This study of Our Lady of Fatima is dedicated to Sister Mary Elizabeth, O.C.D. and Sister Margaret Mary, O.C.D. of the Carmel of the Holy Name of Jesus, Denmark, Wisconsin, in gratitude for all they have done to promote the Fatima message through their prayers and sacrifices in Carmel.
The celebration of the 100th anniversary of the apparitions of the Mother of God in Fatima, Portugal, led me to reflect on the 75th anniversary in 1992. At that time, I was the Executive Director of the World Apostolate of Fatima (The Blue Army) and the rector of the Shrine of the Immaculate Heart of Mary in Washington, NJ. As part of the 75th anniversary celebrations, my staff and I organized a symposium on the Fatima message.
A week or two before the symposium, one of the speakers, Monsignor Eugene Kevane, founder and director of the Notre Dame Catechetical Institute in Arlington, VA, fell critically ill. We had invited him, a distinguished scholar, to present a paper titled “Mary, Catechist at Fatima.” If my memory serves me well, Monsignor Kevane himself suggested the topic.
Since Monsignor Kevane had been one of my esteemed professors in graduate school, I decided to take his topic as my own and compose an essay entitled, “Mary, Catechist at Fatima.” I hid away in a retreat house for a week to prepare the conference that Monsignor Kevane had been scheduled to deliver. I knew that I had to focus on Monsignor Kevane’s amazing understanding of the role of catechesis in the life of the Church. I reread the story of the apparitions with an eye on its pedagogical orientation and content. After a day or two of study, I realized anew Monsignor Kevane’s genius. The apparitions of Our Blessed Mother at Fatima and the supernatural phenomena that surrounded them were from beginning to end a catechetical lesson given to three innocent children. The simplicity and profundity of the insight engulfed me. God had sent the Blessed Mother to Fatima to instruct and form three youngsters, and through them, the Christian world, in the fundamental message of the Gospel: The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the Gospel (Mk 1:15).
When I began to reread the accounts of the apparitions, I understood that Monsignor Kevane had grasped with acuity an essential component of what we might call the mystery of Fatima. Certainly, God had sent the Lady of the Rosary to Fatima in 1917, as the First World War raged in Europe, with a plan for peace. She came to alert the Church to the evils of Russian Communism. Above all, she came to call her children, many of whom were and are in danger of eternal loss, to faith, conversion, and a life of prayer and penance for the salvation of all people.
The message of Our Lady of Fatima is remarkably simple. The first recipients and beneficiaries of the message were three poor children: Lucia Dos Santos and her cousins, Francisco Marto, and Jacinta Marto, ages 10, 9, and 7 respectively at the time of the apparitions. They understood the message perfectly: Reject sin, pray the rosary, do penance for the salvation of sinner.
Twenty-five years ago, my research led me to isolate a number of catechetical truths that Our Lady taught the children of Fatima. I must confess, though, that in 1992 I did not adequately appreciate the central role the Eucharist played in the Fatima mystery. The centenary celebration offered me the opportunity to revisit the topic in “Mary, Catechist at Fatima.” I have come to realize that the Mother of God through the agency of an angel brought the Christian initiation of Jacinta, Francisco, and Lucia to completion. Then, Mary, as the children’s spiritual mother, helped them to internalize the Eucharistic Sacrifice in every facet of their lives.
Praying with Angels
In 1916, the before Mary herself came, an angel appeared to the children on at least three occasions. Identifying himself as the “Angel of Peace,” he came from God to teach the children how to exercise their baptismal priesthood. In the first apparition, the Angel bowing profoundly with his forehead on the ground taught the children this prayer: “My God, I believe, I adore, I hope, and I love You. I ask pardon for those who do not believe, do not adore, do not hope, and do not love You.” The Eucharistic theme of this prayer was repeated with a slightly different emphasis in the second apparition of the angel. He said to them, “in every way you can offer sacrifice to God in reparation for the sins by which He is offended, and in supplication for sinners. In this way, you will bring peace to our country, for I am its guardian angel, the Angel of Portugal. Above all, bear and accept with patience the sufferings God will send you.”
The third and final apparition of the Angel is explicitly Eucharistic. In fact, in this apparition, the angel gave Jacinta, Francisco, and Lucia their first Holy Communion.* The Angel gave the Eucharist to the children under both species. It is worthwhile to ponder the entire description of the marvelous event from the diary of Sr. Lucia:
“After we had repeated this prayer, I do not know how many times we saw shining over us a strange light. We lifted our heads to see what was happening. The Angel was holding in his left hand a chalice and over it, in the air, was a host from which drops of blood fell into the chalice. The Angel leaves the chalice in the air, kneels near us and tells us to repeat three times:
“‘Most Holy Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, I adore You profoundly, and I offer You 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 indifferences by which He is offended. And by the infinite merits of His Most Sacred Heart and the Immaculate Heart of Mary, I beg the conversion of poor sinners.’
“After that he rose, took again in his hand the chalice and the host. The host he gave to me and the contents of the chalice he gave to Jacinta and Francisco, saying at the same time, Eat and drink the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ terribly outraged by the ingratitude of men. Offer reparation for their sakes and console God.
