THE WHOLE TRUTH ABOUT FATIMA
4. “ I am of Heaven ”
(Sunday, May 13)
SEVERAL months had already gone by since the first apparition of the Angel and our three seers, in spite of the trials of the dos Santos family, had returned to their singing and their games, “ with the same gusto and the same liberty of spirit as before ”. Winter had passed, and in these beautiful spring days, all three had gone together to take care of their sheep. May 13, 1917, dawned bright and fair, like so many other days before it.
I. THE EVENTS
It was the Sunday preceding the Ascension. Early in the morning, the shepherds had gone to the chapel of Boleiros to attend the first Mass, ‘ the Mass of the poor souls ’, as it was called then, for it was a Mass celebrated for the souls in Purgatory, a devotion so dear to the piety of the Portuguese.
Scarcely had they returned home when they went out again to feed their sheep. “ That day, by chance – if in the designs of Providence there can be such a thing as chance – we chose to pasture our flock on some land belonging to my parents, called Cova da Iria ”, Lucy writes. “ This meant we had to cross a barren stretch of moorland to get there, which made the journey doubly long. We had to go slowly to give the sheep a chance to graze along the way, so it was almost noon when we arrived. ” After eating lunch and reciting the Rosary, they moved their sheep a little higher up the hill and began to play. Before listening to the account of Sister Lucy in the fourth Memoir, we must make some remarks on the history of the apparitions of 1917.
A SHORT CRITICAL NOTE
The oldest source is the report of Father Ferreira, parish priest of Fatima, who interrogated the children after each of the apparitions, in the following days. His extreme introspection, if not declared hostility, are a sure guarantee of objectivity. The minutely detailed interrogations of Canon Formigao, which took place on September 27, October 11, 13 and 19, and finally November 2, 1917, continue to be of the greatest interest, and we shall come back to them.
Lucy wrote for the first time the account of the six apparitions on January 5, 1922, no doubt at the urging of Msgr. Manuel Pereira Lopes, her confessor at Asilo de Vilar. This document, of capital importance for critical purposes, was published for the first time in 1973.
We also find more precise details on the apparitions of 1917 in different letters of Sister Lucy to her confessors.
Finally let us point out that although they come later on, the most complete accounts, and even the surest ones from the critical point of view, are those of the Memoirs of Sister Lucy. This seems contrary to the normal laws of criticism, but here are the reasons :
1. At the moment of the apparitions, the seers, who were aged ten, nine and seven, could neither read nor write. Although this is an incomparable guarantee for the complete authenticity of the message, which they could not have invented in any way, when it came time to describe the apparition, or even to explain it in words, their excessively rudimentary knowledge was a real hindrance for them.
Moreover, as we will see, they did not always understand the decisive importance of the interrogations they were made to undergo, and to preserve their secrets or escape from inopportune questions, they sometimes answered, to use Sister Lucy’s own expression, “ without attributing to it any great importance ” and too hastily, without making a sufficient effort to remember exactly.
2. Because of the secrets they had to keep, they were bound to also hide whatever could more or less touch on them. This explains their frequent embarrassment, hesitations, or even apparent contradictions. In hindsight we can only admire how they succeeded in making known whatever could be disclosed and keeping secret whatever had to remain so. But this was often a very delicate matter.
3. From this we may conclude, since there is no reason to suspect the testimony of Sister Lucy, that the accounts written by her after she received from Heaven permission to reveal practically everything, are naturally the clearest and the most coherent, and even permit us to clarify many hesitations or ambiguities of the previous responses.
Here then is how Sister Lucy, in her fourth Memoir, relates the first apparition of Our Lady :
“ A WOMAN MORE BRILLIANT THAN THE SUN. ”
“ High up on the slope of the Cova da Iria, I was playing with Jacinta and Francisco at building a little stone wall around a clump of furze. Suddenly we saw what seemed to be a flash of lightning.
– We’d better go home, I said to my cousins, that’s lightning ; we may have a thunderstorm.
– Yes, indeed ! they answered.
We began to go down the slope, hurrying the sheep along towards the road. We were more or less halfway down the slope, and almost level with a large holm oak tree that stood there, when we saw another flash of lightning. We had only gone a few steps further when, there before us on a small holm oak, we beheld a Lady all dressed in white. She was more brilliant than the sun, and radiated a light more clear and intense than a crystal glass filled with sparkling water, when the rays of the burning sun shine through it.
We stopped, astounded, before the apparition. We were so close, just a few feet from Her, that we were bathed in the light that surrounded Her, or rather, which radiated from Her. Then Our Lady spoke to us :
– Do not be afraid. I will do you no harm.
– Where does Your Grace come from ?1
– I am of Heaven.
THE CELESTIAL RENDEZ-VOUS.
– What does Your Grace want of me ?
– I have come to ask you to come here for six months in succession, on the 13th day, at this same hour. Later on, I will tell you who I am and what I want. Afterwards, I will return here yet a seventh time.
THE VOCATION TO HEAVEN.
– Shall I go to Heaven too ?
– Yes, you will.
– And Jacinta ?
– She will go also.
– And Francisco ?
– He will go there too, but he will have to say many Rosaries.
Then I remembered to ask about two girls who had died recently. They were friends of mine and used to come to my home to learn weaving with my eldest sister.
– Is Maria das Neves in Heaven ?
– Yes, she is.
(I think she was about 16 years old.)
– And Amelia ?
– She will be in Purgatory until the end of the world.
(It seems to me that she was between 18 and 20 years of age.)
THE VOCATION OF SUFFERING.2
[– Are you willing to offer yourselves to God and bear all the sufferings He wills to send you, as an act of reparation for the sins by which He is offended, and of supplication for the conversion of sinners?3
– Yes, we are willing.
– Then you are going to have much to suffer, but the grace of God will be your comfort.]
THE VISION IN GOD.
[“ As She pronounced these last words, ‘ the grace of God will be your comfort ’, Our Lady opened Her hands for the first time, communicating to us a light so intense that, as it streamed from Her hands, its rays penetrated our hearts and the innermost depths of our souls, making us see ourselves in God, Who was that light, more clearly than we see ourselves in the best of mirrors.
“ Then, moved by an inner impulse that was also communicated to us, we fell to our knees, repeating in our hearts: ‘ O Most Holy Trinity, I adore You! My God, my God, I love You in the most Blessed Sacrament. ’ ”]
“ QUEEN OF PEACE. ”
“ After a few moments, Our Lady spoke again :
– Pray the Rosary every day, in order to obtain peace for the world, and the end of the war.
– Can you tell me if the war will go on a long time, or will it end soon ?4
– I cannot tell you that yet, because I have not yet said what I want. ”
HEAVEN OPENS UP.
“ Then She began to rise serenely, going up towards the east, until She disappeared in the immensity of space. The light that surrounded Her seemed to open up a path before Her in the firmament, and for this reason we sometimes said that we saw Heaven opening. ”
Once the apparition disappeared, Francisco was the first to notice that the sheep had strayed and invaded a field of green plants. Fortunately, there was no damage ! “ Luckily ”, wrote Sister Lucy ingenuously, “ we did not see any eaten. ”
Our Lady appeared on the little holm oak for about ten minutes : “ I do not believe that She ever remained long enough to recite a Rosary ”,said Lucy. What is astonishing, but quite well at attested, is that Francisco saw the Blessed Virgin perfectly, but did not hear Her words. He only understood the questions of Lucy. As for Jacinta, who saw and heard everything, she never brought herself to speak to the apparition. Thus Lucy was the only one to have the privilege of speaking with Her.
The fact has been commented on but it must be stressed that this unexpected disparity, this gradation in the relations with Our Lady, is in itself a certain proof of authenticity. For never could anyone, neither the seers nor any impostor, have dreamed of making up this difference which is baffling at first, but, when we reflect on it, testifies decisively in favour of the sincerity of the three little seers.
