“Well, the Secret is made up of three distinct parts, two of which I am now going to reveal. The first part is the Vision of Hell.. the second part refers to the devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary..” (Sr Lucia, Third Memoir, August 1941)
One hundred years ago, 13th July 1917, the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared for the third time at the Cova da Iria in Fatima to Jacinta, Francisco and Lucia. That third Appearance could well be described as the ‘heart’ of the Appearances at Fatima – both metaphorically, since this was the central Appearance which explained the purpose of the events taking place at the Cova, and literally, as the Mother of God revealed to the children the devotion to Her Immaculate Heart. Later on, the Blessed Virgin would appear again to Lucia, now living as a nun in the convent, to explain the precise forms this devotion would take, and to request them formally – the first, an Act of Consecration of Russia to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, performed by the Holy Father in union with the Bishops of the Church; and the second, the devotion of the Five First Saturdays of reparation to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
The message Our Blessed Lady gave the children that day both terrified and consoled them – and it dramatically affected their spiritual lives afterwards. Since that day, two of these children have been proclaimed Saints by the Catholic Church, while the process of Canonisation is well underway for the third.
Francisco would spend his days and hours deep in prayer – before the Blessed Sacrament wherever possible – consoling God for the sins which so offend Him; and little Jacinta would pray constantly for the conversion of poor sinners, all too well aware of the final destination toward which their lives were leading them. All three children offered whatever sacrifices they could in response to the message of the beautiful Lady, clothed with the sun, Who had come to them from Heaven. Now, in 2017, this idea of penitential practice seems like madness to a world which is running merrily toward it’s demise; and yet, this is exactly what the Lady requested of the children – sacrifice offered willingly in atonement to the God Who is so offended by the sins of mankind, and that sacrifice having the power to obtain great graces and mercy for souls.
In the days before this particular Appearance, Lucia had been tempted not to go to the Cova, despite the protestations of her little cousins. Her parish Priest had interrogated her and warned her that the Appearances she claimed to have seen might be the deceit of the devil. This was not helped by a dream Lucia had, where the devil dragged her to hell, laughing at her all the while. Coupled with the on-going disbelief and scoldings of her mother, poor Lucia was in turmoil, to the extent that she would later write how at this point, she lost all enthusiasm for sacrifice and mortification. On the morning of the 13th, however, she felt a strong interior impulse to go to the Cova, and she was entirely unable to resist it. Years later, Lucia would write that this particular Appearance of the Lady “dispelled the clouds from my soul and peace was restored”, adding elsewhere in her Memoirs that “the doubt which tormented me from 13th June till 13th July disappeared completely during the Apparition on that day”.
The Appearance that day began as usual and this is how Lucia described it –
“A few moments after arriving at the Cova da Iria, near the holmoak, where a large number of people were praying the Rosary, we saw the flash of light once more, and a moment later Our Lady appeared on the holmoak”.
The Lady said She wanted the children to come on the 13th of the following month, to continue to pray the Rosary every day in honour of Our Lady of the Rosary to obtain peace for the world and the end of the war, “because only She can help you”.
She then made a promise to the little ones –
“In October, I will tell you who I am and what I want, and I will perform a miracle for all to see and believe.”
After this, She taught the children the Prayer of Reparation –
“Sacrifice yourselves for sinners, and say many times, especially whenever you make some sacrifice: ‘O Jesus, it is for love of You, for the conversion of the sinners, and in reparation for the sins committed against the Immaculate Heart of Mary’.”
Lucia described that as the Lady said these words, She opened Her hands – as She had done in the first two Appearances – and from them, there emanated rays of light which seemed to penetrate the earth. The children saw what seemed to be a sea of fire, plunged into which were both demons and human souls, who gave out shrieks of pain and despair “which horrified us and made us tremble”. Lucia said later it was this which had made her cry out, which people present had heard and later commented on, although they had no idea of the reason. Terrified, the children looked back at the Lady “Who said to us so kindly and so sadly” –
“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 it’s crimes, by means of war, famine, and persecutions of the Church and of the Holy Father.
To prevent this, I shall come to ask 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.”
She then instructed Lucia to tell this to no-one except Francisco – he could see the Lady but he could not hear Her voice, and so he relied on Lucia and Jacinta telling him afterward what She had said. The Lady then continued –
“When you pray the Rosary, say after each Mystery: ‘O my Jesus, forgive us, save is from the fire of Hell. Lead all souls to Heaven especially those who are in most need.”
After saying there was nothing else She wanted on this occasion, the Lady ascended and disappeared.
Writing in her Memoirs some 24 years later, Lucia tried to answer a question which had been put to her, asking why little Jacinta had had such a spirit of penance and mortification. Lucia gave this response –
“The vision of Hell filled her with horror to such a degree that every penance and mortification was as nothing in her eyes., if it could only prevent souls from going there.. How is it that Jacinta, small as she was, let herself be possessed by such a spirit of mortification and penance, and understood it so well? I think the reason is this – firstly, God willed to bestow on her a special grace, through the Immaculate Heart of Mary; and secondly, it was because she had looked upon Hell, and had seen the ruin of souls who fall therein. Some people, even the most devout, refuse to speak to children about Hell, in case it would frighten them. Yet God did not hesitate to show Hell to three children, one of whom was only six years old, knowing well that they would be horrified to the point of, I would almost dare to say, withering away with fear”.
Jacinta would pray as much as she could for souls and for their eternal salvation and encourage her brother and cousin to do likewise –
“Francisco! Francisco! Are you praying with me? We must pray very much, to save souls from Hell! So many go there! So many!”
