Mother of God,  Spiritual Devotions

Altar of the World

Original image of Our Lady of Fatima (c) Will Ross

The appearances of Our Blessed Lady at Fatima in 1917 are unanimously agreed to be of such importance that Fatima has often been called “the altar of the world”. For anyone who is not familiar with the detail of these appearances, the full story of Our Lady of Fatima is recounted here.

Despite this, these – and all similar and approved – appearances fall into the category of ‘private revelation’, which is far beneath that of the ‘public revelation’ of the life and works of Our Lord, recorded by the Evangelists in the Gospels. Private revelation adds nothing to the core of our Catholic faith – rather, it points us back to that faith in ways which resonate at a particular moment of human history. In other words, such events are – in a sense – echoes of the Gospel; but they are not the Gospel.

And since the events of Fatima are in this category of ‘private revelation’, we are certainly permitted to believe in the reality of those events – the Church herself tells us that they are not in any way contrary to the faith and that they are “worthy of belief”. But we are under no obligation whatsoever to believe in them nor are we obliged to undertake any of the devotions which such an appearance asks of us.

Now, in what way does Fatima point us back to the Gospel? What do those events tell us or remind us of?

Fatima began with the lesson that sin exists in the world and it offends the Lord. Subsequent to this, we were reminded that it is possible for us to ‘make up’ for sin, through the means which the Church calls ‘reparation’ – we ‘repair’ the damage done to our relationship with God and with our neighbour through all sorts of little acts. Such acts are not a magical slot machine – one act done, one sin forgiven. No. Rather, those acts, offered freely to the Lord, signify our change of heart (which the Church refers to as ‘conversion’) or our desire to make amends. It’s a bit like a husband who has upset or offended his wife in the morning before leaving home; thinking about this through the days, he recognises his error and determines to make amends; and so, he arrives home that evening having bought his wife beautiful flowers and he then makes a special dinner for her. None of those actions are magical, neither are they self-serving. Instead, they signify his change of heart, which follows his acknowledgement of his wrong actions earlier. And yet those same actions move the heart of his wife, who forgives him readily and moves forward in love with him. This is, I think, something of a pale refection of how out little acts of reparation work when it comes to God.

Fatima also reminded us that sin exists not only at the personal level, but also at the communal level. A nation can offend God as easily as a single person can do so. In the same way, that offended God asks of us restitution for this offence we – personally or communally – have presented to Him. If you doubt this, read the accounts of the Old Testament, especially those in the Book of Exodus. And although the world does not wish to hear it and descries loudly the expression of it, events take place in the world which are related to sin – either because they result from that sin (whether directly or indirectly), or because the Lord permits them to take place in punishment for sin, at those moments when we are forgetful of the need to willingly offer reparation.

After this, Fatima reminded us of the true presence of Jesus Christ in the Blessed Sacrament – indeed, there was a very strong Eucharistic element throughout all of the message of Fatima. This message began with an Angel speaking of the offences caused to the Lord in the Eucharist, even to the extent of teaching a prayer of reparation and asking for sacrifice to bolster that prayer.

Later, the Blessed Virgin would focus on this theme of sin and reparation. She would show the three children a brief vision of Hell – the ultimate reality of sin – and She taught them a prayer to ask the mercy of God for souls in need, asking this be prayed after each decade of the Rosary. She also taught them another prayer to be used whenever some little sacrifice was being made as an act of reparation.

Most notably, the Blessed Virgin gave us a very specific devotion, introducing it in this way –

“God wishes to establish in the world the devotion to My Immaculate Heart;
if what I say to you is done, many souls will be saved..”

This devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary was to take two precise forms.

The first form of the devotion was intended for the Church herself, to be undertaken by the pope in association with the Bishops of the world acting in unison with him – it was the Consecration of Russia to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. By this means, She promised the conversion of that nation and the arrival of peace. But She waned of the result if this request was not heeded – Russia would spread her errors throughout the world, causing wars and persecutions of the Church and the Holy Father, annihilating various nations along the way.

The second form of the devotion was intended for each and every one of us – it was the ‘Communions of Reparation’, also known popularly as ‘the Five First Saturdays devotion’. Undertaken on the first Saturday if five successive months, this little act of devotion and reparation is easily with the reach of every one of us, if only we will decide to fulfil what was asked of us all.

Throughout the message of Fatima, prayer was central – and especially the prayer of the holy Rosary. At each appearance, the Blessed Virgin asked that we “pray the Rosary every day”. There is nothing to prevent us doing as She asked, other than sheer wilfulness or outright disinterestedness.

These are the primary elements of which the message of Fatima is comprised, even if the popular culture tells us it is a message of doom and disaster; yes, the two play a part – but they must be seen as the effects and the results of our refusal to heed the deeper message.

In these days, when the world is in such. state of disarray and when peace – real peace – is sorely absent, perhaps this is a very good moment in which to once more familiarise ourselves with what the Blessed Virgin asked of us in Her appearances at Fatima. It is a message which is as pertinent and as relevant today as it was then, if not more so.


Catholic | Retired Nurse | UK

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: