1. CRITICAL REMARKS ON THE REVELATION OF THE SECRET
One of the objections of Father Dhanis against the authenticity of the secret was the supposed hesitation of the seers concerning the date it was revealed to them. However, the objection stands only if we ignore the fully satisfactory explanation furnished by Sister Lucy and confirmed, as we will see, by the interrogations of 1917.
“ Since June 13 (she writes), whenever they asked us if Our Lady had said anything else, we began to give this reply : ‘ Yes, She did, but it’s a secret. ’ If they asked us why it was a secret, we shrugged our shoulders, lowered our heads, and kept silent. But after the 13th of July, we said : ‘ Our Lady told us we were not to tell it to anybody ’, thus referring to the secret imposed on us by Our Lady. ”
Indeed what is certain is that, since this date, the children invoked the order of Our Lady to justify their twofold silence, both on the prophecy of their own future, and also on the great secret properly speaking, since the two were bound together. This is what puzzled their interrogators more than anything else, and providentially so.
THE SEERS REFER TO THE SECRET OF JULY 13
However, we can establish – and this is of capital importance for critical purposes – that many of the responses of the seers after July 13 directly concerned the secret revealed that day, not the words of June 13.
Thus on the very same day, right after the apparition, the seer was asked : “ ‘ Lucy, what did the Lady say that made you so sad ? ’ ‘ It’s a secret. ’ ‘ A nice one ? ’ ‘ For some people it’s good and for others bad. ’ ‘ Can’t you tell us ? ’ ‘ No, I can’t. ’ ”
Likewise, in the interrogations of Canon Formigao, it is interesting to go back over all the responses of the seers concerning the secret. When it is made clear that the children include the June 13 message concerning their future in the great Secret revealed on July 13, then one understands that after they are questioned about the Secret, they would refer to either date, which understandably confuses the interrogator.
Thus for example, on October 11 the Canon asked Jacinta : “ Is the secret that you will be good and happy ? ” “ Yes, it is for the good of all three of us. ” Francisco responded similarly to the same question, on October 13. But when Canon Formigao continued : “ Is it for the good of the parish priest’s soul ? ” Francisco very wisely held back : “ I don’t know. ” “ Would the people be sad if they knew the secret ? ” “ Yes ”, Francisco answered, clearly thinking of the great secret of July 13. Jacinta had already given the same answer to this question on October 11. Lucy, no doubt more sophisticated and prudent than her cousins, was content to say : “ I believe people will remain as they are, or pretty much the same. ”
This also explains certain hesitations on the part of Lucy. Thus, after having affirmed that Our Lady had forbidden revealing the secret (of July 13) to anybody, she would not go so far as to state firmly that she could not reveal it to her confessor, thinking this time of the words of June 13 :
“ ‘ Is it certain that She revealed a secret to you, and that She forbids you to reveal it to anybody ? ’ ‘ Yes, it is certain. ’ ‘ Could you not reveal it at least to your confessor ? ’ She did not answer this question, which seemed to embarrass her, and the Canon thought it better not to insist. ”
In her Memoirs, Sister Lucy explains her hesitation : “ I remained perplexed, not knowing what to answer, because I kept several things secret which I was not forbidden to reveal. But I thank God who inspired my questioner to go on with the interrogation. I remember how I breathed again. ”
It was clear that she could not reveal the secret of July 13 to anyone, not even her confessor, without divine permission.1 But the words of June 13 ? She did not know… hence her silence.
JUNE 13 OR JULY 13 ?
As for the date the secret was revealed, on October 11 Jacinta said that it was St. Anthony’s day. Lucy said the same on October 13 : “ It seems to me that it was the second time. ” Yet it is impossible to draw any conclusions from these affirmations. In the interrogations of October, the seers sometimes mistakenly attributed to one apparition words which were in fact pronounced on the preceding or following apparitions. Their mistake is easily explained when we remember that Our Lady repeated the majority of the themes of Her message in several successive apparitions, and on the other hand they surely did not yet recognize the importance of stating clearly that Our Lady had pronounced such and such a word on June 13 or July 13. Later on, Lucy would be able to do that, when she would have to write down the message.
