Today, 13th May 2016, marks the 99th anniversary of the first appearance of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary at Fatima in Portugal. The story of Her appearances there to the three little shepherds – Jacinta, her brother Francisco and their cousin Lucia – is very well documented already and does not need to be repeated in detail here.
The message of the Blessed Virgin was that God is offended by sin and desires that we make reparation; to do so, we are asked to “pray and make of everything you do, a sacrifice, for God is already so much offended” – and so, we are being asked to offer prayers of intercession for souls. And the means given to pray is the same as it has always been – the holy Rosary. She gave the children a short prayer, asking that this be prayed after each decade of the Rosary –
“O Jesus, forgive us our sins; save us from the fires of hell; and lead all souls to Heaven, especially those in most need of Thy mercy”.
The Mother of God taught the children that suffering has value before God, when offered for love of Him – and that all the little sacrifices of our daily lives and our duties are a means to sanctity and obtain graces and mercy for souls in need. She also taught the children that “God wishes to establish in the world the devotion to My Immaculate Heart” as a means of saving souls from Hell, a vision of which She showed them. The six appearances at Fatima concluded on 13th October 1917 with the Miracle of the Sun, promised months in advance and witnessed by more than 70,000 people, believers and non-believers alike.
Later, She returned in further appearances to Lucia, now a nun living in Tuy, Spain, including the great Vision of the Most Holy Trinity; beneath the arms of the Cross were the words “Graces and Mercy”.
Here, the Most Blessed Virgin asked for the Consecration of Russia to Her Immaculate Heart as a means of saving the country and to prevent it spreading it’s errors throughout the world by means of wars and persecutions of the Church and of the Holy Father.
Returning to the subject of reparation, She taught Sr Lucia the Five First Saturdays devotion, to be offered in reparation to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. This devotion would include Confession, Mass and Holy Communion, the praying of five decades of the Rosary, 15 minutes of meditation on the mysteries of the Rosary – all done on the first Saturday of five successive months and done with the intention of making reparation for sins committed against the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
Months before the appearances of the Most Blessed Virgin, the three children had been given three appearances by an Angel, the Angel of Peace. During these, the children were imbued with a deep understanding of the love of God for humanity, and also a deep awareness of His infinite majesty and divinity, His holiness.
The Angel brought the Blessed Sacrament and, with the three children, adored It. He also taught them Eucharistic prayers of reparation and adoration. These Angelic visitations set the scene for the impending visits of the Most Blessed Virgin, and provided a framework of sorts, into which Her appearances would fit and giving them a broad context.
Interestingly, the Eucharistic prayers of adoration and reparation share much in common with the prayers of the Divine Mercy Chaplet, which would be revealed almost 20 years later, in a different part of the Europe.
The broad themes of both Fatima and Divine Mercy are very similar – God is offended by sin and seeks reparation willingly offered, and above all, the offering of the Eucharistic Victim to the Eternal Father. This is the greatest offering of all and has immense power before God.
And so this theme of reparation is common to both Fatima and Divine Mercy.
But there is another common link – the figure of Pope St John Paul II, the great ‘Fatima Pope’.
He would beatify Jacinta and Francisco in 2000, while also revealing the third part of the ‘Secret’ of Fatima, that of the “Bishop clothed in white” who is shot and who suffers for the Church and for the entire world, a world drenched in the blood of Martyrs.
The feast of Our Lady of Fatima, 13th May, is also the anniversary of that day in 1981 when St John Paul was shot and nearly killed in Saint Peter’s Square, Rome. He would later attribute his survival to the Virgin of Fatima, saying that “while one hand fired the bullet, another guided it”, indicating that the Most Blessed Virgin had preserved his life that day. Exactly one year later, he came to Fatima to offer Her his thanks.
In 1984, Pope John Paul consecrated the world, including Russia, to the Immaculate Heart of Mary – this was the collegial consecration, fulfilling the specific requests of the Most Blessed Virgin to Sr Lucia and accepted by Heaven, as she noted afterwards.
Of course, Saint John Paul is also the ‘Divine Mercy Pope’, working for many years behind the scenes (as Archbishop and Cardinal) to bring this devotion into the light of the Church; and later, as Pope, declaring Sister Faustina the first Saint of the Third Millennium and instituting the Feast of Divine Mercy, as requested by the Merciful Lord to Saint Faustina.
In His infinite wisdom, the Lord always provides for our needs. In every age of the Church and of the world, He gives us exactly what we need for our spiritual good, always in the light and under the authority of His Mystical Body, the Church.
In these days, He gives us the two great devotions of Fatima and Divine Mercy, focussing on the need for reparation for the sins of humanity in order to save souls, and a firm trust in the infinite mercy of God. At Fatima, in the third part of the Secret, we were reminded of the righteous judgement which will befall the world because of our sinfulness, if we do not change our ways and return to God; and in the Divine Mercy devotion, the Lord reminds us to trust in His mercy, which is infinite and which triumphs over Divine Justice.
God even provides very specific ways for us to do all this – the prayers of Fatima (particularly the Rosary) and Divine Mercy (the Chaplet), devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, Eucharistic Adoration, and so answering that universal call to holiness which the Second Vatican Council would propose to us years later.
Successive Popes have encouraged us to devote ourselves to Our Lady of Fatima and to pray the Rosary daily – a great many Papal Encyclicals have been written on these subjects, beginning with Pope Paul’s document, ‘Signum Magnum’ (‘A Great Sign’ – a reference to the Lady of Fatima, clothed with the sun as described in Revelation) and including those of St John Paul II, who also wrote so beautifully and with such love for his heavenly Mother. Now, our present Holy Father, Pope Francis, takes on the task of encouraging us in these devotions, particularly that of being apostles of mercy in the world and of having a deep and loving devotion to the Mother of God.
Heeding their words and example leads to good results; after all, if two little children can quickly reach the heights of sanctity by following the requests of the Mother of God, then the same is possible for us. All we need is the desire to do so, the grace of God to support us, a deep prayer life and a perfect trust in the Merciful Lord.
May the children of Fatima, Blessed Jacinta, Blessed Francisco and Sister Lucia, assist us with their prayers from Heaven.
Our Lady of Fatima, Queen of the Most Holy Rosary – pray for us. May Your Immaculate Heart be our refuge and the way that will lead us to God.