“Once more, he bowed to the ground repeating with us the same prayer thrice: ‘Most Holy Trinity,’ etc. and disappeared. Overwhelmed by the supernatural atmosphere that involved us, we imitated the Angel in everything, kneeling prostrate as he did and repeating the prayers he said.”
Messenger of Mystery
The Angel taught the children how to worship the mystery of God; how to offer Jesus to the Father in sacrifice, how to offer themselves and their sacrifices in union with Jesus to the Father, how to draw life from the reception of the Lord’s Body and Blood. He catechized the children on the Real Presence and the Real Sacrifice of Christ in the Eucharistic celebration. He taught them how to exercise their baptismal priesthood in making the oblation. He introduced a theme that Our Lady would make much more explicit in the subsequent apparitions: the oblation of Christ, truly present in the Eucharist, must be lived out every day by members of the Church.
The significance of the Eucharist in the mystery of Fatima is most evident in these three apparitions of the Angel to the children. It is of some importance to address two thought-provoking questions. First, from whence the consecrated host and chalice that the Angel gave to the children? Surely, the complete answer to this question is enfolded in the mystery of God. Suffice it to say, the Eucharistic species had to come from the celebration of the Eucharistic Sacrifice somewhere. The children’s reception of the body and blood of Christ united them to the Lord and the sacramental representation of his Calvary sacrifice, to the local and universal Church in which the sacrifice is offered, and to a bishop or priest who makes the offering.
Second, had the children received the sacrament of confirmation before the apparition of the Angel?* During the first half of the 20th century in many places throughout the world, whenever the local bishop came to town he confirmed all the baptized men, women, and children, even those children who had not yet attained the use of reason. Without having the resources to answer this question definitively now, I venture to opine that when the children received their first Holy Communion from the hands of the Angel, they may have already received the sacrament of confirmation. Certainly, their willingness to defend, suffer for, and bear witness to the faith in the world manifests the res proper to confirmation, the sacrament of Christian maturity. I might suggest that the first Holy Communion of Jacinta, Francisco, and Lucia brought their initiation into the Body of Christ to completion. This specific encounter with Jesus in the presence of an angel was the sacramental apex of their spiritual lives. The event determined and gave form to all that would follow.
Like all fully initiated children, though, the future seers of Fatima were in need of further catechesis. The Mother of God would provide it. In each of Mary’s apparitions, Our Lady of Fatima led the children to worship and adore God whom they perceived to dwell within her Immaculate Heart. The holy presence of Mary established and greatly intensified the milieu of worship already familiar to the children through the vision of the Angel of Peace.
Our Lady taught the children that the Incarnation of the Eternal Son of God is the greatest manifestation of God’s love for all men and women. In Jesus Christ, the God-made-man suffered and died to make us holy and draw us into his life. Mary revealed that because of their free choice to reject grace and live in mortal sin, some, perhaps many people, would spend their eternity in hell fire. Lucia said that after their vision of hell, Jacinta, Francisco, and she would have died of fright had not Mary told them in a previous apparition that they would each go to Heaven.
After the vision of hell, the three little shepherds redoubled their prayer and penance for the conversion of sinners. In fact, Francisco spent long hours each day praying in front of the Blessed Sacrament in the parish church. Jacinta, the youngest of the three, distinguished herself by acts of heroic penance to save sinners but, before all else, to console the Sacred Heart of Jesus, wounded by sin. Jacinta had a special love and concern for the Holy Father in Rome. All three of them prayed the Rosary many times each day to console God and save sinners from the fires of hell. When the Blessed Virgin asked the children to pray for Russia who was spreading errors (atheism and materialism) throughout the world, the children thought she was speaking of one particularly wicked woman who needed conversion.
The Blessed Virgin by her simple presence created an atmosphere of worship for the children. She helped them as a master catechist to understand that the disciples of Jesus never worship God alone. When they celebrate the Eucharist, Christians worship the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit in spiritual solidarity with all other Christians in the state of sanctifying grace. These holy ones, when their holiness is real, experience the desire to bring those men and women, Christians and non-Christians, who are far away from God in the state of mortal sin to reconciliation and Eucharistic communion.
The driving impetus of this movement of grace-love is the consolation of Jesus who thirsts for human faith and love in return for his love. Through their union with Christ in the Eucharist, Christians in the state of grace have the power, through prayer and penance, to help their brothers and sisters, estranged from God, to receive and cooperate with Jesus’ redeeming grace (Col 1:24). The truth, that Christians are co-workers with Christ (1 Cor 3:9) and Mary in the application of the grace of the redemption, is perhaps the centerpiece of the Fatima message. Mary during the August apparition could not have stated this truth more clearly. With an expression of deep sadness, she told the children: “Pray, pray very much. Make sacrifices for sinners. Many souls go to hell, because no one is willing to help them with sacrifice.”
Whereas the Angel of Peace came to catechize the children in the mystery of the Eucharist and instruct them in the exercise of their baptismal priesthood, Mary came six times as the children’s spiritual mother to teach them how to allow the Eucharistic Sacrifice to permeate every facet of their lives. As the Second Vatican Council notes, Mary was she who had “cooperated through her faith, hope, obedience, and burning charity in the Savior’s work of restoring supernatural life to souls” (Lumen Gentium, 61), and she showed herself to be the mother of the life of Jesus in the children’s souls. They recognized Mary and clung to her as the mother of their interior life, the life of sanctifying grace. In each apparition, Mary taught the children to work with her in the application of the grace of the Christ’s redemption through their faith, hope, obedience, and burning charity.
The Blessed Virgin gave the children prophetic messages for the local Bishop and the Pope. Mary revealed to the Church and the world the evil of Russian Communism. This helped prepare the Church for other forms of modern totalitarianism. Perhaps God’s choice of Fatima, a town named after Mohammad’s daughter, indicates that the Virgin of Nazareth will one day be the path that Islam will take to Jesus.
There was a spectacular miracle on October 13, 1917, “the miracle of the sun.” The children saw St. Joseph with Mary and the Christ Child. The thousands present saw the sun dance in the sky. Many of them believed that the world was about to end. This great sign demonstrated the veracity of the Fatima message. It revealed that all creation is involved in the worship of the Trinity. It gave a glimpse into the cosmic pyrotechnics that will precede and accompany the Lord’s return in glory. The miracle of the sun was the climax of the Fatima apparitions. However, Mary would return later to Sister Lucia to ask for the consecration of Russia to her Immaculate Heart and for the devotion of the five First Saturdays. We do not know if Mary visited Lucia again during her long sojourn in Carmel. One might suspect that she had.
Perhaps even greater than the miracle of the sun is the fact that so many millions of people have responded to the message of Our Lady of Fatima by praying her Rosary each day for peace in the world and the conversion of sinner. The connection of the Eucharist and Rosary is luminous. In both prayers, one liturgical, the other devotional, there is an epiclesis (invocation of the Holy Spirit), an anamnesis (a sacred remembrance of the Mystery of Christ that makes Him present), and an increase of agape-love. The praying of the Rosary helps the Catholic understand and experience at a new depth the Eucharistic epiclesis, anamnesis, and agape-love. The Rosary also allows the disciple to savor and enjoy the epiclesis, anamnesis, and agape-love that unites heaven and earth at Holy Mass.
Perhaps the greatest miracle of all is the holiness wrought by grace in the lives of St. Jacinta and St. Francisco. His Holiness, Pope Francis recognized and praised their remarkable holiness when he enrolled them in the canon of the saints on May 13, 2017. Little Jacinta and Francisco are not saints because they saw an angel and the Mother of God. They are saints because they heard the Word of God, believed it, and put in into practice in their lives through prayer and sacrifice. They are saints because they offered, received, and internalized the Mystery of Faith, the Holy Eucharist.
Many foresee that Sister Lucia, who will undoubtedly join her cousins as a saint soon, has an important doctrinal mission to fulfill as the Church assimilates her experiences and writings. Perhaps the Church will recognize her as the Catechist of the Fatima Message. As such, she will help Christians encounter more intentionally Mary’s motherhood in the order of sanctifying grace. She also has much to teach us about the transformative power of the Holy Eucharist, the source and summit of the Church’s life. Her models of this transformative power are St. Jacinta and St. Francisco of Fatima.
* ADDENDUM to “The Mother of Our Love for Christ: Our Lady of Fatima and The Holy Eucharist,” by Father Frederick L. Miller
After the publication of my article on Our Lady of Fatima and the Holy Eucharist in the July 2017 issue of Adoremus Bulletin, I discovered that I had made an error that I wish to correct. I wrote that the “Angel of Peace” had given the seers of Fatima, Lucia, Jacinta, and Francisco their First Holy Communion in the course of his third apparition to them. In fact, Lucia had already received her first Holy Communion approximately four years before the apparitions of the Angel and Our Lady. The parish priest allowed her to receive the Eucharist at the age of 6 (the normal age then was 10) because of her precocious ability to articulate the doctrine of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. This spiritual understanding was evident in the mystagogic catechesis she gave Jacinta and Francisco after their first Holy Communion from the hands of the Angel. Surely that reception of the Eucharist from the Angel had special significance in Lucia’s spiritual formation. Lucia’s ability to explain the mystery to her younger cousins confirms my point that Lucia will someday be recognized as the catechist of the Fatima Message in all of its dimensions.
In the same article, I opined that the three children might have received the Sacrament of Confirmation before their first Holy Communion. When I wrote the article, I did not have the resources available to prove or disprove this hypothesis. Shortly after the article was submitted, I spent two grace-filled weeks in Fatima and had a chance to speak to one of the officials of the sanctuary. He told me that there are records attesting to the Confirmation of Lucia several years after the apparitions. He also said that there are no records indicating that Jacinta or Francisco had ever received Confirmation. My point, though, stands secure: the three children’s fortitude and witness to the truth indicate that they received a grace analogous to the grace of Confirmation through their reception of the Body and Blood of Christ and their adoration of the mystery. In the six apparitions at the Cova d’Iria, the Blessed Mother helped the children to allow the Eucharistic grace to permeate every facet of their spiritual lives.
—Father Frederick L. Miller