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Fatima, A Classical Apparition

by Brother Michael of the Holy Trinity

Today, when there is so much confusion in the Church we must realize that God has given us clear, easy and certain guidance for all of us in these times through Our Lady's full Fatima Message.

We know Our Lady's Fatima Message is important, true and accurate because God has given his seal of approval by the great Miracle of the Sun on Oct. 13, 1917 before 70,000 witnesses. As further proof of its authenticity the Catholic Church has endorsed the message and apparitions of Fatima and many of its prophecies have already been accurately realized.

We must not sin against the Holy Spirit by despising prophetic messages as Sacred Scripture tells us:

"Do not extinguish the spirit. Do not despise prophecies. But test all things and hold fast to that which is good." (1 Thess. 5, Vs: 19-21)

Fatima is a prophetic message, it has been tested and found to be good - so we must hold fast to it.

As Pope John Paul II said - The Message of Fatima is "addressed to every human being" and is "more relevant and more urgent than 65 years ago."

Until the Fatima requests are completely fulfilled no other subsequent prophecy can take the place of Fatima because it is only by obedience to Our Lady of Fatima's requests that peace will be given to the world.

Nevertheless a number of people are further confused by more recent reported apparitions here or there. It is possible that Our Lady is appearing elsewhere but so far there are only two apparitions that have received that highest Church approval - and they are Beaurang and Banneaux. Our Lady appeared at these two places in the 1930's.

Since there are a number of people who ask us for guidance on new apparitions we wish to remind them that over 100 years ago the devil used one of his old tricks at Lourdes to get people to not pay attention to Our Lady's authentic apparition there. He caused 19 fake apparitions to take place in towns and villages not far away from Lourdes; to confuse the people so they would not pay attention to the real appearance of Our Lady because of chasing after false apparitions.

Today no one recalls the names of these places of fake apparitions but they served the devil's purpose for a while - by drawing people away from Lourdes.

Today with the excessive number of apparitions taking place we need to be on our guard not to be taken in by the old trick of the devil. First of all stay close to the Fatima message. Secondly learn how to distinguish true apparitions from false ones. Many of us today need this guidance.

We offer here Brother Michael's writing on this subject to help us appreciate the treasure that Fatima is and to help you not be taken in by false apparitions.

Since we are seeking to understand the spirit in which the Church operates discernment, we shall go over the events of Fatima, following a certain analytical method which could very well serve for other apparition cases. It will allow us to sift and detail, through a concrete application, the general criteria we have just outlined.

1. The Seers before the Apparition

The first question always to be put in the case of an apparition obviously concerns the seers themselves before the apparition. Who are they at Fatima? The surprising thing, first of all, is their age. Never before had Heaven chosen such young messengers. In 1917, Lucy was only ten years old, Francisco nine and Jacinta seven. They could neither read nor write. Their parents were poor peasants, who earned their living the hard way. They were profoundly Christian and succeeded in inculcating into their children a holy horror of sin, especially of telling lies. Mr. Marto, the father of Jacinta and of Francisco could say: "my children are incapable of telling a lie." And the same was true of Lucy, the oldest of the little shepherds. All three were in sound physical and psychic health, as was noted by a doctor in August 1917.

Finally, they were pious, especially having benefited in 1916 from three apparitions of the Angel of Portugal. We stress that this piety and frankness are positive criteria, following the Church's traditional norms. For it is unimaginable that souls so pure who, in the innocence of their baptismal grace already enjoyed a certain experience of God, should suddenly leap into folly and deception. Nor is it scarcely imaginable that they could be the playthings of diabolical illusion. Which is not the case with souls bereft of this experience of God and who may be in a state of mortal sin.

2. The circumstances of the first Apparition

It is equally important to study in great detail the immediate context of the first apparition. It was on Sunday, May 13th, 1917. Early in the morning, the three little shepherds had gone to the chapel of Boleiros to hear the first Mass. They returned home and then set off again to pasture their little flock at Cova da Iria. About midday, they had their meal and then said their rosary - that is to be noted - and then, very innocently, they began to play. Lucy tells the story:

"We were playing, Francisco, Jacinta and I, at the top of the slope of Cova da Iria, building a wall around a bush, when suddenly we saw a flash of lightning. We'd better go back home, I said to my cousins, because this lightning might be followed by a storm." "Oh, yes!" And we began to walk down the slope, driving the sheep towards the road. When we were halfway down, roughly level with the great green oak tree there, we saw another flash of lightning, and then after having gone a few more steps, we saw on the oak tree a Lady all in white, more brilliant than the sun, radiating a light more clear and more intense than a crystal glass filled with crystalline water, shot through with the fiercest rays of the sun."

