On the Critics of Pope Francis’ Consecration to the Immaculate Heart
When Pope Francis consecrated the world to the Immaculate Heart of Mary on October 13th, he followed a tradition of pontifical consecrations established by Pope Pius XII and continued by Pope John Paul II, each of whom made the consecration twice. These consecrations are certainly occasions of grace, even if many in the world have no wish to be so consecrated.
The official use of the term “consecration” in this context will, I hope, give pause to some who insist the word cannot be used properly except in direct reference to God. While as a precise theological term, “consecrate” does refer to God, in ordinary usage it can refer to any supreme commitment to a religious value which, as it were, draws us very close to God, enabling us to participate in some way in His holiness.
No less an authority than Christ Himself purposefully consecrated Himself so that his disciples “may be consecrated in truth” (Jn 17:19). In view of the sacrifice He was about to make, of course, the connection with the Father in this consecration is very clear, almost palpable in its intensity. To take another example, in his Gettysburg address, a far more ordinary Abraham Lincoln referred to the consecration of a battleground by the sacrifice of the Union soldiers. No matter what we think of the sentiment, this suggests that in normal use the term can and does refer to a kind of immersion in a deep value closely connected with the Divine. “To consecrate” means, in effect, “to make sacred”.
In this sense, consecration to Our Lady could not be more appropriate. Mary invariably leads onward to her Divine Son all those who commit themselves directly to her. Indeed, it ought not to surprise us that at Fatima she urged the consecration of Russia to her Immaculate Heart. Her sole desire is that her children will “do whatever He tells you” (Jn 2:5). Consecration to that is perfectly fine, and more than fine.
But a further objection has been raised by some Catholics who are very dedicated to Our Lady’s messages at Fatima. These criticize Pope Francis, and the popes who preceded him, for not explicitly following Mary’s request to consecrate, in union with all the bishops, specifically Russia to the Immaculate Heart. In consecrating the whole world, Francis has been likened to a faithless Moses, who struck the rock twice! The consequences are grave, say the critics. After the proper consecration, Mary promised a period of peace to the world. Moreover, if all of her requests were honored in time, she is reported to have said, the loss of many souls, as well as the annihilation of nations, could be avoided.
For this reason, some have seriously faulted the Holy Father, as they have faulted his predecessors, for not doing the consecration exactly as Mary asked. Now there can be no harm in gently preferring to see Our Lady’s requests carried out to the letter, as we understand them, even from a private revelation. But unfortunately, this matter of Fatima and the consecration has become something of a cottage industry for disgruntled Catholics.
Some of the more severe critics actually believe Pope Francis’ consecration is part of a long and invidious pattern on the part of the papacy, a pattern of deliberately ignoring and obscuring the message of Fatima. They believe that parts of the famous “Third Secret” are actually being kept from the world (despite the fact that the Vatican has assured all who will listen that this is not the case). Whole books have been written about this “conspiracy”. But the series of allegations is preposterous, lacking anything that even remotely resembles evidence. It is very definitely a tale from “the fringe”.
In fact, the insistence that the popes are guilty of serious fault for not following the instructions of Our Lady at Fatima turns the authority of the Church on its head. It is of the essence of Christianity that Christ Himself was the full revelation of the Father, and that the deposit of faith—the Revelation on which the mission of the Church was based—was closed with the death of the last apostle. Subsequent locutions and apparitions may be given to individuals, but they are essentially private in character, not part of the public Revelation committed to the Church. It belongs to the Church to judge these private revelations, and not for these private revelations to be used to judge the Church.
Mary, we may be certain, is quite aware that she was not made the vicar of Christ by her Son. She was given a far more intimate and maternal role, but it is not a role in the governance of the Church. Private revelations, even when genuine, are filtered through the minds of their recipients in a manner which provides no guarantees of accuracy, either in grasping the facts of the revelation or in understanding its meaning. The Church alone can determine whether such a private revelation is authentic and, within that authenticity, what it means, and whether and how it should be followed and propagated.
It may or may not be the case that Mary is unimpressed by these consecrations of the “whole world” when she only specified Russia (at least at Fatima). It may or may not be the case that if Pope Francis could just get the precise formula correct, all manner of catastrophe could be avoided, and astounding blessings would more or less automatically ensue. But such literalism, when pressed, smacks of superstition; it reminds one of novenas promised never to fail in producing the exact result conceived by the one who prays them. And yet Mary herself linked all of these outcomes to an increasing devotion to the Rosary as a means of bringing many into unity with the will of her Son. She is not the mother of linguistic tricks but of holiness.
In any case, the main point is that it belongs to the Vicar of Christ to judge the meaning, the import, the public utility, and the timeliness of anything contained in an approved private revelation. Grave errors are possible in both accepting and following private revelations, and it is the office of Peter and the apostles, including all of their successors, to protect us from such errors. It may be that something remains still to be done publicly to respond to the message of Fatima—or it may not. But Our Lady prays for and with each of us only from the heart of the Church. The spirit of division is not her Spirit; it must be imported from Outside.
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Posted by: -
Oct. 21, 2013 8:18 PM ET USA
Jesus foreknew of the crisis of faith in the Church and throughout the world. He sent His mother, the ultimate Prophetess, the Queen of Prophets, to prescribe the means and directions for avoiding it and stopping the spread of errors. Like Our Lord, the spirit of Our Lady's Fatima prophecy lies in saving souls. The means to save souls is the Pope and bishops consecration of Russia to her Immaculate Heart and in aid of this lies prayer, penance and practice of the Five First Saturdays devotion.
Posted by: timothy.op -
Oct. 17, 2013 10:44 PM ET USA
"She is not the mother of linguistic tricks but of holiness." - Superbly put. It is the difference between the letter that kills, and the spirit that gives life. The spirit of the message of Fatima lies in prayer, penance and conversion. To focus on other accidentals is to miss the point.
Posted by: koinonia -
Oct. 16, 2013 9:14 AM ET USA
There is mystery. As noted above, it is important to preserve a proper understanding of private revelation and to avoid intemperance. Nonetheless Our Lady did reference the serious offenses of 1917 and the dire consequences. Things might be a little worse now. The carnage of the twentieth century certainly gives one pause. In a sobering conversation prior to his death my father, WWII vet and Depression survivor, advised cryptically that he did not envy what lies ahead for his progeny.