by Joseph de Sainte-Marie, O.C.D.
On the Act of Consecration at Fatima of Pope John Paul II on May 13, 1982
WITH exactly a year's interval between them, the Church has just experienced two events of exceptional importance. On May 13, 1981, a criminal and sacrilegious hand made an attempt on the life of the Vicar of Christ; and on May 13 of the following year he went on pilgrimage to the sanctuary of Our Lady of Fatima to thank Her for having saved him from that mortal danger. In the person of the Supreme Pastor it was the whole Church which was the target; and it was the Church in her totality which acted out that drama. More than that: thanks to the media of communication in society, the whole world felt the shock. That being so, we cannot just let ourselves treat such events as though they were no more than the simple facts which the day's "News" will be as quick to banish to oblivion as it has been prompt in providing them for the diversion of the public. Nor can we be content with seeing in them happenings suited to the nourishment of popular piety - we may add, in a more or less suspect manner. It needs only a moment's reflection to sense that something most serious has occurred, that these events have a meaning, and that it is of first importance for the Church to grasp that meaning so that she may respond, here and now, to the appeal which God has launched through the events. To draw out that meaning, to understand the appeal and answer it, is, we maintain, the business of the whole Church. Everyone should work at it according to his position and his grace: the priest with his charisms of discernment and the authority which belongs to him; the Christian people with their faith, that sensus fidelium which is special to them, and their generosity; and the theologian giving the service he is asked for, which is light on doctrine.
It is in that eminently ecclesial perspective that the reflections offered here are situated. They bear on the two events we have just recalled and on the whole historical context in which they are contained. The act of consecration of May 13 gives us the key. That is why, before presenting here a synthetic reflection on an immense subject, we have made that act the center of our analysis. We begin by reproducing the entire text and following it with a short analysis which will reveal its structure and principal elements. After that, as the fact of Fatima seems to us to be at the origin of the papal gesture, we have to answer two fundamental questions, the first in the order of history: in what degree does the act of May 13, 1982, answer the prophetic Message of Fatima? The second in the theological order: in what way do the Message and the act correspond to the divine economy of salvation? It is the second question which is the chief object of our reflections: but, as the answer to be given it involves recent facts of history and prophecy, we must begin by recalling those facts. As we shall see, they are the facts of the history of that salvation operating today.
I. THE ACT OF CONSECRATION
HERE then, to start with, is the text of the act of consecration by the Holy Father on May 13, 1982, in the square in front of the basilica of Our Lady of Fatima.1
To make analysis easier, we have given each paragraph a letter (the arabic numerals are in the original, and are, as we shall see, a good indication of the three principal parts).
1. a) "We fly to Thy protection, O Holy Mother of God!" ("Sub tuum praesidium confugimus, Sancta Dei Genitrix"). As I pronounce the words of that antiphon with which the Church of Christ has prayed for centuries, here am I in this place chosen by Thee and by Thee, O Mother, especially loved.
b) I am here in union with all the pastors of the Church by the special bond which constitutes us a body and a college in the same way that, by the will of Christ, the apostles were united with Peter.
c) It is within the bond of that unity that I pronounce the words of the present act in which I desire to gather once more the hope and the anguish of the Church in the world of today.
d) Forty years ago, and again ten years later, Thy servant Pope Pius XII, having before his eyes the sorrowful experiences of the human family, entrusted and consecrated to Thy Immaculate Heart the entire world, and especially those people who were in a special manner the object of Thy love and Thy solicitude.
e) That world of men and nations I also have before my eyes today, at the moment when I desire to renew the act by which my predecessor in the Chair of Peter entrusted and consecrated it: the world of the second millennium which is running to its close, the contemporary world, our present world!
f) Recalling the words of Our Lord: "Going therefore teach ye all nations ... And behold I am with you all days even to the consummation of the world" (Matthew 28:19-20), the Church has renewed, in Vatican Council II, awareness of her mission in this world.
g) That is why, O Mother of men and of peoples, Thou who knowest all their sufferings and their hopes, Thou who feelest as does a mother all the struggles between good and evil, between light and darkness, which are shaking the contemporary world, receive the appeal which, moved by the Holy Spirit, we make directly to Thy Heart, and with Thy love of Mother and Handmaid, embrace our human world which we offer to Thee and consecrate to Thee, full of disquiet for the terrestrial and eternal fate of men and peoples.
h) We entrust to Thee and consecrate to Thee in a special manner the men and the peoples who have a special need of this act whereby they are entrusted and consecrated to Thee.
i) "Under Thy protection we flee, Holy Mother of God". Reject not our prayers when we are under test. Do not despise them. Accept our humble confidence and the act by which we entrust ourselves to Thee!
2. a) "God so loved the world, as to give His only begotten Son: that whosoever believeth in Him may not perish but may have life everlasting." (John 3:16).
b) It is precisely that love which made the Son of God consecrate Himself for all men (John 17:19). "And for them do I sanctify myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth".
c) In virtue of that consecration the disciples of all times are called to spend themselves for the salvation of the world, to add something to the sufferings of Christ for the sake of His Body which is the Church (Cf. 2 Corinthians 12:15; Colossians 1:23).
d) Before Thee, Mother of Christ, before Thy Immaculate Heart, I wish today, with the whole Church, to unite myself with our Redeemer in His consecration for the world and for men, for it is only in His Divine Heart that the Church has the power to obtain pardon and make reparation.
e) The power of that consecration extends to all time, embraces all men, peoples and nations, it surpasses all the evil which the spirit of darkness is able to arouse in the heart of man and in his history, and which, in fact, he has aroused in our epoch.
f) To that consecration of our Redeemer, the Church, the Mystical Body of Christ, unites itself in the act of the successor of Peter.
g) How deeply we feel the need of consecration for humanity and for the world, for our contemporary world, in the unity of Christ Himself. Christ's work of redemption should, in fact, be shared by the world through the mediation of the Church.
h) That being so, how we are saddened by anything, in the Church, and in each of us, that is opposed to holiness and consecration! And how sad we are that the invitation to penitence, to conversion, to prayer, has not found the welcome it should have received!
i) How grieved we are by the fact that many take part so coldly in Christ's work of redemption! And that "What is lacking to the sufferings of Christ" (Colossians 1:24) is made up so inadequately in our flesh!
j) Blessed then be all the souls which obey the call of eternal love. Blessed be those who, day after day, with an inexhaustible generosity, accept Thy invitation, O Mother, to do what Thy Jesus says (Cf. John 2:5) and give the Church and the world serene witness of life inspired by the Gospel!
k) Blessed be Thou above all, Thou the Handmaid of the Lord, obedient in the fullest way to this divine appeal!
l) Hail to Thee, Thou who united Thyself wholly to the redemptive consecration of Thy Son!
m) Mother of the Church, teach the people of God the road to faith, hope and charity! Help us to live with all the truth of Christ's consecration, for the sake of the whole human family in the contemporary world.
3. a) Entrusting to Thee, O Mother, all men and all peoples, we entrust to Thee also the consecration itself for the world, and we place it in Thy Maternal Heart.
b) O Immaculate Heart! Help us to conquer the threat of evil which drives its root so easily today in the heart of men and which, with its immeasurable effects, weighs on our epoch and seems to close the ways into the future!
c) From hunger and from war, deliver us!
From nuclear war, from incalculable self-destruction, from wars of all kinds, deliver us!
From sins against the life of man from his first moments, deliver us!
From hatred and degradation of the dignity of the sons of God, deliver us!
From all kinds of injustice in social life, national and international, deliver us!
From readiness to trample on the commandments of God, deliver us!
From the attempt to stifle in human hearts the very truth of God, deliver us!
From sins against the Holy Spirit, deliver us, deliver us!
d) Receive, O Mother of Christ, this cry laden with the sufferings of all men, charged with the sufferings of whole societies!
e) Once more in the history of the world let the infinite power of merciful love be revealed! May it check evil! May it transform consciences! May Thy Immaculate Heart display for all the light of Hope!
It is with a certain misgiving that I undertake to analyze a text so charged with emotion. I feel a kind of fear - the fear of profaning a secret, though it has been given to the whole Church. But beyond their words, some texts preserve their mystery; and the text which contains this historic act is particularly resistant. It is for that very reason that I must undertake the analysis, checking my first movement of recoil but keeping my sense of deep veneration for the man who here lays bare before us the heart of a universal Father. The analysis must be made, if only the better to understand his intentions and the better to respond to his call.
From the very start a fourfold light appears which will illumine the entire act. The first ray is that of mercy, for it is to mercy that one has recourse by the prayer Sub tuum - "Under Thy protection", or, more exactly according to the original Greek, "Under Thy mercy" (eusplanchia). The second ray is that the mercy must be given us by the Blessed Virgin. The two ideas, closely linked together, appear, formulated implicitly or explicitly, at the end of the first part (1, i) and at the end of the act itself (3, e). The act itself is therefore enclosed in them.
The third and fourth rays of light are also linked together, but by way of contrast, though the contrast does end in a continuity. On the one side, the use of the sub tuum, one of the oldest prayers to the Blessed Virgin, places the present act in the continuity of Tradition, while, on the other side, the mention of the "place chosen" by Mary presents it as an answer to a contemporary prophetic fact: Fatima is incontestably the major prophecy of the Twentieth Century. It embraces and illuminates it in its entirety - that is one of the points we shall have to demonstrate. We may note in passing a new official recognition of the authenticity of the fact of the Cova da Iria contained in the expression used by the Pope: "in this place chosen by Thee".
In the paragraphs which follow, the Holy Father is inspired by a double concern: to present his act in continuity with those which, earlier or later, preceded it, and to manifest his desire to meet the requests formulated by the Blessed Virgin at Fatima. He wants to give his act a collegial dimension (1, b-c), as Our Lady had asked; and in doing that he affirms his desire to renew what his predecessor Pius XII had done in 1942 and 1952 (1, d-e). In addition, taking upon himself the most urgent needs of the present world, he makes a gesture in full accord with the intentions of Vatican Council II (1, f).
After those preliminaries, and his emphasis on the dramatic character of the present struggle between good and evil, the Pope comes to the act of consecration proper (1, g). It is "our human world" in its entirety that he "entrusts and consecrates" to Mary, but with a special mention of Russia which the reference to the acts of Pius XII and his desire to meet the requests expressed by "the Mother of men and of peoples" in this "place chosen" by Her make manifest to all eyes. (1 h; cf. 1, a,d.)
The second part of the act of consecration has for its first purpose to recall its foundation in the Gospel: the consecration Christ made of Himself by immolating Himself in sacrifice so that the world might be consecrated to His Father (2, a-b; quotation of John 3:16; 17, 19); but it concludes in a new and multiple consecration. The one Christ made of Himself by His sacrifice on the cross has a permanent and universal value: it has in itself the power to triumph over all evil (2, e). In it, then, is to be found the basis of every Christian consecration. The disciples and the whole Church are called to unite themselves with it (2, c, f).
That is what John Paul II himself did: in the presence of Mary he unites himself to the Redeemer "in the consecration of himself for the world and for all men", and he includes the Church in his personal act (2, d; Cf. 2, f). In it, we should note, there is a second act of consecration (and even a third), an act demanded, no doubt, by the one before, but different from it. The first was a consecration of the world to Mary; the second a consecration of the Pope to God in union with the sacrificial consecration, that is, with the consecratory sacrifice of Christ.