AFTER THE APPARITION : AN OVERFLOWING JOY
The apparition had filled the three children with an immense joy, and a holy cheerfulness. They had never known anything like it, because the manifestations of the Angel in 1916 had had a completely different effect on their souls. As Sister Lucy explains : “ The apparition of Our Lady plunged us once more into the atmosphere of the supernatural, but this time more gently. Instead of that annihilation in the Divine Presence, which exhausted us even physically, it left us filled with peace and expansive joy, which did not prevent us from speaking afterwards of what had happened. ” “ We felt the same intimate joy, the same peace and happiness ”, writes Sister Lucy in another place, “ but instead of physical exhaustion, an expansive ease of movement : instead of this annihilation in the Divine Presence, a joyful exultation ; instead of the difficulty in speaking, we felt a certain communicative enthusiasm. ”
Francisco did not have to wait several days before learning the message of the Most Holy Virgin :
“ Afterwards, we told Francisco all that Our Lady had said. He was overjoyed and expressed the happiness he felt when he heard of the promise that he would go to Heaven. Crossing his hands on his breast, he exclaimed, ‘ Oh, my dear Our Lady ! I’ll say as many Rosaries as You want ! ’ ”
As for Jacinta, she could not contain her joy : “ That very afternoon, while we remained thoughtful and rapt in wonder, Jacinta kept breaking into enthusiastic exclamations : ‘ Oh, what a beautiful Lady ! ’ ‘ I can see what’s going to happen ’, I said, ‘ you’ll end up saying that to somebody else. ’ ‘ No, I won’t ’, she answered, ‘ don’t worry. ’ ”
With Sister Lucy, there was another sentiment in addition to her profound joy : What was her mother going to think, when she heard talk of apparitions again ?
And since Our Lady had not asked them to make known what She had said, the prudent Lucy, foreseeing all the problems that could follow, thought quite sensibly that it would be better if they kept quiet. We shall see that several months later, she would come to regret that her cousin had spoken in spite of her strong recommendations to keep silence… Indeed it was Jacinta, Lucy relates, who, “ unable to contain herself for joy, broke our agreement to keep the whole matter to ourselves ”.
THE FIRST ACCOUNTS OF THE APPARITION
Jacinta did not have to wait long to break her promise ! That Sunday, right after the Mass, the Marto parents had left for Batalha to buy a pig. In the evening, when the children returned from the Cova da Iria, they had not come back yet. Jacinta stood near the gate waiting for them, and as soon as she saw her mother, she ran to greet her :
“ My little daughter ran to meet me and clutched me round the knees in a way she had never done before. ‘ Mother ’, she cried excitedly, ‘ I saw Our Lady today, in the Cova da Iria ! ’ ‘ That’s likely, isn’t it ! ’ I said. ‘ I suppose you’re a saint to be seeing Our Lady ! ’ Jacinta seemed downcast at what I said, but she came into the house with me, saying again : ‘ But I saw Her ! ’ Then she told me what had happened, of the lightning and their fear because of it… of the light… and the beautiful Lady surrounded by light so dazzling you could hardly look at Her… of the Rosary which they were to say every day… ”
Once they were at the table, Jacinta, always full of enthusiasm, began telling what happened. When she had finished, her mother asked Francisco, who had himself said nothing. He then confirmed everything his sister had said. “ As for me ”, he told Lucy the next day, “ when my mother asked me if it was true, I had to say that it was, so as not to tell a lie. ”
What charming candour in our two seers ! It was so manifest that among the numerous guests gathered around Olimpia’s table – that night, besides Ti Marto and the eight children, Antonio dos Santos, his brother-in-law and Lucy’s father, were present –, several of them were shaken up and began to see that perhaps something extraordinary had really happened at the Cova da Iria.
Although Jacinta’s older brothers and Ti Olimpia continued to make fun of her, the fathers of the two families remained pensive… They knew very well the sincerity of their children, and could not imagine them lying to such a degree.
“ If the little ones saw a lady in white ”, said Antonio, “ what could that be except Our Lady ? ” There was good sense in this remark. As for Ti Marto, later on he would confide to Father de Marchi his reflections of that time :
“ From the beginning of the world, Our Lady has been appearing, at different times and in different ways. These have been the important things. If there had not been such things, the world would be even worse than it is. The power of God is very great. We do not understand everything, but let God’s Will be done.
“ From the beginning I somehow felt that the children were speaking the truth. Yes, I think I believed them from the first. It seemed to me extraordinary since the children had no instruction whatever about such things, at least hardly anything. If they had not been helped by Providence, how could they have said such things ? And if they were lying ? Oh, my Jesus ! I knew that Jacinta and Francisco never lied !… ”
A peasant with much good sense and experience, Ti Marto was not a man of exaggerated credulity. But his sense of the supernatural, and no doubt his true humility were the reason why the apparitions met no obstacle to belief in his soul. One day when somebody asked him if he did not feel a little pride, since his children had seen Our Lady, he answered, without any affectation : “ Our Lady had decided to come here, in our country. She could have come someplace else… She just happened to come to my children ! ” But although Ti Marto felt moved to believe in the reality of the apparitions, he was careful not to show it right away. On June 13, we find him still indecisive, wishing neither to go against his children, nor to publicly give credence to their claim.
While he waited, the news spread rapidly. The next morning Olimpia mentioned it to a few neighbours, who promptly passed on the news to Maria dos Anjos, Lucy’s elder sister. What a surprise for the little seer to see their secret discovered so soon ! When questioned by her sister, Lucy in her turn had to tell what happened, with sorrow but so as to avoid lying.
In the meantime, Francisco and Jacinta arrived. Francisco was also very sorrowful, and he told his cousin how Jacinta had spoken up the evening before, at dinner.
“ Jacinta listened to the accusation without saying anything. ‘ You see, that’s just what I thought would happen ’, said Lucy. ‘ There was something within me that wouldn’t let me keep quiet ’, Jacinta said, with tears in her eyes. ‘ Well, don’t cry now, and don’t tell anything else to anybody about what the Lady said to us. ’ ‘ But I’ve already told them. ’ ‘ And what did you say ? ’ ‘ I said that the Lady promised to take us to Heaven. ’ ‘ To think you told them that ! ’ ‘ Forgive me. I won’t tell anybody anything ever again ! ’ ”
In the future, it is true, after this one fortunate and providential indiscretion, she kept her promise… But it was too late ! The whole village would know.
When Maria Rosa found out, at first she did not take it seriously, “ but when I told her what Lucy had said to me ”, continues Maria dos Anjos, “ she began to attach some importance to it, and she went right away to ask Lucy about it. The little one told our mother what she had said to me. ”
PRAYER AND SACRIFICES
When Lucy was interrogated, with humble prudence she declined to affirm categorically that it was the Blessed Virgin, but in vain. Lucy certainly thought this was the case, and all three recognized it without hesitation. Their lives as little shepherds would be transformed even more profoundly than after the visits of the Angel, which were spaced out at greater length, and more unexpected. This time, from month to month the three would live in expectation of the next heavenly visit.
“ From then on ”, says Lucy, “ Francisco made a habit of moving away from us, as though going for a walk. When we called him and asked him what he was doing, he raised his hand and showed me his Rosary. If we told him to come and play, and say the Rosary with us afterwards, he replied : ‘ I’ll pray then as well. Don’t you remember that Our Lady said I must pray many Rosaries ? ’ ”
They also remembered the suffering and sacrifices asked of them :
“ ‘ And how shall we make sacrifices ? ’ Right away Francisco found a good sacrifice : ‘ Let us give our lunch to the sheep, and make the sacrifice of doing without it. ’ In a couple of minutes, the contents of our lunch bag had been divided among the sheep. So that day, we fasted as strictly as the most austere Carthusian ! ”
Thus did they remember the words of the Blessed Virgin, and strove to accomplish Her requests, which are summed up in two words : prayer and sacrifice.
