2017 is an exciting year for Catholics who have a devotion to the Blessed Mother. Like every year, May is a very important month for Marian devotion, with May crowning and celebrating Marian feasts. This year, May 13 has special importance because it marks the 100th anniversary of the beginning of Mary’s apparitions to the three shepherd children in Fatima, Portugal.
I must confess, it took a long time for me to become a devotee of Fatima. My devotion went as far as praying the Fatima prayer after each decade of the Rosary. But I never fell in love with the Fatima apparitions as I did with others. However, my appreciation and devotion to Fatima grew when I joined hundreds of Marian scholars last September in Fatima to discuss the profundity and importance of the Fatima message in our contemporary age. Since we find ourselves in the midst of this centennial year of Fatima, the anniversary allows us as Catholics to learn for the first time or rediscover, renew, and recommit ourselves to living the message Our Lady conveyed to the three children.
The angelic apparitions
Many people know Mary appeared in 1917 to three shepherd children: Jacinta, Francisco, and Lucia. One of the forgotten facts is that the Angel of Peace preceded the 1917 Marian apparitions, visiting the children three times in 1916. The angelic apparitions served as a preface for the message Mary would speak later. The angel taught the children two different prayers during the apparitions. One prayer was relatively short, and the other was a bit lengthy. The children learned the first prayer during the first apparition: “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 second angelic apparition encouraged the children to offer sacrifices to God and to pray for peace. It was during this apparition that the angel identified himself as the Angel of Portugal.
The third apparition emphasized the Eucharist as the angel appeared with a host and chalice and taught the second prayer as an act of adoration of the Eucharist and reparation for sin. Not only did the children learn a prayer, but they received the Eucharist from the hand of the angel. Lucia received the host, while Jacinta and Francisco received from the chalice.
These often-forgotten angelic apparitions contain great significance and should be a part of living the message of Fatima. The angel taught those two prayers to the children because they were efficacious and pleasing to God. In imitation of the Fatima children, we could learn the prayers and pray them often, making intercession for those who do not believe and offering reparation for sinners. Secondly, the angelic apparitions make known the biblical reality of guardian angels (see Matthew 18:10). Not only do each of us have a guardian angel, but countries have one too. If you find yourself dissatisfied with what is happening in our country, why not ask the intercession of our nation’s guardian angel?
Mary visits Fatima
Mary appeared a total of six times to the three Fatima children between May 13 and Oct. 13, 1917. During the first apparition, Mary said she would return on the 13th of each month and at the same hour. The children faithfully kept each “appointment,” except for August when the local authorities imprisoned them. They saw Mary a few days later on Aug. 19.
Over the course of the six apparitions, Mary revealed to the children specific things that have become a part of the overarching Fatima message. The most significant aspects of that message include the Rosary, the Immaculate Heart, and a devotion known as the Five First Saturdays. Another important part of the Fatima story was a solar miracle that occurred in October 1917, validating the heavenly visitations.
In each of the six apparitions, Mary instructed the children to pray the Rosary every day, especially for peace in the world and an end to war. During the apparition on July 13, Mary requested that the children add a simple phrase after each mystery: “O my Jesus, forgive us, save us from the fire of hell. Lead all souls to heaven, especially those who are most in need.” Many devotees of the Rosary still pray this phrase in response to Mary’s request.
Lastly, Mary promised the children she would reveal her identity during the last apparition in October. While we often refer to the apparitions as “Our Lady of Fatima,” Mary told the children: “I am the Lady of the Rosary.” The revealed identity of Mary and the message she spoke to the three shepherd children of Fatima draws attention to one of the most common forms of Marian devotions — and calls us to pray the Rosary daily.
The Fatima apparitions enhanced devotion to Mary’s heart. During the June 13 apparition, Mary revealed a desire of Jesus, saying, “[Jesus] wants to establish in the world devotion to my Immaculate Heart.” Also during that same apparition, Lucia was told that Our Lady’s Immaculate Heart would be Lucia’s refuge and the path that would lead her to God.