But it is "with all the Church" that the Pope thus offers and consecrates himself; he wishes to include it in his personal consecration (2, d). He will take up again the same idea a little later on in a slightly different phrase and in which can be seen a consecratory offering of the Church herself (2, f).
The Holy Father's prayer continues with a sorrowful evocation of the evil in the present world. He thus shows the two meanings of the word "consecration" as it is used in the passage from St. John quoted above: sacrifice and sanctification. The crushing power of evil, in fact, shows how much the present world has need of that redemptive sacrifice in order to be sanctified (2, g). And a penetrating look at the Church shows at the same time how little and how inadequately she has responded to that call to sacrifice, which is nothing other than the call to share in the work of the Redemption (2, h-i; quotation from Colossians 1:24). It is the Blessed Virgin Herself who today calls us in that way; and the Pope continues with a blessing for those who have answered Her (2, j). In that manner he reveals to us the deep meaning of the prophetic demands of the Mother of the Church. In Her call to prayer and penance Our Lady invites us to unite ourselves with the sacrifice and consecration of Christ on the Cross. She thus calls us to consecrate ourselves with and in Christ. And with Herself, too, for, more than any other member of the Church, She is "united wholly with the redemptive consecration of Her Son" (2, l).
It is therefore a triple consecration that this second part fulfills or asks to be fulfilled, starting from that of Christ and of Mary: the consecration of the Pope, that of the Church in its totality, and that of the faithful. The first has been made, at least as an offering, by the very act constituted by the Pope's words. The second should be considered as included in the first. However, its meaning is not full until one thinks of the threats which press on the Church at the same time as on the world: in advance the Sovereign Pontiff, that is to say the Sovereign Priest (by his vicarial and ministerial action), offers that holocaust of the Church in union with that of his Head for the salvation of the world. Finally, in the rest of his prayer, the Holy Father calls on each of the faithful to unite himself personally to that consecratory and redemptive sacrifice. As can be seen, it is a question of a unique sacrifice, a unique consecration, but it is to be realized, after Christ and Mary, in that triple dimension: in the visible Head of the Church, in the Church herself as a whole, and in each of her members.
The reference to the sacrifice of Christ comes first (2, a-b) and applies in the first place to the Blessed Virgin Herself (2, l), Her union with the "redemptive consecration of Her Son" being the immediate foundation of the consecration to Her of the world (1, g) and the Church (2, m). There is no explicit statement to that effect, but it is certainly on that union that the consecration to Mary made in the first part and the invocation in the last paragraph of the second part are founded (2, m). Besides that, that union is the foundation of the litany of invocations which fills the third and last part of the act of consecration.
That consecration of himself, the Church and each of its members the Pope entrusts to Mary by placing it in Her Maternal Heart (3, a), and by imploring Her aid "in overcoming the threat of evil" (3, b); and we shall do the same by living our consecration in truth, that is to say, by responding to Her plea for prayer and sacrifice for the salvation of the world. Then, returning to the first consecration, that of the world to Mary, the Holy Father asks Her again to take direct action Herself. She has that power by reason of Her union with the redemptive sacrifice of Christ (2, l). So it is to Her, in that subordination to the unique sacrifice of salvation, that, in conformity with the divine will manifested at Fatima, John Paul II directs the appeal for deliverance: "From hunger, from war, from nuclear war (...), deliver us, deliver us." So it is for a salvific action of the Blessed Virgin Herself that the Pope is asking (3, c), for it is by that action of the Immaculate Heart of Mary that the divine Mercy, the unique and ultimate source of our hope, wishes today to spread itself and triumph in the world (3, e).
That truth, which is in the center of the Message of Fatima, is certainly not formulated in those terms in that act of consecration, but it is, indeed, the basis of the appeal with which the consecration ends, and in which it shows itself with complete clarity. As we stressed above, that final appeal takes up again the one by which that act was opened and which was repeated at the end of the first part (1, a, i). In it, therefore, and in the truth it contains is to be found the dominant thought of the whole prayer, the thought which is fully united with both the prophetic Message of Fatima and the divine economy of salvation - which is what we were trying to establish a moment ago.
There follows a special prayer for peace "the South Atlantic". We do not have to analyze it here, for it has no part in the act of consecration.
It seemed necessary to make a detailed analysis of that prayer because of both its depth and its complexity. Its leading lines have to be disengaged, and also the particular aspects and the link, at times subtle, which holds them together and builds them up. However, the general movement of the thought is clear and reveals the questions to be probed. From a historical point of view the first fact to be noticed is the public and solemn recognition of the prophecies of Fatima which goes hand in hand with the denunciation of the evils and dangers weighing on the world. That double stand in its turn raises the question we must also examine, that of the history and the exact content of the Blessed Virgin's Message.
It also asks another question, in the theological order, that of the relation between apostolic hierarchy and prophetic charism in the divine government of the Church. A word must be said about it, for in my opinion it has not yet been sufficiently elucidated. But the chief theological questions raised by that act are those connected with the consecration. We have seen the different meanings that the word can take and even more the different aspects the act can include. A whole theology of consecration would have to be made to take account of them. But it no longer needs to be invented. The elements have often been presented by theologians and by the Magisterium itself. What it still lacks is synthesis. Amongst other things it would make it possible to meet the objections of the consecration to Mary; and it would, above all, show how topical that consecration is and how in conformity it is with the divine economy of salvation. There is no space in a simple article to give an adequate answer to all these questions; but it is already invaluable to be able to formulate them clearly. At least we can point out what we think is the line to take to that clarification.
II. PROPHECY IN CONTEMPORARY HISTORY
HOWEVER delicate they may be, we must tackle the theological problems, those touching on history first, which are here implied. Theology is service of the Church, and here are facts about which it can not be silent. Its first task in this case is historical: that of establishing the facts with the greatest possible precision.
First of all it must show the importance, in the act of consecration of May 13, 1982, of the official recognition of the apparition of the Blessed Virgin at Fatima. Pius XII, John XXIII and Paul VI had already given that official approbation.2
But when he renewed it John Paul II performed an act of extreme importance, because, through him, the hierarchical authority committed itself afresh at the highest level and in the most formal manner. To declare Fatima the "place chosen" by Mary (1, a) is indeed to acknowledge that She came there. And all the rest of the text, in its effort to meet Her wishes, proclaims no less clearly the authenticity and even the urgency of Her message.
Besides the text itself of the consecration, there are all the others connected with it in which the Holy Father has multiplied declarations recognizing that authenticity, and also the extreme urgency, of the Fatima Message. One of the clearest is the allocution he made at the moment of his arrival at this "chosen place", on the evening of May 12. He referred to the coincidence of dates - the attempt on his life on May 13, 1981, and the anniversary of the first apparition of Our Lady in 1917 - and said that he saw in it ("there being no simple coincidences in the designs of Providence") "a call, and perhaps a recalling of our attention to the message which came from here sixty-five years ago". He pursued the same idea in his homily on the 13th, saying that he "recognized (in the coincidence of dates) a special summons to come here".
It would be possible, but it seems superfluous, to multiply citations. All they would do is confirm the first and principal manifestation of that official recognition constituted by the very journey of the Pope to Fatima.
That fact being established, what has now to be explained is the way Apostolic Authority justifies his attitude. What reasons led him to recognize divine intervention in this place? They are of two orders, corresponding to the two aspects of intervention. We must, that is to say, distinguish the message and its content from the event of the apparitions in which the message was given to the Church. To the first aspect correspond the reasons in the doctrinal order, to the second those which could be called of the charismatic order. The homily on the 13th dwelled at length on the first, with an explicit reminder of the principle according to which "the Church evaluates and judges prophetic revelations by the criterion of their conformity with the unique public Revelation. (...) the truth and the call of the Gospel itself".
So much for the content of the message. As to the authenticity of the fact of the apparitions, the conformity of their message with that of the Gospels is just one criterion among others, though it is doubtless the first and is perhaps, more exactly, an indispensable preliminary condition. The real reasons for recognizing the facts are of another order, what might be called, by analogy with "discernment of spirits", discernment of charisms. It is in that sense that John Paul II invites us to recognize "the signs of the times", going as far as stating that "on the threshold of the twentieth century (...) the Lady of the message seems to read them with a special perceptiveness". (Homily of the 13th, No. 6.) It is clear that these "signs of the times" are among the chief criteria in this discernment of prophetical charisms. The only two reasons of that order evoked here by the Pope are the coincidence of dates mentioned above and the coincidence of the Message of Fatima with the gravity of the evils weighing on the world, especially militant atheism (Act of Consecration: 3, c; seventh invocation). Hence the demand for a special consecration of Russia, the first victim and the most frightening instrument of that atheism. It will be remembered - another "coincidence" - that it was the same month, October, 1917, which saw the triumph of the Bolshevik Revolution at St. Petersburg (now Leningrad) and that of the Blessed Virgin in the miracle of the sun at Fatima. Those reasons were not developed, but John Paul II made many allusions to the combat between "good and evil" in the light he received from Scripture, especially Genesis 3:15 and Apocalypse 12 (he also quoted, in the same sense, the Book of Judith "Homily of the 13th, No. 4" whose message is no less to the point); and they suffice to show us the line to take in the work of discernment.
We should note besides, (as has been remarked before), that Pius XII followed the same line when, in his great Encyclical on the Sacred Heart, Haurietis Aquas, he began by showing the doctrinal truth of that devotion, which is specifically addressed to the merciful Love of Our Lord, and only later does he expound the decisive importance of the charism of Paray-le-Monial in its establishment and its development. Leo XIII himself, when he consecrated humanity to the Sacred Heart at the end of the last century, did not hesitate, after recalling the doctrinal foundation of his act, to mention the special help, at least "providential" if not miraculous, which finally prompted his action. He had been stricken with a serious illness which put his life in danger, and had been cured in an unexpected fashion. And it was the charism of a religious, later beatified by Paul VI, Sister Marie of the Divine Heart, Droste zu Vischering, which has revealed to him the providential meaning of the illness and of the cure. Those facts are today known and admitted. They show that, far from being an absolute novelty, the course and the acts of John Paul II are, on the contrary, part of a tradition already solidly established. We shall come back to that shortly when we treat of the relations between hierarchical apostolate and prophecy.
We must still take notice of the close relation there is between the acts of the Sovereign Pontiff and his denunciation of the dangers weighing on the world. We said above that the Pope invites us to see in the dangers a sign of the times, and that their coincidence with the appeal from Fatima is one of the strongest reasons recommending the authenticity of that appeal. It will not, therefore, be superfluous if we pause for a moment and see how the Pope invites us to interpret this sign. There again quotations could be multiplied and there would be an impressive collection of texts. And there, yet again, John Paul II can present himself - he did it a propos of his act of consecration - as "the continuator of the work of Pius, of John and of Paul" (Homily of the 13th, No. 11). We are reminded in particular of the solemn warning delivered by Paul VI at Fatima on May 13, 1967: "The world is in danger". John Paul II in his turn reminds us of that danger in sober but dramatic terms in his act of consecration (1, g; 3, c). But, at the same time, he points out the evil which is its real cause: sin. He does that particularly in his homily on May 13, in which he denounces "growing hardness in sin, and, finally, the denial of God. The programed obliteration of God from the world of human thinking. (...) The rejection of God by man", a rejection which "leads logically to the rejection of man by God", (Cf. Matthew 7:23; 10:33, "to damnation" (No. 7). Thus, he continues: "The collapse of morality leads to that of society" (ib). Because these evils are so serious "the Vicar of Christ" comes forward as "a witness to the quasi apocalyptic dangers pressing on nations and the human race". "Conscious of the evils spreading through the world and threatening man, nations, humanity, the successor of Peter comes here with a greater faith in the redemption of the world, in that salvific Love which is always stronger, always more powerful than all evil" (No. 11). Faced with that threat, faith and hope in Mercy will take solid form in the renewal of the acts already performed by John Paul II himself and his predecessors: he will "consecrate the world to the Heart of the Mother, and consecrate to Her more especially those people who are in particular need of it" (ib).
