The Angel Precursor
LUCY had just turned eight when her mother, in the spring of 1915, had entrusted her with taking care of the family flock. We are going back in time a little bit, to the period when Jacinta and Francisco, to their great sorrow, had still not obtained from their parents the favour of going together with their cousin.
To escape the excessively noisy group of little shepherds that almost always wanted to accompany her on the land – «I did not feel comfortable amid so much shouting», she writes – Lucy chose three companions: Teresa Matias, her sister Maria Rosa and Maria Justino. Teresa Matias related her memories to Father de Marchi:
«Lucy was very amusing. She had a way of getting the best out of us so that we liked to be with her. She was also very intelligent, and could dance and sing and taught us to do the same. We always obeyed her. We spent hours and hours dancing and singing and sometimes forgot to eat. As well as the hymns we used to sing in church I remember one to Our Lady of Mount Carmel which I still sing as I go about my work and which my children have already learned.»
It was in the company of these three friends, doubtless chosen for their great seriousness and their piety, that Lucy would be favoured three times, in a mysterious way, with the apparition of the angel.
I. A PRELUDE:
THE THREE APPARITIONS OF 1915
«From what I recall of the weather», Lucy notes, «I think that this must have happened between the months of April and October in the year 1915.» The little shepherds had led their sheep to the hill of the Cabeço:
«Together with our flocks, we climbed almost to the top of the hill. At our feet lay a wide expanse of trees – olives, oaks, pines, holm oaks, and so on. Around midday, we ate our lunch. After this, I invited my companions to pray the Rosary with me, to which they eagerly agreed.»
A MYSTERIOUS VISION. «We had hardly begun when, there before our eyes, we saw a figure poised in the air before the trees; it looked like a statue made of snow, rendered almost transparent by the rays of the sun.»
In another place, Lucy describes the same vision this way:
«I saw, poised in the air above the trees that stretched down to the valley which lay at our feet, what appeared to be a cloud in human form, and almost transparent.
«“What is that?”, asked my companions, quite frightened. “I don’t know!” We went on praying, with our eyes fixed on the figure before us, and as we finished our prayer, the figure disappeared.»
A MYSTERIOUS, BUT AUTHENTIC APPARITION. Later on, Lucy would recognize in this mysterious figure the same Angel that she was to contemplate again in 1916. But this first time, the luminous figure, which appeared from afar off, neither spoke nor even manifested itself very distinctly. «He dared not manifest himself openly at that time», wrote Lucy. A startling vision, which is however solidly attested, for the three companions of Lucy told about it right away, and thus the fact became known to the village:
«I resolved to say nothing, but my companions told their families what had happened the very moment they reached home. The news soon spread, and one day when I arrived home, my mother questioned me: “Look here! They say you’ve seen I don’t know what, up there. What was it you saw?” “I don’t know”, and as I could not explain it myself, I went on: “It looked like a person wrapped in a sheet!” As l meant to say that I couldn’t discern its features, I added: “You couldn’t make out any eyes, or hands, on it.” My mother put an end to the whole matter with a gesture of disgust: “Childish nonsense!”»
Basing themselves on the clumsy expressions used by the seers to describe the apparition, the adversaries of Fatima wished to see in this only a «banal hallucination». But this convenient hypothesis has no foundation. In fact the very rare examples that the psychiatry manuals usually give to illustrate the vague and imprecise notion of “collective hallucination”, have nothing in common with the testimony of Lucy and her three companions. Here there is no physical exhaustion, no anxious waiting for the saving image to finally appear, no suggestive influence of one of the seers over the others, no divergence in the description of the object contemplated, in short, none of the characteristics of collective hallucination.1
On the contrary, the astonishment of the children before a vision that they are not able to identify and whose significance they do not understand, instead proves its certain objectivity. It is the opposite of the hallucinatory process by which the mental illness (for hallucination never takes place without a psychological disorder), unduly confers real existence to its overexcited phantasms of the senses or will. Here, the seers do not say: «We have seen an angel!» No, they saw «something» which, in their inadequate childish language, they had a good deal of difficulty in describing. They do it so clumsily that they become the laughingstock of those around them. And yet, they will say that two other times they saw the same mysterious being, «having a human form»:
«After some time, we returned with our flocks to the same place, and the very same thing happened again. My companions once more told the whole story. After a brief interval, the same thing was repeated. It was the third time that my mother heard all these things being talked about outside, without my having said a single word about them at home. She called me, therefore, quite displeased, and demanded: “Now let us see! What is it that you girls say you saw over there?” “I don’t know, mother. I don’t know what it is!”
«Some people started making fun of us. As I had become a little reserved for a while since my First Communion, remembering what had happened, my sisters with a little scorn asked: “Do you see someone wrapped in a sheet?”»
Already in 1917 Canon Formigao had taken down the testimony of Maria Rosa, who remembered the affair.2 In the 1960’s, the three companions of Sister Lucy were interrogated by Father Kondor, and later on by Father Alonso. Each time, they confirmed the account of the Memoirs of Lucy in all its details.
Mysterious and puzzling as they are, these three apparitions are not therefore any less certainly authentic. What then can their significance be, since the Angel did not transmit any message that year?
A SECOND “DIVINE TOUCH”. The events which followed allow us to understand. God had chosen His messenger, and began to prepare her for her future mission by her first mystical graces, and by the veiled announcement of great sufferings.
After the smile of Our Lady, this new “divine touch”, this silent “contact” with the supernatural world had to contribute to sanctifying her soul. «This apparition», Lucy writes, «left an impression on my mind that I cannot explain.» It had lasted as long as the recitation of the Rosary. Nevertheless, «little by little», Lucy continues, «this impression disappeared and I believe that with time I would have completely forgotten it, had it not been for the events which followed.» In the divine plan, however, it was only a simple prelude.
