greatly influenced by apparitions of Mary such as those at Rue du Bac, La Salette and Lourdes.
The twentieth century opened with a strong period of Marian devotion culminating in the declaration of the dogma of the Assumption - but most of that seems to have inexplicably drained away in the wake of Vatican II, and the problems facing the Church. What we are left with is a residue of genuine Marian devotion, which now has to compete with the messages from various alleged apparitions, or with outright hostility to anything Marian, or just plain indifference.
The answer to this situation, I would argue, following the example of recent popes, is a full and wholehearted embrace of genuine Marian devotion in the Church, and indeed the message of Fatima would appear to be the providential way given to the Church for it to come to a true understanding and love of Mary as Mother of Christ and Mother of the Church. This could only serve to strengthen Catholicism and enable it to exert a real influence on the world.
This is a wonderful thing, I hear you saying, but how are we actually supposed to bring it about. Isn't it all a bit impractical to expect a Marian revival anytime soon. Well, not really, not if we make up our minds to take the message of Fatima seriously. To do that, we need to go back and look closely at what Our Lady said, and how we can all-bishops, clergy, and laity-play our part in ushering in the triumph of her Immaculate Heart that Mary promised will come.
The element I want to particularly concentrate on in this article is the question of the Five First Saturdays devotion, which was fully revealed to Sr. Lucia by Our Lady in 1925, when she had become a postulant with the Sisters of St Dorothy in Spain. Thus the following events took place some years after the actual apparitions at Fatima in 1917-but they are a continuation of the original message, which Our Lady indicated to the children in the words she spoke in July 1917, just after they had seen the vision of hell:
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 illumined 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 of 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.
(Fr. L. Kondor, Fatima in Lucia's own words, Postulation Center, Fatima, p. 162; cf. Fr.'s Antonio Martins & Robert Fox, Documents on Fatima & the Memoirs of Sister Lucia, Fatima Family Apostolate, 1992, p. 402).
The point to particularly note here is that the consecration of Russia to Mary's Immaculate Heart and the Five First Saturdays devotion of reparation are mentioned jointly, as the means by which manifold evils will be undone and peace brought to the world.
On Thursday 10 December 1925, the Blessed Virgin, accompanied by the Child Jesus on a little cloud, appeared to Sr. Lucia in her cell. In her memoirs, Lucia recounts that Mary rested her hand on her shoulder, while displaying her heart encircled by thorns in her other hand. The Child Jesus spoke first: "Have pity on the Heart of your Most Holy Mother. It is covered with the thorns with which ungrateful men pierce it at every moment, and there is no one to remove them with an act of reparation."
Then the Blessed Mother said:
My daughter, look at My Heart surrounded with thorns with which ungrateful men pierce it 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 all the graces necessary for salvation, all those who, on the first Saturday of five consecutive months go to confession and receive Holy Communion, recite five decades of the Rosary and keep me company for a quarter of an hour while meditating on the mysteries of the Rosary, with the intention of making reparation to me. (Fr. Robert Fox, Fatima Today, Christendom Publications, 1983, p. 217; cf. Martins & Fox, Documents on Fatima, pp. 241-42).
The Child Jesus appeared again to Lucia in February 1926 to encourage her to propagate this devotion, (Martins & Fox, Documents on Fatima, pp. 235-37, 242), and on 13 June 1929, Lucia was granted a further sublime apparition involving Mary, as she was making a Holy Hour in the convent chapel at Tuy in Spain, as was her custom on Thursday nights from eleven to twelve.
She was alone in the chapel, which was lit only by the sanctuary lamp, reciting the prayers that the Angel of Portugal had taught her and Jacinta and Francisco, when she saw an apparition of the Holy Trinity, in which the Son was represented as a man nailed to a cross, with the Father above him, and the Holy Spirit as a dove of light on Christ's breast. A chalice and Host were suspended to the side, and drops of blood from the crucified Christ's face and side fell into the chalice, while Our Lady was also present, holding her Immaculate Heart in her hand.
Lucia heard Mary say to her: "The moment has come in which God asks the Holy Father, in union with all the Bishops of the world, to make the consecration of Russia to my Immaculate Heart, promising to save it by this means. There are so many souls whom the Justice of God condemns for sins committed against me, that I have come to ask reparation: sacrifice yourself for this intention and pray."