Let us interrupt our account of the events now for a moment, and attentively re-examine this first message of Our Lady. Along with the message of July 13, it is the richest in content and already it evokes most of the themes that the Blessed Virgin returned to in the other five apparitions.
II. THE MESSAGE OF MAY 13
“ DO NOT FEAR… I AM OF HEAVEN ! ”
“ Do not fear ! I will do you no harm. ” These were the first words of Our Lady to the three surprised and frightened shepherds. Lucy had often spoken of this fear which seized them during the first appariton,5 but in her Memoirs, seeing that she had often been misunderstood, she gives this clarification :
“ The fear which we felt was not really fear of Our Lady, but rather fear of the thunderstorm which we thought was coming, and it was this that we sought to escape. The Apparitions of Our Lady inspired neither fear nor fright, but only surprise.
“ When I was asked if I had experienced fear, and I said that we had, I was referring to the fear we felt when we saw the flashes of lightning and thought that a thunderstorm was at hand. It was from this that we wished to escape, as we were used to seeing lightning only when it thundered.6
“ After these initial words of reassurance, “ Do not fear ”, it is Lucy who, full of good sense, and not without courage, or rather under the effects of a Divine inspiration, dares to ask the Vision :
“ Where does Your Grace7 come from ? ” Then Our Lady gave Her first reply, unexpected but remarkable in its conciseness : “ I am of Heaven ! ” She did not say, exactly, “ I come from Heaven ”, which would be true, but banal. No, She said, “ I am of Heaven ! ” and this short phrase which is the first of Her great message, resounds in our ears like a discreet echo of the first phrase of the Our Father : “ Our Father, who art in Heaven… ” Our Mother also, by a very special grace from the Father of Mercies, can proclaim in Her turn, in all truth : “ I am of Heaven ! ” For these words are evocative of the very mystery connected with Her person…8
Indeed what other creature could attribute to itself such an origin, if not the Immaculate Virgin, the Heavenly One, the ‘ divine Mary ’, as St. Louis Marie Grignion de Montfort was wont to say ? Is not every human creature first of all a descendant of Eve and heir of Adam before becoming later on, when grace is recovered, a child of God and temple of the Holy Spirit ? By Her Immaculate Conception, with Jesus Her Son, Mary is the only one in our human lineage to be an exception from the common rule, in being, so to speak, ‘ of Heaven ’ before being ‘ of the earth ’.
For the whole of Her ineffable mystery consists in this, that She is the beloved and only Daughter of the Father, the Spouse of the Word of God and the Sanctuary of their Spirit of Love, in the very act of Her conception, because She was predestined to become the worthy Mother of the Saviour and the new Eve, mother of a new human race. Thus, it is the most intimate secret of Her person that the crystalline phrase of May 13, 1917, “ I am of Heaven ”, evokes for us. It also reminds us of Her solemn declaration at the grotto of Massabielle : “ I am the Immaculate Conception. ” An admirable formula, whose astonishing grammatical structure would become the object of incessant contemplation for St. Maximilian Kolbe.
THE HEAVENLY RENDEZ-VOUS
“ And what does Your Grace want of me ? ” asked Lucy, always practical, concrete and realistic.9 “ I have come to ask you to come here for six months in succession, on the 13th day, at this same hour. Later on, I will tell you who I am and what I want. Afterwards, I will return here yet a seventh time. ”
Our Lady kept this heavenly rendezvous In the four following apparitions preceding October 13, she will recall this request with insistence. Indeed, what wisdom in this choice of place and time ! G. de Sede saw in this a sure sign that it could be neither the product of chance, nor of the imagination of the three illiterate children. In fact, in these few phrases of Our Lady the inspired plan of the most frequented pilgrimage in the world is already traced out.
And first of all the place ! This Cova da Iria, no doubt so named in honour of St. Irene, the little martyr of purity, massacred at Tomar, around twenty kilometres away, on the order of a suitor she had refused. Yes, Lucy had every reason to stress that her choice of a pasture this morning of May 13 was utterly providential. “ Having originally taken a path that would have led to the hamlet of Gouveia, Lucy suddenly decided that the pasture that day would be at the Cova da Iria… ” The vast basin with the harmonious name would become the immense domain of the sanctuary of Mary…
A touching coincidence, often pointed out, is that when Our Lady appeared, the children were playing at building ; they were making a little stone wall around a clump of furze. At that spot, remarks Canon Barthas, “ in a few years they would begin building the great Basilica of Our Lady of Fatima, as though our shepherds had already laid the foundations. ” At the very spot that Francisco was building, the first stone was laid, and it is also here that the body of Jacinta lies. ‘ Locus iste sanctus est… ’ Holy is this place.
MAY 13 AND ITS CORRELATION WITH OTHER MARIAN THEMES.
The choice of the date appears equally remarkable. Did not Our Lady choose a day that had already long been dedicated to Her ? It was on May 13 that the Pope granted the request of John I, that in the ‘ Land of Holy Mary ’ all its cathedrals would henceforth be dedicated to Her as to its Heavenly Patron.10
Moreover, May 13 was also a feast of Mary, and doubly so. On this date at Rome there was once celebrated an event of great symbolic importance. On May 13, 610, Pope Boniface IV had consecrated the ancient Pantheon (which for five centuries had been dedicated to all the gods of paganism)1 to the Mother of God and all the martyrs.
For some years May 13 had also been the feast of Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament, a devotion so dear to St. Julian Eymard and Pope St. Pius X, who authorized its celebration, and granted indulgences to a prayer in Her honour, as well as the invocation : ‘ Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament, pray for us ! ’
Is it necessary to recall that, when the three seers felt themselves as though wrapped in God, they exclaimed : ‘ O Most Holy Trinity, I adore You. My God, my God, I love You in the Most Blessed Sacrament. ’ ? Did they receive then, by the mediation of Mary, some light on the Divine Eucharistic Presence ? It is possible and the correlation would be even clearer.
THE CYCLE OF THE SIX APPARITIONS.
“ … here, for six months in succession, on the 13th day, at this same hour. ” This leads us from May 13 to October 13, and also describes the cycle of apparitions between the two months dedicated to Our Lady, the month of May and the month of the Rosary. No doubt also it is this regularity, this precision of the heavenly rendezvous, which more than anything else favoured the increase in the crowds coming to the Cova da Iria. What firmness in this promise of Our Lady, by which all sincere and upright minds found themselves as though held in suspense until October 13… For the Blessed Virgin had added : “ Then I will tell you who I am and what I want. ”12
Therefore, after the apparition of October 13, the children had no hesitation in answering questions : “ Will Our Lady appear again ? ” Canon Formigao asked that very evening. And Lucy answered : “ I do not expect Her to appear again… ” Thus it is quite clear that the apparitions formed a unique and well-defined cycle. And yet, the Blessed Virgin had added another promise…
“ AFTERWARDS, I WILL COME BACK HERE A SEVENTH TIME. ”
This last sentence, long omitted by historians, no doubt because of its mysterious character, remains for us uncertain in meaning to this day.
In 1946, during a brief stay at Fatima, Sister Lucy confided to Canon Galamba that Our Lady had appeared to her at the Cova da Iria on June 16, 1921, when she stopped there early in the morning before leaving for the college of Vilar, at Porto. It was a silent apparition, solely to comfort the little seer on this day, when she believed she was leaving Aljustrel and the Cova da Iria forever.