THE TRIAL OF SUFFERING. For the future seer, it was also a first and sorrowful trial. Already she was learning what it costs “to have visions” and to be the confidante of Heaven. Far from profiting from it, from finding herself exalted and adulated, she lost everything that made up her childhood happiness. She had been loved and cherished by all her family; now she lost their confidence and affection. Speaking of the derision of her mother and her sisters, Lucy insists: «I felt these contemptuous words and gestures very keenly, as up to now I had been used to nothing but caresses. But this was nothing, really. You see, I did not know what the good Lord had in store for me in the future.» The poignant drama that the second Memoir relates for us had just begun: crosses and family trials and loneliness went together with the increasing favours of Heaven.
Yet from this announcement, imperceptible and veiled as it was, the intelligent and prudent Lucy was to draw a very practical lesson: during the apparitions of 1916 and 1917, she would always seek to be quiet whenever possible, only revealing to others the bare minimum.
A year later, the angel would manifest himself again three more times, but now it would be to the three privileged ones of Our Lady, and in all clarity. He came as Precursor to instruct and prepare them to receive and understand the great message of the Queen of Angels, which they were soon to live and transmit.
II. THE MESSAGE OF THE ANGEL:
THE THREE APPARITIONS OF 1916
«Around this time Francisco and Jacinta sought and obtained permission from their parents to start taking care of their own flock. So I left my good companions, and I joined my cousins, Francisco and Jacinta, instead. To avoid going to the serra with all the other shepherds, we arranged to pasture our flocks on properties belonging to my uncle and aunt and my parents.»
It was when the trio had been reunited that the three great angelic manifestations took place, in the spring, summer and fall of 1916. «The dates I cannot set down with certainty», Lucy writes, «because at that time I did not know how to reckon the years, the months, or even the days of the week.» However, by remembering the weather outside, she was able to indicate the season when each of the three apparitions took place. Lucy had just turned nine, Francisco was barely eight, and Jacinta was only six years old.
«I AM THE ANGEL OF PEACE»
This morning, our three shepherds had led their sheep to the east side of the Cabeço. Here is Sister Lucy’s description of the events:3
«Around the middle of the morning, a fine rain began to fall, so fine that it seemed like mist. We went up the hillside, followed by our flocks, looking for an overhanging boulder where we could take shelter. Thus it was for the first time that we entered this blessed hollow among the rocks. It stood in the middle of an olive grove belonging to my godfather Anastacio. From there, you could see the little village where I was born, my parents’ home and the hamlets of Casa Velha and Eira da Pedra.4
«We spent the day there among the rocks, in spite of the fact that the rain was over and the sun was shining bright and clear. We ate our lunch and said our Rosary. I’m not sure if it was said in the way I have already described, saying just the words “Hail Mary” and “Our Father” on each bead, so great was our eagerness to get to our play! Our prayer finished, we started to play “pebbles”!»
“A YOUNG MAN WHITER THAN SNOW.” «We had enjoyed the game for a few moments only, when a strong wind began to shake the trees. We looked up, startled, to see what was happening, for the day was unusually calm.
«Then we saw coming towards us, above the olive trees, the figure I have already spoken about. Jacinta and Francisco had never seen it before, nor had I ever mentioned it to them. As it drew closer, we were able to distinguish its features. It was a young man, about fourteen or fifteen years old, whiter than snow, transparent as crystal when the sun shines through it, and of great beauty.»
“PRAY WITH ME.” «We were surprised, absorbed, and struck dumb with amazement. On reaching us, he said:
«Do not be afraid! I am the Angel of Peace. Pray with me.»
«Kneeling on the ground, he bowed down until his forehead reached the ground. Led by a supernatural impulse, we did the same, and repeated the words which we heard him say:
«My God, I believe, I adore, I hope and I love You! I ask pardon of You for those who do not believe, do not adore, do not hope and do not love You!»
«Having repeated these words three times, he rose and said:
«Pray thus. The Hearts of Jesus and Mary are attentive to the voice of your supplications.»
«Then he disappeared.»
FROM SIMPLE FAITH TO THE GRANDIOSE VISION. While tending their sheep, Lucia, Jacinta and Francisco loved to sing this beautiful verse in honour of the angels:
«Holy Angels, sing with me!
Holy Angels, sing with me!
I cannot give thanks enough,
Holy Angels, do it for me.»
Is it not touching to see the Angel making the same request of them in turn: “Pray with me”? What a marvellous response.
The devotion to the Holy Angels was very much alive in Portugal at that time; thus the celestial spirits were far from being unknown to our three shepherds. Morning and evening they invoked their Guardian Angel by a short prayer: «Praised be our Guardian Angel who watches over us night and day. May he always be in our company!»5
What a difference however, between their simple faith, their family devotion, and the grandiose reality of the Apparition! The descriptions Sister Lucy has given to us are more reminiscent of the biblical theophanies than the way these things are depicted in classical religious art. As at Horeb, when it was given to Elijah to enter into the presence of God, as at the Cenacle, at the moment when the divine Spirit descended on the Apostles, or finally at Massabielle, when the Immaculate Conception came to visit Bernadette, it is by a sudden and mysterious wind that the Angel of Fatima announced his approach.6 «You make the winds your messengers, you walk on the wings of the wind», says the psalmist in speaking to the Master of Creation. (Ps. 104:3)
Again, what could be more in harmony with the great tradition of the apparitions of Angels than the first words of the Angel of Fatima: «Fear not! I am the angel of peace»? They sound just like the words of the Gospel. In the temple of Jerusalem, in the house of Nazareth, or in the fields of Bethlehem, as at the entrance to the tomb of Jesus, the presence of the Angel always fills the witnesses with astonishment, and he must first reassure them. «Fear not!» he says to Zachary and the Blessed Virgin, to the shepherds on the night of the Nativity, and to the holy women on the morning of the Resurrection.