In short, it is sin - because it leads to the destruction of all morality and the rejection of humanity by God - which draws down these "quasi apocalyptic" menaces on humanity.3
And humanity has no salvation except in the redemptive Mercy of the Savior who wishes to give Himself to it by the Heart of His Mother. We are here at the center of the Message of Fatima.
1. FATIMA: HISTORY AND MESSAGE
What, then, is the Fatima Message? And firstly how do we come to know it: what is its history? Today it is possible to answer the first question; but the second is more difficult to resolve, and that for several reasons. The first is that all the documents are not yet available. The second is that the message itself was revealed only in stages. The third arises from the fact that a group of historians and theologians have not been able to recognize that providential disposition, thus denying in fact the mission formally entrusted by the Blessed Virgin to Sister Lucia and making the work of research even more complex. Finally there is the difficulty, and not the least of them, deriving from the political bearing of the message; how far does prudence allow one to speak of it? For all these reasons it is not yet possible to write the complete history of Fatima. However, a certain number of landmarks can be set up with certainty which enable us to draw out the essential of the Fatima Message.
In the matter of this historical unfolding of the event, the new fact is that the message was not given on one single occasion or within narrow limits of time, as at Lourdes, for example, where everything happened between February 11 and July 16, 1858. Here, on the contrary, the disclosure of the prophecy took many years. One must say even that it is not yet complete, so that, since 1917, it covers the whole of the twentieth century which it illumines with a supernatural light. But to understand how that illumination has been given progressively, we must distinguish the history of the divine communications to the witness themselves from the history of the manifestation to the Church by the witnesses of the content of those communications. For those two histories do not coincide in their dates; there is often a gap, sometimes important, between the dates of the first and those of the second, and that by the will of God Himself.
As to the first history, which is the principal, and the one which we shall chiefly consider here, the prophetic facts which constitute it can be divided into three periods: before 1917; 1917; after 1917.
- Before 1917: the time of preparation
In 1915 and 1916 Europe is at war. On six occasions an angel appeared to the children, the first three times in a veiled manner, the three following times in the form of a very young man. During those three last apparitions he first of all invited them to pray (first apparition), to sacrifice themselves (second apparition) to ask for peace, making reparation for sins and save sinners. Then he completed their preparation for their future mission by getting them to enter into communion, through the Eucharist, with the prayer and the redemptive sacrifice of Christ (third apparition). The compactness of these three last "visits" of the angel is astonishing, and, most importantly, it at once gives us the key to the whole mystery of Fatima: salvation offered to a sinful world by the divine Mercy and the gift of that Mercy by the Hearts of Christ and the Blessed Virgin. "The Hearts of Christ and of Mary have intentions of mercy towards you." That declaration is extremely important, for it invites us, right from the start, to consider the Immaculate Heart of Mary, center of the Message of Fatima, only in the mystery of Her union with the Heart of the unique Mediator. But these facts, we should not forget, will not be known until much later.
- 1917: the decisive year
1917 is the decisive year of the six apparitions of the Blessed Virgin, from May 13 to October 13. Europe is moving towards peace even if events do not yet allow that to be perceived. That peace is announced by the Blessed Virgin. But in the middle of the conflict as it continues, a new threat arises, not just against Europe but against the whole of humanity - the threat of the Communist Revolution. October, 1917, saw the start of its triumph and its conquests.4
It is only in view of this new fact that the message of "the Woman more brilliant than the sun" has its full value. We shall summarize the contents in a little while; but to grasp them more practically we should here note some of their main aspects according to the sequence in which historically they were revealed.
In the first apparition, two things are to be noted: first, that Mary's apparition is directed entirely to the salvation of souls and the glory of God, especially in the request for reparation; then, that Her message is given not only in word but also and equally in symbolic gestures. That is how we must understand the light springing from Her hands and entering the hearts of the children after She had told them: "The grace of God will strengthen you." With those words and that act, the Blessed Virgin signifies that it is She who gives the grace of God. She will make the same gesture in June.
Of that second apparition there are likewise two things to remember: the divine will to establish in the world the "devotion" to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, and Lucia's mission, which is to work for the establishment of that "devotion": "Jesus wishes to use you to make Me known and loved. He wishes to establish in the world devotion to My Immaculate Heart." That divine will is in harmony with the role of Mary in the gift of grace, that is, in the divine economy of salvation. The mission here given to Lucia is the ground of the prophetic value of what will be communicated by Her to the Church after 1917.
The apparition in July, the third, is the great prophetic apparition. It reaffirms what had been said in the previous apparitions and gives the children a triple secret. The first two parts of it are already known: the vision of hell which recalls the one purpose of the Blessed Virgin, to save souls from being lost eternally, and the foretelling of the Second World War, 1939-1945. That announcement, however, was conditional, for the war could and should have been prevented by the prayer and the penance of the whole Church, and also by the consecration of Russia to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Among the works of penance and reparation asked for, and appearing for the first time, is Communion of reparation on the first Saturday of the month. "To prevent it I shall come to ask for the consecration of Russia to My Immaculate Heart and Communion of reparation on the first Saturdays. If My demands are met, Russia will be converted and there will be peace. If not, Russia will spread her errors throughout the world, provoking wars and the persecution of the Church. The good will undergo martyrdom, the Holy Father will have much to suffer, several nations will be annihilated. In the end, My Immaculate Heart will triumph."
We know, today, but we do not sufficiently give our minds to it, to what point these prophecies have been realized, a tragic consequence of the refusal to listen to the demands of the Blessed Virgin. But we know also that those demands stay addressed to us, with the promise they contain, and the assurance of final victory. The victory, in the power of Christ's redemption, will be that of the Immaculate Virgin, God willing that it should appear as Hers. We should also notice, in the promise the Blessed Virgin makes to Lucia to come again and make Her demands, a new affirmation of the further prophetic mission of the little seer: it is by her that Mary will make known Her wishes to the Church.
As to the third part, usually called "the Third Secret", it has not yet been revealed: but it is quite clear that it must be part of the historico-salvific logic of the two that went before, and therefore of the dialetic sin-punishment-salvation which animates them. That logic and its dialetic are those of the mysterious relationship between justice and mercy - mercy in no way suppresses the exigencies of justice but puts them at its service for its own final triumph.
The fourth and fifth apparitions are much more unobtrusive, owing to man's refusal to believe the Blessed Virgin's message: in August the civil authorities prevented the children from going to their rendezvous by putting them in prison.
Finally, on October 13, the Blessed Virgin revealed Her name: "I am Our Lady of the Rosary", and She performed the promised miracle asked for by the children "so that all the world may believe". It was the solar prodigy which forced a crowd of seventy thousand to their knees, with its inexhaustible symbolism. Here we may mention the following three aspects: 1) the sun is the image of the power of God which, hurling itself on humanity, can destroy it in an instant: that is what justice would demand; 2) but that same power can also recreate the world, washing it clean of sin: that is the work of mercy; 3) that power is the power of Christ the Conqueror, Christus Victor, and the fact that once more it is by a gesture of Our Lady, again opening Her joined hands, that the prodigy is accomplished, signifies that it is only by the mediation of His Mother and His "Associate" that Christ deploys and spreads over the world the fruits of His victory. Mention must also be made of the triple vision reserved for the three children. What they saw in the sun was, first of all, a representation of the Holy Family, with Joseph and Jesus as a child, then a vision of Our Lady of Dolours, and finally Our Lady of Mount Carmel, with all the prophetic symbolism of that title: the ultimate victory of Mercy by the mediation of Mary Immaculate. We have there the evocation of all the redemptive mystery of Christ as it is divided among the three series of "mysteries" of the Rosary: joyful, sorrowful, and glorious.
We could go on forever with exposition of, and meditation on, these great prophetic acts. We shall summarize the essential in a moment. But first we must finish our historical sketch by mentioning the chief events of the third period; for, if the essential has been effectively said, it has then to be developed and especially revealed to the Church.
- After 1917: the time of the manifestation and accomplishment of the message.
Here above all we are obliged to limit ourselves to some major landmarks, fixing our attention especially on the content of the supernatural communications to Sister Lucia and on the response made by men to the divine wishes. This third period of the history of Fatima can in its turn be divided into three clearly distinct phases: a) that of the great revelations which were made in the immediate prolongation of the promises of the Blessed Virgin in July, 1917: they are their fulfillment, and they took place between 1925 and 1929; b) that of the efforts of Sister Lucia to get Her message heard, efforts accompanied and sustained with frequent interior communications, which, in Lucia's own words, have not all the same value. That period, in a sense, is still with us, but, from another point of view, it reached a turning point with the consecration of the world made by Pius XII in 1942; c) from 1942 until now Sister Lucia maintained her effort, Providence intervening directly, notably on May 13, 1981, to draw the attention of "the whole Church" to the great prophetic sign of Fatima. For it is certainly "the whole Church" which is apostrophized, even if not all in the Church respond. We can take a brief look at each of these phases.
a) The great revelations after 1917
The first happened between December 10, 1925, and February 15, 1926, and took place at Pontevedra in Spain. Christ and the Blessed Virgin appeared to Sister Lucia and asked for the devotion of the first Saturdays in reparation: "Look, daughter, at My Heart encircled with thorns which ungrateful men plunge into it every moment with their blasphemies and ingratitude. You, at least, see to My being consoled, and say that all who, on the first Saturday during five months, will go to Confession, receive Holy Communion, say the Rosary and keep Me company for fifteen minutes meditating on the fifteen mysteries of the Rosary to make reparation will have the promise of My assistance at the hour of their death and all the graces necessary for the salvation of their souls." (December 10, 1925.) Lucia got to work at once to propagate the devotion, which was one of the conditions to be met for the avoidance of the Second World War (July 13, 1917). But it was only when the war had broken out that, on September 13, the hierarchy, in the person of the Bishop of Leiria, responded to that demand and officially approved that reparatory practice.