What wonderfully clear circumstances!

3. The reaction of the seers in the presence of the Apparition

This is a new, important criterion. Let us hear Lucy again: "We stopped, surprised by this apparition. We were so close that we found ourselves in the light surrounding it or rather emanating from it, perhaps a yard and a half away, more or less." Immediately, the Apparition reassured them: "Have no fear, I shall not harm you." She dispelled their fears and straightaway, as with the seers of Pontmain before the Barbedettes' barn, as with Bernadette at Massabielle, or as with Catherine Labouré in the Chapel of Rue du Bac, they were full of trust and filled with an immense peace. When the apparition had ended, they felt such an overwhelming joy that little Jacinta was unable to contain herself. "Oh! what a beautiful Lady! Oh! what a beautiful Lady!" She never ceased repeating, and that evening, having promised Lucy to say nothing, she told her mother everything as soon as she saw her.

4. The cycle of the Apparitions

It is also remarkable that from this very first visit, the cycle of the apparitions should be perfectly defined. Immediately, the seers know where they are going. "What do you want of me, Your Grace?" asked Lucy. "I have come to ask that you come here for six months in succession of the 13th day of the month at this same hour. Then I shall tell you who I am and what I want." From month to month, the Virgin confirmed this heavenly appointment where, from the beginning, all was directed towards the final apparition, that of October 13th. How can we fail to admire the perfect clarity of this announcement which will be fulfilled to the letter?

5. The words, attitudes and bearing of the Apparition

There is no need to insist: everything about the apparitions at Cova de Iria is perfectly worthy of God. In vain does one search for the least discordant note. There is nothing surprising or shocking there. The Apparition always shows herself to be "grave and compassionate", in the words of the seers. There is never a single idle question on the part of the children. In short, nothing that is not reasonable and at the same time sublimely supernatural is to be found, as illustrated by this first dialogue after the Virgin's opening words to reassure the little shepherds. "Where does Your Grace come from?" asked Lucy. And the Apparition replied, "I am of Heaven". Admirable words, comparable in every respect to the declaration made by the Virgin to Bernadette. "I am the Immaculate Conception." Later, all the atmospheric signs, seen by a part of the crowd, will express this supernatural presence, its holiness, unutterable beauty.

6. The attitude of the clergy before and after the Apparitions

Here too, all is perfectly clear. Before the apparitions, no priest had been familiar with the children, that is certain. After the apparition of May 13th, then after the 13th of each month, Lucy's mother took the seers to the presbytery, where they were coldly interrogated and sharply reprimanded by the parish priest, Ferreira. Those interviews were dreaded and off-putting in the extreme. The first priest to show any sympathy or affection for the little seers was Canon Formigao. But he did not come to Aljustrel until September 13th for the penultimate apparition, whilst all the themes of the message had already been announced in previous apparitions.

7. The Ecstasies

At Fatima, the witnesses of the apparitions did not notice any ecstasies strictly speaking in the seers, as there had been at Lourdes. When Lucy spoke to Our Lady, she spoke out loud and the sound of her voice could be heard. On July 13th, a sudden look of alarm was noticed on the children's faces. It was later learned that, that was when they had had the terrifying vision of hell, which Sister Lucy has described for us in such striking terms. Finally, on October 13th, during the Apparition of the Holy Family in the sky, Lucy's face appeared quite transfigured. But, in general, at Fatima there was nothing that drew attention to the seers, nothing that made them the center of main interest to the detriment of the Apparition and of Her message.

If the physical effects of the vision were very slight and passed almost unnoticed, the spiritual effects in the souls of the seers, however, were particularly noticeable. Nostalgia for Heaven was the first of the fruits. Having seen the Immaculate Virgin with their own eyes, they were so taken by her beauty that they were seized with an instant and ardent desire to go to Heaven. It was one of the first questions that Lucy put to Our Lady: "Shall I go to Heaven?" "Yes, you shall go." "And Jacinta?" "She too." "And Francisco?" "He too, but he will have to say many rosaries." On June 13th, during the second apparition, Lucy, speaking in the name of her two cousins, again asked Our Lady: "I would like to ask you to take us to Heaven." "Oh, I shall take Jacinta and Francisco soon, but you, Lucy, will have to stay here for a certain time. Jesus wishes to make use of you to make me known and loved. He wishes to establish in the world devotion to my Immaculate Heart." This nostalgia for Heaven is truly one of the most incontrovertible criteria of authenticity. Thereafter, the entire life of our three little shepherds will be profoundly marked by this. When Francisco was asked what he wanted to be later on, whether he wanted to be a priest or whatever, he answered admirably: "No, I don't wish to be a priest." Then, what do you want to be? "I don't want to be anything... I want to die and go to Heaven!"

