The Heart Of The Fatima Message
by Father Joseph de Sainte-Marie, O.C.D.
Father Joseph is no stranger to our readers. He is the Roman theologian who teaches at the Pontifical College of the Teresianum. His theological reflections on the message of Fatima have been published in a number of journals. Here we reproduce a most important part of his talk given at Fatima on October 12, 1981.
Having thus established the historical basis of our reflections, let us now consider the message itself, as we find it in the words spoken by Our Lady. The essence of the message is to be found in the declaration of July 13:
‘In order to save them (souls), God wishes to establish in the world devotion to My Immaculate Heart. If what I tell you is done, many souls will be saved and there will be peace.’
(That is the chief affirmation.)
If we analyze this we see that it contains a basic doctrinal truth and an appeal. The truth is the role of Mary as Mediatrix: ‘Only I can help you.’1 God wishes everything to depend on the mediation of Mary. This is the dogmatic truth which is at the heart of the Fatima message.
And the appeal, which is the practical outcome of this truth: to be saved and to obtain peace, we must go to Mary practicing the devotion which She has asked for.
Around this kernel, two other truths, two other aspects emerge. The first is a warning of the utmost gravity. Our Lady denounces sin which is the cause of misfortune in the world. And the second is both a promise and a prophecy: ‘But in the end My Immaculate Heart will triumph.’
To resumé this in four points:
An initial warning of danger which threatens the world on account of sin.
The evangelical truth underlying the appeal of Mary: She is the Mediatrix, who alone can preserve us from sin and its consequences.
The appeal itself: ‘Go to Mary: practice this devotion.’
Promise of a happy outcome: ‘In the end My Immaculate Heart will triumph.’
There, I think, we have the real message of Fatima. It is quite brief. But as we reflect on it, we see that these few words are of dazzling richness and limitless depth, indeed with all the depth of the Gospel. For the message of Fatima is indeed the Gospel message, passing through Mary’s Immaculate Heart.
Let us now reflect briefly on each of these four points.
The warning in regard to sin. This appears also in the words of the Angel. The supreme evil in the world, the one most to be feared, is sin. All the rest, poverty, suffering, conflicts, wars and so on, and above all death: all are but a consequence of sin. What we must fear is not so much the consequences of sin, however much these risk becoming apocalyptic in our time, as sin itself. Sin is the cause of the loss of souls, of wars and catastrophes in the world. This is what the Virgin denounces and warns us against.
And among all these sins, the endless litany, the ocean of sins of the world, there is one primary sin. What is the primary sin? Its modern name is atheism: it is the rejection of God. And this atheism of the masses, this organized militant, conquering atheism which constitutes a new phenomenon in the history of mankind is none other than the ultimate working out in all its consequences of the original sin of Adam and Eve which constituted the first negation of God.
The first sin which the Blessed Virgin denounces at Fatima is therefore the sin of atheism, this general sin which is the source common to all the sins of the world. And it must be noted incidentally that this requires to be treated at some length. But I cannot say all that needs saying in this talk …
Notice that the Virgin speaks of ‘sins committed against Her Immaculate Heart’. This expression demands an explanation, for sin is usually considered an offense against God. The psalmist says (Psalm 59:6) ‘Against Thee only have I sinned’. Yes, sin is an offense against God: but God suffers through the Heart of Christ, the incarnate Word. Sin affects God through the flesh, in the humanity of Christ. Which is quite inseparable from the Immaculate Virgin in whom ‘the Word was made flesh’. Thus sin wounds God in the humanity of Christ, from whom the Blessed Virgin Mother can never be separated. And so sin may be said to wound Mary’s Immaculate Heart at the same time as it wounds Her Son’s Sacred Heart.