As for his appearance, Sister Lucy affirms that he resembled a young man, of great beauty, around fourteen or fifteen years old, whiter than snow and resplendent with a crystal-clear light, so much so that when Canon Barthas asked, «What was he like?» she summed up her response in this laconic expression: «Era de luz. He was of light.» Here also is a completely biblical expression. The Angel who announced the resurrection of Christ, relates St. Matthew, had an appearance as of lightning, and his raiment was white as snow. (Mt. 28:3) And the same Evangelist, describing Our Lord transfigured on Tabor says: «His face shone like the sun, and His garments became white as snow.» (Mt. 17:12)
«God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all» (1 Jn. 1:5), and whenever He deigns to manifest Himself to men, by the ministry of Angels or the mediation of His Holy Mother, He appears to us clothed in splendour, according to the beautiful verses of the Psalm: «O Lord, my God, Thou art very great! Clothed with honour and majesty, arrayed with light as with a cloak.» (Ps. 104:1-2) At Fatima, after each of the apparitions (which moreover always took place at noon, as is also remarkable), this word “Light” always comes back to the lips of the seers.
THE OVERWHELMING DIVINE PRESENCE. To this sparkling light which sometimes became dazzling, corresponds the intensity of the supernatural atmosphere, the overwhelming weight of the divine Presence which leaves the natural faculties inhibited, almost paralyzed.
«The supernatural atmosphere which enveloped us, Sister Lucy writes, was so intense that for a long time we were scarcely aware of our own existence, remaining in the same posture in which he had left us, and continually repeating the same prayer. The presence of God made itself felt so intimately and so intensely that we did not even venture to speak to one another. Next day, we were still immersed in this spiritual atmosphere, which only gradually began to disappear.
«It did not occur to us to speak about this apparition, nor did we think of recommending that it be kept secret. The very apparition itself imposed secrecy. It was so intimate, that it was not possible to speak of it at all. The impression it made upon us was all the greater perhaps, in that it was the first such manifestation we had experienced.»7
Sister Lucy tells us that Francisco did not I have the privilege of hearing the words of the Angel; the others had to repeat them to him. The same was true of all the other apparitions. However, we can say that he was favoured with the essential: the heavenly vision and the infused graces which this imparted to their souls. For the Angel did not come merely to speak with them, he also came to fill them with a very elevated mystical grace, by which they felt themselves penetrated by the Divine Presence. «This apparition of the Angel, and everything that he said and did was so intimate, so interior, so intense.» 8 Besides being the Messenger of God, the Angel also seems to have been for them the one who mediated and revealed the Divine Presence.9
The Presence of God is something stupendous, even crushing, for our feeble human faculties. But this «annihilation before the Divine Presence», to use the expression of Sister Lucy, was for the three future messengers of Our Lady the surest school of true and profound humility, which is first of all the intimate knowledge of the infinite sanctity of God and the nothingness of the creature.
In addition to the message which the seers began to put in practice right away – «from then on, we used to spend long periods of time, prostrate like the Angel, repeating his words, until sometimes we fell, exhausted» – the visit of the Angel also obtained for them intimate graces of peace and joy in God: «the peace and happiness which we felt were great, but wholly interior, for our souls were completely immersed in God. The physical weakness that came over us was also great.»
Make no mistake, however; after a few days our little shepherds recovered along with their normal state, their customary gaiety as well as their games and chants. The extraordinary mystical graces they had just received did not metamorphosize them into adults overnight. No, they remained true children, and at that age (nine, eight and six!) one passes with disconcerting rapidity from one pastime to another! And so they quickly resumed their lives as young shepherds, doubtless with more piety, but without anything apparently to distinguish them from the other children of Aljustrel.
This secret grace, knowledge of which they jealously kept to themselves, reinforced still more their supernatural friendship, and prepared them to receive together new visits from their heavenly teacher...
«I AM THE ANGEL OF PORTUGAL»
«We chose this spot some years later for our more intimate talks, our fervent prayers, and... our tears as well – and sometimes very bitter tears they were. We mingled our tears with the water of the same well from which we drank. Does this not make the well itself an image of Mary, in whose Heart we dried out tears and drank of the purest consolation?»
“AT THE HEIGHT OF SUMMER.” «The second apparition must have been at the height of summer, when the heat of the day was so intense that we had to take the sheep home before noon and only let them out again in the early evening. We went to spend the siesta hours in the shade of the trees which surrounded the well that I have already mentioned several times.10»
PRAYER AND SACRIFICE. «We were playing on the well. Suddenly, we saw the same Angel right beside us.»
«What are you doing? Pray, pray very much! The Holy Hearts of Jesus and Mary have designs of mercy on you. Offer prayers and sacrifices constantly to the Most High.»
«“How are we to make sacrifices?” I asked.»
«Make of everything you can a sacrifice, and offer it to God as an act of reparation for the sins by which He is offended, and in supplication for the conversion of sinners.
«You will thus draw down peace upon your country. I am its Angel Guardian, the Angel of Portugal.
«Above all, accept and bear with submission the suffering which the Lord will send you.»
FROM HOREB TO THE CABEÇO. One must read and reread these accounts of the apparitions of the Angel, to appreciate their conciseness and limpidity, as well as the nobility in all the requests and attitudes. We do not find in them an ounce of vulgarity, nothing incongruous, childish or banal. Nor is there anything emphatic or artificial, which would betray the voice of a theologian. No, there are nothing but profound truths, expressed simply, with vigour.
Since the words of the Angel, pronounced during each of his three apparitions, form a whole, perfectly coherent, later on we will look more closely at the most important parts of this angelic catechesis.
Let us consider here a tiny detail, which is reminiscent of the great biblical theophanies. It is the interpellation, so abrupt and eloquent, that the Angel addresses to the children while they are playing. They are found word for word in the book of Kings, when the Voice of God spoke to Elijah, at Mount Horeb: «What are you doing, Elijah?» (1 Kg. 19:9 & 13) It was the same with the seers of Fatima: «What are you doing? Pray! Pray much!»
The lesson was not in vain. In the autumn, when he came for the last time, to distribute to them the Bread of Angels, the children were no longer playing, but prostrate on the ground, repeating the prayer which the Angel had taught them.
“THE ANGEL IS MORE BEAUTIFUL THAN ALL THAT!” Francisco himself, who could not hear his words and could only understand them with difficulty when Lucy repeated them, was captivated by the beauty of the Angel and the intensity of the supernatural light which accompanied it. Here is the moving account:
«At the second apparition of the Angel, down by the well, Francisco waited a few moments after it was over, then asked:
«“You spoke to the Angel. What did he say to you?” “Didn’t you hear?” “No. I could see that he was talking to you. I heard what you said to him, but what he said to you, I don’t know.”