Was this apparition the seventh one announced on May 13, 1917 ? Certain authors think so, and it is possible. But has Sister Lucy affirmed it categorically ? We do not know. While waiting for the decisive documents we cannot dismiss a priori the hypothesis of Father Martins dos Reis : “ In spite of its material coincidence ”, he writes, “ it is very doubtful that this seventh apparition, so strictly individual, corresponds to the seventh apparition promised on May 13, 1917. If we consider the first six, this promised seventh apparition seems to require and imply recipients and an audience of an equally general and collective character. We do not know what Lucy thinks of this, or even, as is most probable, whether she has concrete reasons for giving a judgment on this question…
“ Is this promised apparition in relation with the third part of the secret ?… When the whole mystery of Fatima shall be completed ? ”
According to this hypothesis, may we not hope that when all Her requests shall have been fully accomplished by the Holy Father and all the bishops of the world, Our Lady, full of kindness, will manifest Herself a seventh time in the Cova da Iria to mark the dawn of Her triumph ?
THE VOCATION OF HEAVEN
THE MOST BEAUTIFUL PROMISE.
Once the heavenly rendezvous had been fixed, the dialogue continued again. And Lucy, with realism, immediately expresses the desire which imposes itself on her in the presence of the Queen of Heaven : to follow Her, to go there with Her ! “ And I ”, she asks, “ shall I go to Heaven ? ” This sacred ‘ egoism ’ uncovers the simplicity of a frank and loyal soul. How can we desire that others go to Heaven, if we do not first firmly desire to go ourselves ?
Reassured, filled with joy by the marvellous promise which fell from the lips of Our Lady, “ Yes, you shall ! ” the seer goes on boldly : “ ‘ And Jacinta ? ’ ‘ Yes. ’ ‘ And Francisco ? ’ ‘ Yes, but he will have to say many Rosaries. ’ ”13
PURGATORY AND HEAVEN.
“ She shall be in purgatory until the end of the world. ” Such a saddening answer on the part of the Blessed Virgin regarding the fate of Amelia, a young woman eighteen or twenty years old who had died shortly before, has caused a great deal of ink to flow. First of all, although this phrase has often been omitted or replaced by vague circumlocutions, it is surely authentic. If, in her first writing of 1922, Lucy writes only, “ she is in purgatory ”, it is, as we can easily understand, out of regard for the family. But with the passing of time, she no longer hesitated to relate this phrase of Our Lady in its integral sense. In 1946, she confirmed this sense in its exactitude to Father Jongen.
Certainly it is a hard saying to hear, but it could not be clearer. There is no reason to water down its obvious significance. The literal sense of “ until the end of the world ” is without any doubt the only possible one.14
Father Martins dos Reis, who attempted to learn who this young girl was, tells us something which it is important to know : it is a certain fact that the poor Amelia died in circumstances involving “ an irremediable dishonour in the matter of chastity ”.
What is certain is that Our Lady wanted us to know this for our instruction, and it would be foolish presumption to pretend to dispute the judgements of God. He alone, who intimately knows each soul, the abundance of graces He has given to it, the degree of knowledge it had of its fault and the quality of its repentance, is the judge of the gravity of sin.
And then for those who are astonished or scandalized by the rigour of such a judgement, it must be remembered that one must not confuse the sufferings of Purgatory with those of Hell ! “ Purgatory and its fire are completely different ”, writes Fr. de Nantes, along the lines of the most exact theology, such as the revelations of a St. Catherine of Genoa and other saints. “ It is with an intense joy, an ardent satisfaction, that the souls in this place of passage suffer the pains which dispose them from day to day (or, alas, from year to year) to finally enter into the eternity of the blessed life of the elect. They are certain to see Jesus again, to see Mary again, and no longer to be separated from them, so that the sharp flames of fire that purify them are sweet to them. Purgatory is the gate to Heaven, where beatitude without measure will last always, forever…
See the way our mind works ! We think only of Amelia’s lot, while forgetting the consoling response of Our Lady concerning the little Maria das Neves, this other young girl of Aljustrel, who had died shortly before, and whom Our Lady declares is already in Heaven ! To us that seems to go without saying, as though it were the most normal thing in the world… What blindness ! As though going to Heaven – and right away, without suffering anything – was for men a right which God must satisfy ! Let us realize to what extent the ideology of the Rights of Man, which insinuates itself everywhere, risks poisoning our own faith ! We should rather be astonished at and admire the Mercy of God, which thus introduces into the infinite beatitude of His Trinitarian Life – and for eternity ! – this humble child, who no doubt was not a heroine or a great saint, but contented herself quite simply with being a good girl and a good Christian !
Thus the twofold revelation of Our Lady on the very different lot of these two souls could have only one precise intention : to arouse the fear of the punishments of God in careless or hardened sinners, always so prompt in finding excuses, and to increase in humble and faithful souls the desire to persevere in a holy life.
THE VOCATION OF SUFFERING
“ I do not promise to make you happy in this world, only in the next ”, the Immaculate One had said to Bernadette. Similarly at Fatima, after promising Heaven to the three privileged ones, the Blessed Virgin immediately offered them what is inseparable from it : suffering. Per crucem ad lucem. It is the royal road of the Cross which leads to the Light.
THE CHILDREN OFFER THEMSELVES TO GOD AS VICTIM SOULS.
Already in 1916, at the well of Arneiro, the Angel had invited them to offer to God their sacrifices unceasingly. “ And especially ”, he had concluded, “ accept and bear with submission the sufferings which the Lord will send you. ” Today Our Lady asks them to do much more : “ Are you willing to offer yourselves to God and bear all the sufferings He wills to send you, as an act of reparation for all the sins by which He is offended and of supplication for the conversion of sinners ? ” “ Yes, we are. ” This definite ‘ yes ’ that Lucy pronounced at that instant, in the name of all three, was nothing less than an oblation to God as a victim of love, love for God in reparation for sin, to console His wounded Heart. Love for souls also, to obtain at any price their conversion. Showing a great sense of supernatural understanding, the three seers decided to say nothing to anyone about this oblation they had made.
“ THEN YOU WILL HAVE MUCH TO SUFFER ”
“ Then you will have much to suffer ”, Our Lady added. For this is the law of sacrifice : there is no oblation acceptable to God without immolation.
The promise was not long in being fulfilled, and it is due to the apparition that Lucy first of all, and then Jacinta and Francisco, who shared her sentiments more and more intimately, would have to suffer cruelly. Here is Lucy’s own account, for this is the best commentary on the message :
“ In the meantime, news of what had happened was spreading. My mother was getting worried, and wanted at all costs to make me deny what I had said. One day, before I set out with the flock, she was determined to make me confess that I was telling lies, and to this end she spared neither caresses, nor threats, nor even the broomstick. To all this she received nothing but a mute silence, or the confirmation of all that I had already said. She told me to go and let out the sheep, and during the day to consider well that she had never tolerated a single lie among her children, and much less would she allow a lie of this kind. She warned me that she would force me, that very evening, to go to those people that I had deceived, confess that I had lied and ask their pardon.
I went off with my sheep, and that day my little companions were already waiting for me. When they saw me crying, they ran up and asked me what was the matter. I told them all that had happened, and added : ‘ Tell me now, what am I to do ? My mother is determined at all costs to make me say that I was lying. But how can I ? ’ Then Francisco said to Jacinta : ‘ You see ! It’s all your fault. Why did you have to tell them ? ’ The poor child, in tears, knelt down, joined her hands, and asked our forgiveness. ‘ I did wrong ’, she said through her tears, ‘ but I will never tell anything to anybody again. ’ ”
As word continued to spread, which only drew down on Lucy and her mother scorn and sarcasm, the latter went, a few days later, to open her heart to the parish priest of Fatima :
“ ‘ Such misfortunes, happening only to us ! ’ ‘ But how is that a misfortune ? ’ ‘ It is, she is making us the laughing stock of the whole country ! ’ ‘ But if what she says is true, it would be a great blessing, and the whole world would envy you. ’ ‘ If it was true !… If it was true !… But that cannot be… It is my daughter who is lying… It is the first time, but I will teach her not to start again. ’
“ In fact, on their return to the house, she gave her daughter the promised lesson, striking her repeatedly. ”
THE PARISH PRIEST’S ATTITUDE TOWARDS THE APPARITIONS.