The second great revelation took place at Tuy, also in Spain, in the course of the night of June 12 to 13, 1929. The Blessed Trinity manifested Itself to Lucia in a grandiose vision. The Trinity appeared in Its redemptive action, the Father and the Holy Spirit dominating the image of Christ on the Cross, and showing how Our Lord spreads His Blood over the world by the Eucharist and by the mediation of Mary (the detail, eminently theological, is in Sister Lucia's recital). On this occasion the Blessed Virgin keeps the promise She had made at the Cova da Iria; She comes to demand the consecration of Russia, and She gives the precise conditions: "This is the moment when God asks the Holy Father to make, in union with all the bishops of the world, the consecration of Russia to My Immaculate Heart. He promises to save it by that means." That is the third condition to be filled to avoid war, the second having been repeated in the revelations of 1925-1926, and the first consisting in the prayer and the sacrifice of the whole Christian people.
b) Sister Lucia's efforts from 1929 onwards; new communications
In the years that followed, from the end of 1925, Lucia multiplied the steps she took to get a hearing for the requests from Heaven, without success with the authorities. However, the Pastoral Letter, October 13, 1930, of Monsignor Correia da Silva, Bishop of Leiria (the diocese to which Fatima belongs) declared the apparitions at the Cova da Iria were "worthy of credence" and officially authorized "the cult of Our Lady of Fatima". That long letter certainly marked an important turning point in the history of the apparitions. On May 13 the following year the Portuguese bishops consecrated their country to the Immaculate Heart of Mary (the document has since been known as the "Magna Carta" of Fatima). In 1936 they made a vow to go on pilgrimage to Fatima if the Blessed Virgin protected Portugal from the Communist menace which pressed on it directly from Spain. They fulfilled the vow on May 12 and 13, 1938, and on that occasion renewed the consecration of 1931.
But to return to 1936, the year of one of the more important intimate communications received by Sister Lucia after 1917. She gives an account of it in the following terms, in a letter to her spiritual director dated May 18. (Her mode of expression permits us to think that the communication was made in that month.) "Interiorly, I have spoken to Our Lord about that question (the consecration of Russia); and recently I asked Him why He did not convert Russia without His Holiness making that consecration." "Because I want My whole Church to recognize that consecration as a triumph of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, and so to extend that cult and place at the side of devotion to My Divine Heart the devotion to that Immaculate Heart." "But, O my God, the Holy Father will not believe me if You Yourself do not prompt him with special inspiration." What should above all be stressed here, and which seems to us the most important part of the text, is the establishment in the world of the "devotion" to the Immaculate Heart as the complement of the "devotion" to the Sacred Heart. We thus find again the will manifested in June, 1917, and the "merciful plans" of the "Hearts of Christ and of Mary" announced to the children in the words of the angels as early as 1915 or 1916.
That is the reason why the request proper to the Blessed Virgin at Fatima is the consecration of Russia, not the consecration of the world. What we have just said shows the primary importance of that wish. It must therefore be clarified, because, other prophetic facts having appeared in the meantime, that wish is today not clearly perceived by all.
Consecration of the World and Consecration of Russia
It was also during 1936, a decisive year as we have seen, that approaches began to be made to the Holy See for the consecration of the world to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. That point in history, not so well known by Fatima specialists, raises a question and demands an answer which both call for special study. For until now the requests of the Blessed Virgin we have read have concerned only the consecration of Russia. What, then, is the origin of the consecration of the world, which will be done in 1942? And how is that consecration related to the providential plan manifested at Fatima? We will recall the principal events in that history, which for many will be a revelation. It is those events which will give us our answer.
We saw above that in May, 1938, the bishops of Portugal were together at Fatima. In June that same year, prompted by Father Pinho, S.J., they wrote to Pius XI asking him to consecrate the world to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Father Pinho's name explains that step: he had for several years been the spiritual director of Alexandrina Maria da Costa, the extraordinary mystic living in Balsar, in the north of Portugal, who played the decisive part in getting the consecration of the world to the Heart of Mary. It was on July 30, 1935, that Our Lord first showed her His will in this matter, relating it to the consecration of the world to His Divine Heart. But it was not till a year later, on September 11, 1936, that Father Pinho decided to write to Pius XI, which he did through the Secretary of State, Cardinal Pacelli, as intermediary. In 1937, the Secretary of State having asked for further information, Father Pinho wrote to the Archbishop of Braga, who made enquiries. They were largely positive, and the bishops of Portugal, gathered in Fatima for a retreat being given them by Father Pinho, agreed to his suggestion and sent the Holy Father the letter we have just mentioned.
In October, 1940, they sought to combine the testimony of Sister Lucia with that of Alexandrina, and they ordered her to write herself to the Holy Father, asking him to consecrate the world to the Heart of the Blessed Virgin. But Lucia, until then, had received from Heaven requests bearing only on the consecration of Russia, not on that of the world. When she received the order from her bishop she took to prayer, on October 22, asking for light on what she should do. She received from Our Lord, not from Our Lady, the following answer (remember that the war was raging at the time): "Tribulation will grow. I shall punish the nations for their crimes with war, famine, persecution of My Church, persecution which will fall especially on him who is My Vicar on earth. His Holiness will obtain the shortening of these days of tribulation if he meets My wishes and makes the act of consecration to the Immaculate Heart of Mary of the entire world with special mention of Russia." So it is to that intimate communication that Sister Lucia is alluding in her letter to Pius XII5. We should note that the terms she uses lack the precision and the assurance of those of July, 1917; June, 1929 and May, 1936. In them it was the conversion of Russia that was being talked about, and a period of peace for the world; here it is just the end of the present "tribulation". So it is not just the means that is different but also the end in view. We know that Lucia had to compose her letter twice. In the first version she speaks of the consecration of the world as having to be done by the Holy Father alone; in the second she adds that the bishops of the world should do it with him.
These remarks are not intended to throw doubt on the authenticity of the supernatural communication of October 22, 1940, but simply to make clear, first of all, that its content is different from that of the message of Fatima and Tuy, and, secondly, to show that Sister Lucia was laboring to make the two messages coincide. That explains the addition, in the second version of her letter to the Pope, about the participation of the bishops in the pontifical act. That also enables us to understand why, within the prophetic communication itself, and therefore as the effect of an encounter of grace with nature, there is, side by side with the request for the consecration of the world, a special mention of Russia. And above all it explains why, after the act performed by Pius XII on October 31, 1942, an act which met the requests transmitted by Sister Lucia herself, she could say, as she has not ceased to repeat ever since, that there had been no full response to the demands of the Blessed Virgin6.
In fact, in the communication of October, 1942, it was Christ who spoke, not the Blessed Virgin. Moreover, He conveyed a "desire", not His Will, which is fully explained from the point of view of Fatima. For there is plainly no question of putting Our Lord in opposition to His Mother: we should understand that we are here in presence of two clearly distinct moments of a unique and vast prophetic movement. It all starts from Fatima, and it all ends there; but, within that view, there is what can be called the divine parenthesis of Balasar. So, in relation to the peculiar and essential mission entrusted to Lucia, the communication of 1940 appears as an act of condescension from Our Lord with the purpose of not putting her in opposition and even of making her agree according to the needs of the moment with what was the different mission of Alexandrina, the consecration of the world to the Immaculate Heart of Mary to hasten the end of the punishment of the sins of the world which was the Second World War. But, once that work of mercy was accomplished, the first message, that of Fatima, remained. Even more, the events after the war, and especially the prodigious expansion of Soviet Russia, served to show how urgent it was. The events we are living through today show to anyone capable of reading "the signs of the times" that it is now more urgent than ever. That is why Lucia has not stopped saying that the Blessed Virgin's demands have not been met.
That explains the relationship established between the prophetic mission of Balasar and that of Fatima. By his act of October 31, 1942, it was to the former that the Head of the Church responded, not to the latter. It is true that Sister Lucia's letter was of a nature to give him the impression that he had answered the two requests at one and the same time, for Providence had made them converge momentarily and confirm one another. As we remarked just now, what happened after 1945 brought him to realize that the truth was somewhat different, and that though there had been a real convergence of the two messages in 1940/1942 they were substantially different in what was special to them. Pius XII had responded to the request of which he learned in 1936, as Secretary of State to Pius XI, which asked essentially for the consecration of the world and which brought about the end of the war. It remained for him to respond to the second, asking for the consecration of Russia, of which he could learn only progressively, and thus obtain, with the conversion of that nation, the removal of the threat of apocalyptic war, with which its militant atheism and its necessarily expansionist dynamism burdened the world which was drawing that chastisement on itself by multiplying its sins.
c) Third Phase: after the consecration of 1942
It was with that in mind that, on July 7, 1952, Pius XII consecrated Russia to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. But, though Our Lady had asked for that, he could not associate with his act the bishops of the whole world. The pontifical act remained isolated; it had been unable to obtain the required collegial character.7
After 1952 and before March 13, 1982, that is, for a space of 30 years, there was practically silence. The silence is explained by the evolution of world and ecclesial policy: it is the epoch of "détente". The silence was broken for an instant by the act of Paul VI in 1964 and in 1967. On November 21, 1964, Paul VI proclaimed Mary the "Mother of the Church", recalled the consecration of the world to the Immaculate Heart of Mary made by Pius XII, and sent "the golden rose" to the sanctuary of Our Lady of Fatima, with the words: "By that, we also wish to entrust the human family to the care of the Mother of God." And on May 13, 1967, defying the opposition of a great number, he went to Fatima himself to renew his act. Such a step in such difficult circumstances speaks volumes on the importance Paul VI attached to the Message of Fatima.
After him, John Paul II in his turn "entrusted the whole human family to the maternal protection of the Blessed Virgin". He did so in terms which do evoke the acts of his predecessors: allusion to those "who most desire" that protection, and to the request for peace ... but it was an act of "affidamento". The Sovereign Pontiff performed that act on June 7, 1981, on the Feast of Pentecost, less than a month after the attempt on his life; which has a suggestion of a new move nearer to Fatima. He renewed it on December 8 of the same year, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception.
It is true that Lucia admits asking Pius XII in 1942 for the consecration of the world, but she declares at the same time that she did it only "on the instruction of her confessor". Don Pasquale published the contents of that letter in L'Osservatore Romano of May 12, 1982, the eve of John Paul II's pilgrimage to Fatima. His testimony is the more valuable in that, when he was the spiritual director of Alexandrina Maria da Costa, he had close and continuous relations after 1939 with Sister Lucia of Fatima.8
Besides, our analysis of the consecration made by the Holy Father last May 13 showed us not only that the situation, from the point of view we have taken here, has not been changed by that act, but also that the historians who helped the Holy Father to prepare it have not yet grasped the relation of both convergence and divergence between the demands of Balasar and those of Fatima. Their excuse is in the difficulty of having access to the necessary documentation. It is high time that these questions were brought out into the open and that the chief witnesses or holders of documents should, if they will, open to the public, and first of all to the hierarchy, the result of their work. What they have published up to now is, however, sufficient to establish the conclusions we have just set out. They will be new for many, practically for all those who do not yet know the prophetic charism of Balasar. But they are compelling once the facts are known, and they are confirmed by the conclusion arrived at by the two most qualified specialists in the matter, Father J.M. Alonso and Don Pasquale.
There remains the task of relating historically the way these different requests, especially those of Fatima, have been transmitted to the Church and the way the Church responded to them. That would need a special, separate study. Inevitably, the results would be partial; and there is no need for a special enquiry to establish, in a general way, that Fatima is ignored, even rejected, and that it was necessary to have acts like that of Paul VI and John Paul II to extract its name from the silence.
2. THE MESSAGE OF FATIMA: CONTENT AND SYNTHESIS
We have recalled the chief facts by which this message was communicated to her commissioned to transmit it to the Church. Now we must sum up its contents. That can be done by making a synthesis of it around the four following points: it contains a warning and an appeal, a fundamental truth and a final promise.9
At the beginning, in the middle and at the end, the great light which illuminates the whole of this prophecy is that of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, instrument of the divine Mercy.