«As the supernatural atmosphere in which the Angel left us had not yet entirely disappeared, I told him to ask Jacinta or myself next day. “Jacinta, you tell me what the Angel said.” “I’ll tell you tomorrow. Today I can’t talk about it.”
«Next day, as soon as he came up to me, he asked me: “Did you sleep last night? I kept thinking about the Angel, and what he could have said.” I then told him all that the Angel had said at the first and second apparitions. But it seemed that he had not received an understanding of all that the words meant, for he asked: “Who is the Most High? What is the meaning of: ‘The Hearts of Jesus and Mary are attentive to the voice of your supplications...?”
«Having received an answer, he remained deep in thought for a while, and then broke in with another question. But my mind was not yet free, so I told him to wait until the next day, because at that moment I was unable to speak! He waited quite contentedly, but he did not let slip the very next opportunity of asking more questions. This made Jacinta say to him: “Listen! We shouldn’t talk much about these things.”
«When we spoke about the Angel, I don’t know what it was that we felt. “I don’t know how I feel”, Jacinta said. “I can no longer talk, or sing, or play. I haven’t enough strength for anything.” “Neither have I”, replied Francisco, “but what of it? The Angel is more beautiful than all this. Let’s think about him.”»
THE ANGEL OF THE EUCHARIST
«The third apparition must have taken place in October, or towards the end of September, as we were no longer returning for siesta.» On this day the three shepherds had pastured their flocks at the Pregueira, a small olive grove which belonged to the dos Santos, on the south side of the Cabeço.
«After our lunch, we decided to go and pray in the hollow among the rocks on the opposite side of the hill.11 To get there, we went around the slope, and had to climb over some rocks above the Pregueira. The sheep could only scramble over these rocks with great difficulty.
«As soon as we arrived there, we knelt down, with our foreheads touching the ground, and began to repeat the prayer of the Angel: “My God, I believe, I adore, I hope and I love You...”
«I don't know how many times we repeated this prayer, when an extraordinary light shone upon us. We sprang up to see what was happening, and beheld the Angel. He was holding a chalice in his left hand, with the Host suspended above it, from which some drops of Blood fell into the chalice.
«Leaving the Chalice and the Host suspended in the air, the Angel knelt down beside us and made us repeat three times:
«Most Holy Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, I offer You the most precious Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ, present in all the tabernacles of the world, in reparation for the sacrileges, outrages and indifference by which He Himself is offended. And through the infinite merits of His most Sacred Heart, and the Immaculate Heart of Mary, I beg of You the conversion of poor sinners.»
«Then, rising, he took the Chalice and the Host in his hands. He gave the Sacred Host to me, and shared the Blood from the Chalice between Jacinta and Francisco, saying as he did so:
«Take and drink the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, horribly outraged by ungrateful men! Make reparation for their crimes and console your God.»
«Once again, he prostrated on the ground and repeated with us, three times more, the same prayer, “Most Holy Trinity...”, and then disappeared.
«Moved by a supernatural force which enveloped us, we had imitated the Angel in everything, that is, we prostrated as he did and repeated the prayers that he said...
«We remained a long time in this position, repeating the same words over and over again.
«It was Francisco who realized that it was getting dark, and drew our attention to the fact, and thought we should take our flocks back home.»
“I FELT THAT GOD WAS IN ME.” There is a very clear gradation in the apparitions of the Angel, and the third, which was spent entirely in the miraculous Communion given to the seers, truly marks the high point. On that day they had a sort of “Eucharistic theophany”, during which it was given to them to contemplate the drops of Precious Blood falling from the Sacred Host into the chalice.
Lucy insists again this time on the state of physical exhaustion in which the angelic apparition plunged them:
«In the third apparition, the presence of the supernatural was still more intense. For several days, even Francisco did not dare to talk. He said later on, “I love to see the Angel, but the trouble is that later on, we are incapable of doing anything. I could not even walk any more, I didn’t know what was the matter!”»
It was a grace so sublime, and so intimate, that Francisco, all absorbed in God, did not have a clear consciousness of the mystical grace that he had received and felt in a confused way:
«Once the first few days were over, and we had returned to normal, Francisco asked: “The Angel gave you Holy Communion, but what was it that he gave to Jacinta and me?” “It was Holy Communion, too”, replied Jacinta, with inexpressible joy. “Didn’t you see that it was the Blood that fell from the Host?” “I felt that God was within me, but I did not know how.”
«Then, prostrating on the ground, he and his sister remained for a long time, saying over and over again the prayer of the Angel: “Most Holy Trinity...”»
III. A LIVING CATECHISM
When after some time the supernatural atmosphere in which the visits of the Angel had plunged them disappeared, there remained for the three seers, along with the durable fruits of such sublime mystical graces, a clear message, fully adapted to their understanding, summed up in the pressing recommendation of the Angel of Arneiro [this refers to the name of the property where the family well was located]: “Offer without ceasing prayers and sacrifices to the Most High!” Without delaying, they would soon put it into practice with a marvellous generosity, thus preparing their hearts without knowing it for the still greater graces which Our Lady was reserving for them.
THEIR HEROIC PRAYER. “Pray! Pray a great deal!” the Angel had said to them. But he had added a gesture to these words and given them the example. They felt moved to imitate him, repeating unceasingly, prostrate on the ground like him, the two beautiful prayers he had taught them. This would be their first act of mortification, which they carried even to the point of heroism:
«From this moment on (summer 1916), writes Sister Lucy, we had begun to offer to the Lord everything that mortified us, but without looking to impose particular penances on ourselves, except to pass entire hours prostrated on the ground, repeating the prayer which the Angel had taught us...» «We remained prostrate a long time, sometimes repeating these prayers even to the point of exhaustion.»
