From May 2017 through October 2017, Catholics throughout the world are celebrating the 100th anniversary of Mary’s message to three shepherd children in Fatima, Portugal. Mary appeared each month, on the thirteenth, with the exception of August, when the apparition occurred on a later date due to the imprisonment of the children. Our world needs the Fatima message 100 years later. In fact, many people, including popes and theologians, have said we need the message of Fatima more today than ever before.
What part of the Fatima message do we need most? I’d like to propose five pertinent messages for the third millennium.
1. Lack of Belief, Adoration, Hope and Love
In titling this essay, I was very intentional, by calling it “Why we need Fatima’s Message Today.” The reason for this is there were two phases of the Fatima apparitions. In 1916, three apparitions of the Angel of Portugal, the Angel of Peace, preceded the 1917 Marian apparitions. Not only is Our Lady’s message pertinent 100 years later, but the angelic message is also important. This leads me to the first point: We need Fatima’s message because today we lack belief, adoration, hope, and love.
During the three angelic apparitions, the children were taught different prayers. The angel taught the following prayer during the first apparition:
My God, I believe, I adore, I hope, and I love you. I ask pardon of you for those who do not believe, do not adore, do not hope, and do not love you.
We live in a time of rampant atheism and in an age where many of our young people are abandoning their faith the moment they step onto their college campus. Through higher education, they claim to have been enlightened, and no longer need Christian belief.
We need Fatima’s message today to call us to pray for those who do not believe, or adore, or hope, or love our God. Not only should we pray for them, but the angel taught the children to pray that they may be pardoned. Hopefully by our prayers, belief, adoration, hope, and love might be restored in our broken and troubled world.
2. To Enhance our Eucharistic Devotion
MOST Holy Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, I adore Thee profoundly.
I offer Thee the Most Precious Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity
of Jesus Christ, present in all the tabernacles of the world,
in reparation for the outrages, sacrileges, and indifference
by which He is offended. And through the infinite merit
of His Most Sacred Heart, and the Immaculate Heart of Mary,
I beg of Thee the conversion of poor sinners.
The final two apparitions of the Angel focused on the Eucharist. Francisco, Jacinta, and Lucia were taught the above referenced prayer during the second apparition. And during the third apparition, the children received the Eucharist from the hand of the angel. In the above prayer that the angel taught, we are reminded of the True Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, (body, blood, soul, and divinity), that Jesus is present in all the tabernacles of the world, and lastly that we must make reparation for offenses against the Holy Eucharist.
The angelic apparition emphasizes the true presence of Christ in the Eucharist. We live in a time where many polls suggest that most Catholics do not believe in the real presence or they misunderstand the Church’s teaching—believing the Eucharist is only a symbol. How often do you hear extraordinary ministers refer to the “bread and wine” they distribute, rather than the Body and Blood of Christ? The message also reminds us that Christ is present in all the tabernacles of the world. When we enter our local Church, we acknowledge Christ’s presence by genuflecting, but how quickly some forget this fact, when we begin to converse with our neighbor, or congregate in the nave after Mass, instead of praying to the God of the Universe. Lastly, when the Fatima children received the Eucharist, the angel told them: “Take and drink the body and blood of Jesus Christ, horribly outraged by ungrateful men. Make reparation for their crimes and console your God.” The message calls us to a worthy reception of Holy Communion. As one person once retorted, “The communion lines are long, but confession lines are short.” Before approaching for Holy Communion, we ought to do an examination of conscience, and if we are conscious of grave sin, make a sacramental confession. After all, the angel tells us Jesus is outraged by ungrateful men and their crimes. The next time you receive Holy Communion, be sure to offer a prayer of thanksgiving to Jesus, thanking him for coming to dwell within you. Be a grateful believer, not an ungrateful one.
3. Renew the Rosary Devotion
Each of the six apparitions from May-October 1917 contained a call from Our Lady to pray the rosary every day to obtain peace for the world. After all, the world was at that time in a major world war that was supposed to be the war to end all wars. As Our Lady predicted, if we did not heed her request, a second war did break out, and many more after that. We do not know the peace that God wants us to have.
I am certain that in the years following Fatima and its message of praying the rosary, many people sought to fulfill this request of Our Lady. Fatima organizations emerged as a way to promote this message. Prior to Vatican II, it was fairly common for the faithful to recite the rosary before, during, or after the Mass. In the years following the Council, through no fault of the Council itself, there seemed to have been a decline in this devotion. While some have called the period a time of “Marian silence” by the Church, it surely was not; evidenced by Paul VI’s promotion of the rosary in 1974 in Marialis Cultus.
