The Magnificent Promise for the Five First Saturdays
What an admirable, stupefying promise made June 13, 1917! Yet this promise still leaves us in a state of doubt. Jacinta of Fatima, by a special grace, felt her heart consumed by an ardent love for the Immaculate Heart of Mary. But we? We are cold, or our fervor is so short-lived! Could we ever know if we had sufficient devotion so that Our Lady would be bound to keep Her promise to us?
It is here that we are wonderstruck by the limitless Divine Mercy, and the profoundly Catholic character of the revelations of Fatima. In the whole message, there is not an ounce of Protestant subjectivism! Here, Heaven goes to the limits of indulgence, and the most sublime prophecy ("God wishes to establish in the world devotion to My Immaculate Heart") are exchanged, translated into very small requests, clear and precise requests, easy requests which leave no room for doubt. Everyone can know if he has accomplished them or not. A "little devotion" practiced with a good heart is enough to receive infallibly for us, this grace - ex opere operato, so to speak - as with the sacraments; and what a grace - the grace of eternal salvation! It is worth the effort to give careful study to such a magnificent promise. It is the fulfillment, the perfect expression of the first part of the great Secret, which is entirely concerned with the salvation of souls.
From Fatima to Pontevedra: the Fulfillment of the Secret. In describing the apparitions and explaining the message of Pontevedra, we will simply comment on the words pronounced by Our Lady on July 13, 1917. They are concise, but so rich in meaning:
"If what I say to you is done, many souls will be saved ... I will come to ask for ... the Communion of Reparation on the First Saturdays of the month."
Here then is the first "Secret of Mary" which we must discover and understand. It is a sure and easy way of tearing souls away from the danger of hell; first our own; then those of our neighbors; and even the souls of the greatest sinners, for the mercy and power of the Immaculate Heart of Mary are without limits.
Pontevedra: the Apparitions and the Message(1)
December 10, 1925: The Apparition Of The Child Jesus And Our Lady
On the evening of Thursday, December 10, after supper, the young postulant Lucy - who was only eighteen years old - returned to her cell. There she was visited by Our Lady and the Child Jesus. Let us listen to her account:(2) (written in the third person)
"On December 10, 1925, the Most Holy Virgin appeared to her, and by Her side, elevated on a luminous cloud, was the Child Jesus. The Most Holy Virgin rested Her hand on her shoulder, and as She did so, She showed her a Heart encircled by thorns, which She was holding in Her other hand. At the same time, the Child said:
"Have compassion on the Heart of your Most Holy Mother, covered with thorns, with which ungrateful men pierce It at every moment, and there is no one to make an act of reparation to remove them."
Then the Most Holy Virgin said:
"Look My daughter, at My Heart, surrounded with thorns with which ungrateful men pierce Me at every moment by their blasphemies and ingratitude. You at least try to console Me and announce in My name that I promise to assist at the moment of death, with all the graces necessary for salvation, all those who, on the First Saturday of five consecutive months shall confess, receive Holy Communion, recite five decades of the Rosary, and keep Me company for fifteen minutes while meditating on the fifteen mysteries of the Rosary, with the intention of making reparation to Me."(3)
What a touching scene, and yet so simple, described with the sobriety of the Gospel itself! What a charming dialogue, in which the Child Jesus and His Mother take turns speaking - He to plead Her cause, while She makes Her requests ... to lead us back to Him.
As usual, the seer totally effaces herself here, not telling us a word about her own feelings. Is this not the surest mark of authenticity, which gives her account all its freshness? She is there to see, to listen, and to relate what happened, and nothing more.
Yet, what intimacy between the Blessed Virgin and Her messenger! Like Saint Catherine Labouré, she received that day the privilege of being touched by Our Lady in a solemn and affectionate gesture, just as when a mother wants to give a child a confidential mission. The Blessed Virgin placed Her hand on Lucy's shoulder, giving her to contemplate Our Lady's most sorrowful Heart, and make It known to others.