Lucia repeated all this to her confessor who ordered her to write it down, and she also said that, later on, Jesus had spoken as follows to her: "They did not wish to heed My request. Like the king of France, they will repent and do it, but it will be late. Russia will have already spread her errors throughout the world, provoking wars and persecutions of the Church; the Holy Father will have much to suffer." (Fox, Fatima Today, pp. 221-22; cf. Martins & Fox, Documents on Fatima, pp. 355-56).
So we have two very important further apparitions here, which greatly enhance our understanding of the message of Fatima and it's critical importance for the Church. But while there has been much discussion of the collegial consecration of Russia, which was finally accomplished by Pope John Paul II, in union with a "moral totality" of the world's bishops in 1984, we have heard much less about the Five First Saturdays devotion.
Its significance comes out if we consider the correspondence Sr. Lucia had with her confessor, Fr. Gonzalves, in 1930, in which she reiterated the importance of the First Saturdays devotion of reparation and gave details of what was necessary to ensure the salvation of Russia.
"If I am not mistaken, Our Dear Lord God promises to end the persecution of Russia, if the Holy Father condescends to make, and likewise ordains the Bishops of the Catholic World to make, a solemn and public act of reparation and consecration of Russia to the Most Holy Hearts of Jesus and Mary. In response to the ending of this persecution, His Holiness is to promise to approve of and recommend the practice of the already mentioned devotion of reparation." (Martins & Fox, Documents on Fatima, p. 24).
This statement of Sr. Lucia's has to be understood in the light of the very strong statements which the Pope has made with regard to Fatima, and indeed with the words and actions of all the recent popes who have embraced its message. For example during his 1982 visit to the Portuguese shrine, John Paul II specifically described Fatima as a place "chosen" by Mary, thus indicating official confirmation of its status and intimating that we are to understand it as the major "prophecy" of the twentieth century. (cf. Joseph de Sainte-Marie, Reflections on the Act of Consecration, Augustine Publishing, 1983, pp. 1-4, 8).
During his homily the Pope made the following remarks:
If the Church has accepted the message of Fatima, it is above all because that message contains a truth and a call whose basic content is the truth and call of the Gospel itself. "Repent, and believe in the Gospel" (Mk. 1:15). These are the first words of the Messiah addressed to humanity. The message of Fatima is, in its basic nucleus, a call to conversion and repentance, as in the Gospel. This call was uttered at the beginning of the twentieth century, and it was thus addressed particularly to this present century. The Lady of the message seems to have read with special insight the "signs of the times," the signs of our time. (Timothy Tindal-Robertson, Fatima, Russia & Pope John Paul II, Gracewing Publishers, 1998, p. 243).
John Paul II also spoke during this homily in these significant terms: "The appeal of the Lady of the message of Fatima is so deeply rooted in the Gospel and the whole of Tradition that the Church feels that the message imposes a commitment on her." (Tindal-Robertson, Fatima, Russia & Pope John Paul II, p. 248).
In addition, the principle of devotion to Mary's Immaculate Heart is one which has deep roots in the Church, and is not just dependent on the 1925 vision. We find an allusion to it in the Gospels in Simeon's prediction of the sword of sorrow which would pierce her soul, (Lk 2:35), and certainly, since at least the medieval period, there is evidence of such devotion in the works of writers including St Anselm, St Bernard, Hugo of St Victor, and St Gertrude. Similarly, in the Counter Reformation era, St Francis de Sales, and particularly St John Eudes, were strong supporters of this devotion, with the latter composing a Mass and Office of the Heart of Mary. His approach finds parallels in the teachings of chapter 8 of Vatican II's Lumen Gentium. ( Francis Johnston, Fatima: The Great Sign, Augustine Publishing, 1980, pp. 112-119).