The appeal is what appears first (in the words of the Angel and of the Blessed Virgin), but it is inspired by the situation which is the object of the warning, so it is the warning which is the starting-point of the whole Message, and it can be summed up in two words: sin and war. Sin is multiplying in the world, and that is why war is raging (1915-1917). If men are not converted, the war will also continue, or it will begin again (July 13, 1917). So it is sin which is the chief object of the warning, sin in all its forms, but especially when it is a rejection of God Himself (the militant atheism of Russia), when it insults the Eucharist (the prayer taught by the Angel at his last apparition), and when it offends God in the Immaculate Heart of Mary (prayers and Communions in reparation for those sins).
Hence the appeal urging conversion, prayer and the sacrifice of reparation and co-redemption. For the Message of Fatima is, above all, that appeal for prayer and sacrifice (beginning with the two formal apparitions of the Angel). It is also the request for - and the offering of - the Communion of the First Saturdays in reparation for the sins committed against the Immaculate Heart of Mary (July 13, 1917; December 10, 1925). Finally, it is the demand for the consecration of Russia in a collegial act accomplished by the Pope and by all the bishops with him (July 13, 1917; June 13, 1929). We shall see in our third part the ecclesial complementarity and the theological depths of these three fundamental demands.
Warning and appeal are extremely grave, as can be seen in the last words of Our Lady which sum them both up: "Man must no more offend God, Our Lord, for He is already grievously offended."10
But the Message of Fatima ends on a note which makes it basically a message of hope, thanks to that unconditional promise of Our Lady: "In the end My Immaculate Heart will triumph" (July 13, 1917; May, 1936).
That assertion links up with the two aspects already examined, in this, that it presents us with the central truth of the whole of this prophetic mystery: the Immaculate Heart and its decisive role in the work of salvation. As the Blessed Virgin has but one purpose in coming to us - to save souls and glorify God - and as that will is plainly that of Our Lord Himself, God, in sending His Mother to manifest that will to us, is at the same time pursuing another end: the glorification in the world of Her whom He has associated with Himself to accomplish the work of our salvation. That is the whole meaning of "reparation for sins committed against the Immaculate Heart of Mary"; it is also the meaning of the consecration of Russia to that same Heart; and it is finally, the meaning of the attribution to Her of the final victory: "My Immaculate Heart will triumph."
The divine plan here revealed is the one manifested in the words of June 13, 1917 (and which are confirmed by those of May, 1936): "Jesus wishes to establish in the world the devotion to My Immaculate Heart", words which miss some of their meaning unless "devotion" is taken as part of the virtue of religion.
To that truth which is the first foundation of the whole Fatima Message, and of its prolongation, must be added the truth of the communion of saints. For though the Blessed Virgin is the first to co-operate in the divine and human work of salvation, She is not alone in so doing. All the "saints" are called to that work (cf. Colossians 1:24). That is what is specially recalled in the weighty words of August 19, 1917: "There are many souls going into Hell because there is no one to sacrifice himself for them."
From that time on we glimpse not only the urgency but also the immensity and doctrinal coherence of the prophetic message of the Cova da Iria. We shall shortly be examining some of its aspects of special importance. But it was necessary first to present it as a whole and in its history of the first revelation, the one made to witnesses charged with transmitting it to the Church. At the close of that presentation, what is most striking and which it seems to us important to underline is the character at once total, global and final in that message: total, because it is addressed to the totality of the Church, pastors and faithful; global, in the sense that the whole Christian Mystery is contained in it; final, because in that Mystery, which is essentially that of the theandry (union of divine and human in Christ) as Soloviev would say, what is brought into the light is the first human element by which it is realized: the Heart of the Immaculate. Hence another aspect under which this message is final: that first created element by which the redemptive Incarnation was accomplished is at the same time the last chance offered to humanity for its salvation.
But it is above all on the aspect of totality that we would insist. For, as the act which has been found to be the starting-point of this study, and which will be also the principal object of its last part, is the act of consecration, it is extremely important to be sure that it is only one of the constitutive elements of the Fatima appeal. The other two, as we have seen, are conversion composed of prayer and of participation in the redemptive sacrifice of Christ, and the "reparatory devotion" - essentially Eucharistic and Marial - of the five first Saturdays of the month. Later on we shall see how these three demands are related but we can see, on the one side, that no one of them can suffice without the other two, and, on the other side, that some are addressed solely to the hierarchy while the others are the concern of all the baptized without distinction; so it is clear from the start that an effort of the whole Church is needed for this message to offer salvation to the world. That is one of the surest signs of its authenticity, but it is also one of the most important criteria for its correct interpretation. In particular it can be seen that the consideration does not permit one to expect everything from the consecration alone, which might be the temptation of some devotees of Fatima, or to leave everything to the prayers and penance of the faithful, which could be the temptation of the hierarchy. Both are necessary, both mediated by the Immaculate Heart of Mary. We must try to show why.
III. THE VIRGIN MARY IN THE DIVINE ECONOMY OF SALVATION
THOSE clarifications in the historical order, which we said were necessary, have been made; and we must now deal with the theological perspectives in which the prophetic plan of salvation revealed to us has its place and its justification. We shall examine four questions: 1). The place of prophecy in the present time of the economy of salvation; 2). The connection between justice and mercy, in the work of Redemption, on which is based the connection between Christian conversion, reparatory Communion and consecration to Mary; 3). The nature and salvific bearing of the consecration; 4). The role of the Blessed Virgin in the work of salvation. These four questions are closely linked, especially the first three, and they culminate in the fourth which, as we shall see, is the key to the mystery of Fatima.
1. PROPHECY AND HIERARCHY
It is a fact, as we have seen: Leo XIII, Pius XII, Paul VI and John Paul II, to cite only those, have performed acts with a universal ecclesial range on directions which came to them by the prophetic route. How does one justify that attitude? By a theology of prophecy which shows its place in the economy of the New Covenant, that is to say, in the governing of the Church by the hierarchy. That, it must be confessed, is a question still insufficiently elucidated. In general we content ourselves with a distinction between the one "Public Revelation", that of the Gospel, and the many "private revelations", lumping together in the second category all the supernatural communications made to the "mystics". And we usually add that only the first is of obligation, the second at the most being allowed to be accepted and held as true with a purely human faith.
Two very simple considerations show that the view is faulty. The first is that, among the supernatural communications being given to some at present, we must distinguish those whose immediate object is the good and the management of their soul and those made to them to be communicated by them to the Church. That is the case at Fatima, at Lourdes and all the great Marial apparitions of modern times. The second reflection is that if it is true that the nature of the act of faith is determined by the motive on which the act rests, we should conclude that a human faith is one resting on human testimony, and that, inversely, where a supernatural testimony of divine origin appears, the act of faith required will also be marked with a supernatural character. It will not be theological faith which, by definition, can be demanded and founded only by the evangelical Revelation proposed by the Church. But neither will it be a purely human faith, left to each one's free choice. To put it in simple terms: from the moment it is established that God is speaking to us, by Himself or by a messenger, His word justifies an act of faith which belongs in a certain manner to the supernatural order. His word is the basis of it and demands it: there is an obligation to believe and therefore to obey.
For several years a certain number of theologians have felt obliged to move in that direction, which is certainly licit as there is no text of the Magisterium forbidding it. So Monsignor R. Graber denounces the "frightening minimalism" which allows everyone to believe or not believe the word of God thus revealed by the prophetic route. Similarly Father Balic, though he goes too far when he demands theological faith for apparitions of the Blessed Virgin, and others after them. Perhaps we could talk of "prophetic faith", seeing it as subordinate or subsidiary to theological faith.
For the question here is of prophecy. Now the function proper to prophecy, in the New Covenant as in the Old, is to bring back the one to whom it is addressed - king, priest, people of God - to fulfill the duties of that Covenant. It does not take the place of the Covenant, even when it uncovers implications in it up to then hidden: it is rooted in it and entirely in its service. On the other hand, it could be that the prophet had to supply for weakness in the priest. But he, in the New Covenant, stays in possession of apostolic authority and is officially the one in charge of the Covenant. That is why the basic motive for his decision to act is always the word of the Covenant, that of the Gospel - as we have seen for the Popes we have quoted. But the immediate motive prompting the pastor to act and to go back to that fundamental motive could be the prophetic message addressed to him. The two motives corroborate one another and fuse into one in the mind of the hierarch and his decision.
That that economy is valid for the New as for the Old Covenant is stated clearly in very forceful words by Saint Paul. We recall just the two which follow: "The Church is built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets" (Ephesians 2:30), meaning the prophets of the New Testament as is shown beyond the shadow of doubt in the context. And this one: "Extinguish not the spirit. Despise not prophecies. Hold fast that which is good." (Thessalonians 5:19-20). "Hold fast": Saint Paul is here giving an order.
That is why Saint Thomas Aquinas himself goes as far as saying that "Prophecy is necessary for the government of the people and (he adds in an emphatic way) principally in what concerns divine worship, for which nature is not adequate: grace is necessary." Following Saint Augustine, he affirms also that "there has never been a lack of men possessing the spirit of prophecy, not to propose a new doctrine of faith but to direct man in his actions, so far as that was necessary for the salvation of the elect". That necessity would have no meaning if it did not include the obligation to believe in prophecy.
The repeated invitation of the Second Vatican Council to respect charisms should open minds today to that theology of prophetic charism and to its essential function in the divine economy of the government of the Church. So, then, when the Popes consecrate the world to the Heart of Christ or to the Heart of Mary at a request made to them by the prophetic route and after satisfying themselves that their action fits perfectly the requirements of the New Covenant - discernment of the charism presented to them having been duly exercised - the step they take is not just legitimate; it is the response to a duty of the supernatural order which is obligatory.
That being so, we can now look for those aspects of Gospel Revelation brought back to the Church's notice by the prophetic revelation of Fatima.
2. FATIMA AND THE GOSPEL: JUSTICE AND MERCY
Two terms sum up the mystery of the Redemption as it is recalled to the Church by the Blessed Virgin: Justice and Mercy. But they, in their turn, presuppose two others: sin and holiness. The purpose of the Covenant is the communion of God with men: "I will be their God and they shall be My people" (Jeremias 31:33). But the condition of that communion is that the people keep the Covenant: "If therefore you will hear My voice, and keep My covenant, you shall be My people" (Exodus 19:5); in other words, the people must be holy as God is holy and because God is holy: "... Be ye holy, because I the Lord your God am holy.You shall be holy unto Me, because I the Lord am holy ..." (Leviticus 19:2; 20:26). Thus holiness and sin appear as the two antinomic terms on which depends the realization or non-realization of the ultimate purpose of the Covenant. Blessed by God and admitted to communion with Him if it is holy, the chosen people is on the contrary chastised by Him and reproved if it separates itself from its God by sin. Benediction and malediction are the only two possible conclusions of the pact of the Covenant (Deuteronomy 28:1-14, 15-46): that is demanded by the Holiness and the Justice of God.