Finally, the tone is the same as in the words of the great promise! It is the same as in the apparitions of 1917: what conciseness in the words of the great promise! It is the same conciseness that is found in the Secret of July 13th, where a single word could not be suppressed without seriously damaging the sequence of thought. This too is a solid mark of authenticity.
The Transmission of the Message
How did Lucy go about making Heaven's requests known? We know that she immediately told everything to her superior, Mother Magalhaes, who had been completely won over to the cause of Fatima and now had a sincere respect for the seer. She herself was ready to obey the requests of Heaven. Lucy also informed the confessor of the house, Don Lino Garcia: "The latter, (she recalls) ordered me to write down everything concerning (this revelation) and to keep these writings, which might be needed."(4) But he continued to wait.
Lucy wrote a detailed account of the event for her confessor Monsignor Pereira Lopes from Asilo de Vilar. Unfortunately this letter was lost, and we only know of its existence because it is referred to in a later letter. On December 29th, Mother Magalhaes informed Bishop da Silva of what had happened, but she was not very precise.(5)
At this point Lucy finally received the response of Monsignor Pereira Lopes. He expressed reservations, asked questions, and advised her to wait. A few days later, on February 15th, Lucy answered him, giving him a detailed account of events. Fortunately, this extremely important letter has been preserved for us.(6) We will follow this precious text step by step, adding our own subtitles and comments.
A Painful Wait
"Most Reverend Father,
"I would like to thank you very respectfully for the kind letter you were so good as to write to me.
"When I received it and realized that I still could not fulfill the desires of the Blessed Virgin, I felt a little sad. But I realized right away that the Blessed Virgin desired that I obey you.
"That put me at rest, and the following day, when I received Jesus in Communion, I read Him your letter and I said to Him: 'O my Jesus! With Your grace, with prayer, mortification and confidence, I will do everything obedience permits me and You inspire me; the rest You must do Yourself.'
"I remained like that until February 15th. Those days were a continued inner mortification for me. I wondered if it had been a dream; but I knew it was not: I was certain that it was real! But still I asked myself how Our Lord could have deigned to appear again to me, who had responded so badly to the graces I had received!
"The day I was supposed to go to confession was approaching, and I didn't have permission to say anything!(7) I wanted to tell my Mother Superior but during the day my occupations would not permit me, and in the evening I suffered from headaches. Then fearing to commit a fault against charity I thought: 'This will be for tomorrow; I offer You this sacrifice, my dear Mother.' One day after another went by this way, until today.
"On the 15th, I was very busy with my work, and I was hardly thinking of that (the apparition of last December 10) at all. I was going to empty a garbage can outside the garden.
The Account of a Charming Prelude
(November or December, 1925)
"At the same place, a few months before, I had encountered a child, whom I asked if he knew the Hail Mary. He had answered 'Yes', and I had asked him to say it with me, to hear him say it. At the end of three Hail Marys, I asked him to say it alone. Since he kept silence and seemed unable to say it alone, I asked him if he knew the church of Saint Mary. He said yes. Then I told him to go there every day and say this prayer: O my Heavenly Mother, give me Your Child Jesus!' I taught him this prayer, and I went away".
Here, by force of events, Lucy is obliged to speak about herself a little, and her rare confidences reveal to us something of her marvelous soul.(8) Near the portal of the garden, she encounters a child. Immediately it occurs to her to talk to him about the Virgin Mary; to teach him to pray. Then she asks him to recite a Hail Mary ... for the joy of hearing it. Since he would not say it alone, she recites it with him three times, according to the ancient practice of the three Hail Marys in honor of Our Lady.
Since the child did not seem willing to recite the Hail Mary alone, our catechist, who did not want to lose this opportunity of fulfilling her mission of making Our Lady known and loved, suggested another idea; she invited him to visit Saint Mary's Church every day. In fact, the Basilica of Saint Mary Major is quite near the house of the Dorothean Sisters. Was it shortly before the apparition of the Child Jesus, on December 10? We do not know. In any case, the little postulant taught the child this beautiful and short prayer which was surely her own as well, her most frequent and fervent prayer of this Advent of 1925: "O my Mother in Heaven, give me Your Child Jesus." And she went away.
February 15, 1926: A New Apparition of the Child Jesus
Lucy's moving account, which we are quoting at length, continues:
"So, on February 15, coming back as usual (to empty a garbage can outside the garden), I found a child there who seemed to be the same one as before, and I asked him: 'Did you ask our Heavenly Mother for the Child Jesus?' The child turned to me and said: 'And you, have you revealed to the world what the Heavenly Mother asked you?' And, having said that, He turned into a resplendent child.
"Then recognizing that it was Jesus, I said to Him:
"My Jesus! You know what my confessor said to me in the letter I read You. He said that this vision had to be repeated; there had to be facts permitting us to believe it, and that the Mother Superior alone could not spread this devotion."
"It is true that the Mother Superior alone can do nothing, but with My grace, she can do anything. It is enough that your confessor gives you permission, and that your superior announce this for it to be believed by the people, even if they do not know who it was revealed to."
"But my confessor said in his letter that this devotion already exists in the world, because many souls receive You every first Saturday of the month in honor of Our Lady and recite the fifteen mysteries of the Rosary."
"It is true, My daughter, that many souls begin, but few persevere to the very end, and those who persevere do it to receive the graces promised. The souls who make the five First Saturdays with fervor and to make reparation to the Heart of your Heavenly Mother, please Me more than those who make fifteen, but are lukewarm and indifferent."
"My Jesus! Many souls find it difficult to confess on Saturday. Will You allow a confession within eight days to be valid?"
"Yes. It can even be made later on, provided that the souls are in the state of grace when they receive Me on the first Saturday, and that they had the intention of making reparation to the Immaculate Heart of Mary."
"My Jesus! And those who forget to form this intention?"
"They can form it at the next confession, taking advantage of their first opportunity to go to confession."
"Right after that He disappeared, without me finding out anything more about Heaven's desires, up to the present."(9)
Here again, the internal criticism of this text excludes all reductionist explanations based on illusions or the inventions of a disturbed mind. The facts reported - so charmingly! - are too clear, simple and supernatural to be the invention of a diseased soul. At the same time, they are too bewildering, surprising even at first glance, to be the work of any theologian. Who could have invented such an account from scratch?
In the first place, our seer is emptying the garbage cans of the convent every day, for months. And she is happy. She does not seem disturbed by the humiliating circumstances of the apparition. To remind her of Its great designs over the world and the salvation of souls, Heaven chose precisely the moment when its messenger was occupied in a very humble and abject little chore. Note well: a proud person, a mythomaniac deceived by illusory apparitions would have imagined extraordinary or at least uncommon circumstances, but never these. She would have been afraid of appearing ridiculous and not being believed. As for herself, Lucy relates the facts in all simplicity just as they took place, without being astonished that the Divine Child, born in a stable, chose this humble circumstance to manifest Himself.
It now remains for us to explain the meaning and significance of the message of Pontevedra, which although it remains only the complement - or rather the fulfillment of the Message of Fatima - takes on the most singular importance.
The Great Promise and its Conditions
The most astonishing thing about Pontevedra, of course, is the incomparable promise made by Our Lady: "to all those who, on the first Saturday of five consecutive months ..." fulfill all the conditions requested, "I promise to assist them at the hour of death with all the graces necessary for the salvation of their souls." With boundless generosity, the Blessed Virgin promises here the grace of graces, the most sublime of all graces, that of final perseverance. This grace cannot be merited even by an entire life of sanctity spent in prayer and sacrifice, for it is always a purely gratuitous gift of the divine mercy. And the promise is without any exclusion, limitation, or restriction: "To all those who ..., I promise."