Atheism is then the fundamental sin which affects both Christ and Mary. Hence the special role of Russia in the Fatima warning. And I must emphasize, of Communist Russia. For although the Blessed Virgin said ‘Russia’ I shall not say simply ‘Russia’ — for this could refer to Holy Russia and its Christian vocation. Nor shall I say simply ‘Communism’, for Communism is now a worldwide phenomenon and it has also another head: China. All that is implicit in the Fatima message. But I say ‘Communist Russia’: i.e. Russia in so much as it is the instrument chosen by Satan to actually establish his empire throughout the world. Against this sin of Communist Russia and to save the world, including Russia, from Communism — here I refer to the appeal of Our Lady, but without affecting the context as a whole — the Blessed Virgin will demand the consecration of Russia to Her Immaculate Heart.
You see the link that I make, and which has to be made, between the root sin which is atheism, and the sin of ‘Communist Russia’, which is the instrument of militant atheism to establish in the world the reign of Satan in the place of the reign of Christ.
We have considered the warning so far with reference to what it says about sin. But we must remember that the Virgin also spoke of war. In 1917 She foretold the peace of 1918; She also foretold the war of 1939-45; what followed was the famous third part of the message which remains a secret. We do not know what it contains. But certain precise clues, which I shall refer to later, and above all the internal logic of what we do know allow us to guess with some assurance that this third part of the secret could be the foretelling of a third world war: simply because atheism had not ceased to spread, especially by the action of Communist Russia, because Mary’s requests have not been heeded.
You notice that I have dealt at some length with this warning. I shall not be able to develop every point at such length. And there I shall pause, for the practical conclusions to be arrived at are obvious. The sin of atheism, the instrument for the spread of which is Communist Russia, leads to wars and cataclysms. That is what Our Lady said, and we can see the truth of it today. The remedy, and THE ONLY REMEDY — and we must impress this upon the Church today, and upon the world — the only remedy against sin and its consequences is in the Immaculate Heart of Mary. It is contained in the response to Her demands at Fatima. You see how I proceed from the warning to the appeal and from the appeal to the response. They are inseparable.
Let us continue our reflections. After these observations on the warning we must pass on to the appeal, with which it is intimately linked. A warning of danger is generally followed by a suggested course of action. We shall understand this appeal better if we consider first its evangelical and theological basis, and second that it is contained in the words: ‘I alone can save you.’ I have developed this theme at much greater length in the text which has provided the basis of this paper and which shall be published in due course. Let me examine briefly just two ideas. First the Mediation of Mary. This question, as you know, was discussed in the Council, and the objection made was drawn from St. Paul in his First Letter to Timothy ‘Unus Mediator’ (1 Tim. 2-5): ‘… there is … one mediator of God and men, the man Jesus Christ.’ To understand how this unique mediation of Christ does not suppress other mediations subordinate to His we must turn to St. Thomas Aquinas, the doctor communis of the Church. He shows it admirably. Let us begin by establishing a fact: did Jesus Christ institute a priestly ministry; yes or no? Yes he did establish a ministerial priesthood. And does not a priest mediate between the people of God, the faithful, those who are baptized, and Christ? Yes, the priest is a mediator. There then is fact number one. What St. Thomas establishes is the existence, not separate from Christ, but in Christ, not in addition to the unique mediation of Christ, but through the power of this unique mediation, one which is other yet the same, the mediation of the ministerial priesthood and the sacraments. Therefore it is not a question for discussion. It is a fact requiring acknowledgment: that there is ONE SOLE Mediator and that subordinate mediators are included in the richness of this unique Mediation. And thus we can already understand how the unique Mediation of Christ does not suppress that of Mary. He is indeed the foundation, the source of Her Mediation. He is the interior nucleus that nourishes it. It is therefore necessary to refuse to acknowledge that there is a dilemma: either one sole Mediator or many mediators. It is necessary to affirm that, deriving from one Mediation, Christ’s, there are numerous subordinate mediations. Thus Mary is a Mediatrix to make available the richness of Her Son’s Mediation. And today She is the only Mediatrix who can make available the richness of the Mediation of Christ the Word who became Incarnate within Her. ONLY in the sense employed by Her. Which becomes more easily understood from what follows.
