The May apparition of Our Lady of Fatima


Editor’s note: This guest column by Grace Small, a parishioner of St. Vincent de Paul Parish in Attleboro and a high school teacher, is the fourth in a nine-part series on the apparitions of Our Lady of Fatima.

The Church traditionally devotes the month of May to the Blessed Virgin Mary. It is the month when children receive their First Holy Communion and crown Our Blessed Mother with garlands of roses. It was during this beautiful month, after the Angel of Peace had taught the three shepherd children how to pray and make sacrifices for the conversion of sinners that Our Blessed Mother appeared in Fatima for the first time. Recall that on his last visit, the Angel had taught the children a Eucharistic prayer of reparation and even brought the children the Sacred Body and Blood of Jesus. It was Francisco and Jacinta’s first Holy Communion!

Now the Blessed Mother comes. Why? What was her purpose? Fortunately, we have a precise record of these important historical events. As Divine Providence would have it, May 13, 1917 was also the feast of Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament. This feast emphasizes the mystery of Mary’s relationship with Jesus in the Holy Eucharist, a mystery the children had encountered intimately through the previous Eucharistic apparitions of the Angel. 

Mary is the mediatrix of all graces especially those graces of preparation and thanksgiving that dispose us to receive Our Blessed Lord in Holy Communion. The significance of the feast of Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament and Our Lady’s apparition on this day is worth some reflection. Recourse to Mary through the Holy Rosary prepares us to receive Jesus in the Holy Eucharist and disposes us to receive abundant graces from our Holy Communions. This same Christ, formed of Mary, is truly present and united with her Son at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and in the Blessed Sacrament. Mary’s presence at the re-presentation of the Eucharistic Sacrifice is significant. Only with Mary can we learn to love Jesus as He deserves and desires. This point is emphasized by Pope St. John Paul II in his encyclical, Ecclesia de Eucharistia:

“Experiencing the memorial of Christ’s death in the Eucharist also means continually receiving this gift. It means accepting — like John — the one who is given to us anew as our mother. It also means taking on a commitment to be conformed to Christ, putting ourselves at the school of His mother and allowing her to accompany us. Mary is present, with the Church and as the Mother of the Church, at each of our celebrations of the Eucharist. If the Church and the Eucharist, are inseparably united, the same ought to be said of Mary and the Eucharist” (chapter six, paragraph 57).

The Church is fundamentally Marian because at the Annunciation Mary gave her assent of faith, her Fiat, “Let it be done” to the Angel Gabriel. Mary’s yes was pivotal because it was by her assent that Christ became Man taking on Mary’s very flesh and blood by the power of the Holy Spirit. Jesus is the Church’s foundation and cornerstone. As mother and bride of Christ, Mary is the Mother of the Church mediating the graces given to her by Christ, forming souls and guiding His disciples to a living faith through the cross, from death to sin to a Risen life in Christ. 

Once again, we see that God’s plan for Salvation for the Church includes His mother’s intervention in our modern time to draw us back to God. The Angel’s apparitions had disposed the children for Our Lady’s apparition as their life of prayer and sacrifice had intensified. The three shepherd children were taking their flocks to the slopes of the Cova d’Iria to graze their sheep and play under the shades of the trees. At about noon they ate their lunch and began to pray the Rosary. Shortly thereafter, they were startled by what seemed like “lightning in a clear sky.” Preparing to take their flock home Lucia records in her memoirs:

“We had only gone a few steps further when, there before us on a small holmoak, we beheld a lady all dressed in white. She was more brilliant than the sun, and radiated a light more clear and intense than a crystal glass filled with sparkling water, when the rays of the burning sun shine through it. We stopped, astounded, before the apparition. We were so close, just a few feet from her, that we were bathed in the light which surrounded her or rather, which radiated from her. Then Our Lady spoke to us: ‘Do not be afraid. I will do you no harm.’ ‘Where are you from?’ ‘I am from Heaven.’ ‘What do you want of me?’ ‘I have come to ask you to come here for six months in succession, on the 13th day, at this same hour. Later on, I will tell you who I am and what I want. Afterwards, I will return here yet a seventh time.’”

Lucia’s questions demonstrate her humble disposition to serve the lady with the question: “And what do you want of me?” It is a truly beautiful question. Instead of telling God or our Blessed Mother what we want, it is this great question that we should be asking God and Our Lady continually: What do you want of me? By this question we are putting ourselves at the disposal of our Blessed Mother and show our readiness to do God’s will. It is a question for each day of our lives, for discerning God’s will and accomplishing its progress to eternal life. If we take time to ask this question and seek Mary’s response through the prayerful recitation of the Holy Rosary, we can be confident that Mary will help us walk with God and lead us securely Heaven.

“‘Shall I go to Heaven too?’ ‘Yes, you will.’ ‘And Jacinta?’ ‘She will go also.’ ‘And Francisco?’ ‘He will go there too, but he must say many Rosaries.’ Then I remembered to ask about two girls who had died recently. They were friends of mine and used to come to my home to learn weaving with my eldest sister. ‘Is Maria das Neves in Heaven?’ ‘Yes she is.”’ (I think she was about 16 years old.) ‘And Amelia?’ ‘She will be in purgatory until the end of the world.’” (It seems to me that she was between 18 and 20 years of age.)