Another sign that is unmistakable, because it is an unquestionable mark of authentic mystical graces: after the apparitions, Lucy, Jacinta and Francisco were literally overcome by sadness at the thought of men's sins that so gravely offend Our Lord. After the vision of June 13th and of July 13th, Francisco was to pronounce these extraordinary words: "What is God like? It is not possible to explain. Yes, truly, nobody can say. But it is sorrowful that He is so sad on account of so many sins! Ah! if only I could console Him!" To console God, to console Our Lady with his prayers and sacrifices, that became his constant preoccupation.

As for Jacinta, horrified at the thought of the many souls that she saw falling into the terrible furnace of hell, she wished to do all, to suffer all to repair for their crimes and obtain from the Immaculate Heart of Mary the grace of their conversion. At all costs, she wishes to save them from eternal damnation. "Pray! pray much and make sacrifices for sinners, for many souls go to hell because they have no one to make sacrifices and pray for them!" These words of Our Lady, on August 19th, became her fixed ideal and prime objective. "The vision of hell, relates Lucy, had horrified her to such an extent that every penance and mortification seemed insufficient to her in succeeding to preserve a few souls from hell... She often sat on the ground or on a rock and, wrapt in thought, she would say: "Oh! hell! I feel sorry for the souls who go to hell!... And half trembling, she would kneel down, join her hands, and say the prayer Our Lady had taught us (July 13th): "Oh my Jesus, forgive us our sins. Save us from the fires of hell, and draw all souls to heaven, especially those most in need."

"During the vision, the branches of the oak tree sagged in a circle all round as though Our Lady's weight really bore on them...

Heaven and hell, the all-powerful mediation of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, that is the first Secret revealed by the Blessed Virgin, to the three little shepherds, who experienced it intensely. It did not prevent them, however, from remaining simple and natural, always extremely discreet about their heroic practice of prayer and sacrifice, continuing to play and to relax like children without any untoward singularity.

8. Cures

From June 13th, Lucy was commissioned with transmitting to the Blessed Virgin many requests of every sort. On many occasions, Our Lady granted the cures requested. But very often, as a prudent and firm Mother, She asked that there should firstly be some signs of a sincere will of conversion. Thus when on October 13th, Lucy requested the cure of several sick persons, Our Lady answered: "Some yes, others no. They must amend themselves; they must ask pardon for their sins." And looking more sad, "Let God, Our Lord, not be offended further, for He is already too much offended!"

9. An atmosphere of humility

Another aspect to be noted at Fatima is that everything takes place in an atmosphere of great humility. That is another important criterion. For humility is the necessary mark of all supernatural work. God never gives revelations that exalt the pride of those who are their beneficiaries. There is no doubt, that at Fatima, more than in any other of Her apparitions, the Immaculate Virgin revealed Herself with more splendor as the necessary and universal recourse, as the Mediatrix of All Graces. But as for the apparitions themselves, Our Lady never pronounced a single word exalting them above Her previous manifestations. Indeed, for a long time, Fatima appeared as no more than a little Portuguese Lourdes.

Another noteworthy fact, testifying to the gentle and humble way with which God is accustomed to accomplish His greatest designs: on October 13th, Our Lady requested only very few things: "I wish to tell you that a Chapel is to be built here in My honor. I am the Lady of the Rosary. Let people continue always to say the rosary every day". The evening of that memorable day when 70,000 people witnessed an extraordinary miracle, unprecedented in the whole history of mankind, Canon Formigao questioned Lucy: "Did Our Lady say that She wanted many people to come here from everywhere?" "No, She ordered nobody to come here." That is Heaven's way of doing things!

As for the Secret, as long as the seers were unauthorized to divulge it, they showed themselves to be extremely discreet about the matter and even tended to minimize its importance. What would be the good of shouting about its importance in advance? It will be discovered soon enough when, in God's good time, the message is unveiled, and especially when it is fulfilled to the letter.

10. Splendid signs

On the other hand, the signs authenticating the apparitions of Fatima are more brilliant than in any previous apparition. But they are all perfectly seemly. On June 13th, several unusual phenomena manifested the presence of the Apparition. "Maria Carreira and other witnesses have related that they heard, between Lucy's words, the murmur of a very faint but unintelligible voice... The sound was like that of a very faint voice, but one could not understand what was being said." Another moving sign of the Immaculate Virgin's invisible presence: "During the vision, the branches of the oak tree sagged in a circle all round as though Our Lady's weight really bore on them... At the end, when Lucy announced that Our Lady was leaving in the direction of the East, all the branches of the tree sprang back into position on that same side..."