The second idea we must recall here is that Our Lady finds Herself between Christ and the Church. She does not in any way suppress the ecclesial mediations of the Pope, Bishops, Hierarchy, Sacraments, etc. On the contrary She points to them. She is in another, complementary order. And it is She who will give fullness to the many and various institutions within the Church for the salvation of souls. The Eucharist has pride of place here. At Fatima as also at Lourdes, and indeed everywhere the first thing Our Lady does is to lead people to Her Son via priests to the Eucharist. There then is the second point.
It is thus that we must understand what Our Lady means when She affirms that She alone can save us. She does not substitute Herself for Christ. She does not put Herself in place of Him. Nor does She pretend to replace the Church and its institutions. On the contrary. What She is telling us is that it is Christ’s will to manifest the power of His grace by means of Her Immaculate Heart. And She tells us that the Church will not accomplish its mission unless it entrusts itself to Her Immaculate Heart.
Christ, Mary, the Church, for the salvation of souls, for world peace and God’s glory: such is the vision which is at the heart of Fatima. It is the whole Gospel. It is also what the surest theology tells us. Thus you can see that at the heart of the message, and at the root of the consecration demanded by Mary and of the ‘devotion’ that She wishes us to live, there lies that great truth which God wants to triumph today, the truth on which theologians are working, which is known as the doctrine of ‘Mary, Mediatrix of all graces’, or the universal mediation of Mary. Or you may call it more simply: ‘the universal Maternity of Mary’. Mediation — maternity, it is the same reality: Christ gives His life only through Mary.
With these thoughts you may see the extraordinary richness of the simple words spoken by Mary to the children. Therein is the truth which is the foundation of the entire Fatima message.
The third point is the appeal. We have already noted its contents, and would now repeat its following essential features. Go to Mary in order to live conversion. For this appeal which the Virgin makes to us is the appeal of the Gospel. The beginning of St. Matthew’s Gospel is particularly clear: ‘From that time Jesus began to preach and to say: Do penance for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.’ (Matt. 4:17). Be converted, return to God, do penance, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. This Gospel message: there is the appeal of Fatima, for Mary has never done other than remind us of the Gospel. But She reminds us of it according to the will of Christ Himself in telling us this: this conversion which Jesus My Son asks of you, you must do it and you cannot do it as He wishes it today except by coming to Me, and by establishing yourself by faith in My Heart, i.e. through My ‘mediation’, i.e. through My ‘maternity’. This conversion, which means living as a Christian, can only be achieved through Me. Such is God’s will, not mine. Such is the appeal of Fatima, an appeal for this ‘devotion’ which is the Christian life.
And I wish to point out that when Our Lady said ‘God wishes to establish in the world “devotion” to My Immaculate Heart’, She virtually said: ‘God wishes Me to reign in the world.’
In passing may I say something about this word ‘devotion’ (which requires to be discussed at some length). It is not a question of some simple practice of piety, however eminently respectable. It is necessary to have respect for souls and it is certainly not my intention to despise sound ‘devotional practices’ which are so dear to the Christian way of life. But we must look further towards the fullness of evangelical life. What it is necessary to understand is the full significance of the word ‘devotion’. It derives from the Latin ‘vovere’, ‘devovere’ which means dedication or consecration. Full devotion therefore implies full consecration to Mary: and full consecration to Mary is the means of enabling Her to reign in our hearts and in the world.
Special Nature Of The Fatima Appeal
Such then is Our Lady’s appeal: it asks us to live the Gospel life of conversion through Mary, which we can do by consecrating ourselves to Her and allowing Her to reign in us. This is a programme which affects every aspect of our lives.
This is for all Christians. It is the universal appeal of Fatima to overcome the sins of all men and above all the fundamental sin of atheism. And we must note that alongside this universal sin, there is the principal instrument for the spread of this sin: Russia. Hence the special nature of the Fatima appeal for the consecration of Communist Russia to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. This must be done by the Pope together with the Bishops of the entire world. The consecrations performed so far have not fulfilled the demands of Our Lady. Not even the most solemn consecration made by Pius XII in 1942, important though it was. It certainly marked a turning point in the history of Europe, but it was the consecration of the whole world, and by the Pope on his own, and not of Russia by the Pope with all the Bishops. That is where Fatima’s appeal differs.
