THE WHOLE TRUTH ABOUT FATIMA
1. CRITICAL APPRAISAL
THIS long silence of the three seers was, as we have said, the only serious objection, an objection constantly repeated against the authenticity of the apparitions of the Angel in 1916. Why did Sister Lucy wait until 1937 to write the detailed accounts of them that we, have cited ? It is easy for us now, in completing the answers we have already given, to shed all the light one might desire on this difficulty.
It is true that, from 1916 to 1917, the three seers kept the most absolute silence on the angelic manifestations. Why ? How was it possible ? Sister Lucy has frequently explained. First of all it was because of the painful experience of 1915. “ This was a lesson for me ”, she confided to Father Jongen. Even more importantly it was because of the intense, almost overwhelming, supernatural atmosphere which moved them irresistibly to silence : “ The apparition itself imposed on us the secret ”, she wrote.
But after the apparitions of Our Lady, when she was able to confide, on several occasions Lucy explicitly revealed what happened in 1916. This is a proven fact, which we can solidly establish.
A SERIES OF IRREFUTABLE TESTIMONIES
1. On these first disclosures, going back to the years 1917-1922, Sister Lucy, in her conversation with Father Jongen, states categorically : “ ‘ It is not true that we spoke to no one about these apparitions. ’ ‘ To whom did you speak about them ? ’ ‘ In the first place to the archpriest of Olival. He enjoyed my complete confidence, I hid nothing from him. He recommended that I say nothing to anybody. ’ ” Unfortunately, the parish priest of Olival died in 1924, before having had the chance to confirm the fact. However, there are other witnesses.
2. Lucy also affirms that she spoke about it to her bishop, Bishop da Silva. “ He also recommended that I keep it secret ”, she assures us. To explain her silence and to justify it, Sister Lucy, in one of her memoirs, reminds her bishop of the fact and the order received : “ For me to keep silent ”, she wrote to him, “ was even the first order and the first counsel that God deigned to give me by means of Your Excellency. ”
Here is a decisive declaration, for it was published and known by historians even during the lifetime of the Bishop of Leiria. Thus, the seer dared to take him publicly as a witness of her assertions. Although this manifested rather his own negligence or his indecision, Bishop da Silva himself avowed to Canon Barthas that “ he knew of these facts for a long time ”. This amounted to recognizing that he had in effect given an order to Lucy, in 1921 or 1922, to continue to keep silence on the apparitions of the Angel.
These concordant testimonies are undeniable… unless one were to say – which is absurd – that both Lucy and Bishop da Silva were two brazen liars, who together decided to cynically deceive the public. That does not hold water !
3. For his part, Canon Formigao, who is above all suspicion, testified both to Father de Marchi as well as to Canon Barthas, that early on he had received the confidences of Sister Lucy on the apparitions of the Angel. But he also recommended silence, “ fearing that these accounts of wonders would only increase the defiance and incredulity towards the supernatural events of Fatima, and he also believed that, at that moment, there was no direct utility for the message itself. ” No doubt he was wrong, but that is not the question.
From then on, Sister Lucy felt bound by obedience. Accused later on of having delayed the disclosure of these facts, her defence was easy : “ I always obeyed ”, she would content herself in saying.
4. And yet we can cite a fourth testimony which corroborates the preceding ones. It is Father Martins dos Reis, who had the merit of being the first to recall it. He himself could prove, if it was necessary, that Lucy remembered perfectly, word for word, the prayers of the Angel and that she recited them already in 1921-1922. In fact, at that time, without of course betraying the secret of their origin, she taught them to one of her intimate friends of Asilo de Vilar. Here is the testimony of this companion of Lucy, who was then called Maria das Dores :1 “ One day they were both in the workshop, embroidering some lacework for a rochet. It was noon, the hour at which the ‘ Directress ’ and the ‘ Ladies ’ (the Dorothean Sisters) were having their usual devotions in the chapel of the house.
