And the temple of God was opened in heaven: and the ark of his testament was seen in his temple, and there were lightnings, and voices, and an earthquake, and great hail. And a great sign appeared in heaven: A woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. And being with child, she cried travailing in birth, and was in pain to be delivered (Revelation 11:19-12:2).
February 23, 2017 The Memorial of Saint Polycarp
1) The public nature of the event
This is important because it demonstrates the extraordinary nature of the events at Fatima. There were three primary witnesses (Lucia, Jacinta, and Francisco) who could see the Blessed Virgin and all saw the same thing; two (Lucia and Jacinta) who could hear hear speak and both heard the same thing; and a single witness (Lucia) who both spoke to the Virgin and was answered by her. But, as both Lucia’s own comments and William Thomas Walsh’s description of the lead up to the June 13, 1917 apparition reveals, there were also many other people present at the time of the Apparition. Did they see or hear anything? And if so what?
Here is William Thomas Walsh’s answer to that question from p. 67-68 of Our Lady of Fatima, starting with the voice of Maria Carreira describing what she heard while Lucia was speaking to Our Lady:
“Then we began to hear something like this, something like a very faint voice, but we could not understand what it was saying. It was like the buzzing of a bee.”
Some of the bystanders noticed that the light of the sun seemed dimmer during the following minutes, though the sky was cloudless. Others said that the top of the azinheira, covered with new growth, appeared to bend and curve just before Lucia spoke, as if under a weight.
That bit about the sound of a voice is the most convincing to me. It is important to understand here that these things the children, and others, saw were not just images implanted in their mind or spirits, but an actual person. The Blessed Virgin Mary has a body, as we know from the dogma of the Assumption. It is a glorified body like that of her Divine Son and therefore it must have all the properties that the Gospels tell us that his Body had after his Resurrection i.e. the ability to appear and disappear from view, the ability to change shape, the ability to be in multiple locations at the same time and not to be deterred by material barriers such as walls, but also the ability to eat and drink and accomplish all of the tasks our bodies need to do though without them being necessary, as well as an infinite number of other properties that we were probably not told about. In any case there was a real physical presence here and the testimony of these other witnesses bear this out.
All of this makes me unsure how the events of Fatima can be strictly classified as private revelation. These clearly were not visions that only one person saw. I’m not certain where to place Fatima on that continuum so I will leave it to the Church and the Holy Father to sort it all out.
2) A simple request
“I wish you to come here on the 13th of next month, to pray the Rosary every day, and to learn to read.”
To learn to read. A simple request to most of us. Anyone who is reading these words has obviously learned how to read. But for a peasant girl from Aljustrel, Portugal in 1917 this may not have been entirely in character. Very many people in the Portuguese countryside at that time were illiterate all their lives and it didn’t bother them a bit. They had other duties to perform. But Our Lady wanted Lucia to learn to read, and presumably to write. So that is what Lucia did.
A century later we can perhaps better appreciate this request than the little girl from the Portuguese hill country did in 1917. Lucia wrote the volume I have been quoting from. She wrote to bishops and to popes. God loves to work through instruments, particularly humble instruments. And the written words of this humble peasant girl, relaying Our Lady’s message from heaven, have shaken the world.
One thinks of the many times these simple requests or inspirations from Heaven have altered the world. One thinks in the first place of the request from Heaven to the Virgin of Nazareth nineteen centuries before she herself was to make this request of Lucia. One thinks of the inspiration Saint Jerome had in the Syrian desert to learn Hebrew. We still possess the monument, the Vulgate, that his affirmative reply to that inspiration left to the world. One simple yes, one humble person, can change the world.
3) I will never forsake you
“Yes. I will take Jacinta and Francisco soon. But you are to stay here some time longer. Jesus wishes to make use of you to make me known and loved. He wants to establish in the world to my Immaculate Heart.”
“Am I to stay here alone?” I asked, sadly.
“No, my daughter. Are you suffering a great deal? Don’t lose heart. I will never forsake you. My Immaculate Heart will be your refuge and the way that will lead you to God.”