At the end of May, Father Ferreira, who remained perplexed and on the whole indifferent, nevertheless thought it his duty to call the children to the presbytery to interrogate them. He did it very conscientiously, sticking to what was pertinent, and his written account remains one of the most important documents on the apparitions, both because of its earlier date – the parish priest of Fatima transcribed his interrogations a few days after each apparition – as well as its cold objectivity.
Although Lucy willingly answered the questions of her parish priest, Jacinta would not open her mouth :
“ She put her head down and only with difficulty did he succeed in getting a word or two out of her. Once outside, I asked her : ‘ Why didn’t you answer the priest ? ’ ‘ Because I promised you never to tell anything to anybody again ! ’ ”
Poor child ! Let us not forget that she was only seven years old !
No doubt Father Marques Ferreira did not have a good impression. Although pious and zealous, it seems that, even before the apparitions, he had never shown any great attention or affection for our three shepherds. Lucy, as is obvious from reading her Memoirs, bitterly regretted losing the good and paternal Father Pena, who had had to leave the parish in 1913. Father Ferreira had arrived at Fatima a few months after her First Communion. No doubt he did not appreciate this extraordinary favour granted by his predecessor to a six-year-old child. It was so contrary to his principles, he who did not wish to hear of First Communion before the age of nine or ten !
What is certain is that Father Ferreira, who had not been able to gain the confidence of the seers, took offence when they would not open their souls to him, and he grew colder and colder towards them. True, his task was anything but easy. But it seems that, instead of biding his time in an attitude of prudent expectation, objectivity and apparent indifference, he quickly came to be dominated by a certain animosity with regard to the seers and to Ti Marto, who refused to admit that his children were liars…
The attitude of the parish priest of Fatima, as we will see, remains enigmatic, quite different from that of Father Peyramale of Lourdes, who was prudent, suspicious, and awe-inspiring in appearance, but a man with a great heart, well disposed to believe, once he had convincing proof of the reality of the apparitions.
Be that as it may, the days following the visit to the parish priest were a real martyrdom for Lucy. Since Father Ferreira did not approve, there was only one solution for Maria Rosa : her daughter was a liar.
“ I was overwhelmed with bitterness ”, writes Sister Lucy. “ I could see that my mother was deeply distressed, and that she wanted at all costs to compel me, as she put it, to admit that I had lied. I wanted so much to do as she wished, but the only way I could do so was to tell a lie. From the cradle, she had instilled into her children a great horror of lying, and she used to chastise severely any one of us who told an untruth.
“ ‘ I’ve seen to it ’, she often said, ‘ that my children always told the truth, and am I now to let the youngest get away with a thing like this ? If it were just a small thing… ! But a lie of such proportions, deceiving so many people !… ’
“ After these bitter complaints, she would turn to me, saying : ‘ Make up your mind which you want ! Either undo all this deception by telling these people that you’ve lied, or I’ll lock you up in a dark room where you won’t even see the light of the sun. After all the things I’ve been through, and now a thing like this to happen ! ’15
“ My sisters sided with my mother, and all around me the atmosphere was one of utter scorn and contempt. Then I would remember the old days, and ask myself : ‘ Where is all that affection now, that my family had for me just such a short while ago ? ’ My one relief was to weep before the Lord, as I offered Him my sacrifice. ”
“ You will have much to suffer ”, the Blessed Virgin had announced, “ but the Grace of God will be your comfort ”, She had added. And without waiting any further, She had immediately filled them with an incomparable mystical favour, a sort of vision of God, which alone could give them the strength to bear the harsh sufferings which awaited them. In the same way Jesus had led His three favoured disciples to Tabor, to prepare them for Calvary.
THE VISION IN GOD
“ As she pronounced these last words, ‘ the grace of God will be your comfort ’, Our Lady opened Her hands for the first time, communicating to us a light so intense that, as it streamed from Her hands, its rays penetrated our hearts and the innermost depths of our souls, making us see ourselves in God, Who was that light, better than we see ourselves in the best of mirrors. ”
A mysterious, astonishing vision, with great theological import, to which we must return later, for it manifests in a striking fashion the universal Mediation of Mary to whom it is given, by an unsearchable grace, to introduce souls into the Light of God. In the great and awesome theophany of the Book of Habakkuk, one verse applies to our apparition to the letter : “ His brightness was like the light, rays flashed from His hand, and there He veiled His power. ” (Hab. 3 :4) But here, it is the Immaculate One who flashes forth the light and power of God ! Three times more, the little seers will contemplate this astonishing spectacle, which reminds us of the apparition of the ‘ Virgin with the rays ’, at rue du Bac. In this way opening Her hands, which at first had been joined in an attitude of prayer, in a symbolic and solemn gesture as She had done at Lourdes and Pontmain, the Blessed Virgin wishes to teach us Her role as Mediatrix of all graces.16
“ Then, moved by an inner impulse that was also communicated to us, we fell on our knees, repeating in our hearts : ‘ O Most Holy Trinity, I adore You ! My God, my God, I love You in the most Blessed Sacrament ! ’ ”
Of this mysterious vision by which Mary immersed them in God, the children, of course, said nothing. What could they say about it ? Moreover, writes Sister Lucy, although seeing the Blessed Virgin filled them with an expansive joy, “ however, with regard to the light communicated to us when Our Lady opened Her hands, and everything connected with this light, we experienced a kind of inner impulse that compelled us to keep silent. ”
In 1936, in a letter to her confessor, Father Gonçalves, Sister Lucy, commenting on this vision writes : “ We fell on our knees. It inspired us with so great a knowledge of God that it is not easy to speak about it. ”
THE GREAT SORROW OF GOD.
However, what really made an impression on the seers in this exalted supernatural communication, was the sorrow of God, especially Francisco. This recollection would become a dominant thought with the young shepherd :
“ I loved seeing the Angel. I loved still more seeing Our Lady. What I loved most of all was to see Our Lord in that light from Our Lady which penetrated our hearts. I love God so much ! But He is very sad because of so many sins ! We must never commit any sins again. ”
Let us quote once again this text, so touching in its childlike candour, and so filled with supernatural life :
“ When we arrived at the place for pasturing our sheep a few days after Our Lady’s first apparition, he climbed up to the top of a steep rock, and called out to us : ‘ Don’t come up here ; let me stay here alone. ’ ‘ All right. ’ And off I went, chasing butterflies with Jacinta. We no sooner caught them than we made the sacrifice of letting them fly away, and we never gave another thought to Francisco.
“ When lunchtime came, we missed him and went to call him : ‘ Francisco, don’t you want to come for your lunch ? ’ ‘ No, you eat. ’ ‘ And to pray the Rosary ? ’ ‘ That, yes, later on. Call me again. ’
“ When I went to call him again, he said to me : ‘ You come up here and pray with me. ’ We climbed up to the peak, where the three of us could scarcely find room to kneel down, and I asked him : ‘ But what have you been doing all this time ? ’ ‘ I am thinking about God, Who is so sad because of so many sins ! If only I could give Him joy ! ’
“ One day, we began to sing in happy chorus about the joys of the Serra… We sang it right through once, and were about to repeat it, when Francisco interrupted us : ‘ Let’s not sing any more. Since we saw the Angel and Our Lady singing doesn’t appeal to me any longer. ’ ”
This shows us how seriously Francisco, who was only nine years old, took the message of the Blessed Virgin.
“ REGINA PACIS, ORA PRO NOBIS ”
“ After a few moments Our Lady added : ‘ Pray the Rosary every day to obtain peace for the world and the end of the war. ’ ” These last words, which She would repeat in almost the same terms on July 13, September 13 and October 13, constitute one of the major themes of the message of Fatima, to which we shall return.