Sometimes poor Francisco could go on no longer:
«Afterwards, when we prostrated to say that prayer, he was the first to feel the strain of such a posture; but he remained kneeling, or sitting, and still praying until we had finished. Later he said: “I am not able to stay like that for a long time, like you. My back aches so much that I can’t do it.”»
THE NOVITIATE OF SUFFERING. However, it was God Himself who would send His chosen ones the most meritorious sacrifices. In reading the Memoirs of Sister Lucy it becomes clear that the overwhelming trials that were to overcome her family coincided almost exactly with the time of the first apparitions. Little by little, the family atmosphere grew more unhappy, and this was all the more painful for the seer because until then she had known unalloyed joy in the midst of her family that she tenderly cherished, and which cherished her in return. The sorrow of her mother (and here we see the generosity of her filial love), would intimately affect her:
«During this period, my two eldest sisters left home, after receiving the sacrament of matrimony. My father had fallen into bad company, and let his weakness get the better of him; this meant the loss of some of our property. When my mother realized that our means of livelihood were diminishing, she resolved to send my two sisters, Gloria and Caroline, to work as servants. At home, there remained only my brother, to look after our few remaining fields; my mother to take care of the house; and myself, to take our sheep out to pasture.
«My poor mother seemed just drowned in the depths of distress. When we gathered round the fire at night time, waiting for my father to come in to supper, my mother would look at her daughters’ empty places and exclaim with profound sadness: “My God, where has all the joy of our home gone?” Then, resting her head on a little table beside her, she would burst into bitter tears. My brother and I wept with her. It was one of the saddest scenes I have ever witnessed. What with longing for my sisters, and seeing my mother so miserable, I felt my heart was just breaking.»
All the more so when a new trial came on the horizon:
«At that time my brother Manuel reached the age for enlistment in the army. Since his health was excellent, there was every reason to expect that he would be drafted. Besides, there was a war on and it would be difficult to obtain his exemption from military service.»
It was a new source of distress for poor Maria Rosa.
«Although I was only a child, I understood perfectly the situation we were in. Then I remembered the Angel’s words: “Above all, accept submissively the sacrifices that the Lord will send you.” At such times, I used to withdraw to a solitary place, so as not to add to my mother’s suffering, by letting her see my own. This place, usually, was our well. There, on my knees, leaning over the edge of the stone slabs that covered the well, my tears mingled with the water below, and I offered my suffering to God. Sometimes, Jacinta and Francisco would come and find me like this, in bitter grief. As my voice was choked with sobs and I couldn’t say a word, they shared my suffering to such a degree that they also wept copious tears.»
These hard trials did not leave the seers overwhelmed; the Angel had announced these sufferings to the children, and he had invited them to offer their sufferings, in reparation for the sins of men, for the consolation of God, and the conversion of sinners. By an infused grace, the words of the Angel had penetrated very profoundly into their souls:
«These words were indelibly impressed upon our minds. They were like a light which made us understand who God is, how He loves us and desires to be loved, the value of sacrifice, how pleasing it is to Him and how, on account of it, He gives the grace of conversion to sinners. It was for this reason that we began, from then on, to offer to the Lord all that mortified us...»
Thanks to the ministry of the Angel, who had become their teacher and catechist, the shepherds learned to pray and offer their sacrifices. Sanctified by the Bread of Angels, they were ready from then on to welcome the Queen of Heaven, and bear witness to Her apparitions and message even to the point of heroism.
As for the apparitions of the Angel, because they were above all destined for the sanctification of their souls, moved by grace they kept them rigorously secret.
IV. A CATECHESIS FOR OUR TIMES
A PROPHETIC MESSAGE? The message of the Angel, which was destined in the first place for the three seers, was not to remain forever reserved for them alone. When the moment came that it could be understood in the great light of the message of Our Lady, and situated in its rightful place in the revelations of Fatima, Sister Lucy felt supernaturally moved to make it known. She wrote a detailed account of these apparitions in 1937, in her second Memoir.12 This was done to make it understood that the Angelic words were destined for us also...
For our part we must meditate on these wonderful words and profit by them. Even before considering the unheard of miracles by which God Himself guaranteed the whole of the message and indicated to us its primordial importance, the words of the Angel impress themselves on our attention because of their own content. By their simplicity and their great richness, by their doctrine, so traditional and yet so fresh and original, and in their clear accentuation of certain aspects of dogma, they already demonstrate their supernatural origin. This message, so sober in its expression and burning with love in its content, could not have been invented by any human imagination, not by any theologian, or even by the seer herself. It can only be a heavenly message, «the language of the angels», as St. Joan of Arc said. When St. Joan was asked, «How did you know that it was St. Michael that appeared to you?» she answered, «I knew it by his manner of speaking and the language of the Angels.»13
At Fatima, the words of the Angel, brief as they are, already present themselves as a first formulation, a first synthesis of the unique message, which constitutes for our century a condensation of the Gospel, or better still, by its precise and dogmatic character, a catechism, perfectly adapted to our times of apostasy. So true is this that it sometimes appears, as we will see, quasi prophetic.
With our three shepherds, «let us become little children again», according to the Gospel, and let us be taught by the Messenger of Heaven.
THE SANCTITY OF THE MOST HIGH
The Angel reminds us first of all of the greatness, the adorable sanctity of our God. From the Angel’s very first visit, right after he reassured the children, who were seized with fear and astonishment by the sight of his glittering light, the Angel «knelt on the earth and bowed his forehead to the ground», to pray to God. Preaching by his example, having prostrated himself in this way he pronounced three times the beautiful “theological prayer”, composed of acts of faith, hope and charity, to which is added an act of adoration.
In the autumn, before the Chalice and Host suspended in mid-air, the Angel bowed down to the ground and his first words are again an act of adoration: «Most Holy Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, I adore You profoundly...» After distributing Communion to the children, he bowed down again. At Lourdes, Bernadette had learned through a supernatural mimicry, how to make a beautiful and worthy sign of the cross like the Blessed Virgin; here, the children learned from the Angel for all times this gesture of adoration: «Moved by the supernatural force which enveloped us, we imitated the Angel in everything», writes Lucy; «that is, we bowed down like him and repeated the same prayers that he said.»
