In the midst of a terrible world war that locked most of Europe in death and destruction, Pope Benedict XV sought to end the conflict of World War I by beginning a novena to Our Lady, Queen of Peace on May 5, 1917. On the ninth day, Our Lady herself responded by visiting three peasant children in Fatima, Portugal on May 13. This would be the first of six consecutive apparitions, each occurring on the13th day of the month each, in which Our Lady preached a message of penance and peace. The most famous of these apparitions occurred on October 13, 1917 when 75,000 witnesses saw the sun dance across the sky and Our Lady identified herself as Our Lady of the Rosary to the visionaries. But it is the third apparition that contains the heart of the message of Fatima. This is where Our Lady revealed the so-called “three secrets of Fatima,” the second of which predicted war, famine, and great persecution of the Church. These dire circumstances could be prevented provided that two conditions were fulfilled, namely consecration of Russia to the Immaculate Heart and the Communion of Reparation. Specifically she told the children, “[T]o prevent this, I shall come to ask for 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.” As the Church celebrates the feast of Our Lady of Fatima, it is a fitting time to reflect on these two conditions Our Lady set forth.
As most of us know, public revelation closed with the death of St. John the Apostle which means that “…no new public revelation is to be expected before the glorious manifestation of our Lord Jesus Christ. Yet even if Revelation is already complete, it has not been made completely explicit; it remains for Christian faith gradually to grasp its full significance over the course of the centuries” (CCC 66). This is the mission of the Church as Mother and Teacher; to aid us in grasping its full significance. One of the tools she has at her disposal is what is commonly referred to as private revelation (e.g. the apparitions at Fatima).
Private revelation has the purpose of not revealing new doctrine but guiding humanity in its efforts to incorporate more fully the truths of the Gospel already contained in public Revelation. This distinction is conveyed by Pope St. John XXIII during an address at Lourdes in which he said that private revelation is“…not proposing new doctrines but to guide us in our conduct.” In general the Church deems that the messages of some apparitions as worthy of belief. Therefore we are not strictly bound by them as we are other matters of faith. But because the Church has declared their messages to be truly of God we are bound to them by reason, the way we are to all truths sufficiently proven. In other words, even though we are not bound by faith to the messages of Fatima, we ought to take seriously its message because the Church has approved its message. This is especially true when a cult arises around an apparition with the naming of a universal feast day like today—how we worship, reveals what we believe, “Lex Orandi, lex credendi.”
What makes the message of Fatima so remarkable is that Our Lady called for action by the Holy Father and he complied. While it is debatable as to which Holy Father actually fulfilled the requirements of the Consecration of Russia fully , the fact that a private revelation caused the Pope (or even several Popes) to respond is incredible. When he renewed the consecration in 1984, Pope St. John Paul II went a step further and consecrated the whole world to the Immaculate Heart. Given that private revelation cannot add to public Revelation, this act must then be in accord with something already found in divine Revelation, especially considering that the Holy Father took the demand so seriously.
It seems that a great many people, Catholics included, recoil at the idea of consecration to Our Lady. After all, no one can consecrate himself and only God can consecrate (i.e. make someone holy). However, the common usage in the Church is that it means making a sacred commitment. To say we are consecrating ourselves is to say that we are entering into this partnership in a solemn way.
But still, why would we be consecrated to Our Lady? Shouldn’t this just be something we enter into with Jesus? The short answer is that we consecrate ourselves to Our Lady precisely because we have already given ourselves to Jesus. Those who love Him, keep His commandments. Specifically, we are keeping His commandment to entrust ourselves to His Mother.
To see this more clearly, we turn once again to Pope St. John Paul II, this time by quoting from his encyclical on Mary, the Mother of the Redeemer:
“Of the essence of motherhood is the fact that it concerns the person. Motherhood always establishes a unique and unrepeatable relationship between two people: between mother and child and between child and mother. Even when the same woman is the mother of many children, her personal relationship with each one of them is of the very essence of motherhood…It can be said that motherhood ‘in the order of grace’ preserves the analogy with what ‘in the order of nature’ characterizes the union between mother and child. In the light of this fact it becomes easier to understand why in Christ’s testament on Golgotha his Mother’s new motherhood is expressed in the singular, in reference to one man: ‘Behold your son.’ It can also be said that these same words fully show the reason for the Marian dimension of the life of Christ’s disciples. This is true not only of John, who at that hour stood at the foot of the Cross together with his Master’s Mother, but it is also true of every disciple of Christ, of every Christian. The Redeemer entrusts his mother to the disciple, and at the same time he gives her to him as his mother. Mary’s motherhood, which becomes man’s inheritance, is a gift: a gift which Christ himself makes personally to every individual. The Redeemer entrusts Mary to John because he entrusts John to Mary…And all of this can be included in the word ‘entrusting.’ Such entrusting is the response to a person’s love, and in particular to the love of a mother” (Redemptoris Mater, 45).
I include this rather long quote not just because it proves that Marian Consecration is divinely instituted at the foot of the Cross, but also because of this great Marian Pope’s emphasis on the word “entrusts.” This sets up a special kind of relationship that is entirely personal. Like all personal relationships, it requires a personal response, namely, “taking her into his own home.”
What about the second request, namely, the Communion of Reparation? One of the Fatima visionaries, Lucia, became a member of the Sisters of St. Dorothy. One day, she was taking out the trash and there was a little child in the garden. She asked him if he knew the Ave Maria and he said he did. She then invited the child to pray it so she could hear it and he refused. So she told Him to go to the church in town and ask the Heavenly Mother for the Child Jesus. He later returned and she asked Him if he did what she said. He replied, “And have you spread through the world what the heavenly Mother requested of you?” She quickly realized that the child was Jesus Himself and He explained to her that the Communion of Reparation was specifically needed due to the five kinds of offenses and blasphemies against the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Specifically they are: blasphemies against her Immaculate Conception, against her perpetual virginity, against the divine and spiritual maternity of Mary, blasphemies involving the rejection and dishonoring of her images, and the neglect of implanting in the hearts of children a knowledge and love of this Immaculate Mother.
Not surprisingly like any good Son, Jesus Himself is offended when His Mother is offended. So Mary promised to asked Jesus to forgive those who “had the misfortune of offending her” if those devoted to her would practice the devotion of Five First Saturdays (one for each of the offenses Jesus mentioned). This devotion consists in doing the following on five consecutive first Saturdays:
- Confess and receive Holy Communion. Confession can be made within 8 days prior to or 8 days after the First Saturday.
- Recite the Rosary.
- “Keep me company for fifteen minutes while meditating on a mystery of the Rosary.” In other words, mental prayer on one of the mysteries.
- Do all this with the intention of making reparation for the offenses against the Immaculate Heart.
In this month of Mary, shouldn’t we all consider consecration to Our Mother and committing to showing her great love by compassion to her Immaculate Heart?