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Honoring Mary on the 100th anniversary of her apparitions at Fatima

By Dr. Jeff Mirus (bio - articles - email) | May 05, 2017

Pope Francis has chosen to honor the Mother of God, and to lend further credibility to her apparitions at Fatima in 1917, by canonizing two of the three visionaries on the hundredth anniversary of the apparitions. Jacinta and Francisco Marto, who died very young, were beatified in the year 2000 by Pope John Paul II. They will be canonized on May 13th, just eight days from now.

I say that the Pope has “lent further credibility” to the apparitions and messages at Fatima, and even to the controversial “secrets” of Fatima, because no Catholic is obliged to recognize the validity of any private revelation. Fatima has more papal endorsements than any other apparition, and Pope Francis clearly values Our Lady’s messages concerning sin, repentance, the Rosary and consecration to her Immaculate Heart. But after a hundred years, the force of the events at Fatima has obviously begun to wane, though they still hold an important place in Catholic popular piety. The upcoming canonizations will obviously give Fatima a contemporary boost.

In anticipation of renewed interest, a number of publishers have issued new Fatima resources. Happily, I have books from both Ignatius Press and Sophia Institute Press on my desk, so I can provide some tips about what may be most useful to you, depending on your spiritual interests and needs.

I’ll begin by reminding everyone that Marian piety can be carried to excess, giving rise to various distortions, although it is very difficult for anyone who properly understands Mary’s role in salvation history to make such a mistake. It is also true that this possibility was seized upon gleefully by the “modernist” wing of the Church, beginning in the 1960s, in order to do away with precisely the sorts of private devotions that tended to strengthen a person’s faith. You may recall that even Eucharistic adoration went out of favor. Fortunately (and logically) both Our Lord and Our Lady have made a considerable comeback over the past quarter-century.

Three books for the hundredth anniversary

Let us assume for the moment that you want to take advantage of the Fatima canonizations to make sure your veneration of Mary is solidly based, or to brush up on the best way to explain Marian piety to others. That’s a laudable goal, and the book you want to use for the purpose is Marian Veneration: Firm Foundations by Francis Cardinal Arinze—another great cardinal in today’s Church, though he is 84 years old. In this brief and straightforward book of about 120 pages, Cardinal Arinze explains Marian terminology, and explores Mary’s role as the Mother of God and the Mother of the Church, as expressed in Scripture, salvation history, the liturgy, and the example of the saints.

An entirely different and far more personal approach is taken in Vision of Fatima. This is the Dominican Thomas McGlynn’s account of how he worked in the late 1940s with the sole surviving Fatima visionary, Sr. Lucia, to make sure his creation of the now famous statue of Our Lady of Fatima would be as true as possible to the reality of the apparitions. As it turned out, Lucia de Jesus dos Santos, OCD was not only the oldest of the three visionaries at the time, but she lived into her late 90s, not going to her reward until 2005. Of course, this means it is far too soon to consider whether Lucia should be canonized as well.

Fr. McGlynn first published his memoir in 1948; the new Sophia Institute edition is a reprint. The book is over twice as long as Cardinal Arinze’s instructional work. But it is highly engaging, and the artist author does more than explain the progress of his own work on the statue; he also covers the miracle of the Sun, some of the more famous miracles of healing associated with Our Lady of Fatima, and Lucia’s understanding of the reasons for delaying the release of the “secrets”. Fr. McGlynn’s approach to Fatima reflects Lucia’s own understanding at that time, gained through his many conversations with her. It is necessary to add, for the sake of theological precision, that even those who have received an apparition cannot have a perfect understanding of it. What is ultimately to be the source of inspiration in such matters is whatever the Church approves.

Finally, I was glad to see that Ignatius Press has teamed up once again with Rosikon Press in Warsaw (Poland) to bring out another impressive coffee table book that covers the apparitions at Fatima and their aftermath, including the secrets of Fatima and how they were handled. By the way, there is absolutely no truth to the claims that disturbing parts of the third secret have been withheld. This vicious rumor is a perfect example of the distorted piety and extremism of those few souls who really do tend to go off the deep end when it comes to preternatural phenomena. It is a grave sin to latch on to what is optional (such as acceptance of private apparitions) and use it against what is essential (such as the authority of the Church).

The title of this gorgeous new book is Fatima Mysteries: Mary’s Message to the Modern Age. You may recall that a similarly impressive book was published last year to pay homage to Our Lady of Guadalupe (see my review, Unlocking the Mystery of Our Lady of Guadalupe). In exactly the same way, Grzegorz Górny and Janusz RosikoĊ„ have combined to create a comprehensive text illustrated by impressive photographs relevant to Our Lady of Fatima.

Fatima Mysteries is a book lover’s treasure. It covers everything: The seers, the apparitions and miracles themselves, the message of Fatima, the death of Francisco and Jacinta from the Spanish flu, Lucia’s life as a nun, the errors of Russia exported through Communism, the horror of Nazism and World War II, the decisive role played by Pope John Paul II, the intervention of Mary to preserve him from the attempt on his life on the anniversary of the apparitions, the consecration to the Immaculate Heart, the final fall of “utopia”, and of course the three secrets of Fatima.

Whether you choose to read one of these excellent books or all of them will depend on your particular needs and interests. But as we recognize the 100th anniversary of the Fatima event, here are three options which handle the role of Mary in exactly the right way. There is nothing here to distort your piety. These authors will only enrich it.

Jeffrey Mirus holds a Ph.D. in intellectual history from Princeton University. A co-founder of Christendom College, he also pioneered Catholic Internet services. He is the founder of Trinity Communications and CatholicCulture.org. See full bio.

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  • Posted by: Jeff Mirus - May. 08, 2017 9:30 PM ET USA

    donflaherty210701793: You raise a valid question, and I apologize for the lack of clarity. It would not be sinful to conclude that the available human evidence suggests that something has been withheld. But we must remember that no private revelation is binding, and even if it is valid, its value consists in calling our attention not to particular details reported about the apparition but to the importance of the Gospel, to which it adds nothing. Sinfulness enters in when we become preoccupied with private revelations, which means they become a distraction from the Gospel. We may even begin to base our convictions on a private revelation as opposed to accepting the teaching authority and spiritual guidance of the Church. This is always a very serious danger which we are spiritually required to guard ourselves against.

  • Posted by: danflaherty210701793 - May. 08, 2017 3:22 PM ET USA

    Regarding the line it is a grave sin to use what's optional (Third Secret) against the authority of the Church--are you saying those who believe there's more to the Third Secret are in a state of grave sin and should not receive Communion without confessing first? I agree with your basic statement on this topic, but this is a pretty strong declaration.