“ At a certain point in the conversation, Maria das Dores said to her companion : ‘ If you like, I can teach you a prayer which serves as a preparation and thanksgiving for Communion, because it contains acts of faith, hope and charity which are very brief and beautiful. ’ ‘ What is it ? ’ ‘ It goes like this : O My God, I believe, etc. ’ ‘ This prayer is very beautiful, where did you learn it ? ’ ‘ It is recited a lot in my country. ’ ”
A little later, Lucy taught the same companion, who had become director of the apostolate of prayer, the prayer of the Angel to the Holy Trinity. “ It was in October, 1922, because she remembers precisely that it was a few days after she had begun her work as director. Again this time it was Maria das Dores who took the initiative. ‘ If you like, I can teach you a very nice prayer, because it is precisely for making reparation to the Most Holy Trinity : Most Holy Trinity, etc. ’ ‘ But how is it that you know such beautiful prayers ? ’ ‘ They are recited where I come from… ’ ”
“ And they added nothing more, neither the companion nor Maria das Dores, the one remaining in her ignorance, and the other with her secret. ”
Father Alonso, who quotes this account, draws the conclusion : “ This testimony, which we have been able to verify personally, merits total assent… When we think of the witness, we must recognize that she is incapable of inventing the account and its minutely described details. ”
THE TESTIMONY OF LUCY
“ THESE WORDS WERE INDELIBLY IMPRESSED UPON OUR MINDS. ”
This confirms Lucy’s assurance of having kept an exact recollection of the message of the Angel. In 1937, in her second Memoir, she firmly declared : “ his words were impressed upon our minds in such a way that we never forgot them. ” She repeats the same answer to Father Jongen : “ Immediately after the apparition of the Angel, we began to say the prayers he had taught us. ” When asked by William Thomas Walsh on July 15, 1946, if she had quoted the words of the Angel “ exactly as they were pronounced ” or “ only giving the general sense ”, Sister Lucy responded still more clearly : “ the words of the Angel were said with such insistence and precision, and in such a penetrating supernatural atmosphere, that it was impossible to forget them. They impressed themselves exactly, in an indelible manner, in our memory. ”
“ THE BLESSED HOLLOW OF THE CABEÇO. ”
Lucy not only remembers the angelic vision and the message received, she has fixed for all times in her memory the exact place where the Angel appeared : “ On May 21, 1946, thirty years after the events of the Cabeço, coming back to see the ‘ Loca ’ of the apparitions of the Angel ”, Canon Barthas reports, “ she went without hesitation to the little circle of rocks which we call the ‘ loca ’, contrary to the indications of those who accompanied her, who were guiding her towards the ‘ grotto ’, which is a hundred metres further on. Until then this had been presented to the pilgrims as the site of the first and third apparitions of the Angel. Moreover, she indicated without the least hesitation the places where each and every one of the little circumstances associated with the angelic apparitions took place. This would be unthinkable on the hypothesis that the whole thing was made up later on !
FROM JOAN OF ARC TO LUCY OF FATIMA.
Does not the calm realism of Lucy’s testimony remind us of Joan of Arc, who also enjoyed angelic apparitions ? “ Do you see St. Michael and the Angels in real, bodily form ? ” one of her judges asked her. And Joan answered quite ingenuously : “ I see them with my bodily eyes, as I see you, and when they depart from me, I weep, and I could certainly wish that they take me with them. ” “ In what form, size, appearance and clothing does St. Michael appear to you ? ” another asked her. “ He was in the form of a real gentleman… I believe as firmly the things that St. Michael, who appeared to me, said and did, as I believe that Our Lord Jesus Christ suffered His passion and death for us. ” What imperturbable assurance !
And yet, at that very time, Joan had not spoken about her visions to anybody, not to her parents, nor to her parish priest. She only made them known later on, when her mission demanded it, and “ only to Robert de Baudricourt and to my king ”, she declared to her judges.
Sister Lucy does not have any hesitation either on the reality of the Angel of the Cabeço. On February 4, 1946, at Tuy in Spain, Father Jongen came to interrogate her, taking up the same objections as Father Dhanis : “ Are you certain, absolutely certain, that the Angel appeared to you ? ” “ I saw him ”, she answered simply. “ The Sister pronounces these words ”, notes Father Jongen, “ with the calmness, tranquillity, and assurance of someone saying that he had seen the sun rise or set… ”
2. THE REALITY OF THE ANGELIC APPARITIONS
AN “ IMAGINARY VISION ” OR “ SENSIBLE APPARITION ” ?