«Our Father... hallowed be Thy name... on earth as it is in Heaven!» In Heaven, such as it was granted to St. John to contemplate: «all the angels stood round the throne... they fell on their faces before the throne and worshipped God...» (Apoc. 7:11) In the hour of His agony, Jesus Himself «fell down on the ground and prayed». (Mk. 14:35) «He knelt down and prayed», St. Luke tells us (Lk. 22:41). Fatima recalls the Gospel to us: God is Holy, He wishes to be adored.14 What a lesson for modern man who, in his foolish pride and self-worship, refuses to bend the knee before his God!
THE HOLY TRINITY. This God that the Angel adores is the only true God, revealed by Jesus Christ and taught by the Holy Catholic Church, the One and Triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. If one of the two prayers taught by the Angel is explicitly addressed to the Holy Trinity, the Angel venerates the Trinity in another way also, discreetly, but in conformity with the liturgical tradition of the Church, by his triple Kyrie, his triple Sanctus. In the spring, he repeats three times the prayer, «My God, I believe...» In the autumn, he repeats the Trinitarian prayer of Eucharistic offering three times before distributing Communion to the children and three times afterwards. Certainly it is not by chance either that the Angel appeared three times in 1915 and three times in 1916.
The shepherds well remembered this angelic lesson when, on May 13, 1917, in their mystical joy at seeing themselves transformed in God, they exclaimed spontaneously: «O Most Holy Trinity, I adore Thee! My God, my God, I love Thee in the Most Blessed Sacrament!» This presence of the mystery of the Holy Trinity would culminate at Tuy, on June 13, 1929, in the stupendous Trinitarian vision which completed and crowned the cycle of the apparitions of Fatima.
This insistence is more urgent than ever now, when an extravagant ecumenism pretends to reduce our faith in God to the cold, anti-Christ and anti-Trinitarian monotheism of Judaism and Islam.
THE UNIQUE MEDIATION OF THE HOLY HEARTS OF JESUS AND MARY
Another remarkable fact is that in each of the three apparitions, the Angel already mentions the Holy Hearts of Jesus and Mary, as though linked to one another by an indissoluble union. The account of the first apparition even presents a striking phrase which seems to have been hardly noticed. After having taught this completely God-centred prayer, «My God, I believe, I adore, I hope and I love You», the Angel added: «Pray thus. The Hearts of Jesus and Mary are attentive to the voice of your supplications.» We pray to God, and it is the Holy Hearts of Jesus and Mary that hear and answer our prayers! How could it better express the truth that we can only go to God and please Him by this unique and universal mediation?
Similarly, in the summer of 1916, when the Angel announces to the three seers their future vocation, it is the Holy Hearts of Jesus and Mary that appear in the foreground as the inseparable mediators of the «Father of Mercies», the unique author of all predestination: «The Holy Hearts of Jesus and Mary», he tells them, «have designs of Mercy on you.»
Finally the third time, in the prayer of Eucharistic offering, it is by «the infinite merits of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary» that the Angel begs «the conversion of poor sinners» of the Holy Trinity.
With this constant thought of the mediation of the Holy Hearts of Jesus and Mary, we are already at the very centre of the Message of Fatima.
SIN AND REPARATION
Another truth of faith, less and less well known, which the Angel of Fatima recalls with insistence, is the extreme gravity of sin and the necessity to make reparation through love. It is remarkable that in each of the three apparitions he recommends a reparatory practice: first prayer, then sacrifice, and finally the Eucharistic offering and the Communion of reparation.
PRAYER OF REPARATION. The first message of the Angel is completely summed up in the prayer which he taught the children. Besides being an act of faith, hope and charity, and a prayer of adoration, it is at the same time a reparatory supplication: it invites us to consider the immense injury done to God by all those who do not believe in Him, do not adore Him, do not hope in Him and do not love Him. It also places before our eyes the immensity of the sins of men. For all these faults, reparation must be made. How is this done? By asking pardon in the name of sinners, in substituting oneself for them to obtain mercy for them: «I ask pardon of You for those who do not believe, do not adore, do not hope and do not love You.»
THE SACRIFICE OF REPARATION. The apparition of the Angel at the well of Lucy’s family, in the summer of 1916, is completely devoted to teaching the children the practice of sacrifice, offered in reparation to God for «the sins by which He is offended». Let us cite once again this essential message, to which will soon be added the teaching of Our Lady on reparation to Her Immaculate Heart. The Fatima doctrine of reparation, taken as a whole, shows a perfect and complete equilibrium. It is first of all to the “Most High”, to God our Father, outraged by our sins, that we must address our acts of reparation:
«Offer unceasingly prayers and sacrifices to the Most High... Make of everything you can a sacrifice, and offer it to God as an act of reparation for the sins by which He is offended, and in supplication for the conversion of sinners... Above all, accept and bear with submission the suffering which the Lord will send you.
«These words were indelibly impressed upon our minds. They were like a light which made us understand who God is, how He loves us and desires to be loved, the value of sacrifice, how pleasing it is to Him and how, on account of it, He grants the grace of conversion to sinners.»
THE PERFECT ACT OF REPARATION: THE EUCHARISTIC OFFERING. With the prayer of offering which he taught the children and the Holy Communion he distributed to them, the mystery of the Holy Eucharist is the principal revelation of the last apparition of the Angel.
The sins for which he invites us to make reparation are «the outrages, sacrileges and indifference» with regard to Jesus, «present in all the tabernacles of the earth». How can we not be struck by the strong tenor of the words he pronounces while distributing Holy Communion to the children: «Take and drink the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, horribly outraged by ungrateful men. Repair their crimes and console your God.» Indeed, what gravity there is in these offences against Jesus in the sacrament of His Love!
Two years after the death of St. Pius X, who had worked so hard for the development of the cult of the Eucharist in the Church, one might have thought them excessive. But in the last twenty years, however, the truth of these words has been striking!