Honoring Mary's Immaculate Heart is really just another way of honoring Mary, as the person who was chosen to be the Mother of God, recognizing her extraordinary holiness and the immense love she bestowed on Jesus as his mother, the person who was called to share in and cooperate in his redemptive sufferings. The whole aim of this devotion is to unite mankind to God through Mary's heart, and this process involves the ideas of consecration and reparation. A person is consecrated to Mary's Immaculate Heart as a way of being completely devoted to God. This involves a total gift of self, something only ultimately possible with reference to God; but Mary is our intermediary in this process of consecration. She holds this position by reason of her dignity as Mother of God and her role as spiritual mother of all Christians. Because love and devotion shown to Mary are referred by her to God, it follows that acts of reparation for sin directed to her also apply to God, especially when we consider how closely united the hearts of Jesus and Mary were and are. (John F. Murphy, "The Immaculate Heart," in Mariology, Vol. 3, ed. Juniper B. Carol, The Bruce Publishing Company, 1961, pp. 168-178).
So, in sum, it seems fair to say that the Church upholds the principle of reparative devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
It is extremely important to note, then, that Sr. Lucia's correspondence with her confessor, in 1930, makes an explicit link between the consecration of Russia and the Five First Saturdays devotion, but it does not seem as though many in the Church are really aware of this. The active persecution of Christians in Russia is over now, although no-one is pretending that life there is easy, or that there are not human rights abuses-but as a state-sponsored activity, such persecution has ceased.
It seems, then, that there is an organic link between the consecration of Russia and the Five First Saturdays devotion, and that the conversion of Russia promised by Our Lady may well not happen until this devotion of reparation is widely known and practised. John Paul II has given us an example by fulfilling Our Lady's requests to a quite unprecedented extent, and now it would appear that heaven is awaiting a response from the whole Church.
What effect would such a response have? I would argue that if the Five First Saturday devotion were properly implemented, it would have the wonderful effect of bringing people directly back to the sources of grace, and giving them an assurance of eternal salvation, through the promise of the grace of final perseverance made by Mary. Would it be too much to believe that, just as the collegial consecration led to the downfall of communism in Russia, so also the widespread implementation of the First Saturdays devotion could lead to a great revival for the Church in the West? Obviously, this has to go hand in hand with all the other forms of evangelism, but it does seem that God is waiting for this response on our part.
Whereas the Five First Saturdays devotion is particularly intended to call for a response from priests and laity, the collegial consecration was specifically directed to the pope and the bishops in union with him. Thus, both aspects together invite the whole people of God to play their respective parts in fulfilling the requests of Our Lady of Fatima, in order to bring about the promised conversion of Russia and a period of peace in the world.
On a practical level, every concerned lay person could do their utmost to persuade their parish priest, who clearly has a pivotal position in all this, to introduce a monthly First Saturdays service in which the requests made by Mary could be fulfilled, that is for: "five consecutive months [to] go to confession and receive Holy Communion, recite five decades of the Rosary and keep me company for a quarter of an hour while meditating on the mysteries of the Rosary, with the intention of making reparation to me."
It is clear that this is not just a "pietistic" practice, but something holy and very significant for Catholics: God would not send his Mother with a message of little importance for the Church. Thus the Five First Saturdays devotion of reparation is the "missing link" in the message of Fatima, and its adoption would appear to be far more important than has hitherto been realized.
During the June 1917 apparition Lucia was told by Our Lady that unlike Jacinta and Francisco, who would shortly be going to heaven, she would have to remain behind for "some time to come," The reason for this was that Jesus wanted to establish devotion to Mary's Immaculate Heart throughout the world. The Blessed Mother then continued: "I promise salvation to whoever embraces it; these souls will be dear to God, like flowers put by Me to adorn his throne." (This last sentence is found in a letter written in 1927 by Sr. Lucia to her confessor, cited in Martins & Fox, Documents on Fatima, p. 241).
This promise of salvation is for everyone without exception, and as indicated above the Five First Saturdays devotion forms an integral part of the Fatima message, one which the Church, principally at this time in the persons of her priests and laity, now needs to enthusiastically accept and promote. If this is done then we can expect a new Marian era and a wonderful rebirth for the Church, all of which will eventually lead to the long-awaited triumph of Mary's Immaculate Heart.
© 2002, Donal Anthony Foley, All Rights Reserved
This article appeared in the December 2002 issue of the Homiletic and Pastoral Review