The rosary has seen a momentum gain since St. John Paul II declared the Year of the Rosary October 2002-2003 and added the fourth set of mysteries—the Luminous mysteries. But the rosary has not been embraced by the entirety of the faithful. After the publication of my rosary devotional A Rosary Litany and the popularity it saw, I encountered some rosary nay-sayers. Yet, there is a sign of a budding rosary renewal, explained in this earlier piece for Catholic Exchange, and also with the recent release of Gretchen Crowe’s book Why the Rosary? Why Now? (Our Sunday Visitor). In a time where peace is needed more than ever; with the looming threat of nuclear war with North Korea, we need the message of Fatima more today than ever before. If we want peace in our world, have we committed ourselves to praying the rosary every day for this intention? This is what Mary asked us to do. As the title of one book put it, Fatima is the “peace plan for the world.”
4. Reminds Us of the Four Last Things
The Fatima message deals with topics that make us uncomfortable, I know that was the case for me. The topics I have in mind are the four last things: death, judgement, heaven, and hell. The apparitions of Fatima remind us of the afterlife. During the first apparition, the shepherd children asked Our Lady about some people who recently died. Lucia asked, “Is Maria das Neves in Heaven?” Mary said yes. She also asked about Amelia, to which Our Lady responded that she would be in purgatory until the end of the world. (For me, this was one of the most troubling aspects of the Fatima message. I’m still trying to understand it.) We need the Fatima message to remind us that purgatory is real, and for many of us, we will need to be purified of our sins before going to Heaven. In our funeral liturgies today, we have a tendency to canonize the deceased, and assume they are already in Heaven. This has led to fewer and fewer people offering Masses for their beloved dead. Don’t stop praying for your loved ones who have gone before you. If they are already in Heaven, your prayers will help their intercessory efficacy. (Cf: Answering Eight Questions About Purgatory: An Interview with Susan Tassone).
The Fatima message also reminds of the reality of Hell. Permit me to ask a serious question: when is the last time you heard a homily about Hell? Today even, some theologians have suggested that no one is in Hell, saying that we can “dare to hope that all can be saved.” Yet, the Fatima apparition talks about hell in three distinct ways. First, if you pray the rosary you might add a prayer after each decade of the rosary, commonly called the Fatima prayer: O my Jesus, forgive us, save us from the fire of hell. Lead all souls to Heaven, especially those who are most in need. Mary had such great concern for her children, that she wanted us to pray often that we might be saved from the fire of hell. That us, being universal, includes ourselves. If Our Lady tells us we should pray to be saved from the fire of hell, then Hell is real, and should be something we talk about in a serious, non-sensational manner. Secondly, during the July 13th apparition, the children saw Hell, and they saw people in it. Sr. Lucia graphically describes her experience in the book Fatima in Lucia’s Words. Look up her experience. And when you do, you will know there are souls in Hell. Thirdly, in the August apparition, Mary said that “Many souls go to hell, because there are none to sacrifice themselves and to pray for them.” Maybe this is why in July, Our Lady already taught the children a prayer, “O Jesus it is love of you, for the conversion of sinners and in reparation for sins against the Immaculate Heart of Mary.” If we offer sacrifices, if we pray for the conversion of sinners, if we make reparation, then perhaps a sinner’s hardened heart might be converted in the last minutes of their life. The vision granted to Sister Lucia of Hell reminds of its reality, and the consequence of sin. The call to conversion is apparent. Knowing about Hell, should make us desire Heaven all the more.
5. To Help Us Understand Marian Devotion
During the July 13th apparition, Mary mentioned the Communion of Reparation on the First Saturdays (specifically five first Saturdays), but it wasn’t until December 10, 1925 that the First Saturday devotions was further expounded on during another apparition to Lucia in her Spanish convent. Our Lady told Sr. Lucia she was to console her for the blasphemies and ingratitude that pierces her heart. To observe the First Five Saturdays, a person needs to have the intention of reparation to the Immaculate Heart of Mary by:
going to Confession,
receiving Holy Communion,
praying five decades of the rosary, and
keeping Mary company for fifteen minutes while meditating on the fifteen mysteries of the rosary.