The beautiful reparatory prayer itself, then, becomes more relevant than ever. It is an offering to the Father, in the Holy Spirit, of Jesus present in all the tabernacles of the earth. The faithful soul thus unites itself spiritually to Jesus Christ, offering Himself at Mass, as the unique Priest and unique Victim, in a sacrifice of satisfaction and propitiation for the salvation of the multitude. Of course, it is in His unique and perfect Person as the Son of God and Saviour, that He offers Himself for us to His Father. Recalling the diverse Realities whose Presence we affirm in the tabernacle, far from being an enumeration of cold scholasticism, evokes on the contrary, in an expressive way, His sorrowful Passion: His Body delivered up for us, His Blood poured out, His Soul in agony and as it were abandoned by God, and finally His Divinity, which pardons and has mercy.15
This sacrificial character is reinforced still more by an important aspect of the vision: the children could contemplate some drops of the Precious Blood flowing from the Sacred Host and falling into the chalice. This is of capital importance for the theologians themselves, often disposed to minimize the realism, both of the bodily presence of Jesus as well as the Sacrificial Act of the Mass. The vision at the Cabeço, on the contrary, expresses them forcefully.16
To sum up, to the infinite merits of the Sacred Heart of Jesus we join those of the Immaculate Heart of Mary His Mother, our Mediatrix and Co-Redemptrix, to offer them together to the Heavenly Father and obtain from Him the conversion of sinners. What theological riches there are in this brief formula of prayer!
THE COMMUNION OF REPARATION. After the offering of the Eucharistic Heart of Jesus to the Heavenly Father, the Angel teaches the children the practice of the Communion of reparation, which Our Lord had already requested so insistently of St. Margaret Mary. The angelic formula, so expressive, ought to be learned by heart: «Take and drink the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, horribly outraged by ungrateful men. Repair their crimes and console your God.»
This formula, first of all, has a remarkable theological precision: Lucy shall receive the Host, and Jacinta and Francisco the Blood of the Chalice, but to all three the Angel says: «Take and drink the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ», to show that whoever communicates under either species, receives Jesus Christ whole and entire, His Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity.
It also brings to mind, in striking fashion, how Jesus is outraged in the sacrament of His Love. And along the lines of the message of Paray-le-Monial, it shows us that the most excellent, the most perfect expiation we can make for these “indifferences” and “crimes”, is to go to Communion in the spirit of reparation, to “console our God”. This practice is so important that Our Lady will ask for it again with more precise details at Pontevedra, December 10, 1925.
«SUFFER THE LITTLE CHILDREN TO COME TO ME!»
Here is still another important aspect of the message of Fatima: the prayers, penances, and above all Communions of little children are very precious in the eyes of God. They have a great value for Him to console His outraged Heart, to repair the crimes and ingratitude of sinners, and finally to obtain from His Mercy the grace of their conversion.
SAINT PIUS X AND FATIMA. And in the first place, had not the Angel come to bring a heavenly confirmation to the recent decision of St. Pius X on the subject of early Communion for children?17 The liberating decree Quam singulari Christus had been published on August 8, 1910, but it met with an obstinate resistance in a certain part of the clergy. The good Father Cruz and Father Pena, by granting Lucy in 1913 permission to make her First Communion at the age of six, were only docilely applying the directives of St. Pius X.
However, the new parish priest at Fatima, Father Manuel Marques Ferreira, like many priests at the time, was still tinged with the remains of Jansenism. He did not want to hear of First Communion before the age of ten. In the autumn of 1916, Jacinta had just turned six and a half and her brother Francisco eight, and Father Ferreira still did not want to admit either one to the Holy Table. In the spring of 1918, he would refuse to admit Francisco, on the pretext that he did not know the answer to a catechism question. But Heaven had already judged otherwise; Jacinta and Francisco, without the knowledge of their parish priest, had already made their First Communion!
A REAL COMMUNION. In fact, although they had never dared to go to Communion in Church without the authorization of their parish priest, Jacinta and Francisco were sure that they had truly received Communion from the hand of the Angel, at the Cabeço. Although extraordinary and miraculous, their Communion was none the less real, as Lucy has always affirmed without hesitation. «Do you think you really communicated that day as at the Holy Table?» Canon Barthas asked her. «I think so», she answered, «because I felt the contact of the Host as in ordinary Communions.»18
As for where this Host and consecrated Chalice came from, it would undoubtedly be useless and presumptuous to hypothesize, since nothing in the words of the Angel sheds any light on this mystery. Let us only note, with Canon Barthas, that one could ask the same question for all the saints who received Communion from the hands of an Angel, such as St. Stanislaus Kostka, St. Raymond Nonnatus, and St. Gerard Majella, among many others.
THE DIVINE POLITICS
This word is exact, because the Angel precursor, one year before the great prophetic secret of Our Lady, already speaks to our three shepherds... of politics! Yes, of politics, because not only does he allude to the war then ravaging Europe, but he also indicates its causes and the sure remedies for obtaining peace.
At the moment when the Angel spoke to them for the first time, in the spring of 1916, Portugal had just entered the war. In February, Parliament decided to honour the English request to seize German ships. War thus became inevitable. Germany declared war on Portugal on March 9, and Austria-Hungary did so a few days later. The government of Lisbon decided to prepare to send an army to the French front.
The first words of the Angel, in this context of war, are already a message of hope: «Do not fear», he tells them, «I am the Angel of Peace.» Does he not announce, at this moment, that the Divine intervention will soon put an end to the horrible war?
When he comes back for the second time, in the middle of summer, his words are more explicit. After having insistently requested prayers and sacrifices, he adds immediately: «In this way, you will obtain peace for your country.»
SIN, WAR AND PEACE. Let us note well that the Messenger of Heaven did not ask for prayers for peace. No, he asked the three shepherds to pray and sacrifice «in reparation for the sins by which God is offended, and in supplication for the conversion of sinners». What a profound theology! The number one enemy, the only real cause of war, is always... sin. War is simply the divine chastisement for it. Such is the first “political” teaching of the message of Fatima, a message characterized by a precise theology and profound realism. Is not war always the natural and inescapable fruit of the sins of men? Of the pride, ambition, and rapacity of the one side? Of the sensuality, insouciance, treason and blindness of the others?