Lucia committed the Third Part of the Secret to writing in 1944, and this was finally released in the year 2000 by the Holy See. The document published at that time can be found on the Vatican Website.
Here is what Lucia wrote about the Third Part of the Secret –
“After the two parts which I have already explained, at the left of Our Lady and a little above, we saw an Angel with a flaming sword in his left hand; flashing, it gave out flames that looked as though they would set the world on fire; but they died out in contact with the splendour that Our Lady radiated towards him from Her right hand: pointing to the earth with his right hand, the Angel cried out in a loud voice: ‘Penance, Penance, Penance!’. And we saw in an immense light that is God: ‘something similar to how people appear in a mirror when they pass in front of it’ a Bishop dressed in White ‘we had the impression that it was the Holy Father’. Other Bishops, Priests, men and women Religious going up a steep mountain, at the top of which there was a big Cross of rough-hewn trunks as of a cork-tree with the bark; before reaching there the Holy Father passed through a big city half in ruins and half trembling with halting step, afflicted with pain and sorrow, he prayed for the souls of the corpses he met on his way; having reached the top of the mountain, on his knees at the foot of the big Cross he was killed by a group of soldiers who fired bullets and arrows at him, and in the same way there died one after another the other Bishops, Priests, men and women Religious, and various lay people of different ranks and positions. Beneath the two arms of the Cross there were two Angels each with a crystal aspersorium in his hand, in which they gathered up the blood of the Martyrs and with it sprinkled the souls that were making their way to God.”
Writing to Pope John Paul II in a letter dated 12th May 1982, Sister Lucia commented on the symbolism and meaning of the Third Part of the Secret revealed that day at the Cova in 1917. She wrote –
“The third part of the secret refers to Our Lady’s words: ‘If not [Russia] 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’ (13-VII-1917). The third part of the secret is a symbolic revelation, referring to this part of the Message, conditioned by whether we accept or not what the Message itself asks of us: ‘If my requests are heeded, Russia will be converted, and there will be peace; if not, she will spread her errors throughout the world, etc.’. Since we did not heed this appeal of the Message, we see that it has been fulfilled, Russia has invaded the world with her errors. And if we have not yet seen the complete fulfilment of the final part of this prophecy, we are going towards it little by little with great strides. If we do not reject the path of sin, hatred, revenge, injustice, violations of the rights of the human person, immorality and violence, etc. And let us not say that it is God Who is punishing us in this way; on the contrary it is people themselves who are preparing their own punishment. In His kindness God warns us and calls us to the right path, while respecting the freedom He has given us; hence people are responsible.”
Now we have read the story of this third Appearance of the Blessed Virgin at Fatima, and have heard the requests from Her for the prayer of the daily Rosary; for sacrifice offered willingly for the salvation of sinners; for the establishment of devotion to Her Immaculate Heart, by means of Consecration and reparation; and we have heard described, in the words of Lucia, the vision of Hell and the great loss of so many souls. We have also heard the warning if these words are not heeded and responded to, as well as the peace that will follow if they are responded to sufficiently.
And so this begs a very pertinent question of us – is this message still relevant today, for us living in 2017? And have we responded to that message sufficiently well? Lucia is clear that we have not (yet) done so.
If God was so grievously offended by sin in 1917, then He is certainly still so offended today. Unfortunately, our world has moved ever further away from Him and listens to Him now even less than it did then. We live in a world of increasing darkness, where all manner of evils are coming out of the shadows.
And if the response to our negligence of God was, in 1917, the loss of a great many souls into Hell, as the children saw, then what reason do we have to believe it to be any different today?
If Hell existed then, it still exists now. And the children of Fatima were horrified at the sheer numbers of souls they saw in Hell. Can we claim that the world has now responded sufficiently that this number is now lessened? On what can we base that claim?
Today, we often have the temerity to think we will be saved – if we believe in being ‘saved’ at all, of course – simply by being ‘nice’ people; we need not think of God, we need not seek Him, we simply need to get through life and all will be well. This thinking has, to some degree, affected our perception of what happens to souls after death. There seems to be a widespread belief that just about everyone goes to an eternity of bliss. The vision of Hell given to the children in 1917 gives the lie to that error, of course. And so it is crucial to pray for the salvation of souls, and never to assume that we know their eternal fate, no matter how well we think we knew them in life.
But there is hope; there is always hope.
Thank God, the Blessed Virgin still does now what She has done since the days of the Gospel of Saint Luke; She tells us, as She told the servants at the Wedding at Cana – ‘Do whatever He tells you’. She calls us back once more to the values of the Gospel, to the narrow path that leads to Heaven. She does this because, at the foot of the Cross, She consented to be the Mother of the Church, and so our eternal salvation matters greatly to Her. After all, Her Son spilled His Blood upon the Cross that we might be saved, so She knows all too well the price that was paid on our behalf.
Now, as then, She points to Her Son.
She asks relatively little from us – a return to God, to doing His will; constant prayer; reparative sacrifice for souls and for their conversion; devotion to Her Immaculate Heart; the Sacraments of the Church. And She reminds us of what the Lord offers us in return – eternal life in His Kingdom.
May all of us take deeply to heart this message of the motherly and Immaculate Heart of Mary and respond both quickly and fully to Her requests, particularly now, in this centenary year of Her Appearances at Fatima.
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.
Saint Jacinta, Saint Francisco and Sister Lucia, pray for us.