Far from being abolished, these requirements are on the contrary extended to their maximum by the New Covenant: "Be ye perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect" (Matthew 5:48). "But according to Him that hath called you, who is holy, be you also in all manner of conversation holy" (1 Peter 1:16). And sin always draws down on those who commit it "the anger of God", leading them, if they are not converted, to eternal malediction: "Depart from me, ye cursed" (Matthew 25:41). Assuredly it is "the Law", although it is in itself holy, which "produces wrath" (Romans 4:15; Cf. 7, 12-13), that is to say, the chastisement demanded by justice for sin. And "Jesus (...) delivers us from the wrath to come" (1 Thessalonians 1:10). But man remains free, and, in sinning in spite of the grace of Christ, he "builds up again" what he had "destroyed" by justice and holiness, that is to say, "the Law" (Galatians 2:18), and with it the chastisement and the anger of God.
It is therefore a radical mistake to suppose that the theme of the anger of God belongs only to the Old Covenant. That would be to deny at one and the same time human liberty and divine justice. It is true that Mercy was accomplished in the redemption operated by Christ. But it was manifested in this that Christ, "The beloved Son" of the Father (Matthew 3:17), took upon Himself the punishment due to our sins (Isaias 53:5-12) to the point of "being made a curse for us" (Galatians 3:13). That is why, from then on, "there is now no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus" (Romans 8:1). And we are "in Christ" by faith, hope and charity. But for those who are not, or who are no longer "in Christ", for those who sin, malediction with its chastisement is the fate which awaits them. For them, there is "the wrath to come" (Matthew 3:7; Apocalypse 14:8f). The fact is there is a false idea of the divine Mercy, and it is a grave injustice to man to hush up those truths. It is the Blessed Virgin Herself who reminds us of them with Her warnings and the vision of hell. She does that as an obligation of Her maternal love. No doubt servile fear of punishment is not "perfect charity" (1 John 4:18). But it could be the beginning of conversion and of salvation, as the Council of Trent recalled in answer to the errors of Luther.
Those truths being established, the light of the appeal of Fatima appears with all its power and all its evangelical actuality. We have heard Our Lady's last words reported by Lucia: "Let men offend God no more!" Words heavy with menace whose content was revealed on July 13: in the present time, war, famine, persecutions against the Church who is also to blame, and in the next world "the everlasting fire" (Matthew 25:41), for those are the punishments of sin required by justice. That is strictly speaking not so much a threat as a reminder of the threat inherent in an injustice. Love and mercy are the only motives of that reminder, made solely to save mankind, a reminder accompanied, as we have seen, by a triple appeal - to conversion (prayer and sacrifice), to Communion of reparation, to the consecration of Russia. If they respond to them, men will bring down upon themselves graces of pardon and mercy acquired by the redemption of Christ. If they refuse to respond or are late in answering, they deliver themselves to what justice demands: the punishments must fall on them to purify them from sin. The alternative offered them is there in its fullness. Lucia has expressed it admirably in her letters: "If that act (the consecration of Russia) by which peace will be given to us, is not done, the war will end when the blood shed by the martyrs will be sufficient to satisfy divine Justice." We should note, besides, that even in that case nothing will be done without mercy, for it is only by their union with the sacrifice of Christ, our only salvation, that the sacrifice of the martyrs can satisfy divine Justice, so that, in the choice between justice or mercy, mercy is always present.
What Lucia was also quite sure of was the relation between the three routes offered to us for recourse to Mercy, in which is found the mysterious economy of those two divine attributes: prayer and sacrifice, Communion of reparation and consecration to Mary. On August 18, 1940, she wrote to Father Goncalves: "In the present state of the world, what God desires are souls which, united to Him, sacrifice themselves and pray (...) Now, more than ever, there is need of souls who commit themselves to Him without reserve. And how few they are!" That is the first route, where justice dominates. It is slow and costly for mankind. Hence the need to have recourse to the other two. No doubt, Lucia continues, God could "by a miracle" get men to turn to them from the start. "But He profits from that time to punish the world, in accordance with His justice, for so many crimes and to prepare a more complete return to Himself." That then, in the plan of mercy, is the ground for this time in which justice dominates and demands its rights. "As it is now the hour of God's justice over the world, we must continue to pray", that is, to offer to God a "prayer accompanied by sacrifice, above all that sacrifice which is necessary for avoiding sin".
But the sins of the world are so many that that route could not suffice; and the mercy that God feels for us is so great that He can not bear to let us drag on there endlessly. He therefore offers us the two other routes that the Blessed Virgin revealed on July 13, 1917, and came to offer and to ask for in 1925 and 1929. Supernaturally enlightened, Lucia has always been positive on that point. Communion of reparation would itself achieve much, but alone it could at the most obtain a reprieve, which would have been due principally to the divine Mercy, being owed chiefly to the merits of the Eucharistic Sacrifice, and it would have saved the world from much suffering. But "grace and mercy" will not be spread in their fullness over the world and will not obtain for it, with the conversion of Russia and the complete return of all to God, the time of peace promised except through the consecration of that same Russia to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
All these texts admirably express the divine economy of justice and mercy which is here at work. It can be summed up thus. On the first route, nearly all the effort is called for from men, and it is immense like the immensity of the sins of the world. Even in that case, as we have said, nothing would be achieved without Mercy, for it is solely by virtue of the sacrifice of Christ which is continued in them that the sacrifices of men can contribute to satisfying the demands of divine Justice. All the same, on that route, those demands are dominant and demand from man the maximum of sacrifice in reparation. On the other two routes, inversely, man appeals directly to divine Mercy, and, by that resort, he correspondingly diminishes the punishment imposed on him, for, by having recourse by faith in the redemption of Christ, he brings down on himself its fruits of pardon and reconciliation.
That is why we said, in the second part, that the prophetic message of Fatima puts in operation the whole Christian mystery of salvation, mystery of justice and mercy, and that it calls for an answer from the whole Church. Mercy is the great light which illuminates it, but that light can be received only by hearts which open themselves at the same time to the light of justice. That is the great lesson given us by the Blessed Virgin. Priests can not preach to their flock a sermon which amounts to telling them: your prayers and your sacrifices are enough - they will never be enough; nor can the faithful tell the priests: your act of consecration will do everything - the prayer and the sacrifice of all are necessary to prepare that "complete return" of men to God.
As for the way in which Communion of reparation and consecration will obtain the prodigious effusion of divine mercy of which our sinful world has need, it can be compared with the way of indulgences. Those procedures are as it were conditions to be fulfilled to obtain an indulgence of world dimension, conditions made known to the world by the prophetic route, but which need ratification by apostolic authority to produce their effect. That is easy to understand for the devotion of the first Saturdays, Eucharistic Communion being one of the classic means amongst indulgences indicated by the Church for the remission of the penalty due to sin. The theology of consecration will tell us that the same is true of this ultimate means of salvation offered to the world by divine Mercy.
3. CONSECRATION, RENEWAL OF THE COVENANT
What is a consecration? The spiritual tradition of modern times and the Church's Magisterium from Leo XIII to John Paul II have often explained it. To get at once to the essential we must turn to the Covenant. It is, in fact, by the Covenant that God consecrates His people and that the people consecrates itself and becomes consecrated to God. "If therefore you will hear My voice and keep My covenant, you shall be to Me a priestly kingdom and a holy nation" God said to the Hebrews at the moment when, by the mediation of Moses, He sealed with them the Covenant of the Law (Exodus 19:5-6). And Christ, when He was about to immolate Himself in the sacrifice of the New Covenant, declared in presence of His disciples (it is the text quoted by the Holy Father and his act of May 13, 1982) "For them do I sanctify myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth" (John 17:19).
The Hebrew and Greek words QDSh and agiòs mean, at the same time, sacred, holy, consecrated. Agiazò (John 17:19) can mean consecrate, but also sacrifice, sanctify. That gives the shape of the central reality of consecration. Fruit of the Covenant, it makes us God's possession and sharers in His sanctity. On God's side it is His taking charge of us and communicating His holiness: on man's side it is the gift of himself to God and an undertaking to serve Him in fulfilling His demand for holiness. Because it did not communicate this divine gift fully, the Old Covenant did not allow man to fulfill his undertaking. Because it gives men the Holy and sanctifying Spirit, the New Covenant makes them effectively capable of that fidelity. With it, consecration attains its plenitude.
It all starts, as can be seen, from the Covenant and its consecrating and sanctifying sacrifice. But though the redemptive work has been done "once for all" and though its sacrifice must not, therefore, be immolated afresh (Hebrews 7:27; 9:25-28), it produces its effect in and by the Church only progressively. Hence the need of perpetuating and reactivating unceasingly in the Church the unique Sacrifice of Christ, the consecration and primary source of sanctification of the world. The sacrament of the Eucharist was instituted to that end, and it is entirely apt that its central act, accompanied with the words reciting the institution, is called a consecration. The words of John 17:19 suffice to justify that expression and give it its full meaning. That, then, is the first consecration which the Church accomplishes each day and whose multiplication she encourages. It is sacramental in nature, and nothing can equal it in value, for in it "the work of our redemption is accomplished". For the sake of completeness, we should distinguish the two fundamental consecrations of Christ, that of His humanity, which took place at the Incarnation (John 10:36), and the one He made of Himself in His sacrifice (John 17:19). The first is prolonged and accomplished in the Christian by the sacrament of Baptism, the second by that of the Eucharist.
Nevertheless, just as the oneness of the mediation of Christ (1 Timothy 2:5) does not exclude other mediations, dependent and subordinate, but founds them and calls them out, and just as the sacramental consecration of baptism does not make religious consecration superfluous but finds in it the means to accomplish itself more perfectly, so the consecration of humanity and of the world performed by every celebration of the Eucharistic sacrifice does not exclude the possibility of other consecrations. And, like that of the Eucharist, it is by their relation to the consecration accomplished by the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross that they get their meaning and their value. In contrast with sacramental consecrations, and by analogy with those of religion, they could be called "consecrations of devotion", provided that word has all its original force. Religion is the sum of the acts which make us render to God the honor, the worship or "service", and the love which are due to Him and devotion is their soul, consisting of a firm and resolute will to give oneself promptly and totally to everything demanded by that worship and "service" of God. It is in that profound sense that we here speak of devotion; and that does not exclude the second meaning of the word, particular practices of devotion, but shows how it should be understood. The first meaning is the one which applies to the divine will "to establish in the world devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary"; the second applies to the practice of Communion of reparation on the first Saturdays.
It applies also, though in another way, to that particular practice which is the consecration of Russia to the Blessed Virgin. When we see it in the perspective of the Covenant and the Redemption, we understand how God can demand it so as to spread His mercy over the world, in the way the Church fixes this or that special condition for the grant of indulgences. By that step, which it is for pastors to make, they reaffirm that the flock entrusted to them belongs to God, to Christ and to Mary, they open it again to the action of redemptive Mercy, and they undertake to lead it in the paths of "religion" and sanctification. To consecrate humanity or a particular people to God is to entrust it to Him; but it is to do something more - it is to undertake at the same time to sanctify that humanity and to start it at once on the road to conversion and sanctification.