This is why the «Angel of Peace» teaches that the remedy is first of all supernatural. When the crimes of men have been repaired for and the Justice of God appeased, when the chastisement shall have led sinners to conversion, then and then alone shall peace follow. It is a hard and little known truth, but it is the enduring lesson of Sacred History.
FOR CATHOLIC PATRIOTISM. Fortunately, we are not alone in loving and defending our dear countries, when they are threatened or put to the sword. God Himself from the heights of Heaven watches over them with love and confides their salvation to His Angels. Offer to God prayers and sacrifices of reparation, teaches the Angel at the Cabeço, «in this way you will obtain peace for your country. I am its Guardian Angel, the Angel of Portugal.» What a consoling revelation. Our nations, or at least the ancient Christian countries, are not profane societies, abandoned by God to chance and the accidents of history. Baptized and formed little by little over the centuries by His benevolent Providence, they are willed by God and assured, in spite of their falls and their impieties (which are chastised with justice and through mercy), of His unfailing protection, through the ministry of His Angels.
“I AM THE THE GUARDIAN ANGEL OF PORTUGAL.” Who is this «Angel of Peace» that came to Fatima as a precursor of Our Lady? We cannot say with certitude, since he chose not to reveal his name explicitly.
We might point out however that good Portuguese historians are inclined to recognize in him St. Michael the Archangel, their patron and protector, who had always been venerated as the Guardian Angel of their country. In fact, King Alfonso Henriques, founder of the nation and of the dynasty, having been baptized in a chapel dedicated to St. Michael, chose the Archangel as the special protector of his armies and his kingdom. Since that time, the chapel of the royal palace was always dedicated to him.
The nation remained faithful in its devotion towards the Archangel, to the point where in 1514, at the request of King Manuel I, Pope Leo X granted his nation a special feast in honour of the «Guardian Angel of Portugal», which was solemnly celebrated on the third Sunday of July. At the national monastery at Batalha, where all the kings of the Avis dynasty since John I had been buried, the monks chanted each day an antiphon and prayer in honour of St. Michael, the Guardian Angel of Portugal.19
During the liturgical reform of Pope St. Pius X (1903-1914), the feast in honour of Portugal’s Guardian Angel, which had fallen into disuse, was finally suppressed. The Portuguese bishops understood the significance of this point, and obtained the re-establishment of this feast from Pope Pius XII. Since that time the feast has been solemnly celebrated on June 10, the national holiday commemorating the death of Camoens, the poet who extolled the golden age of Catholic Portugal – when under the monarchy it was also a colonial and missionary power.
This same day was also chosen, quite appropriately, for the great youth pilgrimage, which for several years has brought together thousands of children at Fatima.
“MICHAEL, THE ANGEL OF PEACE.” Father Martins dos Reis has observed that the other title by which the Angel of Fatima revealed himself – «I am the Angel of Peace» – also suggests his identification with St. Michael the Archangel. Indeed, «in the Portuguese tradition, where he is quite prominent, St. Michael is often called the Angel of Peace, especially in the liturgical office of St. Elizabeth of Portugal.»
In addition, in the Roman Breviary as well as in the litanies, the Archangel is also invoked under these titles: «Auctor pacis» (Author of Peace) and «Angelus pacis Michael» (Michael, the Angel of Peace). As the hymn for Lauds of September 29 says: «May Michael, the Angel of Peace, come from Heaven into our homes, bringing fair peace with him and banishing wars to hell.»
Why then, one might ask, did not the Archangel wish to identify himself clearly, as he had done to Joan of Arc, saying to her: «I am Michael, protector of France»? Perhaps quite simply to better call to mind this traditional truth, that all the Christian nations, along with their proper vocation, also have their Angel guardian, charged with watching over their temporal and supernatural prosperity. The explicit revelation of his name might have given the impression that Portugal enjoyed an exceptional privilege in this regard, while the simple mention of his function as “Guardian Angel of Portugal”, retains the universal character of this protection for Christian nations.
IN THE COMMUNION OF SAINTS AND ANGELS... AND OF “POOR SINNERS”
Usually, when they intervene in the New Testament or in the lives of the Saints, the Angels are nothing more than the messengers of God, charged by Him with transmitting a message to men. And that is all.
The three angelic apparitions of 1916 are much more than that. At the Cabeço, it is truly Heaven that opens up, to plunge the three little seers in ecstasy into its great supernatural light. But it is also the Church triumphant which, in the person of the Angel, unites itself to the Church praying here below. «Pray with me», says the Angel to the children, but he embraces all our intentions and our humble manner of acting. «He prostrates himself near us», notes Lucy. What a marvellous and moving proximity!
The three apparitions of 1916 are also eloquent testimony of the perfect unity of the Mystical Body of Christ, which is the Church. Far from seeming absorbed in an ethereal contemplation, the Angel on the contrary shows himself preoccupied with our human affairs, with the salvation of sinners, with the war ravaging Europe, and with the peace of the tiny nation of which he is the guardian, full of love.
There is nothing more alien to the Message of Fatima than a merely individualistic piety. The three little shepherds of the obscure hamlet of Aljustrel were still only nine, eight and six years old, they knew neither how to read nor write, they were ignorant of practically everything having to do with the world and the great political events of that time, and yet the Angel of Portugal, just as Saint Michael once spoke to St. Joan «of the great misfortune which was befalling the kingdom of France», opens their pure souls to the thought of the war which was ravaging their country; already he wants to make them solicitous for the salvation of sinners and he invites them to make reparation for them.
Thus at Fatima, from the beginning of the heavenly apparitions, we enter into the mystery of the communion of saints, which extends quite far, even to the poorest of sinners. We must all go to Heaven together, under the benevolent protection of the Angels, and by the unique mediation of the Holy Hearts of Jesus and Mary. Here are the essential truths, already revealed by the Angel in 1916, and which Our Lady would come to affirm again, developing these truths with more precision while She unveiled, on July 13, 1917, the great design of Divine Mercy for our times.