This short exchange of questions shows the children’s ultimate desire: to be with God Whom they had experienced in the Holy Eucharist for all eternity in Heaven. Our Lady makes clear that Heaven for Francisco is conditional as he would first need to pray many Rosaries. For their other deceased friends whom they inquire out of loving concern, one is Heaven, and other is in purgatory until the end of the world! Lucia in “Calls — From the Message of Fatima” reflects, “This may seem a lot to us, but the mercy of God is always great. By our sins we have gravely offended Him and deserved hell! In spite of this, He forgives us and grants us time to pay for them and by means of reparation and purification, to be saved. Moreover, He accepts the prayers and sacrifices that others offer to Him for the benefit of those who are in this place of expiation (p. 131). Purgatory is not given sufficient attention today. We seem to want to think that everyone who dies go to Heaven, but we learn here in the Fatima message that it is not so simple. It is best to assume that most souls go to purgatory and to pray for them, lest we neglect our responsibility to pray for their souls and offer Holy Masses because we assume they are already in Heaven. Since we do not know, it is best to offer our prayers to help them, and if they are in Heaven, God can apply those prayers to other souls who need them. What is purgatory then? According to the “Catechism of the Catholic Church,” Purgatory is the final purification of the elect, a purifying fire (1031). After responding to Lucia’s questions about deceased acquaintances, Our Blessed Mother asked the children:

“Are you willing to offer yourselves to God and bear all the sufferings He wills to send you, as an act of reparation for the sins by which He is offended, and of supplication for the conversion of sinners?” “Yes we are willing.” “Then you are going to have much to suffer, but the grace of God will be your comfort.” 

We, too, can offer ourselves to God as victims of Divine love as Our Lady requested and so make atonement or reparation for the sins that offend God and offer penances for the conversion of sinners. We are assured that in our sufferings the grace of God, His comforting support will be with us and will strengthen us because without His grace we could do nothing, as Jesus says, “He who abides in Me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing” (Jn 15:5). How beautiful it is that this grace of God comes through Mary. Then on her feast day the Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament opens her arms and enfolds the children in her light, where the children perceive the presence of their Eucharistic Lord:

“Our Lady opened her hands for the first time communicating to us a light so intense that, as it streamed from her hands, its rays penetrated our hearts and the innermost depths of our souls, making us see ourselves in God, Who was that light, more clearly than we see ourselves in the best of mirrors. Then moved by an interior impulse that was also communicated to us, we fell on our knees, repeating in our hearts: ‘O Most Holy Trinity, I adore You! My God, my God, I love You in the Most Blessed Sacrament!’” 

In her own reflection Lucia in “Calls, ” writes of this moment: “Hence, when the three little children saw themselves bathed in this Light, without understanding quite what they were saying, they were led to repeat: ‘O Most Holy Trinity, I adore You! My God, my God, I love You in the Most Blessed Sacrament!’ It was a supernatural impulse that accomplished in them what of themselves they were incapable of doing. It led them to believe in the real presence of God in the Eucharist. It is the gift of faith that God grants to our soul with the Sacrament of Baptism” (p. 131). The Mother of God’s relationship to the Blessed Sacrament and to the Most Holy Trinity becomes manifest in this supernatural vision and the words the children are moved to pray. With this light and grace the three children resolved to offer many Rosaries and sacrifices to console the hearts of Jesus and Mary.

Years later, on Sept. 16, 1970 when Sister Lucia was a Carmelite nun she spoke of the efficacy of this Marian prayer she called the Holy Rosary the “epitome of the whole Gospel” in a letter to Mother Martins. She described the Rosary devotion as a most Trinitarian and Eucharistic prayer: “The prayer of the Rosary, after the Liturgy of the Most Holy Eucharist, is what most introduces us to the intimate mystery of the Most Holy Trinity and the Eucharist, what most brings us to the spirit of the mysteries of faith, hope and charity.” The Holy Rosary is therefore a prayer that brings the supernatural graces we need in our daily lives and helps us live contemplative active lives in union with Jesus and Mary. In his encyclical, Redemptoris Mater, Pope John Paul II calls to mind the presence of Mary at the beginning of the Church: “She was present in the midst of [the faithful] as an exceptional witness to the mystery of Christ. The Church was assiduous in prayer with her, and at the same time contemplated her in the light of the Word made Man. And so it will always be” (n. 27). Only contemplation can go beyond that which our words can signify or suggest. With the help of the Holy Rosary we contemplate the face of Christ through the Immaculate Heart of Mary, penetrating to the heart of the Trinitarian mystery of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament.

After a few moments, Our Lady spoke again: “Pray the Rosary every day, in order to obtain peace for the world, and the end of the war.” Then she began to rise serenely, going up towards the east, until she disappeared in the immensity of space. 

One hundred years later, if we allow the loving appeals of our Heavenly mother to echo in our souls, we will continue to obtain from her the graces we need to worthily prepare our souls to adore, receive, and thank Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. Mary will dispose us to offer worthy reparation entreating from the Hearts of Jesus and Mary the conversion of sinners and consoling their Hearts. Let us be grateful for so beautiful and loving a mother by obeying her directive to pray the Holy Rosary daily. By responding we can cooperate with Jesus and Mary to save sinners, bring peace to the world, our souls and help end the crisis of faith and confusion that besets the world today. Our Lady of Fatima extends a most urgent invitation to each of us. How few are those who ardently aspire to Heaven and who listen to her plea and put it into practice. Let us allow Mary to help make us worthy of Heaven. We will crown Our Lady with many crowns of roses by daily meditating on the mysteries of the most Holy Rosary so as to cooperate with her to obtain the conversion of sinners while she, in turn, help us imitate the virtues the mysteries of the Holy Rosary contain, and obtain what they promise through Christ Our Lord.

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