It was also noted that the brilliance of the sunlight had noticeably dimmed and it took on a golden yellow tint that was particularly pleasant to see.

These atmospheric phenomena were reproduced on July 13th and on August 13th, with even more clarity; and this is what drew the crowds to the Cova da Iria. So much so that on September 13th there were more than 30,000 people present, about two thirds of whom were to see even more wonderful signs. At midday, a luminous globe was seen to move from east to west, gliding slowly and majestically in space. It was seen to remain on the oak tree for as long as the apparition lasted and, at the end, to move off towards the east. A mysterious cloud was also seen. Witnesses were to say that it was like a threefold incensing of the Apparition. Finally, whilst the Queen of Heaven was talking to Her messengers, most of the pilgrims were able to enjoy a wonderful sight: they saw falling from Heaven what looked like white petals or snowflakes slowly descending and disappearing before reaching the ground. Were there not so many tangible experiences of the holiness and beauty of the Immaculate Virgin, Ark of the New Alliance and Mediatrix of All Graces?

But, of course, the supreme proof was the famous dance of the sun on October 13th, 1917, seen by a crowd of 70,000 witnesses. Certain books, repeating one another, have claimed that some of those present at Cova da Iria did not see it. I have, in fact, verified the testimonies and this statement does not hold; there is no serious testimony of people having declared clearly and openly that they saw nothing. Portugal was then ruled by a masonic government, which had practically the entire press in its pay. Well, for the next ten years of the anticlerical republicans' domination, when they fought fiercely against the development of the nascent pilgrimage, there is not a single list in the press of witnesses claiming not to have seen the solar miracle.

For, beyond doubt, there was a miracle. This "dance of the sun" could not, in fact, have been an astronomic phenomenon because the sun did not really dance, that is clear. Nor was it a natural atmospheric event because never before, and in no other place, had there been seen such a series of eight extraordinary phenomena, all more surprising and wonderful than the other (cf. our account of the events taken from countless testimonies, Vol. I, pages 324-332). If the facts are examined from a psychological point of view one is obliged to note that it could not have been a case of collective hallucination. I have provided all the proofs of this: the theory of collective hallucination, invented towards the end of the 19th century, is in reality of no scientific consistency. According to the best specialists, such as H. Ey in his monumental "Traité des hallucinations" (Masson, 1973, 1543 pages) hallucination is always an individual phenomenon and always found in subjects affected by pathological disorders. A collective hallucination of 70,000 persons is something unthinkable!

Besides these were proven by thousands who saw it

If the facts are examined from a philosophical, metaphysical point of view, one is obliged to note that the event of October 13th was the effect of an extraordinary divine intervention. What is amazing, and no doubt unheard of, about Fatima is that the phenomenon had been announced by the little seers three months in advance. On July 13th, they had made known - it immediately appeared in the press and the wonderful promise was echoed all over Portugal - that on October 13th Our Lady would work a great miracle, which all could see in order to believe. Now, this miracle, which had been foretold, took place on the said day, at the very hour and at the precise moment when Lucy, her eyes following the Apparition rising into Heaven, suddenly exclaimed, "Look at the sun!" All night long and all morning it had been raining, but suddenly the rain stopped and it was possible to look straight at the sun without protection, even though the sky was by then cloudless.

The various episodes of the wonder are well known: like a wheel of fire, the sun began to tremble whilst emitting a light which lit everything up in the colors of the rainbow, one after the other. At a certain moment, it stopped, then began to turn again. It stopped again, in order to begin dancing for the third time. Suddenly, a shout like a cry of anguish went up from the entire crowd: "The sun, in fact, seemed to detach itself from the firmament, and blood red, it came towards the earth threatening to crush us beneath its fiery mass. They were terrifying seconds." Then the star regained its zenith, when there was an explosion of joy. Everyone sang the Credo and the Salve Regina. The miracle had been so dazzling that the crowd of faithful went their way, their souls full of joy, shouting: "We have seen the sign of God! We have seen the sign of God!" It was in fact a magnificent triumph of the Catholic faith, the triumph of God and of Mary Immaculate, His Mother!

For us, as well as for the witnesses of this unheard of event, this miracle, which concludes as an apotheosis the cycle of the Apparitions, is henceforth the indisputable proof of their authenticity. It is also the divine guarantee that the Virgin's words have been faithfully transmitted by the messengers She chose. This incomparable miracle appears to us as the visible, tangible, incontestable seal of approval that God was pleased to place on the apparitions of Fatima, on the prophecies, promises and terrible warnings which His Immaculate Mother came to reveal at the Cova da Iria, for our century.

(continued in next issue)