Let us point out here a new, astonishing coincidence. Spring of 1917 : France was reeling from the frightening disasters of the foolish Nivelle offensive. During this time, “ on April 21, the first contingent of the Portuguese army of General Tamagnini Abreu had begun to embark, and on the 24th it arrived at Brest. The embarkments continued at an accelerated rate, and soon 40,000 men were dispatched from Cherbourg, Le Havre, Calais and Boulogne towards Lys, Lillers and Bethune, where they took up their position among the English, Scotch, Canadians, Australians, and New Zealanders. On May 10 they arrived at Aire-sur-la-Lys and on May 13 they were in the fighting lines. The very day that Portugal effectively entered into the war, Our Lady came to announce peace and to indicate to the good people the efficacious weapon for obtaining it quickly : daily recitation of the Rosary. But the Blessed Virgin was not the first to propose this remedy…
Indeed – and here is another even more remarkable sign – on Saturday, May 5, 1917, Pope Benedict XV, seeing the near uselessness of all his attempts to bring an end to the horrible world conflict, decided to insistently and solemnly invite the whole Christian people to entrust the obtaining of peace to the Blessed Virgin Mary :
“ Since by a loving design of Divine Providence, all graces that the Author of all good deigns to grant to the poor children of Adam are dispensed through the hands of the most Holy Virgin, we wish that, in this dreadful hour, with lively confidence Her most afflicted children turn to Her with their requests. In consequence, we charge you, Eminence (the letter is addressed to Cardinal Gasparri, Secretary of State), to make known to the entire episcopate our ardent desire that all have recourse to the Heart of Jesus, throne of graces, and that they have recourse by the mediation of Mary. To this end we order that, beginning with the first day of June, there be permanently added to the Litany of Loreto the invocation : ‘ Queen of Peace, pray for us. ’ ”
At Fatima, eight days later, the Blessed Virgin came to confirm these words of the Vicar of Christ : yes, She is indeed the Mediatrix of all graces, and the gift of peace for the nations comes through Her Queenly power. But this favour which She can grant as Sovereign, She wishes to give only in response to our prayer, in response to the daily and fervent recitation of the Rosary. “ Queen of Peace, pray for us ! ” This little invocation, added to the Litany by the Pope evokes one of the three essential themes of the secret of Fatima : God will only grant true peace to our twentieth century in response to an intense and solemn devotion to His Immaculate Mother.
One last coincidence by which God apparently willed to stress even more the importance of May 13, 1917 : at the very hour that Mary was appearing in the Cova da Iria, in the Sistine Chapel the Holy Father was conferring episcopal consecration on a young prelate, Msgr. Pacelli… the future Pius XII, to whom it would fall later on to put into practice the great message of Our Lady of Fatima.
QUEEN ASSUMED INTO HEAVEN
After Her last words on the Rosary, on war and peace, which allow us to see the national and worldwide dimension of Her message, Our Lady, Lucy recalls, “ began to rise slowly in the direction of the east, until She finally disappeared in the immensity of Heaven. She went up so high that She could no longer be seen. ”17 But Her radiant image remained fixed in the hearts of the three seers, who for the next month, as they awaited Her next visit, would live in the ardent desire of seeing Her again…
III. “ TOTA PULCHRA ES, O MARIA ! ”
“ Thou art all beautiful, O Mary ! ” our liturgy chants. This was also what Jacinta kept repeating uncontrollably, after her contemplation of the Heavenly Vision : “ Oh, what a beautiful Lady ! Oh, what a beautiful Lady ! ” she repeated unceasingly !
So beautiful that all images, all statues of the apparition disappoint Sister Lucy, for as she wrote to her bishop, Msgr. da Silva, “ it is impossible to depict Her as She really is, and we cannot even describe Her with words of this earth. ”
However, we shall not resign ourselves to silence, and far from sharing the lack of interest that Dom Jean-Nesmy shows for the descriptions of the apparition, as clumsy as they are, these descriptions are of the highest interest to us. Is it not, in fact, the glorious body of the Immaculate Virgin that the little seers had the privilege of contemplating ? And this risen body, this ‘ spiritual body ’, as St. Paul says, is it not the pure sensible expression of the very mystery of Her person ? Seen in the light of the liturgy of the Church and the symbolism of Scripture, all these details concerning the appearance of the Vision seem to us to contain great riches for mystical theology ; we will find there a precious aid for the contemplation of the mysteries of Mary.
“ WHEN I WAS A LITTLE ONE… ”
“ How old did Our Lady seem to be ? ” Canon Formigao asked Lucy. “ She seemed to be around fifteen ”, Lucy answered. In the diocesan process, the seer, no doubt influenced by various remarks made to her, corrected her first estimate and declared that the apparition seemed to be more than eighteen years old. That still does not change the fact that, as in the case of Bernadette, the Blessed Virgin appeared very young to the three shepherds of Aljustrel. This astonishing youth evokes one aspect of Her mystery : is She not the Immaculate, “ without stain or wrinkle ”,“ the eternal Daughter of the Heavenly Father ” ?
Again, as at Lourdes, She appeared small, very small, scarcely five feet tall, Lucy said. This littleness also has its meaning, it says something to us. We might think of the beautiful responsory of Matins of Her feast, which sings of Her humility : Cum essem parvula, placui Altissimo… When I was a little one, I pleased the Most High, and in My womb I brought forth God made man !
Young and quite small, the Queen of Heaven also came very close to Her three children. For a pedestal She had chosen a little holm oak, about a metre high. “ We were so close ”, writes Lucy, “ that we found ourselves in the light surrounding Her, or rather emanating from Her, about a metre and a half away, more or less. ” We are reminded of the Transfiguration, and of Peter, James and John who were themselves taken into the cloud surrounding Jesus, Moses and Elijah.
During the following apparitions, when numerous witnesses would be alongside the seers, Lucy notes that she never saw Our Lady look at the crowd ; and Francisco said : “ She looks at all three of us, but She looks the longest at Lucy. ” When She speaks, “ Her voice is soft and pleasant. ”
“ A WOMAN CLOTHED WITH THE SUN ”
But when it comes to describing the apparition, as well as the Angel, the word that keeps recurring is light, a light brighter than the sun. For it was indeed “ the humble handmaid of the Lord ” who manifested Herself at Fatima, and She also appeared in the brilliant glory with which God has willed to crown Her humility.
Already to Canon Formigao, on October 11, 1917, Lucy explained : “ the light that surrounds Her is more beautiful than the light of the sun, and more brilliant. ” “ What was brighter, the sun or the countenance of Our Lady ? ” the Canon asked. And Francisco answered : “ The countenance of Our Lady was brighter, and Our Lady was all white. ” In the Memoirs, it is always the same expression we find on the pen of Sister Lucy : “ We saw a Lady all dressed in white, more brilliant than the sun… ”
Another notable and surprising thing is that right after the apparitions, the seers said that the Blessed Virgin was so sparkling that Her light dazzled them. “ Why do you often lower your eyes and stop looking at Our Lady ? ” asked Canon Formigao. “ Because sometimes She blinds me ”, Lucy answered. And on October 13 : “ She came in the midst of a great light. Again this time She blinded me. From time to time I had to rub my eyes. ”
A GLORIOUS BODY.
In short, it was Her risen body in all the splendour of its glory in which She manifested Herself at the Cova da Iria. Once again, there is perfect agreement between the testimony of the three shepherds and that of Holy Scripture. The evangelist writes of the transfigured Jesus : “ His face shone like the sun, and His garments became white as light. ” (Mt. 17 :2) In the great vision of the glorious Christ which opens the Apocalypse, Jesus appears to the Disciple “ as a Son of man ”, whose face was “ like the sun shining at full strength ”. (Apoc. 1 :16) When he throws Saul down to the ground on the road to Damascus, it is once again in the same light. “ At midday ”, the Apostle relates, “ I saw on my way a light from Heaven, brighter than the sun, shining round me and those who journeyed with me. ” (Acts 26 :13) The light was so bright that he lost his sight : “ And when I could not see because of the brightness of that light, I was led by the hand by those who were with me, and came into Damascus. ” (Acts 22 :11)
The sun is only the image of the divine light with which the risen Bodies of Jesus and Mary shine. It was thus that the Virgin appeared at Fatima, like the Spouse in the Canticle of Canticles, “ fair as the moon, bright as the sun ” (Cant. 6 :10), and also like the Woman of the Apocalypse, “ a woman clothed with the sun ”. (Apoc. 12 :1) By Her apparitions at the Cova da Iria, the Blessed Virgin confirms for us, that as Mother of the ‘ Sun of Justice ’, She has been clothed with the divine Light since Her Assumption. While remaining a creature and fully human, She has penetrated, so to speak, into the sphere of the divinity.