What must be stressed is the call for consecration. For let me emphasize once more, there is, on the one hand, the universal appeal for consecration addressed to all the baptized and, on the other hand, the special appeal that concerns the Hierarchy.
And I say once more: why is the world today in such chaos, with terrorism continually spreading? Why is the world in all probability on the eve of apocalyptic catastrophes? It is because there has been no effective response to the will of God which was made manifest by Our Lady of Fatima and thereafter by means of various communications to Sister Lucia.
You see now the vital and crucial importance of this Fatima appeal.
Salvation For The World Only Through Mary
This is the essence of my reflections. All that I shall say subsequently, from the historical, prophetic … or theological point of view, will be no more than arguments for sustaining and justifying a decision by the Hierarchy. And first of all by helping it to be understood that by the fulfillment of this divine demand made manifest at Fatima, and by it alone, may the world be saved, and that everything else is, as St. John of the Cross says, a mere beating of the air; all else is vain and a waste of time. All that is done towards establishing peace in the world, apart from the response to Our Lady’s requests at Fatima, will be in vain and will end in failure. For if God has let His will be known in this way, it is not for men to seek alternative means.
This appeal therefore is really the essential thing about Fatima. Next, and above all, we must discover through this appeal what devotion to Our Lady implies. For therein will be found the spiritual significance of the Fatima message: life consecrated to Mary, life in Mary.
So I pass on to my fourth point: the announcement and the promise of final victory. I must emphasize this fourth point, because in its severity and gravity and its tragic aspect the Fatima message nevertheless remains a message of immense hope. Note the manner in which Our Lady announces this final victory: ‘But IN THE END My Immaculate Heart will triumph.’ Why the ‘but’? Because Our Lady knew that much time would elapse before Her demands would be fulfilled. And why ‘in the end’? Because in the meanwhile, during the period of refusal and waiting, sin would increase with all its tragic consequences. You see, therefore, how in this announcement of final victory there is also contained an announcement of the sufferings which await mankind: a warning of the chastisements — if we may use this biblical word — which threaten us.
Our Lady sees all that. Often those who meditate on the Fatima message are tempted to stop short at the aspect of sufferings and to see only catastrophes ahead, which is neither good, nor healthy, nor Christian. We must keep our eyes on the Cross, we must meditate on the Passion of Christ. But we must do so in the light of Easter and the Resurrection. And that is exactly what Our Lady is helping us to do with Her promise: ‘But in the end My Immaculate Heart will triumph.’ It is this announcement of final victory which makes the Fatima message a message of hope, a message of victory. It is in this hope awakened by the prophetic words of Our Lady that we find the strength and perseverance necessary to continue the Christian struggle day by day; this Christian struggle which — let us have no illusions — will get more and more difficult as the world plunges deeper into atheism. And persecution, which is raging in the countries of Eastern Europe, will come to punish us in the West because we have not responded to God's will to save ourselves through His Mother’s Heart.
That is why in the immediate future we are presented with the Cross of the Church. But this Cross appears to us in the light of the Resurrection. Which is why I say that the message of Fatima is a message of hope, of peace, of strength, even of joy, because it is a message of eventual victory, and because this victory will be the victory of love. That is the significance of the word ‘Heart’. ‘My Heart will triumph’ means; ‘Love will triumph’. It will triumph by means of the ‘patience of the saints’, as we are told in the Apocalypse, by means of the fidelity of the faithful, through our strength and constancy in bearing the Cross which Jesus presents to us, each of us bearing his own, and the whole Church also bearing its Cross.
So you see the importance of pondering this final prophetic announcement, for it places the whole message and mystery of Fatima in the paschal light of Christ.
1. On July 13, 1917. Note particularly the ‘I alone’.