Being founded on such solid testimonies, the angelic manifestations at Fatima are unquestionably authentic. Thus they suppose a supernatural intervention, but its nature remains to be discovered. The question is not without importance.
VISIONS AND APPARITIONS.
Father Dhanis, using the distinction which has become classical in mystical theology between three kinds of visions, sensible, imaginative or intellectual, strives to settle the question always in the same sense : to the extent the apparitions of Fatima are authentic, according to him, they are of course, ‘ imaginative visions ’. Then one need only give this category of visions recognized as supernatural the ambiguous title of ‘ imaginary visions ’, so that their downgrading in the eyes of the worldly is complete.
What exactly is the truth ? A brief review of the traditional distinction will permit us to make some enlightening clarifications on the apparitions at the Cabeço.
Sensible, imaginative and intellectual visions are all real and objective in the sense that they are not the natural fruit of a diseased imagination, and thus they always imply a divine intervention. But this is different in each case :
In the intellectual vision, an intense light is produced directly by God in the spiritual part of the soul, without the accompaniment of any image.
The imaginative vision, which is even more clumsily called ‘ imaginary ’, is on the contrary provoked by a sensible representation, directly produced by God in the imagination. The visions of St. John in the Apocalypse, and supernatural dreams, for example, come into this category.
On the contrary, in sensible or corporeal visions, there is no question of a simple subjective vision or an intellectual intuition. It is a sensible object, exterior to the subject, that provokes the perception. We must speak of an ‘ apparition ’ properly speaking, if there is a manifestation of a glorious body, Jesus or the Most Holy Virgin, or an assumed body, when an Angel or deceased soul appears. But in both cases there is always a concrete reality, situated in natural space and acting from without on the external senses of the seer.2
“ AN EXTERIOR APPARITION. ”
Well ! Contrary to the gratuitous allegations of Father Dhanis, we can affirm that the seers of Fatima had the very clear impression of contemplating an object really exterior to them. Several details of the account of Sister Lucy give us clear indications, which permit us to recognize the manifestations of the Angel in 1916 as ‘ apparitions ’ properly speaking, that is ‘ sensible visions ’.
The great blast of wind which announced the first coming of the Angel appeared to the children as an objective physical phenomenon : “ We were playing only for a few moments, when a strong wind began to shake the trees. We looked up, startled, to see what was happening, for the day was unusually calm. ” In addition, they saw the Angel, this time coming from a distance : “ Then we saw coming towards us, above the olive trees, the figure I have already spoken about… As it drew closer, we were able to distinguish its traits. It was a young man, whiter than snow… On reaching us, he said… ” This situating of the Angel in space, this precise localization within the framework of nature seems significant to us. Unless we imagine, with Descartes, a ‘ deceiving God ’, or some kind of ‘ evil genie ’, how can we think that a God of truth, in genuine supernatural manifestations, could give His witnesses visions which would lead them invincibly to believe in their exterior reality, when in fact it was only a simple phantasm ?
Finally, on the subject of the Communion received from the hands of the Angel, Sister Lucy declared : “ I felt the contact of the Host. ” We certainly cannot speak of an imaginary Communion here, and therefore the whole apparition must be put in the category of ‘ sensible visions ’.3
THE SIGN OF A PRESENCE.
Shall we say that the corporeal appearance really assumed by the Angel is misleading, inasmuch as it risks concealing its nature as a pure invisible Spirit ? No ! For this aspect is completely secondary, and scarcely of any importance to us. What is important is the manifestation of his very near and concrete presence, as a real person, similar to us, a creature of God like us, and entrusted by Him with a mission for our salvation. Thus, the Angel was present ‘ in person ’ at the Cabeço, and the shining figure of light that the three shepherds contemplated, although it was not ‘ his ’ body, expressed in a marvellous way his personal presence, and his spiritual nature, so superior to our carnal condition.
“ THIS IS MY BLOOD… POURED OUT FOR YOU ”
At the Cabeço, during the last angelic apparition, before the children received Communion, Lucy the Host and Jacinta and Francisco from the chalice, they saw “ some drops of Blood ” flow from the Host and fall into the chalice. How are we to interpret this Eucharistic miracle ? Did the seers contemplate the true Blood of Christ, substantially present in the sacrament ? They believed so, and it seems to go without saying, for this is what makes all the rich significance of this apparition eminently concrete, as we have seen.
No, the three shepherds were not mistaken, nor were they led into error : it is indeed the Blood of Our Saviour that they saw flowing from the Host into the chalice, and not simply “ an appearance of blood ”.
In this way Jesus shows that His Flesh is truly our Bread, and His Blood is our spiritual Wine, and He invites us to nourish ourselves with It and drink from It, for our salvation.4
Hence it is evident that, in His Divine Will and the supernatural capacities of His Glorious Body – immense potentialities that we can not limit a priori –, the risen Jesus can also, at will, manifest Himself to us in the Eucharist, not only under the sacramental appearances of bread and wine, but also under the regular appearances of His Body or Blood.
This was the case at the Cabeço, where He showed the three children in ecstasy the reality of His Blood poured out, which redeems us and purifies us of our faults, true Blood, present in the Sacrament as He was on Calvary. And when, for their Communion, He takes on the species of wine, it is to induce us, in an urgent manner, to drink His Blood which is drink indeed, an inebriating Wine, the pledge and foretaste of eternal life.
Such a Eucharistic miracle thus appears as a true and marvellous illustration of the most profound reality of the mystery. We ourselves, at every Mass, can think of the apparition which the three seers of the Cabeço received. We can thus adore with them, with the eyes of faith, the Person of Jesus Christ our Saviour, Priest and Victim, pouring into the chalice all the Blood of His Body, offered to His Father in sacrifice, for us and for many, unto the remission of sins.
(1) This account is from Father Sebastiao Martins dos Reis (Na Orbita de Fatima, p. 128-129). Father J. M. Alonso quotes it in ‘ El Corazon Immaculado de Maria ’, p. 291 in Ephemerides Mariologicae, 1972.
(2) The notion of ‘ sensible vision ’, although it expresses with exactness the extrinsic character of the Apparition, entirely loses the miraculous and mysterious character of the objective supernatural fact and its perception, especially since alongside the seers, other people saw nothing.
On the other hand, it goes without saying that concrete cases, in their abundant richness and supernatural reality, do not fit in the narrow category of an abstract distinction. Thus Msgr. Farges notes, the three types of visions, far from excluding each other, can sometimes be combined in the same complex vision, which will be characterized and denominated by its dominant note. ’ (op. cit., p. 10)
Although this distinction is sometimes delicate in its application, it is nevertheless true and enlightening. Many authors claim to dispense with it entirely, although they bring no new contribution to the question at all ; they remain in the most total incoherence, which almost leads them to the a priori denial of all exterior apparitions, which they judge useless if not absolutely impossible. (Cf. in True and False Apparitions in the Church, the article by Father Laurentin, ‘ Function and status of apparitions ’, p. 153-205.) Others go so far as to reduce all supernatural visions to ordinary psychic or pathological experiences (Cf. in the same work, the incredible conference of Marc Oraison, which is as worthless from the scientific viewpoint as the theological viewpoint, p. 127-151).
(3) We will have to return to this question of the mode of reality of the apparitions, after the account of the apparitions of Our Lady at the Cova da Iria.
(4) CRC no. 116, April 1977. This study was taken up again in a conference : ‘ The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass ’, Passion Sunday 1982, 1 :30 p.m., Maison Saint Joseph.
See the exposition St. Thomas gives on Eucharistic miracles, Summa Theologiae, Part Three, question 76, art. 8. On the immense capabilities, the amazing (and for us unimaginable) capabilities of the risen Body of Christ, see the study of our Father, ‘ The Mystery of the Resurrection ’, CRC 71, August 1973. ‘ His new condition frees Him from the servitude of old and gives Him a spiritual liberty, where His Body is the most perfect instrument of His will of presence and action, multiplied tenfold… In its new state, the Body of Christ remains this absolute instrument of presence, relations, of appropriation, but raised to an incredible perfection… In all His Soul, by the infinitely perfect means of His Body, He becomes present wherever the priests call Him down… this is the Eucharist and its ubiquity. ”