100th anniversary of the apparitions of Our Lady of Fatima
13 May 2017
St Joseph’s Church (Victoria Street)
Today is the 100th anniversary of the apparitions of Our Lady of Fatima. It is important that we celebrate these apparitions in the mind of the Church. Right from the outset, we must be clear that the main purpose of our celebration is not the apparitions themselves, but the message Our Lady has for us. Otherwise such pious celebrations can turn into superstition and also encourage a wrong attitude towards the Catholic Faith, especially for those who have a penchant for visions and apparitions.
Consequently, we must be clear about what we are dealing with in respect of the apparitions of our Lady. We are not speaking about public revelations but private revelations. Public revelations and private revelations differ in essence and degree.
Public revelations deal with the whole economy of salvation revealed by God Himself to the prophets, beginning from the time of Abraham until the last of the apostles. These revelations are contained in scripture and in tradition. Indeed, with the coming of Christ and with His death, passion and resurrection, the revelation of God for our salvation is complete. There is nothing else to add, for everything that needs to be said or revealed has already been revealed in Christ who is the Word of God in person. After Christ, there can be no more public revelations. However, it does not mean to say that having been revealed once and for all, we have grasped everything. We still need to grow in understanding of the truth revealed to us by Christ. The Church teaches that “This tradition which comes from the Apostles develops in the Church with the help of the Holy Spirit. For there is a growth in the understanding of the realities and the words which have been handed down.” (Dei Verbum 8b)
It is within this context that private revelations should be appreciated. Approved private revelations do not add anything new to public revelations. They are not necessary for salvation. Hence, whereas divine faith is required for public revelations, meaning all must accept the truths taught in scripture and tradition without compromise even if we do not understand, private revelations only require human faith to accept or reject the revelation. Whilst it is prudent and helpful to accept the apparitions, it is not necessary for one to do so. Consequently, such private revelations fall under the category of prophecy, which is to apply the message of God that is already contained in public revelations in today’s time. It is meant to be an aid for a particular point in time. Our Lady does not reveal new things but make things new. This is what the Holy Spirit does for the Church as well. He does not reveal new things because Christ is the fullness of revelation. But He makes things new.
The analogy that could be used to highlight the difference between public and private revelations is liturgy and popular devotions, like Marian devotions. Liturgy and popular devotions also differ in essence and degree. Liturgy is the public worship of the Church with Christ, in Christ and through Him to the Father. It is the highest form of worship. Popular devotions cannot take the place of worship, especially of the Eucharist. Rather, the promotion of popular devotions must lead us to Christ and the sacraments. The celebration of the sacraments and the Eucharist is then expressed concretely in popular devotions. In other words, popular devotions originate from the liturgy and flows back to the liturgy. When popular devotions are undertaken at the expense of the liturgy or alienated from the liturgy, such popular devotions are false and dangerous to the faith.
It is within this perspective that we are celebrating the opening of the 100th anniversary of the apparitions of Our Lady of Fatima. This celebration must lead us closer to the Lord who is the Saviour of the world. Devotion to our Lady of Fatima is to lead us to the heart of our salvation, that is, Christ Himself. Unless, devotion to her brings us closer to our Lord, and helps us to live holy lives, then this celebration would be out of focus. Indeed, all the three scripture readings of today’s mass point to the heart of our celebration.
In the first reading, the Prophet Isaiah gave hope to the people that Israel would once again be restored to her dignity. All shame and disgrace would be taken away and they once again would belong to the Lord. Such were the blessings that Israel were told to hope for. “I exult for joy in the Lord, my soul rejoices in my God, for he has clothed me in the garments of salvation, he has wrapped me in the cloak of integrity, like a bridegroom wearing his wreath, like a bride adorned in her jewels.” Israel would once again be the radiant and beautiful bride of God.
Of course, this passage refers both to Mary and to the Church, since both are called to be the bride of Christ. Mary is the bride of Christ because she lives in perfect union with the Lord in mind and heart. When a woman said, “Happy the womb that bore you and the breasts you sucked!”, Jesus replied, “Still happier those who hear the word of God and keep it!” Mary truly is not just the biological mother of our Lord. More importantly, she carries the heart of Jesus in her, beating as one in union with Christ. Like the Lord, she strives to offer herself to the world in obedience to the will of God, saying, “fiat” to whatever the Lord asks of her. She followed Jesus not just in His ministry but right to the cross, standing beneath it. She was with Jesus not just in His success but even in His failures. Only she stood beneath the cross when all the other apostles abandoned Jesus. Mary, in union with Jesus, prayed for their enemies and offered themselves for the salvation of humanity. Accordingly, she has been given the title, co-redemptrix and not just mediatrix.
Our devotion to Mary, the Immaculate Heart, as our Lady of Fatima invites us, should lead us to cultivate the heart of Jesus. We are called to share the heart of Mary so that we too can beat with the heart of Jesus. We too must strive to do His holy will at all times, even when it is difficult and we do not understand. Only when we do the will of God as she told us at Cana, “Do whatever He tells you!” (Jn 2:5) can we find life and salvation. All of us might not be the biological parents of Jesus but we are His spiritual parents, brothers and sisters if we do His will, for Jesus promised us, “For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” (Mt 12:50)
This, precisely, is what St Paul wants to remind us, that we are all called to be the adopted sons and daughters of God in Christ through Mary. He wrote, “When the appointed time came, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born a subject of the Law, to redeem the subjects of the Law and to enable us to be adopted as sons.” Of course, this is possible only in Christ who was born of a woman! Only because of Mary, could the Second Person of the Trinity assume our humanity. Without Mary, Jesus could not be fully human. If Jesus were not truly man, the death He died would not be real and the sufferings would be just a phantom. But Christ’s sufferings and death were real. He died to death so that He could conquer death once and for all by His resurrection. And only upon His resurrection could He send us the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of the Father and the Son upon us so that we can become the adopted sons and daughters of God because we now share the same Spirit of God, the same heart of God, the heart of Mary and the heart of the Church.
So today, as we begin the centenary celebration of the 100th years of the apparitions of our Lady of Fatima, let us take to heart her message to come to her and learn from Her Immaculate Heart so that like her, we can have the heart of Jesus, becoming like her in humility, obedience, service and faith. Through our obedience to the Word of God and through our self-offering with Christ for the salvation of the world, we too will enjoy the full dignity of divine sonship and daughtership, fulfilling the promise of God through Isaiah.
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