“ HE HAS CLOTHED ME WITH THE GARMENTS OF SALVATION… ”
Although “ all shining with light ”, the Apparition nevertheless seemed to be, in the eyes of the seer, a real human person, of ineffable beauty : “ The face, with infinitely pure and delicate lines, shines in an aureole of the sun… The eyes are black. The hands are joined on top of the breast. From the right hand there hangs a beautiful Rosary with white beads, brilliant as pearls, ending in a little cross of silver, which also sparkles. The feet… gently come down onto a little ermine cloud which comes over the green branches of the shrub.
“ The dress, which is snow white, falls right down to the feet… A white veil (a veritable mantle), with edges adorned with fine braided gold, covers the head, the shoulders, and falling almost as low as the dress, envelops the whole body. ”
Does not this description remind us of the beautiful verses of Isaiah which the liturgy, with lyrical joy, attributes to the Blessed Virgin on the morning of Her Immaculate Conception ? “ I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, ” She chants, “ and My soul shall be joyful in My God : for He has clothed me with the garments of salvation, and with the robe of justice He has covered Me, as a bride adorned with her jewels. ” Is it not in this way that She appeared at the Cova da Iria ? Clothed with a robe of light, “ induit me vestimentis salutis ”, a symbol of the singular privilege by which She would benefit more than any other from the grace of salvation, since in view of the future merits of Her Son She was preserved from every stain of sin. Draped in a sparkling white mantle, resplendent in the golden flashes of light, She is the image of original justice rediscovered and restored in greater splendour : “ He has covered Me with the robe of justice… ”
Such is indeed the spirit of the liturgy of December 8, as it pursues its joyful chant…
“ AS A BRIDE ADORNED WITH HER JEWELS… ”
These last words attributed by the Church to the Immaculate One, do they not also apply to the Virgin of Fatima, who appeared all clothed in light and adorned with ornaments even more sparkling ?
For the Rosary “ with beads as brilliant as pearls ”, and the border of golden light on the great veil She wore, as a virgin consecrated to God, were not Her only adornments : “ You can see, in the front (of the dress) ”, Lucy declared on September 27, 1917, “ two gold cords which fall from the neck and are joined at the waist by a tassel, also gold. ” Originally the seer was misunderstood, and it was thought that it was a tassel with long fringes. In this way it was represented by Jose Ferreira Thedim, sculptor of the first statue which is still venerated today in the little chapel of the apparitions.
In fact, it was a ball of light suspended from the neck of Our Lady by a chain descending right down to the cincture. In her first written account of 1922, Lucy wrote clearly : “ At the neck She had a necklace with a ball that went down to Her waist. ”
What can the significance of this mysterious ball be ? Some have seen in it the symbol of the terrestrial globe, as in the apparition of rue du Bac. But to Catherine Labouré, Our Lady had explained the meaning of this “ golden ball, with a little cross mounted on top ”, which She held in Her hands, as if to offer to God : “ This ball which you see ”, She had said, “ represents the whole world, especially France, and every person in particular. ” The symbolism was clear.
At Fatima on the other hand, neither the Blessed Virgin nor the seer has given the significance of this mysterious ball of light. Our Lady did not hold it in Her hands, nor did She illumine it with Her rays of light, as with the terrestrial globe. On the contrary, this “ ball of light ”, suspended from Her neck by a golden chain, is even more sparkling than the rest of Her luminous body.
In this case, is it not better to keep closer to the description that has been given to us, and believe that it is an ornament, a ‘ necklace ’, as Lucy says ? No doubt this idea was discarded because it seemed unfitting…
However, in the light of the liturgy, itself completely saturated with Holy Scripture, it seems to us that we can easily guess the symbolic meaning of this ornament. Does it not remind us of the ‘ jewels ’, the traditional attribute of the spouse ? Sicut sponsam ornatam monilibus suis – “ As a bride adorned with her jewels ”, continues the canticle of Isaiah, which the Church places on the lips of the Immaculate One. Is not this identification of the Blessed Virgin with the spouse in the Canticle of Canticles one of the most constantly recurring themes of the liturgy in Her honour ?
Is it not in this sense that we must look for the most profound significance of this mysterious jewel described by Lucy ? Several verses of the Canticle seem to invite us to do so : thus the divine Spouse speaking to the Bride, the figure of Israel and of the Church, personified in the Blessed Virgin : “ You have ravished my heart, my sister, my bride, you have ravished my heart with a glance of your eyes, with one jewel of your necklace. How sweet is your love, my sister, my bride ! ” (Cant. 4 :9-10) There is also this other verse, rich in Biblical allusions, again in the words of the divine Spouse to the Bride : “ Your cheeks are comely with ornaments, your neck with strings of jewels. We will make you ornaments of gold, studded with silver. ” (Cant. 1 :10)
Does not this verse at the same time shed light on a second difficulty concerning the description of the apparition ? In fact, there was one declaration of Lucy that caused embarrassment for the commentators : “ And what does She wear on the ears ? ” Canon Formigao had asked Francisco. “ You cannot see Her ears ”, he answered, “ because they are covered by the mantle. ” Jacinta had also said the same thing. Lucy, however, answered the same question : “ Yes, She has two earrings. ” We know that Lucy, in her Memoirs, wanted to eliminate this apparent contradiction between her initial testimony and that of her cousins by explaining that what she had seen was only a reflection of light, “ which momentarily gave the impression of small earrings ”. The important thing is that there was no question of a material jewel here ! However this did not prevent the luminous appearance of the vision from resembling this ornament. Thus it would be exaggerated to speak of a contradiction between Lucy and her cousins : she simply perceived a secondary detail that Jacinta and Francisco passed over in silence.18
Does not the silence of Our Lady, which furnished the seers with no explanation of these mysterious ornaments, reinforce our hypothesis ? This silence would be badly explained if it concerned symbols having to do with the message (such as the globe of the earth in the rue du Bac apparition), but it seems perfectly comprehensible to us if it concerns symbolic ornaments of the spouse, the Blessed Virgin wishing m this way to discreetly suggest a hidden and sublime aspect of Her unique vocation.
We will understand the whole significance of these comparisons later on, when we place them in a larger context… For it is in the end to the Virgin of the Apocalypse that we must refer all these allusions to the Spouse in the Canticle of Canticles. In this we can see a delicate sign of the care of the Mother of God, wishing to signify to Her children that She is indeed the ‘ Catholic ’ Virgin, of whom they sing with love when they offer praises in Her honour : She is the Immaculate Conception, the Holy Spouse of the Word of God, the living Sanctuary of the Spirit of Love and of Light. She is the perfect figure and personification of the Church, the Virgin who has risen up to Heaven in glory, in body and soul. She is the Queen of Heaven and earth, who has already been introduced into the great Light of God.
