For the past century, the path of the Church has been linked explicitly to the Fatima apparitions
October 13 – the centenary of the final Fatima apparition in 1917 and the Miracle of the Sun – will mark a second highpoint to the anniversary celebrations, the first of which was the canonisation of Jacinta and Francisco on May 13 in Fatima itself.
The world over there are special times of prayer planned, veneration of the Fatima statue, processions in the streets, and acts of consecration. Dioceses all over Britain have been making acts of consecration to the Immaculate Heart, beginning with Cardinal Vincent Nichols re-consecrating England and Wales – first done in 1948 – to the Immaculate Heart before the statue of Our Lady of Fatima as Westminster Cathedral.
The bishops of Canada collectively re-consecrated their country to the Immaculate Heart – first done in 1947 – at the end of September. And throughout the year, each bishop has consecrated his own diocese to the Immaculate Heart, and in many dioceses – such as my own – each pastor was asked to do so for his parish.
It would be impossible to measure, but given the increasing popularity of Marian consecration among the lay faithful in recent years – often following the 33-day period of preparation of St Louis de Montfort – the number of individual and family (re-) consecrations would be counted in the hundreds of thousands, if not millions, worldwide.
The Fatima centenary has highlighted that consecration to the Heart of Mary is a dominant aspect of Catholic piety, perhaps second only to devotion to the Divine Mercy, in our time. It has been led by the supreme pontiffs and embraced by the lay faithful.
Fatima and the request of Our Lady for consecration to her heart was first promoted by Venerable Pius XII, who was providentially ordained a bishop in the Sistine Chapel on the very day of the first apparition, May 13, 1917, and was buried in the crypt of St Peter’s Basilica on October 13, 1958.
On October 31, 1942, for the 25th anniversary of the apparitions, Pius consecrated the human race to the Immaculate Heart. In 1943, in his encyclical Mystici Corporis Christi (“On the Mystical Body of Christ”), Pius XII extolled Mary “to whose Immaculate Heart We have trustfully consecrated all mankind”. In 1944 he decreed that the feast of the Immaculate Heart be observed in the universal calendar, then assigned to August 22.
Paul VI would travel to Fatima for the 50th anniversary in 1967, and renew the consecration of Pius XII made in 1942, 25 years earlier. John Paul II, the pope mystically linked with Fatima, would make three trips, on the first anniversary of the May 13 assassination attempt, on the 10th anniversary, and in the Great Jubilee to give thanks to Our Lady of Fatima for saving his life that he might complete his mission of leading the Church into the third millennium.
John Paul would ask that the statue of Our Lady from the shrine in Fatima be brought to Rome in 1984 for a consecration of the whole world, in union with all the bishops of the Church. The statue would return to Rome in October 2000, when the Polish pope renewed the consecration during the Great Jubilee.
Pope Francis began in his pontificate in a similar way, asking that the statue be brought to St Peter’s for October 13, 2013, whereupon he renewed those earlier consecrations.
The path of the Church – indicated by her universal pastors – has been for 75 years linked explicitly to the Fatima apparitions. While Marian events throughout history in various parts of the world have been of immense regional importance, Fatima’s Marian impact on the entire Church is unrivalled since the Council of Ephesus in 431, at which Mary was declared Theotokos, Mother of God.
Perhaps it is because the apparitions at Fatima were explicitly, and unusually, historical. Our Lady spoke to the children about the deep meaning of history, the drama of evil and grace, sin and conversion that lies beneath the movements of politics, war and peace.
Mary’s drawing close at a particular moment in history has evoked a reciprocal response, with the ordinary piety of the people incorporating Fatima devotions – think of the Fatima prayer after the Gloria Patri in the rosary – into daily life.
The Fatima emphasis on the rosary, along with the October 13 miracle, has united Fatima with the Marian feast closest to that day, the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary, or Our Lady of Victory as it was originally called (October 7). St Pius V instituted the feast after the victory of the Christian forces at Lepanto, for which he had asked the entire Church to pray the rosary. The congruence between that historical moment and the prophecy at Fatima that “my Immaculate Heart will triumph” has heightened this October’s awareness of the Marian dimension in history’s battle between good and evil, foretold in Genesis and dramatically portrayed in Revelation.
Immaculate Heart of Mary, pray for us!
Fr Raymond J de Souza is a priest of the Archdiocese of Kingston, Ontario, and editor-in-chief of convivium.ca
This article first appeared in the October 13 2017 issue of the Catholic Herald. To read the magazine in full, from anywhere in the world, go here