Through the Fatima apparitions, we learn that the sins of humanity outrage Mary’s heart. We also see her desire for reparation to be made to her Immaculate Heart. This became apparent during the July 13 apparition. First Mary encouraged the children to make sacrifices for sinners and to specifically pray, “O Jesus, it is for love of you, for the conversion of sinners, and in reparation for the sins committed against the Immaculate Heart.”
Second, on July 13, Mary showed the children a vision of hell. The children saw the suffering of those detained there, and in response Mary affirmed Jesus’ desire for devotion to the Immaculate Heart:
You have seen hell where the souls of poor sinners go. To save them, God wishes to establish in the world devotion to my Immaculate Heart. If what I say to you is done, many souls will be saved and there will be peace.
Third, during the same July apparition, Mary requested the consecration of Russia to her Immaculate Heart and the communion of reparations of the Five First Saturdays. At the conclusion of the July apparition, Mary finalized her revelation about the Immaculate Heart, saying, “In the end, my Immaculate Heart will triumph.” Indeed, her heart will triumph when her children live her message of devotion, prayer, sacrifice, and reparation.
What occurred on Oct. 13, at the end of the apparitions to the three children, validated the apparitions in the eyes of many. During the July 13 apparitions, Mary told the children she would perform a miracle for all to see in October and that St. Joseph and the Child Jesus would come as well. (An animated film, The Day the Sun Danced: The True Story of Fatima, teaches children the importance of Fatima and captures the essence of the miracle.)
At the designated time, the apparition revealed herself as Our Lady of the Rosary. Afterward, as she began to ascend back to heaven, St. Joseph appeared with the Christ Child and Mary. Then Jesus appeared with Our Lady of Sorrows and lastly Our Lady of Mount Carmel. And then the great solar miracle happened. Nearly 70,000 people witnessed this miracle, when it seemed the sun was plunging toward the earth, only to return to the sky. For the onlookers, this confirmed what the Fatima children claimed.
Living the message
Knowing the story of Fatima is not enough. We are called to live the message of Fatima. Mary requested the daily recitation of the Rosary for peace in the world. Turn on the television, and you will realize that we do not know the peace God wishes to offer us. Consider praying the Rosary each day to fulfill Mary’s request.
Secondly, during the July apparition Mary mentioned the Five First Saturdays devotion. In a later apparition to Lucia in 1925, Our Lady spoke of the conditions for this devotion. Those conditions include confession, reception of Holy Communion, praying five decades of the Rosary, and meditation on the Rosary mysteries for 15 minutes. These conditions must be performed with the intention of making reparation to Our Lady’s Immaculate Heart. As you read this article in May 2017, it is still possible to observe the Five First Saturdays before the conclusion of the 100th anniversary. Find a morning Mass on June 3, July 1, Aug. 5, Sept. 2, and Oct. 7, and fulfill the other requisites for the First Saturdays devotion.
Lastly, Mary requested the consecration of Russia to her Immaculate Heart. Consider consecrating yourself to Mary during this centennial year. There are a lot of resources out there, including St. Louis de Montfort’s Total Consecration, Fr. Michael Gaitley’s 33 Days to Morning Glory: A Do-It-Yourself Retreat in Preparation for Marian Consecration (Marian Press, 2011), and my latest book, A Heart Like Mary’s: 31 Daily Meditations to Help You Live and Love as She Does (Ave Maria Press, expected to be released in October 2017).
This year’s 100th anniversary of Fatima renews Mary’s message in our contemporary age and calls us to begin or renew living the message. Mary has given us a plan for peace in our world. It’s on us now to live the message and obtain the peace our world so desperately needs.
St. John Paul II and Fatima
Mary entrusted a three-part secret to the Fatima children. The third part of the secret revealed a man dressed in white, presumably the pope, who was killed by soldiers shooting bullets and arrows. In similar fashion, other bishops, priests, men and women religious, and lay faithful were killed. It is believed the May 13, 1981, assassination attempt on St. John Paul II’s life was the fulfillment of this prophecy. The incident occurred on the 64th anniversary of the Fatima apparition. In gratitude for Mary’s hand guiding the bullet, St. John Paul II visited Fatima as a pilgrim. The nearly fatal bullet was given to the Fatima Sanctuary and placed in the Virgin of Fatima’s crown, where it remains today.