“ SHE WAS ALL OF LIGHT ”
FATHER McGlynn, who was entrusted with sculpting the statue of Our Lady destined for the facade of the basilica at Fatima, had the privilege of interrogating Sister Lucy at length, and benefiting from her directions and counsels. He left us a precious report from which we take a few excerpts : “ She described Our Lady as being ‘ all of light ’. The dress and the mantle could be distinguished from each other like two ‘ undulations of light ’, one over the other. The dress fell straight down and was not precisely in pleats. Lucy was so insistent that the poor sculptor had to make folds which had nothing ‘ realistic ’ about them ; they were to give the idea of light in vibration…
“ Thus the gold bordering the mantle was simply a line of more intense light ; thus also the chain suspended from the neck and held together by a ‘ ball of light ’, and what she had called ‘ earrings ’ when still a child were simply a form of more intense light.
“ Father McGlynn thought he might confuse her by asking : ‘ Did the hands have the colour of flesh or the colour of light ? ’ He was himself ‘ flabbergasted ’ when she answered : ‘ a flesh-coloured light (carnea luz). She was all light. This light had different tones : yellow, white and other nuances. By these different tones and intensities one could distinguish the hands from the dress. ’
“ She could not remember how many rays the star had, but like the chain it was yellow and not gold ; nor could she remember if the Lady had shoes or sandals : ‘ I don’t think I ever saw Her feet. ’19
“ However, she was very clear on anything having to do with Her posture. Her first remark, on seeing Father’s original design, was : ‘ This does not give Her true posture. ’ She had him modify the position of the hands, the star, the ball of light by fractions of an inch ; she asked him to make the mouth smaller and place it up higher. ”
(1) Because of its charm, we have retained the Portuguese form of respectful address that Lucy always used when speaking to Our Lady.
(2) In between the brackets are those parts of the message which were kept secret by the seers at the time of the apparitions, and revealed later on by Lucy.
(3) “ … and as a fitting reparation for the blasphemies and all the offences given to the Immaculate Heart of Mary ”, added Father da Fonseca in his version of the message. Canon Barthas, who was dependent on Father da Fonseca, consistently added this variant. While Father Alonso deplores this undue interpolation, he nevertheless believes that “ there was a true manifestation of the Immaculate Heart of Mary beginning with the very first apparition. ” He bases his position, among other things, on the fact that Sister Lucy never asked Father da Fonseca to suppress this phrase he had added to the Memoirs.
(4) This last question and Our Lady’s reply are not found in the Memoirs of Lucy. However, they are found in the interrogation of the seers by Father Marques Ferreira, the parish priest of Fatima. The interrogation took place in the final days of May 1917. Hence these words are certainly authentic.
(5) For example, on September 27, 1917 : “ The first time you saw her were you frightened ? ” asked Canon Formigao. “ I was so much so that I wanted to run away with Jacinta and Francisco, but She told us not to be afraid because She would not hurt us. ” De Marchi, p. 118.
(6) IV, p. 163. It is remarkable that in her first written account, in 1922, Lucy expressed herself this way : “ We were seized with fear, seeing the flashes of light surrounding her. Then she said to us… ” etc. (Uma Vida, p. 305.)
(7) Such is indeed the literal meaning of the form employed by Lucy. Is it not preferable to retain this charming expression ? Lucy surely used the same respectful form of address when speaking with her parents. (Cf. Barthas, Fatima 1917-1968, p. 58.) It is also worth pointing out that in Portuguese, ‘ a Senhora ’, (‘ the Lady ’, with a capital) means ‘ Our Lady ’.
(8) It is remarkable that the 1922 text says, “ Eu sou do Ceu ”, as if to stress this privilege : “ I myself am of Heaven. ”
(9) According to Father Ferreira’s report, Lucy asked : “ And what do you come to do in the world ? ” (A. M. Martins, Documentos, p. 500). The variation is unimportant. There are many other similar variations which are easily explained. Sister Lucy told Father Jongen : “ When I speak about the apparitions, I limit myself to giving the meaning of the words I heard. When I write, on the other hand, I am careful to quote the words literally. (De Marchi, p. 344, Orig.) And even for the written accounts, Sister Lucy says : “ The meaning of all I say is exact. As regards the manner of expressing myself, I do not know if I have exchanged one word for another… ” III, p. 117. Clearly the same is true for unimportant details. Moreover, regarding the words of Our Lady, “ engraved on her spirit in such a way that it is practically impossible to forget them ”, she nevertheless makes clear : “ At least, the meaning of what is made known is never forgotten, unless it be that God also wills that this too be forgotten. ”
(10) Is it necessary to point out that the future Pius IX, the Pope of the Immaculate Conception, was born on Sunday, May 13, 1792, and was baptized and consecrated to Our Lady on the same day ? Another May 13, nearer to our own times, brings a smile to us : it is the happy day of Pentecost 1883, when little St. Therese of Lisieux, overwhelmed by a mysterious illness, which was not without some diabolical influence, was miraculously healed by the smile of Our Lady. The coincidence is especially touching since the future seer of Fatima, at the age of six, had enjoyed the same favour of Our Lady’s smile. Must we also point out that, since 1917, other events of May 13 have been related to the apparition at the Cova da Iria ? As for May 13, 1981, of course we shall return to it.
(11) Our present solemnity of All Saints Day is a modern form of this old feast celebrated on May 13, in honour of the Blessed Virgin and all the martyrs. (See Dom Pius Parsch, Le Guide dans l’Année Liturgique, V, p. 336, Casterman, 1944.
(12) The report of Father Ferreira says : “ At the end of the six months, I will tell you what I want. ” The written version of 1922 says about the same thing : “ In the end, I will tell you what I want. ”
(13) Canon Barthas remarks with reason that Our Lady of Fatima, always moderate in Her demands, did not ask Francisco to recite many 15 decade rosaries as certain authors say. Sister Lucy, having lived in Spain for many years, often employs the language of that country and thus she spoke of Rosario. In Spanish this word can refer to either a 5 decade or a 15 decade rosary. This is undoubtedly the source of the confusion. When Lucy was asked if Our Lady had a rosary of 5 or 15 decades on Her arm, she answered simply : ‘ I don’t know, I didn’t count the decades. Even if, as Barthas justly remarks, the original interrogations simply say, “ he too must say his rosary ”, Sister Lucy’s final answer, “ he will have to recite many rosaries ”, corresponds best to the way the three seers understood Our Lady’s request.
(14) Here we cannot share the opinion of Father Alonso, who thinks this could mean ‘ a long time ’. We must point out that what Our Lady of Fatima said has many precedents in the revelations of the saints on Purgatory.
(15) This indeed partly explains the harsh attitude of Maria Rosa towards her daughter, for already she had been overwhelmed with all sorts of trials for several months : Antonio, following the example of some evil companions, spent part of his time at the tavern, “ which meant the loss of some of our property ”, Lucy writes. Since the resources of the family were diminishing, Gloria and Caroline had to leave the house to work as servants. Shortly after, however, Maria Rosa became ill and they had to be recalled. Even when she recovered, she remained tired and depressed from so many problems The apparitions began around that time.
(16) According to some recent drawings painted in 1981 by Sister Mary of the Conception (a religious of the Carmel of St. Joseph at Fatima), Our Lady held her hands open, a little below the horizontal level, and her palms on the bottom. These paintings were destined for exposition at the vice-postulation of Jacinta and Francisco. They were made according to the indications of Sister Lucy and corrected according to her directives.
(17) On the departure of Our Lady, see the interrogation of Canon Formigao on October 13, where the children specify that Our Lady left “ with her back towards the people ”.
(18) The difficulties of interpretation raised by this ‘ ball of light ’ and these ‘ earrings ’ call for an important remark. These kind of details are bewildering at first glance, and the most plausible explanation is still disputed. But at least they are a sure mark of the sincerity of the seers, who say what they saw, even if they did not understand the meaning of what they perceived. In this we can also see a sure mark of the supernatural character of the vision, which was richer than all our a priori conceptions. For clearly neither the children nor any other sort of impostor could have invented these details.
(19) Already in her account of 1922, Lucy wrote : “ I do not know if she had stockings on her feet or if she was barefoot, since I could not see her toes. This was due to the light, because of which I could not stare at them. ”.