On that basis, we can see also how to answer objections made to the consecration of the world to the Immaculate Heart, and the objection, at the start, to the very idea of consecration. Here and there it is still being said that that consecration doesn't make sense, because the whole world is already consecrated to God as it belongs to Him by creation and redemption. For others, inversely, such a consecration is contrary to the Gospel. It is even dangerous, for it turns Christians away from their commitment to the construction of the world. It is not difficult to answer those sophisms, for, on the one side, it is true that the entire world belongs to God and that fact gives it a certain sacred character; but it is no less true that God can choose particular persons or realities to possess and sanctify them in a special way. It is the whole mystery of election, which is at the basis of the Covenant, of the consecration which is effected in it, and of salvation (Exodus 19:5; Deuteronomy 7:6; etc. Cf. Luke 9:35). Moreover, the entire creation was entrusted to man (Genesis 1:28) and was dragged by his sin into corruption (Romans 8:20). It should, therefore, be saved with him (v. 19). It is true that in the present situation of the Kingdom of God man is divided between, on the one side, his glorious eschatological state, towards which he tends by his baptismal consecration and by all his religious life as a Christian, and, on the other side, the effort he has to expend in building a terrestrial city in conformity with the sanctity of the Kingdom. The Church draws him towards glory, the world holds him back by his needs. It is only at the Parousia that the two will be one, Church and world being perfected in the perfect state of the Kingdom of Heaven.
But when we know that the world, also, has been redeemed and, by that fact, is called to glory, we see at the same moment that consecration of Christians in the Church, far from turning men away from the world, obliges them not only to sanctify themselves in the world but also to sanctify the world itself. That sanctification of the world is in fact one of the essential components of the effort of Christians to sanctify themselves. But all sanctification arises from an initial consecration. Consecrated for glory by Christ's redemption, the world should be consecrated also by the activity of the Church and of the Christians. It is thus that at the beginning of those activities solemn acts of consecration are wholly legitimate. They are even necessary in what concerns the daily consecration of the world made in the offering of the Eucharist Sacrifice, and they are highly desirable, and can even at certain times seem necessary, as "consecrations of devotion". Such acts deliver the world to the sanctifying energy of the Spirit and fertilize the activity that men expend in them to bring it back and offer it to God. The sin of the century being to try and withdraw the world from God, we can see why these consecrations are today more necessary than ever, and, consequently, that God can require them by presenting them through the prophetic way as necessary for the outpouring of His mercy. Finally, we can see why the people which is the most active instrument, and at the same time the most suffering victim, of the process of atheisation can and must be the object of a particular consecration.
But why a consecration to the Blessed Virgin? And is such a consecration possible? That is what is denied by the second objection we come across. The reply to be made to it, though it is not less certain, needs to be formulated more delicately; and all we can do here is indicate where to look for it. The argument put forward is this: God alone being the Holy, the absolute Sacred, the beginning and the end of all holiness, man can consecrate himself and can consecrate anything only to Him. True. But we are back again at the relationship pointed out already between the oneness of the "principal" mediation of Christ on the one hand, and, on the other the multiplicity of the participated mediations by which we enter into contact with Christ and "in Him" with God. It is by that unique mediator that the Covenant is sealed and, then, that God consecrates us and we consecrate ourselves to Him. That is what justifies the consecration to the Heart of Christ. In it we consecrate ourselves to Him in that He is God, but also and first of all in that He is the mediator by Whom and in Whom we are united to God. But it is in His humanity that the incarnate Word is mediator and exercises the functions of mediator. And it is that humanity which is signified by the corporal and symbolic reality of His Heart. It is therefore to Him in His humanity that we consecrate ourselves when we consecrate ourselves to His Sacred Heart. The act is legitimate by reason of the relation there is between that humanity and the divine Person of the Word, that of the hypostatic union, but also by reason of the work accomplished by that Person in that humanity, the work of the Redemption.
With that as a background we can see the qualifications which justify and make possible the consecration to Mary. The Blessed Virgin is "united" to the Word in a unique way by the ontological bond of "divine maternity"; and She is "associated" in a no less exceptional fashion in the work of Redemption. So it is always to God alone that we consecrate ourselves when we do so to Her Immaculate Heart, but we do it not only through Christ, the unique Mediator, but also through Her whom He associated with Himself in the work of His mediation, His Mother and the Mother of the Church.
A last objection to which we must still reply is the one which denies a person the right to consecrate another to God. The reason for that objection is plain: consecration includes a free agreement, and the only one who can consecrate himself to God is the one who makes the agreement. Yet the practice of consecrating the world, a nation, a community is allowed in the Church, not to mention the consecration in the baptism of children. They are justified as follows: firstly, consecration is initially the recognition of an adherence. In that sense, to consecrate someone or something to God is to offer that one to Him as His possession, with an acknowledgement of His supreme dominion over that person or thing and entrusting the person or thing to His Mercy - which is already to glorify Him. Secondly, the promise made in that act of consecration is based on that adherence: it is therefore owed to God. In the case of the consecration of another, person or community, the adherence is made in the name and for the good of him or those consecrated; and it is made by those responsible for their eternal salvation, that is, the successors of the apostles and their collaborators, the priests. It is, in fact, their function and it is their duty to consecrate men to God and then to see that they live up to that consecration by leading them on the paths of holiness. When they consecrate men to God they are only performing the first duty of their ministry, and they commit themselves to making a reality of the adherence they make for them and in their name. As well, they consecrate themselves to that end in the special way in which Christ said: "For them do I consecrate myself", that is "I sacrifice myself for them" (John 17:19). That is the underlying reason for John Paul II's quotation of that text in his act of consecration on May 13, 1982. The Shepherd can not consecrate to God the sheep or the flock entrusted to him except by sacrificing himself for their salvation.
At the same time we understand why the consecration of Russia must be made by the whole Catholic Episcopate, and also why it can be done without those immediately in charge of the Russian people, the Orthodox Bishops, even against their will. In fact, if those bishops are indeed the successors of the Apostles, they are not fully united to Peter or the whole episcopal College. But "the task of sanctifying, teaching and governing" imposed by "episcopal consecration ... can be exercised only in hierarchical communion with the Head of the College and its members" (Vatican II, Lumen Gentium, 21). We must be careful to note that the phrase "hierarchical communion" indicates a juridical reality, but also, and even more, a reality sacramental and spiritual - in a word, mystical, or related to mystery. That is why neither the absence nor even the opposition of the Russian Orthodox Bishops can be decisive. In advance of them, and more than they, those responsible for the salvation of the peoples of Russia are the successor of Peter, who therefore can on his own consecrate that nation (Vatican I, Pastor Aeternus, cap.3) and the totality of the Catholic bishops collegially responsible for the Church and the whole world (Vatican II, Lumen Gentium, 23).
There again, in consequence, the Message of Fatima appears in its radically ecclesial nature. The requests of the Blessed Virgin in 1929 anticipate the resumption by Vatican II of the collegial character of the episcopal function. If the whole Catholic Episcopate should join with the Pope in replying to Mary's requests, it is so that all may first of all unite in this eminent act of worship and religion which is the consecration itself, and then that they should be united in the effort to keep the undertaking which will there be made to bring all men to Christ and to lead them by the Heart of the Blessed Virgin on the road to sanctification.
It is through the Immaculate Heart of Mary that this consecration and this sanctification must come. Let us try to see why.
4. MERCY'S GLORY IN THE IMMACULATE HEART
At the beginning of all the works of God stands Mercy: so that it is Mercy which must burst out at the end of those works, it is Mercy which should manifest itself in their completion, for it is in Mercy above all else that God wills to be glorified. The moment of the History of Salvation where it shows itself and is realized most intensely is that of the Passion of Christ. It is there, in fact, in the "folly" of the Cross (1 Corinthians 1:23), that the Omnipotent goes to the full term of His annihilation, of His "kenosis" (Philippians 2:6-8) and tells us "the exceeding charity wherewith He loved us" (Ephesians 2:4). It is there that the Just dies for sinners (Romans 5:8), which is indeed a fact of pure mercy, for nothing on the sinners' side merited such a gift, on the contrary.
But though it culminates in the death of Christ and in the glorification which is the fruit of that death (Philippians 2:9-11), the work of redemptive Mercy begins with the Incarnation, which is the starting-point of the "kenosis" of the Word (v. 7). And before the Redemption, creation itself is already the work of mercy in this double sense that nothing was due to the creature, who did not yet exist, and that God then gives him, after making him come into being, always more than just the necessary for existence.
It is in that light that we must meditate on the affirmations of Saint Paul, so disconcerting for the human mind, above all in the anthropocentric atmosphere created by the surrounding atheism of our times. I have in mind especially the great texts of the Epistles to the Galatians and the Romans: "The law was set because of transgressions ..." (Galatians 3:19); "... The law entered in that sin might abound ..." (Romans 5:20), that is, "... that sin might become sinful above measure" (Romans 7:13). "... But where sin abounded, grace did more abound" (Romans 5:20); "the scripture hath concluded all under sin, that the promise, by the faith of Jesus Christ, might be given to them that believe" (Galatians 3:22). In a word, said Saint Augustine, God did not permit evil, that of sin, except in view of a greater good, that of merciful Love going as far as the "folly" of the Incarnation and the Cross. That being the plan of His "Wisdom" (1 Corinthians 1:25), God has allowed evil to deploy all its potentiality so that the good, also, should be achieved in all its dimensions. That is the meaning of the passion of Christ, but also that of the Church; and it grows in intensity as time passes and "the Mystery" (Ephesians 1:9) approaches its final accomplishment.
For, as man is the object of that mercy, he is also, in a certain manner, its subject. He remains a free being, and the grace of God is accomplished in him only in the degree in which he welcomes it by faith and lives on it with fidelity. If "justice" is given to him gratuitously and even by sheer mercy, he receives it freely, and by the divine strength it communicates to him, he must work at his "salvation" (Romans 3:28; 8:24f; 13:11f). He must work to sanctify himself and by so doing to sanctify the Name of God. If every right and title to be glorified before God is denied to man (3:27), all that is meant there is the glory he could have of himself. But that condition of servility is in view of a glorification infinitely higher, that which God Himself wishes to operate in His creature.
For the glory of God is His very Being, and His glorification ad extra is the communication of that being by participation. It is what He does already in creation: the glory of God in His works is to make them be. The more they are, the more elevated their participation in the being of God, the more God is glorified in them, the more they are glorified in Him. It is what is produced by the Redemption, which is a new creation - not another creation, but the old one regained, ransomed, and raised in the Word, the Creator, made creature and flesh. "If anyone is in Christ, it is a new creation" (Kainé ktisis: 2 Corinthians 5:17). In that new creation we participate first by receiving it, that is by permitting God, in our initial act of faith, to operate it in us, and then by carrying it to its accomplishment by our works, that is, by our correspondence and co-operation with the movement the Holy Spirit communicates to us at each moment (Galatians 5:25): "For we are His workmanship (poiema), created in Christ Jesus for good works (Epi ergois agathois), which God hath prepared that we should walk in them" (Ephesians 2:10). It is in that sense, that is, by our participation in what it operates in us, that, objects of the divine Mercy, we are also His subjects. We are "His workmanship", but that work is accomplished only when, by His operation in us and by our correspondence with that operation, we open ourselves, thus participating in the accomplishment of that work. By that alone Mercy is fully accomplished and glorified in its own work, "the new creation".
And that participation of redeemed man in the work of Mercy in him is performed in a double dimension, that of his own salvation, which makes him climb back to God by loving Him as a Son of Christ, and that of the salvation of His brethren in which each is called to collaborate (Colossians 1:24). It is in that collaboration that we have our maximum share in the great work of Mercy, and it is at that point that it wishes to be accomplished and glorified in us. Saint Thérèse of Lisieux knew that in an exceptional way. By offering herself as a holocaust victim to merciful Love for the salvation of sinners, she is the grand prophet standing up on the threshold of the 20th century to proclaim this mystery to it.