The disproportion between "the little devotion" requested, and the immense grace attached to it, reveals to us first of all and especially the quasi-infinite power of intercession granted to the Blessed Virgin Mary for the salvation of all souls. "The great promise, (Father Alonso writes) is nothing less than a new manifestation of this love of complacency which the Holy Trinity has for the Blessed Virgin. For those who understand such a thing, it is easy to admit that such wonderful promises can be attached to such humble practices. Such souls accept the promise with filial love, and a simple heart full of confidence in the Blessed Virgin Mary."(10)
In short, we can therefore say in all truth that the first fruit of the Communion of Reparation is the salvation of the one practicing it. Let us place no limits on the divine mercy, but keep to the letter of the Blessed Virgin Mary's promise: whoever fulfills all the conditions set down can be sure of obtaining at the moment of death at least - and this even after miserable lapses back into a state of grave sin - the graces necessary to obtain the pardon of God, and to be preserved from eternal chastisement.
As we shall see, however, there is much more in this promise, for the missionary spirit is everywhere present in the spirituality of Fatima. The devotion of reparation is also recommended to us as a means of converting sinners in the greatest danger of being lost, and as a most efficacious means of intercession for obtaining the peace of the world from the Immaculate Heart of Mary.(11)
If Our Lady wished to attach such abundant fruits to the practice of this "little devotion", is it not to gain our attention more surely and move our heart so that we can practice it, and get others around us to practice it wherever we can? For this purpose it is important to be familiar with the conditions laid down, and have a precise knowledge of them.
Since 1925, Sister Lucy has never ceased repeating them, and always in the same terms. There are five conditions, to which is added a sixth, which concerns the general intention in which the other acts requested must be done.
(continued next issue)
1) The message of Pontevedra for quite a long time remained almost completely unknown, or was relegated to a position of secondary importance. The thick book by Canon Barthas, Fatima 1917-1968, which appeared in 1969, devoted barely two pages to it! (pages 211-212.) It was necessary to wait until 1973 to finally find all the important documents in Father Alonso's excellent study, Fatima and the Immaculate Heart of Mary, (MSC, pages 37-48). But nothing can replace the more complete little work which the same author published in 1974: La Gran Promesa del Corazon de Maria en Pontevedra (LPG). A little pamphlet gives important excerpts from this work in French: Le message de Fatima a Pontevedra (translation by Father Simonini). Finally, to consult all the sources, we must go back to the Portuguese works, Documentos and Uma Vida.
2) The text that we quote from is a second or third version identical to the first one, which has not been preserved. It was written by Sister Lucy at the end of 1927, at the request of her spiritual director, Father Aparicio, S.J. "Out of humility", the latter explains, "Sister Lucy showed some reluctance to writing in the first person, to which I responded that she could write in the third person, which she did," Letter to Father da Fonseca, January 10, 1938, quoted by Father Alonso, Ephimerides Mariologic, 1973, page 25.
3) Documentos, page 401.
4) Letter of 1927 in which Lucy subsequently explains to Father Aparicio how this precious manuscript was burned by her in 1927 (Ephimerides Mariologic, 1973, pages 23-24).
5) This letter, however, constitutes an extremely important document. See The Whole Truth About Fatima, Volume II, Appendix II pages 815-817.
6) This document, which continued to be in the possession of its addressee, remained totally unknown until 1973, the date it was published by Father Martins dos Reis in Uma Vida, pages 337-357. Cf. Documentos, pages 477-481.
7) Had Don Garcia asked Lucy not to speak to him about this apparition any more? It is possible. In this case we can understand why she no longer dares even to confide to him her interior torment on this subject.
8) Cf. Letter to Father Gonçalves, June 12, 1930, Documentos, page 409.
9) Uma Vida, pages 337-351. Later on (pages 263-264) we will quote from the end of this letter, where Lucy explains the state of her soul to her spiritual director.
10) Alonso, La Gran Promesa del Corazon de Maria en Pontevedra, page 45.
11) The great promise of the Immaculate Heart of Mary at Pontevedra does not fail to remind us, in a striking fashion, of the great promise of the Sacred Heart to Saint Margaret Mary. But since this analogy is not the only one, we prefer to include in it the examination of a more complete parallel between the two messages of Paray-le-Monial and Fatima. In effect, the revelation of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and that of the Immaculate Heart of Mary mutually clarify and shed light on each other. We shall be able to explain this more clearly when we shall have progressed further in the explanation of the Message of Fatima.