However, it is noteworthy that when asked again on November 2, 1917, Jacinta answered Canon Formigao : “ I believe it was in July that Our Lady revealed the secret. ” In her account of June 5, 1922, Lucy also places the secret – and ever so discreetly !2 – on July 13. She does so once again, in the same terms, in the canonical inquiry of 1924. After December 17, 1927, the date Our Lord permitted her to reveal it to her confessor, Sister Lucy no longer needed to be quite so circumspect. If it was not divulged at that moment, it was only because… nobody asked her !3
2. THE PRAYER FOR SOULS
What souls does it have to do with ? The souls of sinners ? Or the souls in Purgatory, as was long believed ?
TWO DIFFERENT VERSIONS
Up until the forties, in the majority of works on Fatima, we find the following version, cited by Father Castelbranco : “ O my Jesus, forgive us our sins ! Save us from the fires of hell ! And relieve the souls in Purgatory, especially the most abandoned. ” At this time, the pilgrims of Fatima recited the same formula at the Cova da Iria. How can we explain this discrepancy ?
THE AUTHENTIC VERSION
During the interrogation of August 21, 1917, Lucy related to Father Ferreira the version revealed by Our Lady a little more than a month earlier. Except for two words which do not change the sense,4 it is exactly identical with the text Sister Lucy transcribed in her fourth Memoir, December 8, 1941. Hence it is this latter version we have commented on : “ O my Jesus, forgive us, save us from the fires of hell, and lead all souls to Heaven, especially those most in need. ”5
Thus, there is no doubt about the authenticity of these texts, especially since in addition to these texts there are many others which show that Sister Lucy did not change the wording, except for tiny details which do not in any way alter the sense of the prayer.6
THE INTERPRETATION OF CANON FORMIGAO
We know that during the interrogation of September 27, 1917, Lucy recited to Canon Formigao the same authentic version which she had already indicated a month before to her parish priest.7
But who are these souls “ who are most in need ”, and for whom Our Lady asks us to pray ? The good Canon, who of course knew neither the secret nor the messages of the Angel, nor the repeated invitations of Our Lady to pray and sacrifice ourselves for sinners, and was ignorant especially of the vision of hell, which is the immediate context of the revelation of this prayer, thought that it undoubtedly had to do with the most abandoned souls in Purgatory.
Did not the word ‘ alminhas ’, diminutive of ‘ almas ’, strongly suggest this hypothesis ? Canon Barthas, who himself resolutely opted for the other solution, explains : “ In Portuguese, the word ‘ almas ’, especially in its diminutive form, ‘ alminhas ’ (the little, poor or dear souls), employed without a qualifier, ordinarily designates the souls in Purgatory. In the churches, the donation boxes for the souls in Purgatory bear the inscription, ‘ caixa das almas ’, and on the corners of the roads one can find little buildings called ‘ ermida das alminhas ’ (oratory of the poor souls). ’ Another significant detail : it is not rare in Portugal to hear a beggar asking for alms, ‘ para as alminhas ’, for the souls in Purgatory.
Hence we can easily understand how Canon Formigao came to believe that the prayer of Our Lady had to do with the departed. He also added a phrase to the initial version : “ Lead all souls in Purgatory to Heaven, as alminhas do purgatorio todas… ” But once this interpretation was deliberately adopted, he came logically to modify the text, as he himself recognized later on, for the sake of greater clarity. This is the origin of the formula that he adopted and published in his works : “ O my Jesus, pardon us, save us from the fires of hell, and relieve the souls in Purgatory, especially the most abandoned. ”8
When in 1927 he quoted the interrogation of September 27, 1917, he presented his formula as being Lucy’s response to the question. This explains how the new version of the prayer, as corrected by himself, became widespread later on.9
THE INTERPRETATION OF SISTER LUCY
Beginning in 1921, and then for many long years, Lucy was so far removed from the pilgrimages of Fatima that she was almost completely ignorant of what was happening. Thus she could not rectify the erroneous formula that was recited there. But when she was asked for her opinion (unfortunately it was a little late !), she insisted on the re-establishment of the original version, and the interpretation that seemed the most obvious to her. We have already cited her letter to Father Gonçalves. She did so again, with still more vigour, in a conversation with Canon Barthas, on October 18, 1946. Here is the text :
“ I permitted myself to ask Sister Lucy to qualify the sense of the word ‘ alminhas ’ (souls) : ‘ In these souls which have need of divine assistance, must we see the souls in Purgatory or those of sinners ? ’, I asked her. ‘ Sinners ’, she answered without hesitating. ‘ Why do you think so ? ’ ‘ Because the Blessed Virgin always spoke of the souls of sinners. She drew our attention to them in every way ; she never spoke of the souls in Purgatory. ’
‘ Why, in your opinion, did the Blessed Virgin interest you especially in sinners, rather than the souls in Purgatory ? ’ ‘ No doubt because the souls in Purgatory are already saved, being already in the vestibule of Heaven, while the souls of sinners are on the road leading to damnation. ’ (This was essentially my own opinion also.)