Likewise, it is this mystery which the Message of Fatima recalls to us. It is to be found in its beginning: "The Hearts of Jesus and of Mary have for you purposes of Mercy" (second apparition of the Angel), and, at its end, "Grace and Mercy" (words accompanying the last of the great revelations, that at Tuy, on June 13, 1929, and stating the meaning of the vision of the Trinity, of Christ on the Cross, and of the Blessed Virgin standing at His side). John Paul II put that mystery in relief when he invoked "the infinite power of merciful Love" at the close of his act of consecration on May 13, 1982, relating that power to "the Immaculate Heart" of the Blessed Virgin.
For - and this is the decisive point of our reflection - it is not simply a question of the pouring out of the divine Mercy on mankind, but of the accomplishment in men of His work of salvation thanks to their free co-operation. Now that co-operation has its beginning in the Heart of Mary, its summit and its first source in the Heart of Christ, and it is completed in the Body of the Church. Everything comes from Christ, for He is God spreading His Mercy, but also because He is man, the new man, "the last Adam" (1 Corinthians 15:45), in Whom and by Whom is accomplished as in its principle the work of Mercy, the redemption of mankind. All His mystery is there, forever ungraspable by the human intellect. In it, it is the divine Person Who acts, for the acts are attributable to the subject who does them; but this uncreated Person acts only in the humanity which He united to Himself, in such a way that if He is God acting as man, Christ also is man acting "as" God. That is why He is certainly the first in whom human nature co-operates with what the power of God operates in it. And it is for that reason, therefore, that He is the one from Whom all grace proceeds as from its first efficacious principle.
Yet the fiat of Mary, perfect correspondence with the work of Mercy in Her, precedes that of Christ in time. It precedes it at the same time as it is its fruit. In that sense, that is, since Her consent and Her co-operation are first in time, Mary is at the beginning of the work of Mercy in humanity. She is at the same time the first fruit and the first seed, since in Her, the Immaculate Conception, the whole new creation, including Christ, its Head, is contained as in its created principle. Her Son and Redeemer, by His divine Personality, is its uncreated principle. He is also, in His humanity united to the Word, the first efficacious created principle: "He is the Head of the Body, the Church: He is the beginning (Arché) ... that in all things He may hold the primacy, because in Him it hath well pleased the Father that all fullness should dwell" (Colossians 1:18f). But that flesh in which meet and dwell the fullness of divinity and of redeemed creation were formed by the Word from the flesh and from the Heart of "the Woman" (Galatians 4:4). That is why, with the Father and the Spirit, from all eternity, he conceived Her Immaculate. And it is thus that this new "Conception" is, in the order of the created, the first principle of the new creation, and then becomes, by Her unique association with the work of the "Word-made-flesh-in-Her" the first effective created co-principle of the Redemption.
Starting from that first principle, unique and double, and in it, the Church in its turn is the work and the ultimate subject of Mercy, which accomplishes itself in Her and by Her thanks to Her co-operation in the achievement of the new creation.
THIS Mystery being infinite, it would be possible to throw light on it in another way, and especially to push contemplation of it deeper. But we hope we have sufficiently indicated the aspects of the divine economy of salvation which manifest themselves in it, to show, for it is there that they are found, the theological foundations of the great prophetic sign of Fatima. They can be summed up, in conclusion, in the following propositions:
1. At the beginning and at the end of the works of God there is Mercy.
2. That Mercy can accomplish its task only by associating actively with itself those to whom it gives itself and in whom it wishes to be fulfilled.
3. At the beginning of that work, ultimate, unique and multiple, which is that of the redemptive and glorifying Incarnation, that is to say, at the beginning of that theandric work done by the gift of God and the co-operation of man, stand the Word made flesh and the chosen Woman in whom He took flesh. In them and by them as in the beginning of all His ecclesial and even cosmic work, Mercy is accomplished: it operates and prompts operation. It achieves its end by associating the creature with it. In other words, the Hearts of Christ and of the Blessed Virgin are the unique Source and Fountain of all the works of Divine Mercy in time: the Source is the Heart of Christ; the Fountain which pours out from the Source and by which the Source spreads itself is the Heart of Mary.
4. The "principal" and first causality of Christ being affirmed in an absolute way, it is still the fact that Christ Himself wishes to throw full light on the first of all the associated and participated causalities which He has united with Himself, that of Mary, and that illumination of Her is His ultimate desire. He shows that at the moment of His death: "Behold Thy Son ... Behold Thy Mother" (John 19:26f). And that for several reasons, which are all summed up in this one: Mary Immaculate having been the hidden beginning of the supreme work of Mercy, the Redemption, it is She who should appear in all Her power and all Her glory at the conclusion of that work. For, as it began from Her with Her fiat of obedience and faith, it is to Her, the first created co-principle of the work of salvation, that everything and all people should cling so as to enter into the human-divine movement which will lead them to glory. That is demanded by the glory itself which is the glory of Mercy and which can be fully realized only by the association of the creature with what Mercy wishes to do in him and by him. But, at the beginning of that association stand, inseparably, the humanity of the Word Incarnate and Mary Immaculate in Whom He became flesh. It is therefore in Them also that Mercy will attain the maximum of glorification. It is glorified in them by glorifying Them, that is to say, by making Them spread out the full power of Their association in the work which it accomplishes in Them and by Them.
And as Christ is the Alpha and the Omega of that work of glory of Mercy, He is so in the humanity He took from the Blessed Virgin and with which He has united and associated Her. It is therefore His will to glorify Himself in Her, the associated principle and pleroma of all His redemptive work. That is what He does when He tells us to turn to Her, and when He makes the attainment of salvation depend on Her, as on Her He had made its beginning depend.
5. We said above that God allowed evil to spread with all its force only to show in all its fullness His work of Mercy. That fullness is in the co-operation of the creature in displaying the work begun in Him. But that full co-operation of a created person has its beginning and its highest expression in the fiat of Mary Immaculate. Faced with the growing spread of evil, it is by the manifestation and the spread of the power of the Immaculate fiat that Mercy wishes to accomplish together its work and its glory.
Such is the great mystery, such the last work of the redemptive Incarnation that God wishes today to bring blazing into the Church and the world. That word tells us the meaning of the warfare in which we are engaged, and is the foundation of our hope. Above all it shows us to what degree the prophetic mystery of Fatima is in harmony with the mystery of the gospel Revelation. In its light, and remembering that in biblical language "the heart" means the person himself in what in him is deepest, most spiritual, and most authentically flesh and blood, we can understand, or at least glimpse, the truth and the depth, the power and the actuality, of those affirmations of the Blessed Virgin in the Cova da Iria:
"God wills to establish in the world the devotion to My Immaculate Heart" - "But in the end My Immaculate Heart will triumph."
1. We are using here the translation of the French weekly edition of L'Osservatore Romano (No. 20, May 18, 1982) except for a few details and for what concerns the word "affidamento". The Portuguese translation is entrega, which is rather an interpretation. The French word offrande, used in L'Osservatore Romano, is even further from the original. There is no French noun for the Italian affidamento, we give the meaning of the word in a paraphrase: The act of entrusting. Above all we restore the act of consecration itself (paragraph 1, g) which, by a regrettable oversight, was not printed in that number of L'Osservatore Romano.
2. Pius XII's Radio message of May 13, 1946, for the Coronation of Our Lady of Fatima (AAS 38 "1946" 264, ff.) deserves special mention. He alluded to it himself in his Encyclical Ad Coeli Reginam, calling it the "message of the 'Royalty' of Mary" (ib. 46 "1954", 626-627). John XXIII also multiplied his public declarations recognizing Fatima as a "source of grace" for the Church, notably in the Allocutions on 8.19.59, 8.22.62, and 10.24.62. Later on we shall recall Paul VI's great acts in favor of Fatima. The bond between the Portuguese sanctuary and the See of Peter is one of the most striking characteristics of the mystery of Fatima.
3. On Sunday, May 9, 1982, before the recitation of the Regina Coeli, John Paul II announced to the faithful his journey to Fatima, and declared: "The present world is threatened in various ways. It is, perhaps, threatened more than ever before in the course of history".
4. "On October 25, 1917, the history of Russia came to an end, and that of the U.S.S.R. began. Humanity enters on a new epoch." That is the judgement of M. Heller and A. Mekrich in Utopia In Power, The History of the U.S.S.R. from 1917 to our own day (Paris, Calmann-Levy, 1982, pages 8-9), a book estimated to be "the most complete and undoubtedly the most satisfying at present in existence" (B. Feron, Le Monde, Feb. 5, 1982). The authors leave us with this conclusion which can not be too much pondered: "The Soviet Union finds the energy necessary for life in expansion, in its external policy. Expansion thus becomes the sole form of life in mature socialism" (page 580).
5. Speaking of the demand for the consecration of Russia, Lucia writes: "In the course of different communications, Our Lord has not ceased to insist on that request, promising recently, if Your Holiness deigns to make the consecration of the world to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, with special mention of Russia (...) to shorten the days of tribulation." (Letter to Pius XII, December 2, 1940. The emphasis is mine.) Though the construction of the sentence seems to indicate a continuity between the two requests, that for the consecration of Russia and that for the consecration of the world, analysis of the text as a whole, the words used ("promitendo ultimamente": promising, recently, or a short time ago") and above all the historic context in which this letter is written, all those factors show that in fact there are two requests clearly distinct, and the one peculiar to Sister Lucia's mission is the request for the consecration of Russia.
6. Letter to Father Goncalves, May 4, 1943: the Holy Father's act "was incomplete", as a response, that is, to the demands of the Blessed Virgin at Fatima. Letter to Father Aparicio, March 2, 1943: "the consecration of that country (Russia) was not made in the terms demanded by Our Lady".
7. The 1942 consecration became collegial in 1954, when the Pope, in his Encyclical Ad Coeli Reginam, ordered all the bishops to renew it with him on May 31, that is, on the feast of the Royalty of Mary which he instituted on that occasion. But it was still a question of the consecration of the world, even if Russia was mentioned in veiled terms. Inversely, in 1952, it was indeed Russia, or "the peoples of Russia", that the Holy Father consecrated to the Blessed Virgin, but by an act with which the bishops could not be associated. So that the demands of Our Lady of Fatima have still not been met.
8. As the confidant of Sister Lucia since 1939, Don Pasquale has received 157 letters from her. He has been, and still is, in relations with her at the same level as members of her family. He has also published one of Lucia's letters which is a veritable little theology of the Rosary.
9. It can be seen that this presentation is in accord with that made by the Holy Father in his homily of May 13, 1982. The message, he says, "contains a truth and an appeal" (No. 6), both in accordance with the Gospel. The truth, foundation of all, is "the spiritual maternity of Mary" (No. 5). The appeal is that of the Gospel to prayer and penance (No. 6). Thus the Blessed Virgin "invites to penance. She warns, She appeals ..." (No. 7; emphasis in the text). And finally She is "the great sign: a woman" presented to us by the Apocalypse (12, 1; emphasis in the text), and whose apparition is in itself the promise of final victory.
10. October 13, 1917, according to Lucia's testimony in her fourth memoir. If we compare it with that of Jacinta, which there is no reason to doubt - on the contrary - it seems that Lucia did not wish to say more here for fear of giving away something of "the Third Secret".