Review: Marian Apparitions, the Bible, and the Modern World by Francis Phillips

Marian Apparitions, the Bible and the Modern World. By Donal Anthony Foley. Gracewing, £20. Review by Francis Phillips

Christians recognise that behind and within the working-out of history, in its economic, social and political ramifications, lies what we call ‘salvation history’, that is, God’s providential covenant-love for mankind and the redemption wrought by His Son. Thus for Christians all human history leads to Bethlehem. For Catholics, the person of Our Lady is intimately connected to the redemption of mankind; in her Litany we acknowledge her role as ‘handmaid of the Lord’ with such titles as ‘Queen of Patriarchs’, Queen of Prophets’ and ‘Queen of Peace’.

I have selected these particular titles deliberately as they link Marian apparitions in the modern world with ‘types’ of Mary in the Old Testament. It is Donal Foley’s contention that the approved apparitions of Our Lady, beginning with Guadalupe, can be interpreted both in the light of early Jewish history and events contemporaneous with her appearances. This is a very large canvas. Not only are the apparitions linked to the past; their timing and placing are also a prophetic commentary on their times.

Thus, Our Lady of Guadalupe, the ‘New Eve’, is seen as giving deeper resonance to the story of Genesis and as bringing hope at the time of the Protestant reformation in Europe, which had such disastrous consequences in subsequent centuries. Foley’s scholarly approach is at times necessarily conjectural – God’s Providence is mysterious to our understanding, as well as local and assured – but it is fully in line with the early Church Fathers’ interpretations of Mary’s role and, interestingly enough, with a modern figure such as the late Mgr. Ronald Knox, who saw many parallels between the story of St Bernadette and the story of Moses.

The author concentrates on nine Apparitions which have been accorded authenticity by the Church. Correctly accepting that Catholics are not bound to believe in them, he rightly points out that it would be rather odd not to do so, given their status in the Church’s devotional life and also their papal endorsement. In his foreword to this book Aidan Nichols OP warns against the dangers of scepticism (rejecting all apparitions) and credulity – making a particular cult of Our Lady the fixed centre of one’s Catholic life.

I daresay we have all met both types. Foley seeks a balance; but a balance that does embrace the profound significance of Our Lady’s interventions in recent centuries. God does not act randomly, he argues, and neither does His Mother; the time and place of her appearances and the content of her messages require prayer, study, meditation – and action.

This last is vital. Though Mary’s messages are obviously in accord with Church teaching, they are also a reminder, a consolation and a warning. In this context Fatima is seen by the author as the most important apparition of the 20th century. He highlights Mary’s promise of peace in her words to the children of Fatima and reflects on the violent, unhappy state of the world today.

His conclusion: that although the 1984 collegiate consecration was properly carried out according to the seer, Lucia’s, instructions, the Church’s hierarchy and laity have yet been too slow in responding to a key message of 1917: ‘God wishes to establish in the world devotion to my Immaculate Heart.’ Peace will only follow when we are truly obedient to God’s and our heavenly Mother’s wishes in this respect.

It is the author’s contention that Marian apparitions in the modern world are designed to counter the increasingly godless world we live in, where abortion, the destruction of the traditional family, euthanasia and gruesome biotechnology are taken for granted. Though pessimistic in outlook, he points to the extraordinary achievements of the papacy of John Paul II and quotes his speech at his inauguration on 16 October 1978: ‘Be not afraid to welcome Christ and accept His power…’

The words ‘be not afraid’ are reiterated three times in this speech and we must hold on to them. Donal Foley has done a great service in this carefully researched and prayerful book. It gives much food for thought and deserves a wide readership.

Francis Phillips.