‘ Your explanation seems highly theological to me. Why then in many churches and even in Portugal are the souls in Purgatory named in this prayer ? ’ ‘ Nao sei. I don’t know. I myself never spoke of the souls in Purgatory. As for the rest, it does not concern me. ’ ”
This declaration seems to us decisive. The prayer taught by Our Lady can only be understood properly in the more general context of the secret of Fatima. This excuses the modification of the text which Canon Formigao, in all good faith, thought he was entitled to make. Today, however, we prefer to recite this prayer in the same spirit as the three little seers, for as Sister Lucy justly writes in another place, “ ordinarily, God accompanies His revelations with an intimate and minute knowledge of what they signify. ”
Shall we then forget the dear souls in Purgatory ? The response of Our Lady on May 13 (“ She will be in Purgatory until the end of the world ”) suffices to show us how much they need our prayers. It is a beautiful duty in charity to intercede for them, and especially for the most abandoned among them. Far from excluding each other, all Catholic devotions mutually strengthen each other. It is for each individual to practice his devotion following the impulse of the particular grace which has been given to him… There is plenty of room in a heart on fire with the love of souls !
(1) See her response to Father Ferreira on August 13 : “ If Your Reverence wants to know the Secret, I will ask the Lady, and, if she allows me to, then I will tell it to you. ”
(2) Finally, she confided a few words to us, adding : “ Tell this to no one. You may tell only Francisco. ” S. Martins dos Reis, Uma Vida, p. 309.
(3) See her statement to Father Jongen : “ Why didn’t you make it known earlier ? ” “ Because no one asked me to. ”
(4) Namely the conjunction ‘ and ’ and the words ‘ of it ’, referring to God’s mercy : ‘ especially those most in need of it. ”
(5) O meu Jesus, perdoai-nos, (e) livrai nos do fogo do Inferno; levai as alminhas todas para o Ceu, principalmente aquelas que mais (d’ele) precisarem.
(6) Here are a few dates : September 7, 1922, letter of Carlos Mendes (Barthas, Fatima, Great Miracle of the Twentieth Century, p. 322). The account of January 5, 1922 (Documentos, p. 471). The interrogation before the canonical commission, July 8, 1924. The letter of Father Gonçalves of May 18, 1941 (Documentos, p. 443), and finally the texts of the Third and Fourth Memoirs (Ibid., p. 221 and 341). On October 18, 1946, Sister Lucy dictated the same formula to Canon Barthas, adding : ‘ and help especially those… ’ But the meaning is always the same.
(7) Cf. J. M. Alonso, Fatima, escuela de oracion, p. 105, and Historia da Literatura, p. 13 : “ The first written version of the Formigao manuscripts is precisely what the seers always repeated. ”
(8)… e aliviai as almas do Purgatorio especialmente as mais abandonadas.
(9) Let us point out that Father Alonso believed the theological interpretation of Canon Formigao could be justified, by insisting on the ordinary meaning of the word ‘ alminhas ’. According to him, the word ‘ alminhas ’ settles the question : it refers to the souls in Purgatory. (Fatima, escuela de oracion, p. 105; 1980.) Let us remark only that :
1. Sister Lucy seems to use indifferently either the word ‘ alminhas ’ or ‘ almas ’. (Text of May 18, 1941.) According to Castelbranco, the formula approved for the pilgrimages also has the word ‘ almas ’, while the Marto parents had learned the formula with the word ‘ almas ’ in 1917. :
2. Canon Formigao himself, in place of the word ‘ alminhas ’, came to substitute the clearer expression ‘ almas do purgatorio ’. Why then was the change necessary ? :
3. The majority of scholarly Portuguese critics interpret the word ‘ alminhas ’ as does Sister Lucy herself, i.e. as designating the ‘ poor souls ’ of sinners. Hence we conclude that in Portuguese, just as in Latin or French, the word ‘ alminhas ’ is indefinite and, according to the context, can refer either to the souls of the departed or those of the living.