This to me is the promise that cinches the deal. I defy the skeptics to explain this prophecy: I will take Jacinta and Francisco soon. But you are to stay here some time longer. Francisco died in 1919 and Jacinta in 1920, both during the Spanish flu outbreak that attacked the world during and after the end of the First World War. But what about Lucia? Well, Lucia did die: on February 13, 2005 at the age of 97 years old. But you are to stay here some time longer. Heaven does enjoy these sort of pithy little understatements.
Don’t lose heart. I will never forsake you. My Immaculate Heart will be your refuge and the way that will lead you to God. What a consolation that promise must have been during the long and strange course of Lucia’s life. She was born anonymously in a time and place where a donkey was the most convenient form of transportation and a luxury that only rarely took the place of one’s own feet. She died with her name known across the earth three days before YouTube made its first appearance on the internet.
Her suffering was acute on that day, June 13, 1917. While Jacinta and Francisco’s parents reacted generally positively to the news of the first Apparition on May 13, but Lucia’s parents and sisters did not. One of her mother’s most admirable qualities was an almost pathological determination to tell the truth, no matter what the cost, and her determined desire to implant this remarkable character trait on her children. But she became convinced that Lucia was lying and making it all up. She was determined to break her child of this lie and force her to admit publicly to the parish priest and anyone else who would listen that it was all made up nonsense. In addition the Cova da Iria was their personal family property and all of the people visiting the spot and tearing it up since May 13, and even more in the months to come, had made it unusable to pasture the sheep.
So on the morning of June 13 her mother and sisters sent Lucia off with acid comments ridiculing her and she, being human, was not in the greatest mood when she arrived at the Cova da Iria at midday. Jacinta encouraged her reminding her of the Lady’s promise that they would have much to suffer, but that it would be for the conversion of sinners. In any case now, after all this misery, she was hearing that her two cousins, the only other people on earth who could possibly understand what she was going through, would soon be gone from this world.
But what a consolation from the lips of the Blessed Virgin herself: I will never forsake you!
4) The suffering of the Immaculate Heart of Mary
In front of the palm of Our Lady’s right hand was a heart encircled by thorns which pierced it. We understood that this was the Immaculate Heart of Mary, outraged by the sins of humanity, and seeking reparation.
This particular image of the Immaculate Heart of Mary that the children saw is what made me choose those lines from the Apocalypse, the Book of Revelation, to begin this post. I will repeat here the last verse of that passage i.e. what Saint John saw the woman clothed with sun going through:
And being with child, she cried travailing in birth, and was in pain to be delivered.
That description of the woman from the Apocalypse bears a striking similarity to the image of the Immaculate Heart. They both describe a woman in torment. In particular I would like to discuss the phrase was in pain to be delivered. That phrase comes from the old Douay-Rheims translation of the Latin Vulgate. It is not the best possible translation, though I will own that this is not the easiest phrase to translate into smooth English. But the Latin word that Saint Jerome used in the Vulgate for the phrase ‘was in pain’ was cruciabatur. One doesn’t need to be a linguist to guess at what the root of that word is. It is in the passive imperfect, so a possible translation from the Latin is that she was being crucified to be delivered.
But what about the Greek? It isn’t exactly ‘was being crucified,’ but it is also far more intense than ‘was in pain.’ The Greek word is βασανιζομένη is a passive present particle that can signify any one of the following: being questioned by torture, being tortured, being vexed with grievous pains, being tormented. There is also another use of the word that I find fascinating. It applies to testing metals by the touchstone. The touchstone is an ancient method of testing the purity of gold and/or other precious metals.
Pure gold being tested. A woman with child crying in torment to be delivered. The Immaculate Heart of Mary, the new Eve, the Mother of the living, pierced with thorns and being outraged by the sins of humanity. Meditate on that. What does it tell you?
Pray the Rosary daily. Make reparation for the sins committed against the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Join the Rosary Confraternity.